Graphics apps for Linux

The GIMP

The GNU Image Manipulation Pro-gram, or GIMP (www.gimp.org), is touted as the Photoshop equivalent for Linux. The GIMP has the kind of features you would expect from a commercial 2D graphics package: colouring, reformatting, resizing, layering, text manipulation, and more.

The thing that immediately sets GIMP apart from other such programs is its light graphical interface. This means that GIMP does not take over your entire desktop and makes it very easy to work with.

Starting GIMP reveals a palate of tools including a paintbrush and pencil for drawing, zoom in and out, text, and colour fill. Each new image is given a separate window, with the ability to cut, paste and style images in relation to one another.

Most of the GIMP functions can be performed by right-clicking your mouse on the image and then selecting the function. For example, to change the size of an image you right-click on it, place the mouse on Image and select Scale Image.

Image compatibility has not been overlooked. The GIMP supports GIF, JPEG, TIFF, HTML, PostScript, SGI, PNG and BMP formats - and more. Other features include unlimited undo/redo, transformation tools and support for many different plug-ins, allowing features designed for different programs to be used.

One of the GIMP's more advanced features is its scripting capability, which enables all types of image editing to be automated and hence repeated at will. An example of this scripting capability is demonstrated by the online graphics generator cooltext.com (www.cooltext.com). Here the GIMP is used to generate a variety of graphics from inserted text.

Since GIMP is an open source project it has attracted an avid following. This has translated into a wealth of good documentation. The GIMP manual titled "GIMP - The Official Handbook" is available for free download (in HTML or PDF format) from the GIMP manual Web site, http://manual.gimp.org. There is also a published version available from Coriolis (www.coriolis.com). The manual covers everything from the history of GIMP to scripting techniques; there is even a chapter titled "GIMP for Photoshop users" which explains the differences between the two programs and the easiest way to migrate to the GIMP.

Blender

If you're interested at trying your hand at 3D graphics development under Linux, then Blender (www.blender.nl) is for you. Blender is developed by a Dutch company, Not a Number, and is distributed as freeware. The source code is maintained and developed exclusively by Not a Number. Blender, however, is more than just an ordinary 3D graphics program. It has the power of professional packages, including animation capabilities, yet it is only 1.5MB in size.

Although Blender is a powerful tool, learning to use it effectively will take time. The Blender interface is divided into three parts. The info window is displayed across the top of the screen and acts as an interface for different commands. The main window with the grid is the 3D Window. This is where 3D modelling and editing take place. Finally, the buttons window at the bottom has all the editing options such as animation and colour settings.

To help you begin using Blender, a series of short tutorials are available on the Blender Web site. Tutorials range from user interface to building and texturing a castle. The tutorials are easy to follow and are accompanied by images to step you through.

As with GIMP, Blender has good-quality supporting documentation. The Blender 1.8 manual is the definitive guide for learning to use the program. It covers everything from installation and basic editing to rendering and animation. Priced at 40 Euro (approx. $A60), it is good value considering it is 312 pages and contains colour images throughout.

Along with the manual, there are two separate tutorial guides aimed at delivering a series of lessons by different examples. For example, "Modelling a Dolphin" is one in Tutorial Guide 1 (for beginners) and "Blowing Stuff Up" features in Tutorial Guide 2. The Blender Manual and both tutorial guides (priced at 20 Euro) may be purchased directly from Blender's online store. The GIMP and Blender (Windows and Linux) are available on this month's cover CD.

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