Using The GIMP With Fewer Windows

Jack Wallen
Jan 8, 2009
Updated • Jul 8, 2014

After only a couple of articles about The GIMP it is clear there are many users that are still unhappy with the interface. With that in mind I thought I would help users see how simple it is to clean up the interface to make usage even easier.

One of the easiest ways to simplify use is the minimize the amount of windows open when working with The GIMP. By default The GIMP 2.4 opens with two windows: Utility Window, and Toolbox. If you are a GIMP power user you know the tools in both windows can be necessary. But it is not necessary to have both windows open in order to take advantage of all of the tools. "How?" You ask? docking tabs.

What I am going to show you is how to add utility tabs into the Toolbox window so you can close the Utilities window. This will clean up the user interface as well as keep the user less confused. I am going to be using The GIMP 2.4 because it is more widely used.

Utilities Window
Utilities Window

The first thing you should do is check to see what tabs you use in your Utilites window. I almost always use the Layers tab and the Colors tab. As you can see (in the image to the left) the Utilities window is open with the Layers, Channels, Paths, and Undo tabs on top and the Colors, Brushes, Patterns, and Gradients tabs on bottom. Of those tabs the Layers and the Colors tabs are most useful to me. Naturally other tabs will be more or less useful to other users (depending upon your needs).

Once you know the exact tabs you need to use you can close the Utilities window because you are going to add those tabs to the Toolbox window.

Now, move on over to the Toolbox window (see the image to the right).


Near the center of the window you will see a right-pointing arrow. If you click this arrow you will see a sub-menu that offers an Add Tab option. Within the Add Tab sub menu you will find a long list of possible tabs you can add to the window. From that list select the tabs you want to add (one at a time) to the Toolbox window. Once you have configured this window exactly how you want it, it will open up that way every time you start up The Gimp.

Simpler GIMP
Simpler GIMP

As you can see, in the image to the left, The GIMP can be used with only a single window open. In the lower section the utilities I need to work with all appear in their own tabs. Now I can work with The GIMP and only have a single window (outside of the working image window) open.

Final Thoughts

The GIMP (and its interface) has been much maligned over the years for being overly complex and busy. Many of these complains stem from a simple lack of familiarity. But even being unfamiliar with the interface doesn't make The GIMP's UI unfriendly. Because the interface can be configured to better suit your needs, I would venture to say it is one of the more user-friendly interfaces available. Some times it is just a matter of taking the time to get to know the UI and customizing it to fit your needs and your style. Once you have done this, you might find The GIMP to be one of the best image applications available.


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  1. rico said on February 15, 2009 at 2:43 am

    2.6? howto

  2. What is GIMP? said on January 10, 2009 at 12:10 pm

    Jack, I haven’t had the time to really go through the article, but I see that you are reviewing version 2.4 because it is in more widespread use?!?

    Don’t write articles that will outdate themselves prematurely. For one thing, you are not showing the current state of the art. For another, as current users upgrade and new users start, version 2.6 will replace 2.4. I understand that the UI is one of the major changes in Gimp 2.6 and many of the common complaints have been addressed. I think that you should stick to reviewing the current versions of software, especially when demonstrating things that have changed dramatically, as per user’s wishes.

    Just some constructive criticism, for the best of both of us. Thanks!

  3. jack said on January 9, 2009 at 2:43 pm

    Paul: you mean .eps files?

  4. Paul. said on January 9, 2009 at 7:39 am

    Hoi Jack, thanks again for this ferry , once again, enlightening artikel. I am almost ready for Installing the gimp. Only i have one question. Maybay i looked with main nose but i can not find anywhere or i also can open (the Microsoft) .pps files and work with them. Do you know that?

  5. Jojo said on January 9, 2009 at 7:07 am

    I don’t think that Gimpshop has been updated in quite some time. I believe it is back on release 2.2

  6. mividaendigital said on January 9, 2009 at 6:21 am

    What about GIMPshop. It Looks like Photoshop.

  7. jack said on January 9, 2009 at 1:51 am

    Doc: So much so that I edited it. ;-) Thank you for pointing that out.

  8. Doc said on January 8, 2009 at 11:32 pm

    “The GIMP (and its interface) has been much aligned over the years for being overly complex and busy.”

    …don’t you mean “maligned”? :)

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