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How to Open a Gimp RAW File (RawTherapee & Darktable)

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GIMP is a great image editor that can do a lot of things that Photoshop can’t. But one thing it doesn’t have is the ability to open Raw files. This can be a bit of a hindrance, especially if you’re used to Photoshop and are working on a project that uses Raw files. But don’t worry, there’s an easy fix.

All you need is the Gimp Raw plugin, which you can download for free from the Gimp website. After installing the plugin, restart GIMP and you’ll be able to open Raw files just like any other file type.

Mountain scene icons GIMP, RawTherapee, Darktable logos
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What is GIMP?

Let’s start with a quick overview. GIMP is an open-source photo editing program. This means it is free. It also means developers around the world are continually updating it.

The program is available for Windows, IOS, and Linux systems. For this article, I used the IOS version 2.10.22. I also used the Windows 2.10.24 version for comparison.

GIMP’s interface is less polished than a program like Adobe Photoshop. But the workspace layout will feel familiar to Photoshop users.

Photo editing tools are in the upper left-hand corner. And you click on a tool to expand your options. Many of these tools are similar to those found in Photoshop. The right-hand column includes brush characteristics and a Layers panel.

Many popular Photoshop adjustments and filters are in the drop-down menus. And once you get used to it, you will find that GIMP is a powerful photo editing program.

GIMP opens many types of files. These include PNG, PSD, TIFF, and JPEG. But the program does not open RAW file formats, including DNG files. But it will open HEIC files created by your iPhone.

Screenshot showing IOS version of GIMP workspace

What is a Raw Image?

A RAW image is an uncompressed photo. It includes all the information your sensor collected from a scene. This includes color and light information. Many photographers shoot in RAW so that they have access to all the information collected by their cameras.

Many cameras let you take both RAW and JPEG images. When you shoot in JPEG, your camera processes the information hitting the sensor. It keeps some of the information and throws the rest away. You cannot get this information back.

Each camera company has its own RAW format. The files have different suffixes. These are a few examples:

  • Canon: CR2 or CR3
  • Nikon: NEF
  • Sony: ARW

A Canon camera cannot open a Nikon file. But neither can most photo editing programs. They need a converter. And a DNG file is a universal RAW image format created by Adobe. It is used by many devices, including some smartphone photo apps.

GIMP Error message

Adobe Photoshop uses Adobe Camera Raw to convert RAW photos into a format Photoshop can read. If you try to open a RAW file directly in Photoshop, you will first go through Camera Raw.

Adobe Lightroom can read RAW photo files, too. When you send a file to Photoshop from Lightroom, the image is already in a format Photoshop can read.

Just like Photoshop, GIMP needs a converter program to read RAW files. There are a few options. Let’s start by looking at the RawTherapee. This program functions as a plug-in for GIMP. It functions like Adobe Camera Raw.

How to Open a GIMP Raw File Using RawTherapee

RawTherapee is free software that reads RAW files. It is a stand-alone program. Or you can use it as a plug-in with GIMP. It’s available for Linus, IOS, or Windows. You can use RawTherapee to open RAW files in GIMP.

Step 1: Download GIMP

Choose your operating system and download the program directly to your computer. Then follow the installation instructions for your operating system.

GIMP download page

Step 2: Download RawTherapee

Download RawTherapee. Follow the installation instructions for your operating system. For this article, I used the IOS RawTherapee version 5.8. (Initially, my Mac blocked installation.)

Drag the program into your application file folder before opening it. If you have problems installing the program, find more installation instructions through links to your download version.

RawTherapee download page

Step 3: Open a RAW File

In RawTherapee’s File Browser window, navigate to the RAW file you want to open. Then double-click on the file.

RawTherapee open raw file

This opens the file in RawTherapee’s photo editor. The workspace is laid out in columns, much like Lightroom. In the left-hand column is a histogram, sizing information, and a history panel. In the right-hand column are panels of sliders controlling image quality.

Click the icons across the top to see more photo editing panels. These are Exposure, Detail, Colour, Advanced, Transform, RAW, and Metadata. The controls are not as intuitive as Lightroom. But the general principle is the same. And there are more controls above and below the image.

Screenshot of IOS version of RawTherapee workspace

Step 4: Connect RawTherapee to GIMP

The first time you use RawTherapee, you must set up your preferences to link with GIMP. So click on RawTherapee’s preference icon located in the lower left-hand column. In the preference window, scroll to the bottom and select GIMP as the External Editor. Then click OK.

Screenshot of IOS RawTherapee’s preference window showing GIMP as selected External Editor

The Windows version of the program looks slightly different and asks for a directory location.

Enter the file path in the Custom Command Line if the GIMP option does not export your photo into GIMP in Step 5. Open the preference window again. Scroll down to External Editor and click the empty box next to the Custom Command Line.

If you are using a Mac, type in open -a “GIMP-2.10.app” If you are using a different version of GIMP, copy and paste the file name between the quote marks. Then click OK.

Screenshot of IOS RawTherapee’s preference window showing how to enter the path to open GIMP as External Editor

If you’re using a Windows computer, navigate to the GIMP program. Right-click on the program and select Properties. Copy the information in the Target window. It should look something like this: C:/ProgramFilesGIMP2bingimp-2.10.exe

Step 5: Open the Image in the External Editor

Click the Open in External Editor icon. It’s in the control bar under your image (Ctrl or Command+E).

The RAW image opens in GIMP. If the image does not open in GIMP, return to Step 4. And enter the file path for GIMP in the Custom Command Line.

Screenshot of RawTherapee showing Open in External Editor icon

Step 6: Open Raw Photos in GIMP

Once you set up the preferences in RawTherapee, you can open files directly from GIMP. In GIMP, open a file by going to the File drop-down menu. Select File > Open. Then navigate to the RAW photo you want to edit.

The file will first open in RawTherapee with a message welcoming you to the RawTherapee plug-in.

Screenshot of RawTherapee plug-in welcome message

Close RawTherape and the file will open in GIMP.

Screenshot showing Raw photo open in GIMP

You will see a new file next to the original RAW file with a PP3 suffix.

The converted raw image will be a new .pp3 file

It takes a few steps to connect GIMP with RawTherapee. But once the programs are connected, the programs work together to open RAW photos.

How to Open a Gimp RAW File Using Darktable

Darktable is a free photo editing program similar to Adobe Lightroom. It is cross-platform and available for Linus, IOS, or Windows. Darkatable is like Lightroom. The program reads RAW images that you can open in GIMP.

There are two ways to open photos in a RAW format with GIMP using Darktable. The first way uses Darktable as a plug-in. It’s much like the RawTherapee process above. The second way lets you send files from Darktable directly to GIMP. The first three steps are the same.

Step 1: Download GIMP

Choose your operating system and download the program directly to your computer. Follow the installation instructions for your operating system.

GIMP download page

Step 2: Download Darktable

Follow the installation instructions for your operating system. I used Darktable version 3.4.1 for this article.

Darktable download page

Step 3: Import File into Darktable

Start by importing a few files into Darktable. Click the Import button in the top left-hand corner of the workspace. Select either an image or folder to import. (It does not matter how many files you import.) Then add at least one file to activate the workspace.

Screenshot of Darktable showing Import tab

The basic layout will be familiar to Lightroom users. You edit photos in the Darkroom module. Like Lightroom, changes are made using sliders.

Screenshot of IOS version of Darktable workspace

Step 4: Open the RAW File in GIMP

Open GIMP. Then go to the File drop-down menu and select File > Open (Ctrl or Command+E). Next, navigate to the RAW file you want to open. Like Adobe software, GIMP and Darktable talk to each other.

From there, the process is similar to RawTherapee. The RAW file opens first in Darktable, where you can make basic edits. When you close Darktable, the RAW file opens in GIMP for further editing. Double-click on the RAW file again if the file doesn’t open automatically.

Screenshot of GIMP showing how to open file

Step 4 (Alternative): Export RAW files from Darkroom to GIMP

A script in Darktable called GIMP allows you to Export files from Darktable to GIMP. Unfortunately, the script is unstable and does not always work.

Open the Lua Scripts installer located in the left-hand column of the Lighttable module. Click the Execute button. You may need to first install Git scripts.

Screenshot of Darktable showing where to execute the GIMP script in the Lighttable workspace

Scroll until you find the GIMP script. At first, it may be labeled “gimp stopped.” Then click it to turn it on.

In the Export Selected panel, you now should have a new option—Edit with GIMP. Change the file format to TIFF and 32-bit. Next, select an image and click the Export button.

Screenshot of Darktable showing process of exporting file to GIMP

When you close GIMP, the image should round trip back to Darktable.

This option is ideal for round-tripping images between Darktable and GIMP. But I found the process inconsistent. I could send RAW images on my Mac from Darktable to GIMP. But I was not able to get the round-trip feature to work.

In Windows, I had problems exporting RAW images to GIMP.

Conclusion

GIMP is a powerful but free photo editing program. To open a GIMP RAW file, use a plug-in like RawTherapee. Once you connect the plug-in, you can open files in GIMP through the plug-in.

Darktable, another free photo editing program like Lightroom, also lets you open RAW camera files in GIMP. This process requires less set-up than using a plug-in. You can either open a RAW file directly from GIMP or export files from Darktable into GIMP.

You do not have to sacrifice image quality when you use free photo editing programs. GIMP and Darktable let you process RAW images much like Adobe software.

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