As PC Advisor's art director, I'm well-versed in the art of getting something for nothing. Here's how to finesse images using The Gimp, an excellent freebie.

This article appears as part of the April 07 issue of PC Advisor, available now in all good newsagents

I've always held firm to the belief that there's no such thing as a free lunch. But as evidenced by my burgeoning waistline, I'm more than happy to test this age-old theory.

Then last year I was invited to a VIP football 'freebie' with dinner included. My hosts were running late and asked me to set up a tab. The young waiter took my card as a deposit, and then promptly used it to book 20 tickets to 'Snakes on a plane' (why 20?) and to purchase three mobile phones over the internet.

Just last week I had to pay through the nose for six books that I didn't really want, after being foolish enough to sign up to a book club that was giving away a fantastic 'free' sign-up offer. And we've all seen the mobile phone offers of a 'free' iPod when you take up a £60-per-month contract (for the rest of your natural life).

Because of such predictable outcomes, I've always been wary of giving glowing plaudits to anything free. This is especially true of free software – even more so when said software is called something as ridiculous as 'The Gimp'.

Version 0.54 of The Gimp or 'GNU Image Manipulation Program' was released in 1996 as a project by two students from Berkeley University. With the help of its own constantly growing user community, The Gimp's now reached the heady heights of version 2.2.13.

And this is where my freebie theory falls down. Even though the website is intimidating, the download process baffling and the installation trial-and-error, The Gimp is very good (and you can grab it here, or from our April 07 cover disc). It's much better in fact than several quite expensive photo-editing suites I could mention.

The Gimp doesn't have a vast amount of effects filters but I see this as a bonus. Many effects ruin a nice photo in the same way that a comedy tie ruins a good suit. The palettes are clear and easy to navigate, and they include similar tools to those that can be found in professional packages.

The only down side I have come across so far is the lack of a CMYK mode, but this is only a problem if you use a professional print shop. The obvious advantage The Gimp has over its rivals is that it's free. This means you can update it every few months when one of the developers from the online community asks for or creates a version with some added benefit.

Right, got to go. I'm off to celebrate. I received a call this morning informing me that I had been chosen at random to receive a free holiday… What luck, let the good times roll!