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How to Make Sepia Toned Pictures: a GIMP Tutorial

Updated on November 3, 2011

Give Your Photos an Old Time Appeal

Duplicate the image, then desaturate the duplicate.
Duplicate the image, then desaturate the duplicate.

Chose a Photo/Duplicate/Desaturate

Select a Photo

Choose a photo for editing. Go to FILE and OPEN the image.

Duplicate the Image

Go to IMAGE and click DUPLICATE.

Desaturate the Duplicate Image

On the duplicate image, go to COLORS and select DESATURATE. Choose "lightness," "luminosity," or "average" for the method, depending on which type looks best for your photo. Select OK.

Creating a sepia mask.
Creating a sepia mask.

Convert to RGB/Create Sepia Mask

Convert the Desaturated Duplicate to RGB Mode (If Necessary)

Check the top file bar of the duplicate image. It should state "RGB" in the header. If this image is not in RGB mode, convert by selecting IMAGE, MODE, and RGB.

Create a Sepia Mask

  1. Click on the color swatch (in the toolbox section) of the desaturated, duplicate image. This will bring up a color selection. Dial in the following color selections: RED=161, GREEN=135, BLUE=106. You can experiment with this color setting to get the sepia tone you like the most. Click OK.
  2. Open the Layers Window by selecting WINDOWS, DOCKABLE DIALOGS, then LAYERS.
  3. Create a NEW LAYER by selecting the white icon in the lower left corner of the layers window. Select the option to FILL WITH FOREGROUND COLOR and name this layer "Sepia Mask." Select OK. The entire picture will become a brown color swatch: do not panic! This is to be expected.
  4. Right click on the Sepia Mask layer in the Layers Window. Select ADD LAYER MASK. Select WHITE, FULL OPACITY as the option in the layer mask window.

Copy the image into the layer mask. Anchor the layer.
Copy the image into the layer mask. Anchor the layer.

Pasting the Image into the Mask

Pasting the Image

  1. Click on the background layer. Copy the background image (EDIT-COPY or Control + C).
  2. Click on the mask layer (the white square next to the sepia mask in the layers window). Paste the image into the layer mask (EDIT-PASTE or Control + V). Your photo will become visible again.
  3. Click on the anchor icon to ANCHOR the LAYER.

The basic sepia tone image.
The basic sepia tone image.

Invert Colors/Change Blending Mode

Invert Colors

Select COLORS and then INVERT. This will apply the sepia tone coloration in the right proportions to the image. The image will appear inverted: do not worry, as this will be corrected in the next step.

Change the Blending Mode

Go to the LAYERS WINDOW and click on the drop down menu by the MODE selection. Change the mode from normal to COLOR. Your basic sepia tone image is now complete.

Adjust as Desired, Save Image

Play with the contrast, color curves, hue, and saturation to change the overall look of the photo, as desired.

When complete, go to the LAYERS tab on the top index bar and select MERGE DOWN. This will merge all of the layers.

Go to FILE and select SAVE AS. Save the file with an identifying name. GIMP will have a pop-up stating the file must be exported to save: click OK and select the 100% option for quality.


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    • leahlefler profile imageAUTHOR

      Leah Lefler 

      7 years ago from Western New York

      I really love sepia: I think I prefer it to black and white. GIMP has an "old photo" option under filters, but it doesn't give the same depth and clarity that this method gives.

    • s.wilson profile image


      7 years ago

      Sepia is a great tool. It allows for a lot of different moody based pictures, as well as a vintage feel. Great information! Thanks!

    • Crewman6 profile image


      7 years ago

      I see you're still teaching; this really helps a lot. Thanks!


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