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Using GIMP - A Tutorial for GIMP Beginners

Updated on July 24, 2015



GIMP Introduction

GIMP is a program used for manipulating and creating graphics and images. It stands for GNU Image Manipulation Program. Think of it as the "free version" of Photo Shop. Because it is a GNU program, there are lots of user created extras - or plugins - that you can download to compliment the software. Some examples of extras would include textures, patterns, brushes, gradients or palettes.

GIMP Program Opened

Here are the main components of GIMP. So, you can always refer back to this illustration if you get stuck.

GIMP's Main Components

GIMP's main features
GIMP's main features

Your First Image

GIMP is a very easy program to use. Most of the tools you'll find are self explanatory as far as use. A majority of them use dialogues with easy reference. Let's create your first image. Go to GIMP's menu and select File > New. In the dialogue window that opens, you can select image size. For this tutorial, let's choose the standard width and height which will be 640px by 400px.
You can always reset your work, if you are unhappy with the size, by clicking on the Reset button in the dialogue.



Click the OK button when you are ready. Now, as you can see, we end up with a white box in the GIMP preview window - which is the GIMP canvas, or image background.

GIMP's canvas

GIMP's canvas
GIMP's canvas

Your friend the Layer

One thing you must remember about creating images with GIMP: get used to making new layers for each object or element of your image. The fact is, layers are your friends. Because they allow you to put more detail into your images. Think of the images you create with GIMP like the human body. If the body is the image, then the layers are the bones. For any extra elements you create with your image, be that a table leg, door of a house, or hair of a person, you'll want to create a layer.

So, let's create a new layer. Go to the layers dialogue. Look for the set of small icons near the center of the dialogue. Click the first one that says "Create a new layer", when you hover your mouse over it.

Create a New Layer

Create a new layer
Create a new layer

In the New Layer dialogue window, simply click OK. For this tutorial we won't be needing any other settings.

Layer Dialogue

Layer dialogue
Layer dialogue

Once we have our newly created layer, we're going to create a common shape. I'm going to show you how to create something using GIMP's Toolbox. In the Toolbox, you'll find all the heavy utilities (or tools) that we'll be needing. I'm going to break this down for you to make it even easier.

Rectangle Select Tool

Rectangle Select Tool
Rectangle Select Tool

Create Rectangle

1. Create shape - Click the "Rectangle Select Tool". Upon having clicked the Rectangle Select Tool, if you hover your mouse over GIMP's canvas area, you'll notice that your mouse has changed cursor icons. You will see a box looking figure hovering right below a target icon. Hold that target icon where you'd like to start your rectangle then left click and hold your mouse while dragging it to where you'd like the rectangle to end.

Rectangle Selection

Rectangle Selection
Rectangle Selection

If everything goes right, you should be seeing something similar to this image above here.

Add Some Color

2. Color shape - Now, we are going to add some color to our shape. To do this, select the Foreground & background colors box which is located in the Toolbox.

Foreground & background colors box
Foreground & background colors box

There are two boxes here. One is the Change Foreground Color dialogue and the other is the Change Background Color dialogue. The two are interchangeable in that you can select one or the other. For today's tutorial, we just want to paint the foreground. So, lets click to open the topmost box.

Change Foreground Color box
Change Foreground Color box

If you've ever worked online with an HTML editor or photo editor or even a blog, you should be pretty well familiar with a color picker. Just select your color to use and click OK.

Bucket Fill Tool

Now, we need to fill our selection with our color. To do that we select the Bucket Fill Tool. As with most tools, you'll find the Bucket Fill Tool in GIMP's Toolbox.

Bucket Fill Tool

Bucket Fill Tool
Bucket Fill Tool

3. Fill selection - To add color to your rectangle selection, upon having clicked the Bucket Fill Tool, hover your mouse over the selection in GIMP's canvas and click inside the rectangle - you'll notice that the mouse cursor has changed icons and now has taken shape of a paint bucket.

I filled my selection with this type of blue color. Here's how mine turned out:

Final Rectangle

Final rectangle selection filled
Final rectangle selection filled

Save Your Work

4. Export final image - To save your work, you can click File > Export from GIMP's main menu. Once the Export Image window has opened, you have tons of save options to choose. You can save as PNG, JPEG, GIF, BMP or even ICO (Windows icon file type format). When you are ready to save just click Export

Export Image

Export image window
Export image window

Final Word

I certainly hope you enjoyed learning with GIMP as much as I enjoyed writing this tutorial. As I said, the program is very easy to use and does not take long to learn it. I will be posting more GIMP tutorials here for So, in the words of Arnold: "I'll be back".

Cast your vote for GIMP

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