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How to Use GIMP: The Free Photoshop

Updated on May 18, 2020
Jeremy Gill profile image

Jeremy utilizes many computer-based skills in his job as a college resource manager.

GIMP's logo
GIMP's logo

GIMP Basics

Have you ever been interested in editing online pictures? The ability to modify images allows authors (like me!) to provide more interesting articles by stimulating our visual senses, but the skill can help just about anyone. Have you ever taken a selfie (admit it, we all love 'em) that's almost perfect, but you spot an annoying pimple or blemish? Image editing programs can doctor up your pictures so you look your best.

You've probably heard of Adobe Photoshop, an effective image-altering program, but you have to shell out cash for it. For a free and easy-to-use alternative, I recommend GIMP, the editor I've used ever since I started writing. And no worries, I'm not a computer whiz (trust me on that); you don't have to be a software expert to effectively harness GIMP. Today, we'll review some beginner techniques you can use to perfect your pictures! We'll begin with..

Red arrow: "File" button Yellow arrow: Crop Tool
Red arrow: "File" button Yellow arrow: Crop Tool
Godzilla before cropping.
Godzilla before cropping.
We highlighted a rectangle with the crop tool. The dark area outside the rectangle is what will be discarded.
We highlighted a rectangle with the crop tool. The dark area outside the rectangle is what will be discarded.
Now we can see him!
Now we can see him!
The export screen. The image name is highlighted in blue, and the export button is in the bottom right (the green arrow).
The export screen. The image name is highlighted in blue, and the export button is in the bottom right (the green arrow).

Opening/Cropping/Saving a Picture

Well, before we can use GIMP, you need to download it; nab it for free here! Download and boot up the program, and save any image you want to edit to your computer. Once you're ready, click "file" (indicated by my red arrow), then "open" and select the picture you want to edit. Not so hard, is it? For our example, we're using my old college buddy, Godzilla. Godzilla looks pretty cool, but the picture of him we found is incredibly horizontal. Sometimes, images look good that way, but it's typically smart to have a balance between vertical and horizontal; that way, your image will be easier to view. So what should we do? We'll use the "Crop" tool to take out the parts of the image we don't want. Cropping is pretty common, you've likely used it on Facebook or other sites, but in case you haven't:

1. Click the "Crop" button (yellow arrow in above image), then click on the image and (while holding your click) move your mouse. Gimp will create a rectangle following your path; this shape represents what will be cropped and retained in the final image.
2. Simply release your hold when your rectangle encompasses the desired area and click inside the rectangle to finalize the crop. Voila! Now we can actually see Godzilla up close and personal


3. To save your changes, click "File", then "Export As". You'll be brought to a screen where you can change the name of your new picture. Name it ButtsMcMuffins or whatever; it doesn't matter as long as you'll recognize the name. Then click "Export" and your picture is saved!

Great, now we've learned the basics of opening, cropping, and saving. Remember to use "Export As" to save your edits, and consult the images to the right if you need help. Next, we'll review how to..

Before editing
Before editing
Acne's gone!
Acne's gone!

Correct Blemishes Using Blur/Smudge/Color Picker/Brush Tools

Alright, so you've got a picture that's almost perfect, but has one or two imperfections. It could be acne on someone's face, or just colors that clash badly in an image. Using some of GIMP's tools, we can easily correct small blemishes to ensure your pictures look their best. Here's what the arrows in the image to the right represent:

Black: Color Picker Tool
White: Brush Tool
Light Blue: Smudge Tool
Purple: Blur Tool
Orange: "Size", click the up or down arrows in this box to increase or decrease brush size.

Blur: Blurring is great to remove finer details from pictures, and it works especially well when blurring text. Not quite as useful for correcting blemishes, but it could still help. To use it, select the blur tool, then simply click and move your mouse over the area you want blurred.

Smudge: One of my favorite tools, smudging mixes nearby colors together, and is great at removing minor flaws. Use it just like blur: Select the tool, then hold a click as you move your mouse over the area you want smudged.

Brush: Pretty self-explanatory. You select this to draw on your picture. I used it to create all the colored arrows, and it works great in combination with the color picker tool below.

Color Picker: Another great blemish-remover, especially when used with smudge and brush tools. First, select color picker and click on a color in your image you want to copy. For example, we'll use Guinivere's face to copy the color of her skin. Then, use the brush tool and paint over the imperfection; in this case, a pimple. The flaw should now be covered, but if things look a little unnatural, try using the smudge tool over what you just brushed. Now, we can't tell Guinvere ever had a blemish!

Guinivere with a bucket-filled background.
Guinivere with a bucket-filled background.
Erased eyes.
Erased eyes.
Text tool.
Text tool.

Bucket Fill/Eraser/Text Tools

Well, those are the main buttons I use to doctor images, so I guess I'll see you next - what? You want to mess up Guinivere's face pretty bad? You say she has it coming? Pretty harsh, bro. Still, if you insist, we can review some tools to help us turn her into a fiend.

Yellow Arrow: Text tool
Blue: Color Swap (you can pick a color manually here)
Red: Bucket Fill
Green: Erase

Bucket Fill: Tired of Guinivere having a nice, peaceful white background? We could manually paint the background using the brush tool, but that would take forever. Instead, we'll use Bucket Fill to fill in the background all at once. First, use the color swap tool at the bottom of the box to select a desired color. We'll take black. Then, click the Bucket Fill button, and simply click the background. Here, since her head is dividing the picture in two, we'll need to use the tool on both the left and right sides of the picture. Two clicks later, and we have a black background!

Eraser: Guin's not getting off the hook that easily. We'll now use the eraser tool to simply erase certain parts of the picture. The eraser operates similarly to the brush, except instead of painting over the image, it erases any colors it touches to match the original background of the picture. In many cases, including ours, this means it'll turn anything it touches white. Lets erase Guin's eyes so she has some soulless holes on her face.

Text: You're still not done tormenting this poor girl? In that case, we can use the Text tool to write messages in our images. Click the "Text" button. A "Tool Options" box should appear, and have various options that allow you to change the size of how big and what color the text will be. (If you accidentally close this box, click "Window", then "Tool Options" to reopen it). We'll use size 18 and a blue color. Then, click the location in the image where you want the left margin of the text to be. If you want the words to start at the left of Guin's forehead, simply click the left of her forehead. Finally, just type your text. If you're unsatisfied with the placement of the words, use the arrow keys on your keyboard to adjust their location. With this tool, we'll have Guinvere reveal a deep and thought-provoking statement about herself.

Final Tips

I hope you had fun as we destroyed that poor girl's self-esteem! Remember to use "Export As" to save your pictures. And if you ever need to zoom in or out of the picture, press the "+" button on your keyboard to zoom in, or the "-" key to zoom out. Thanks for stopping by today's tutorial; we'll meet again to butcher many more jpeg and png files in the future!

© 2015 Jeremy Gill


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