The Gimp

GIMP is a multi-platform photo manipulation tool. GIMP is an acronym for GNU Image Manipulation Program. The GIMP is suitable for a variety of image manipulation tasks, including photo retouching, image composition, and image construction.

GIMP has many capabilities. It can be used as a simple paint program, an expert quality photo retouching program, an online batch processing system, a mass production image renderer, an image format converter, etc.

GIMP is expandable and extensible. It is designed to be augmented with plug-ins and extensions to do just about anything. The advanced scripting interface allows everything from the simplest task to the most complex image manipulation procedures to be easily scripted.

One of The GIMP's strengths is its free availability from many sources for many operating systems. Most GNU/Linux distributions include The GIMP as a standard application. The GIMP is also available for other operating systems such as Microsoft Windows" or Apple's Mac OS X" (Darwin). The GIMP is a Free Software application covered by the General Public License. The GPL provides users with the freedom to access and alter the source code that makes up computer programs.


Manual -
- most current version in english - most current version in spanish, but parts are not yet translated - Previous version in spanish, complete translation, but some parts are out of date - Previous version in english, some parts are out of date

The Interface

Screenshot of the GIMP in action

The screenshot above shows the most basic arrangement of GIMP windows that can be used effectively.

  1. The Main Toolbox: Contains a set of icon buttons used to select tools. It may also contain the foreground and background colors; brush, pattern, and Gradient; and an icon of the active image. Use Edit -> Preferences -> Toolbox to enable, or disable the extra items.

  2. Tool options: Docked below the main Toolbox is a Tool Options dialog, showing options for the currently selected tool (in this case, the paintbrush tool).

  3. An image window: Each image open in GIMP is displayed in a separate window. Many images can be open at the same time, limited by only the system resources. Before you can do anything useful in GIMP, you need to have at least one image window open. The image window holds the Menu of the main commands of GIMP (File, Edit, Select...), which you can also get by right-clicking on the window.

  4. The Layers, Channels, Paths dock with the Layers Dialog open; note that there are several tabs at the top of area, each of these is a different dialog. This dialog window that is open shows the layer structure of the currently active image, and allows it to be manipulated in a variety of ways. It is possible to do a few very basic things without using the Layers dialog, but even moderately sophisticated GIMP users find it indispensable to have the Layers dialog available at all times.

  5. Brushes/Patterns/Gradients: The docked dialog below the layer dialog shows the dialogs (tabs) for managing brushes, patterns and gradients.

This is a minimal setup. There are over a dozen other types of dialogs used by GIMP for various purposes, but users typically open them when they need them and close them when they are done. Knowledgeable users generally keep the Toolbox (with Tool Options) and Layers dialog open at all times. The Toolbox is essential to many GIMP operations; in fact, if you close it, GIMP will exit after confirming that that is actually what you want to do. The Tool Options section is actually a separate dialog, shown docked to the Main Toolbox in the screenshot. Knowledgeable users almost always have it set up this way: it is very difficult to use tools effectively without being able to see how their options are set. The Layers dialog comes into play when you work with an image with multiple layers: after you advance beyond the most basic stages of GIMP expertise, this means almost always. And of course it helps to display the images you're editing on the screen; if you close the image window before saving your work, GIMP will ask you whether you want to close the file.

The Image Window

GIMP Image Window

An image window exists, even if no image is open. The Title Bar in an image window without an image reads "GNU Image Manipulating Program". An image window with an image displays the image name and its specifications in the title bar according to the settings in Preference Dialog. Each window displays exactly one image, or no image if no image is open. Each image is displayed in one or more image windows; it is unusual to display the same image in more than one window. We will begin with a brief description of the components that are present by default in an ordinary image window. Some of the components can be removed by using commands in the View menu.

  1. Title Bar: The top of the image window typically displays a Title Bar with the name of the image and some basic information about the image. The Title Bar is provided by the operating system, not by GIMP, so its appearance is likely to vary with the operating system, window manager, and/or theme. Use the Preferences dialog to customize the information that appears in the Title Bar.

  2. Image Menu: Directly below the Title Bar appears the Image Menu (unless it has been suppressed). The Image Menu provides access to nearly every operation you can perform on an image. You can also right-click on an image to display a pop-up image menu, or by left-clicking on the little arrow symbol in the upper left corner, called the Menu Button:, if for some reason you find one of these more convenient. Many menu commands are also associated with keyboard shortcuts as shown in the menu. You can define your own custom shortcuts for menu actions, if you enable Use Dynamic Keyboard Shortcuts in the Preferences dialog.

  3. Menu Button: Click the Menu Button to display the Image Menu in a column. If you like to use keyboard shortcuts, use Shift+F10 to open the menu.

  4. Ruler: In the default layout, rulers are shown above and to the left of the image. Use the rulers to determine coordinates within the image. The default unit for rulers is pixels; use the settings described below to use a unit other than pixels.

    One of the most important uses of rulers is to create guides. Click and drag a ruler into the image to create a guide. A guide is a line that helps you accurately position things or verify that another line is truly horizontal or vertical. Click and drag a guide to move it. Drag a guide out of the image to delete it; you can always drag another guide into the image. You can even use multiple guides at the same time.

  5. QuickMask Toggle: The small button in the lower left corner of the image toggles the Quick Mask on and off. When the Quick Mask is on, the button is outlined in red. See QuickMask in the GIMP manual for more details on this highly useful tool.

  6. Pointer Coordinates: When the pointer (mouse cursor, if you are using a mouse) is within the image boundaries, the rectangular area in the lower left corner of the window displays the current pointer coordinates. The units are the same as for the rulers.

  7. Units Menu: Use the Units Menu to change the units used for rulers and several other purposes. The default unit is pixels, but you can quickly change to inches, cm, or several other possibilities using this menu. Note that the setting of "Dot for dot" in the View menu affects how the display is scaled: see Dot for Dot in the GIMP manual for more information.

  8. Zoom Button: There are a number of ways to zoom the image in or out, but the Zoom Button is perhaps the simplest. With GIMP-2.6, you can directly enter a zoom level in the text box for very fine control.

  9. Status Area: The Status Area is at the bottom of the image window. By default, the Status Area displays the active part of the image, and the amount of system memory used by the image. Use Edit -> Preferences -> Image Windows -> Title & Status to customize the information displayed in the Status Area. During time-consuming operations, the status area temporarily shows the running operation and how complete the operation is.

    Note that the memory used by the image is very different from the image file size. For instance, a 70Kb .PNG image may occupy 246Kb in memory when displayed. There are two primary reasons the difference in memory usage. First, a .PNG file is compressed format, and the image is reconstituted in memory in uncompressed form. Second, GIMP uses extra memory, and copies of the image, for use by the Undo command.

  10. Cancel Button: During complex time-consuming operations, usually a plug-in, a Cancel button temporarily appears in the lower right corner of the window. Use the Cancel button to stop the operation.

  11. Navigation Control: This is a small cross-shaped button at the lower right corner of the image display. Click and hold (do not release the mouse button) on the navigation control to display the Navigation Preview. The Navigation Preview has a miniature view of the image with the displayed area outlined. Use the Navigation Preview To quickly pan to a different part of the image move the mouse while keeping the button depressed. The Navigation Window is often the most convenient way to quickly navigate around a large image with only a small portion displayed. (See Navigation Dialog for other ways to access the Navigation Window). (If your mouse has a middle-button, click-drag with it to pan across the image).

  12. Inactive Padding Area: This padding area separates the active image display and the inactive padding area, so you're able to distinguish between them. You cannot apply any Filters or Operations in general to the inactive area.

  13. Image Display: The most important part of the image window is, of course, the image display or canvas. It occupies the central area of the window, surrounded by a yellow dotted line showing the image boundary, against a neutral gray background. You can change the zoom level of the image display in a variety of ways, including the Zoom setting described below.

  14. Image Window Resize Toggle: Without enabling this feature, if you change the size of the image window, the image size and zoom does not change. If you make the window larger, for example, then you will see more of the image. If this button is pressed, however, the image resizes when the window resizes so that (mostly) the same portion of the image is displayed before and after the window is resized.

Drag and drop an image into the Toolbox window to open the image in its own Image window. This is very different than dragging an image into an existing Image window, which adds it to the currently open image in a new layer usually not what you want.


Almost anything you do to an image in GIMP can be undone. You can undo the most recent action by choosing Edit -> Undo from the image menu, but this is done so frequently that you really should memorize the keyboard shortcut, Ctrl+Z.

Undoing can itself be undone. After having undone an action, you can redo it by choosing Edit -> Redo from the image menu, or use the keyboard shortcut, Ctrl+Y. It is often helpful to judge the effect of an action by repeatedly undoing and redoing it. This is usually very quick, and does not consume any extra resources or alter the undo history, so there is never any harm in it.

If you undo one or more actions and then operate on the image in any way except by using Undo or Redo, it will no longer be possible to redo those actions: they are lost forever. The solution to this, if it creates a problem for you, is to duplicate the image and then test on the copy. ( Do Not test the original, because the undo/redo history is not copied when you duplicate an image.)

If you often find yourself undoing and redoing many steps at a time, it may be more convenient to work with the Undo History dialog, a dockable dialog that shows you a small sketch of each point in the Undo History, allowing you to go back or forward to that point by clicking.

Undo is performed on an image-specific basis: the "Undo History" is one of the components of an image. GIMP allocates a certain amount of memory to each image for this purpose. You can customize your Preferences to increase or decrease the amount, using the Environment page of the Preferences dialog. There are two important variables: the minimal number of undo levels, which GIMP will maintain regardless of how much memory they consume, and the maximum undo memory, beyond which GIMP will begin to delete the oldest items from the Undo History.

GIMP's implementation of Undo is rather sophisticated. Many operations require very little Undo memory (e.g., changing visibility of a layer), so you can perform long sequences of them before they drop out of the Undo History. Some operations, such as changing layer visibility, are compressed, so that doing them several times in a row produces only a single point in the Undo History. However, there are other operations that may consume a lot of undo memory. Most filters are implemented by plug-ins, so the GIMP core has no efficient way of knowing what changed. As such, there is no way to implement Undo except by memorizing the entire contents of the affected layer before and after the operation. You might only be able to perform a few such operations before they drop out of the Undo History.

Most actions that alter an image can be undone. Actions that do not alter the image generally cannot be undone. Examples include saving the image to a file, duplicating the image, copying part of the image to the clipboard, etc. It also includes most actions that affect the image display without altering the underlying image data. The most important example is zooming. There are, however, exceptions: toggling QuickMask on or off can be undone, even though it does not alter the image data.

There are a few important actions that do alter an image but cannot be undone, specifically: Closing the Image, Reverting the Image, and "Pieces" of Actions.

Opening and Saving an Image
Here we will use the GIMP to open, modify and save our image.  For starters, let's grab an image, right click on this image link, and select the option to save it to the disk.

Now, let's open up the GIMP program.  Once it is open, use the File->Open... command to bring up the File Open dialog.  Select the file that you just saved to the disk an click the "Open" button. 

Your screen should now look something like this.

OpenImage.jpg're successfully using the GIMP!

Now, let's do something to the image, and save it as a different file.

Click the paintbrush button:

Now go ahead and draw something on top of the image...don't worry about what it looks like.  If you want to start over, use the "Revert" command.  Simply click File -> Revert. 


Now that we're done drawing, we want to save it, but we don't want to overwrite the original file.  So, we're going to go to File -> Save As... and pick a new name and a location to save to on the disk.  Be sure that the file name ends in .jpg (or .jpeg) so that the GIMP knows how to save it correctly.  Then click the save button. 

Now you will see a dialog asking what quality you want your image to be saved at. The higher the number, the less data is lost during the lossy compression and the larger the file.  Lower numbers will give you smaller files, but will cause the image to look bad!  To help figure out what kind of trade-off between size and quality you should make, click the box for "Show preview in image window".  You may have to drag that dialog or the "Save Image" dialog out of the way to see your image as the preview is applied.  When you're happy with it, click the save button.

Here's an example of setting the quality very low, which makes the preview image look terrible....I didn't save it like this!


Congratulations, you're well on your way to working with photos in the GIMP!


Gimp Introduction, Gimp Documentation Team,, GNU FDL
Gimp Main Window Overview, Gimp Documentation Team,, GNU FDL
Image Window Description Graphic, Gimp Documentation Team,, GNU FDL
Image Window Descirption, Gimp Documentation Team,, GNU FDL
Great Egret Nest, Mike Baird,;_3_chicks,_Morro_Bay_Heron_Rookery_2_-_by_Mike_Baird.jpg, CC-BY