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GIMP Tutorial - How to Create Layers

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For GIMP Novices and Beginners

This GimpTutorial is intended for people who know nothing about using Gimp at all. Because it is intended for people who have no idea how to use this software it will start with the very basics and go through each step with clear instructions and illustrations that will help you see where to look and what to look for on the GIMP page.

I am a GIMP novice myself as I normally use PhotoShop but it was pointed out to me on one of my PhotoShop tutorials by fellow hubber aguasilver that PhotoShop is an expensive piece of software which many people cannot afford to buy especially in these trying times.

The hubber aguasilver put me onto a freeware piece of software called GIMP. GIMP stands for GNU Image Manipulation Program. GIMP can do many of the things that can be done in PhotoShop but the Gimp software costs you nothing. The GIMP software can be legally downloaded off the Internet and you can begin to use it right away.

There are many versions of GIMP available and many websites offering free downloads. I am using GIMP 2.6 and you can download the same version from this link is not live because for some reason it was not working but if you cut and paste this url into address bar of your browser it will take you right there.

Once you have downloaded this program and installed it on your computer open up the program and you should have something that looks like fig 01. At this stage when it first opens up it may not look exactly like this.

The GIMP program opened


This is because when you open GIMP up instead of filling your screen like PhotoShop or Jasc with the page fixed and ready to go you actually get three separate boxes open. The main page, the Toolbox and the Layers palette.

On the GIMP main page in the top right-hand corner next to the white X in the red square is an icon that looks like a white outline of a box click on that and the GIMP page will fill your screen. I placed my Layers Palette to the right-hand side of my screen and placed my toolbox on the left-hand side of my screen. I chose this layout because that is where I am use to finding them in other packages that I am more familiar with. If you follow these steps then you will have a screen that looks something like fig 01 above.

fig 02

fig 02

fig 03

fig 03

Create a blank page

Now that you have opened the GIMP program you are ready to start.

Go to the top left-hand corner where you will see the word file see fig 02.

I will use a pink highlight to help you locate where things are on each illustration.

Click on file and you will get a drop down menu select New by clicking on it and you will get a box see fig 03.

By filling out this box you can set the size of your blank sheet of paper. In fig 03 the size has been set in pixels.

Pixels mean nothing to me when it comes to measurements. However, don't worry you can change the units used. You do that by clicking on the little arrow to the right of the word pixels and you will get another drop down menu that lists alternative units that you can chose from.

I would chose inches because I know what an inch looks like. That number of pixels will give you a blank sheet roughly 11 inches by 10. This is rather big for this tutorial so set it to 10 inches wide by 6 inches high.

This is so easy to do just click in the box to the right of the word width and type in the number 10 then click in the box to the right of height and type in the number 6.

When you have done that click on OK and you will have created your blank sheet. If you do this you will be able to follow the steps and get the same results as I do.

What your GIMP page should look like

Now that you have created a blank sheet your GIMP page should look something like fig 04 below.

fig 04

fig 04

The Layers Palette

Your layer palette is situated to the right of your blank sheet of paper. You will be using this palette to select which layer you want to work on.

At the moment because we have not created any new layers there are none shown. The only thing that you should have showing in the layers palette is your blank sheet of paper, which is called Background. See fig 05 I have highlighted it in pink to help you identify it.

Layers Palette

fig 05

fig 05

There is a small eye icon, when you see this it tells you that this layer is visible. If you click on this eye icon this will turn that particular layer's visibility off. Try clicking on it now and you will see that the white blank sheet will disappear and it is replaced by what looks like a greyscale checkerboard that is the image most image programs use to show that the level is transparent.

Above the word Layers there are four icons, make sure that the first icon which is three stacked grey sheets is the one that is selected. See fig 05 above, which I have highlighted in pink so you can identify it easily.

fig 06

fig 06

fig 07

fig 07

Duplicating the Background Layer

Normally when I am using layers I will be working on a Photograph and so that I don’t harm my original photograph I create a duplicate layer.

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If you make a mistake and do something on your original background instead of on a layer and you do not notice right away, it maybe very difficult to put things right. With the duplicate layer all you have to do is make a new duplicate layer following the steps below and delete the one you have messed up.

It is very simple to create a duplicate just go down to the bottom of the layers palette where you will find a row of small icons, see fig 06 the third icon in from the right looks like two little computer screens one on top of the other.

Click on this icon and you will see a duplicate of this layer appear in the layers palette.

See the duplicate layer highlighted fig 07

fig 08

fig 08

fig 09

fig 09

fig 10

fig 10

fig 11

fig 11

fig 12

fig 12

fig 13

fig 13

Creating New Layers

Now we are ready to begin creating new layers. Remember that a layer is just like a clear sheet of acetate, which we are laying on top of our blank sheet of paper.

The layer is the same no matter what you lay it on top of so the layer will still be the same if we were using a photograph instead of a blank sheet of paper.

Layers can be stacked one on top of another the most I have used while working on an image was about 16 layers.

Go to the layers palette go down to that bottom row of small icons and the first icon which looks like a sheet of white paper with the corner turned down is the icon for creating a new layer. See fig 08.

Click on this icon and a box will open see fig 09

Select the Layer fill type transparency by clicking in the little circle at the left of the word. A dot will appear in the circle to indicate that this is the layer type that has been selected. Now click OK and you have created your first transparent layer.

The layers palette should look like fig 10

GIMP has given this layer the name 'New Layer' but I want to give my layers their names. I want to do this so that I can identify easily what I am using that layer to do. Then if I need to change something or add something to a particular layer I can click on that layers name and know that I am where I want to be working.

The name I give to the layer will reflect what I want to do on that layer.

To name a layer just type in the name that you want to give the layer in the box at the top besides where it says layer name: when you are creating the new layer. See fig 09

Don’t worry if you forget to do this you can just go back later and change the name GIMP gave to the layer to one of your own choosing.

In this case GIMP had given the layer the name New Layer and I want to change this. See fig 10

Select this layer by clicking on it in the layer palette.

The layer will then turn blue to show that this is now the active layer. See fig 12

In fig 12 you can see that the name of the new layer has a very fine line around the layer name so move your cursor into the fine box surrounding the name double click on it.

The selected layer should now change to look like fig 13.

Now type in the new name that you want to give this layer in this case I have named my first layer Tutorial

Your layer size will always be the same size as your original Background layer in our case 10x6.

Repeat the whole process above four more times giving each level its own name. I have called my layers G,I, M and P why will become clear later.

When you have done this your layers palette should look like fig 11.

fig 14

fig 14

fig 15

fig 15

Using the Layers

Click on the layer named Tutorial in the layers palette. The selected layer in the palette layer will turn blue to show that it is the active layer you will be working on.

Go over to the left-hand side of your screen to the toolbox. On the 4th row down you will see an icon that looks like a black capital A. See the left-hand side of fig 14

Click on this icon it is the text icon. Clicking on this icon allows you to put text on this layer. In the bottom half of the toolbox you can see a box next to the word font that has Aa in. See the left-hand side of fig 14

This icon lets you choose what font you want to us, click on it and a drop down menu will appear. This is a list of fonts available to use in GIMP. I chose the 3rd font down in the list, which was the font ‘Adobe Caslon Bold’ see fig 15. If your version doesn’t have this font just choose one that you like.

Just under the Aa icon you will see the word size click in this box and put the number 150. The box next to this is the units in this case select px. See the left-hand side of fig 14

Four rows below you will see the word Colour. By clicking in this box you will open a box which will allow you to choose what colour you want your font to be written in. I chose black.

You will notice that when you clicked on the text icon A something changed over in the layers palette. Now on the layers palette just above the layer Tutorial a new layer was added. This layer is called Tutorial#1.

Instead of the checkerboard the rectangle is white with a capital T to signify that you are now on a text layer. See the right-hand side of fig 14

fig 16

fig 16

Typing on the Layer

Having set the font, font size and colour we are ready to begin putting something onto this layer.

Place your cursor on the left-hand side of your blank sheet and begin to type the word Tutorial. As you try to type the first letter a box will open up see fig 16

This is the GIMP Text Editor type in the word Tutorial and as you type in the Text Editor you will see the word you are typing begin to appear on the page behind the open text editor.

You will also notice that the Toolbox and the Layers Palette disappear from view while using the text editor.  See fig 17 below.

fig 17

fig 17

When you have typed the word Tutorial click on the close box and the text editor will close and the screen will return to normal. Your screen should now look something like this see fig 18

fig 18

fig 18

Typing onto the other four layers

Now we are ready to type something onto the remaining four layers which we have created. Click on the layer that we have named G and this will give you access to this layer. Go over to the toolbox and click on the text icon A see fig 14 if you need to remind yourself where this is located.

Next select the font you want and set the px size to 180 then type in the capital letter ‘G’ your screen will look something like this see fig 19.

Don’t worry if your letter is on top of something because we can move it where we like.

fig 19

fig 19

Move Tool

Go to the toolbox and select the move tool. You will find this on the third row down one in from the left. See fig 20.  I have highlighted it in pink to help you locate it. Place your cursor over the G and depress the left hand side of your mouse and now you can move the G to wherever you like on this layer.

fig 20

fig 20

Now go onto level 'I' and do the same again only this time type the capital letter I then to level M and P and do the same and you should end up with a letter on each of your four levels.

Now move each letter to arrange them so that they spell the word GIMP and you should end up with a screen that looks something like fig 21

fig 21

fig 21

Saving your image so it keeps its information

Once you have got your image looking like you want it too, then go to file and choose the option ‘save as’ this will open this box see fig 22.

fig 22

fig 22

Selecting the right file type

Down in the bottom left-hand corner it has the words ‘Select File Type (by Extension)’ in the front of these words there is a + click on the + and your window will look like this see fig 23.

fig 23

fig 23

It is important when you save this GIMP file that you choose the right extension if you choose the normal jpeg you will lose all the layer information and your layers will be reduced to just one layer when saved with a jpeg file extension.

So that we can open this file at a later date and still access all the different layers we need to choose the file extension that will allow us to do that.

The file extension that we need to select is xcf see fig 23. When you have done that go up to the top and name your file GIMP Tutorial. Go down then to the bottom right-hand corner and click on save. This will allow you to save this xcf image to where you normally save your images. If you follow this procedure your image with all its layers information intact will be available to you to use.

Once you have saved your file as xcf then you can save a copy of this file as a jpeg so that you can use it in any normal application that you want to.

To save a copy as a jpeg go back up to file and choose ‘save copy’ and you will be presented with the same window as in fig 23. This time select the jpeg extension and press save. A new box will open see fig 24 below.

fig 24

fig 24

This box tells you that your image needs to be exported before it can be saved in this format. Click on the box that says Export. This box will be replaced by another box see fig 25.

fig 25

fig 25


At the top of this box is a Quality slider move this slider over to the end on the right until the number in the box shows 100 then press save.

You now have two copies one with all the information xcf and one jpeg with only the information for the one layer.

If you have followed all the steps above you will have now have successfully duplicated a layer created new layers and put something on each layer. Congratulations!

Completely Under-whelmed?

At this point you might be feeling completely under-whelmed by the result. You may well be thinking that you could have done this without using any layers and get a similar result.

You are right we could have achieved something that looked very similar by writing straight onto the blank piece of paper we started with by just typing in GIMP Tutorial in the first place.

However I used this simple text example only to show you how to created a blank page, a duplicate page, and five transparent layers and then access them once you had created them.

I hope that you have found this easy to follow because once you master layers there is so much more that you can do using this free software.


maggs224 (author) from Sunny Spain on April 17, 2014:

@sparklingcrystal thank you so much for your comment, knowing that it has been helpful to you has made my day :D

sparklingcrystal from Manila on April 17, 2014:

I just installed gimp a couple of weeks ago and have no idea how to use it. Thanks to your post it's very helpful for gimp newbies like me. Voted up!

maggs224 (author) from Sunny Spain on April 25, 2013:

Sorry once again for being so tardy in responding to your comment Michael, thank you for shoving it everywhere I really appreciate you doing that, and I am so pleased that you have found the tutorial to be useful.

GIMP is an excellent piece of software and well worth the time and effort to learn it is being improved all the time and it keeps on adding new features.

I hope you have lots of fun manipulating and experimenting with you photographs


Micheal from United Kingdom on March 29, 2013:

Hi Maggie,

First congratulations on a first class tutorial on the workings on GIMP. You are not going to believe this but I literally downloaded a copy of this about 12 hours ago and meant to set aside some time to go through it. Then I found your article.

This excellent tutorial is bookmarked and I will be referring to it as I tackle the GIMP interface.

Thanks for the input. Shoving it everywhere.


maggs224 (author) from Sunny Spain on August 06, 2011:

Hi Ness I am so sorry that I haven't got back to you sooner, I have been off line but have now got a new provider and I am back.

In answer to your question just hit the Ctrl key and the L key together and that should restore the panel showing both the icon of the photo and the eye icon. I hope this helps.

Ness on June 02, 2011:

Whenever I open any file (mostly jpg or gif) I cannot see the eye icon. It never appears. There are no icons. There is no space to the left of the photo in the channel box area, not even if I duplicate the layer. How do I get this icon to appear?

maggs224 (author) from Sunny Spain on January 07, 2011:

Hi Christopher I am glad that it was easy to follow and I really appreciate you leaving the feedback it helps me to know if I am getting it right or making a dog's dinner of it :)

I will be doing some more Gimp tutorials in the near future the next one will be using layer masks.

Christopher Price from Vermont, USA on January 04, 2011:

This was a very informative and easy to follow lesson. I appreciate the effort you put in to make this understandable to a total newbie like me.



maggs224 (author) from Sunny Spain on January 04, 2011:

Hi Hello, you have made my day, thank you so much for your kind comments; they are a real encouragement. I am so glad that you found it easy to understand and follow.

I try to make it as simple and easy as I can because sometimes I find tutorials assume a level of understanding that I don't have like create a new layer and I am stumped before I start Lol :)

Hello, hello, from London, UK on January 04, 2011:

Gosh that was an eye opener. I have to go through several times before it really registers. You are a marvel. Thank you for your kindness of explaining in easy understand language and sharing it.

maggs224 (author) from Sunny Spain on January 02, 2011:

You are more than welcome lifegate :-D

William Kovacic from Pleasant Gap, PA on January 01, 2011:


Thanks for the information!

maggs224 (author) from Sunny Spain on January 01, 2011:

Hi Barbara, that sounds like it would be a load of fun, not sure how much we would get done though Lol..

Looking at your new avatar it seems that the hormone treatment has begun to work the beard is coming along fine :)

Barbara Bethard from Tucson, Az on January 01, 2011:

You make it sound so easy Maggs! But could you come on over and sit with me while I play with it the first few times? Just hop on over here eh? :) love you!!

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