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GIMP, The Basics


  • GIMP, The Basics

    GIMP the Basics

    GIMP is an Acronym for GNU Image Manipulation Program not somebody running around in a rubber mask as a lot of people may think. GIMP is a free package along the lines of Photoshop and can be easily used for tasks such as photo retouching, image composition and image authoring, you can even download an animation add on if you want to dabble on that side as well.

    Downloading the files

    The amount of files you download is up to you and what you want to download the latest version is 2.6.11 which will work on versions of windows from XP sp2 onwards (including 64 bit systems, and you can also get versions for Mac and other operating systems). Version 2.8 is currently being worked on and will be released in due course when it is ready.
    In the past you would have needed to download the GIMP program and GTK+ these days though the download can be done in one go and is about 19.4Mb If you want the user manuals as well these are available to download from the same link and are language specific and each one is about 41Mb in size and there are is a selection of tutorials available at
    Once you have downloaded the main setup files it is then just a case of double clicking on the program wherever you saved it to and then following the instructions.

    Using GIMP
    Click image for larger version

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ID:	424992Launch GIMP either from the icon on your desk top or from the start/programs menu. One of the nice things about GIMP is that your two main toolbox panels are movable so you have an option from the menu’s to either lock these in place or leave them floating so that you can drag them around the screen to keep them out of the way of what you are working on. Also depending on the size of the monitor you have you can add or remove tools and even combine the two floating menu’s into one. Also if you minimise the main window the two floating menu’s act as separate windows.

    I have moved the two floating windows close together for this opening view otherwise you wouldn’t have seen the second one in this photo as I use a 23 inch widescreen monitor! Also for the sharp eyed amongst you in future views you will notice I have moved some of the options on the right hand menu to the left, this is just how I like to arrange my work area and not something you need to do yourself although you can if you want to.

    For those of you who have used Paint, Photoshop or Elements or some of the other photo editing packages there are a few differences in how you use GIMP but these are mainly in the different tool symbols and where to find things but you will soon get used to it. For those that have used a previous version of GIMP or read the article I did on this several years ago you will also notice there have been several changes to the UI.

    OK onto the nitty gritty, we have taken our photographs and downloaded them from the camera to our computer and we are ready to load them into GIMP. Assuming you have been following along and have opened GIMP select file from the main screen menu and then select open. This will open a folder for you system (desk top, computer etc) and allow you to search for the image you want to work on. I am going to work on an image of Libby the Barbarian for this tutorial but what you choose to work on is entirely up to you, once you have highlighted the file(s) that you want to work with click on open and the image(s) will appear on the main screen. If you open several photos to work on each will open in a new window and if they are not on screen altogether you find them on the windows menu bar at the bottom of your screen or wherever else you chose to put it.
    Click image for larger version

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    Rotating an Image
    I normally rotate my images before I put them into GIMP using Windows Photo Viewer, or once your image is loaded into GIMP if you click on the Image menu in the top bar and select Transform then you can rotate the image this way as well. Although either of these methods only allows you to rotate the image 90 degrees at a time, if you haven’t taken the time to set the camera up correctly and the image is leaning this can be taken out using GIMP by selecting the Rotate Tool from the toolbox window (circled in photo) this will allow you to adjust the layer to remove that slight tilt/lean the figure may have.

    Cropping the Image
    Click image for larger version

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ID:	424994At this stage I usually like to crop my image, nobody wants to look at a photo whereby most of the view is of the background and you can only just make out the figure or subject of the photo.

    Select the crop tool (circled in the photo) it looks like a scalpel, this replaces your mouse pointer with a cross hair with the scalpel symbol next to it. Then by choosing a point on your image hold the left mouse button down and draw the area you want to crop leaving the part you want.

    Don’t worry if you don’t get this exactly right first time, by hovering the cross hair on the boarder you wish to adjust you can enlarge or shrink the area until you get it how you want it to look.

    Once you are happy with the crop area (the image inside the box) Left clicking will remove all the unwanted area, if you make a mistake at this stage just click on the edit menu and select undo crop image and you are back to where you were before you cropped the image.
    At this point don’t worry if the image looks small, by selecting the zoom tool from the toolbox (magnifying glass) you can make it bigger by hovering the zoom pointer over the image and left clicking (to make it smaller hit the minus key on your keyboard).

    Adjusting the LevelsClick image for larger version

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    Moving on then next we want to adjust the levels of our image as it is straight from the camera, Images can look different from monitor to monitor so what might look good on your screen may look completely different on somebody else’s, even going from my lap top to my main machine I can have the same photo look completely different, not everybody calibrates their monitor so this doesn’t help either.

    There are several ways of adjusting the levels of a photograph but for this tutorial we are going to use the levels tool. The file I have used is straight from the camera so first off we are going to adjust the lighting levels.

    From the menu on the picture window, select Tools then choose Colour Tools and Levels (Tools/Colour Tools/Levels) this brings up another window called levels which we can use to adjust the levels of the photo.

    With this window on the screen we have two options of adjusting the levels by far the easiest is to use auto (circled in the photo) or if you are feeling confident in your abilities and you know your monitor is calibrated you can use the slider controls under the input levels graph. Using the sliders you will see the changes as you move them but using either method if you are not happy with the results you can hit the reset button and start again. Once you are happy with the colour levels then click on the OK button.

    We now hopefully have a photo that is good enough to post on the web but isn’t quite ready just yet we need to make sure that the image size is acceptable.

    Adjusting Image Size
    Click image for larger version

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ID:	424996When you take a photo with the camera, depending on camera abilities and settings your initial photograph is going to be about 3Mb in size, having made the adjustments we have so far the current image could be a lot higher, as an example the image I am working on at the moment is shown on my screen as 50% of its actual size and because of the adjustments we have made it is currently the better part of 61MB in file size!!

    So our next stage is to bring the size down to something that we can post on the web, at the moment my image despite being cropped is something like 1132 pixels wide by 1668 pixels high or in other words its huge!! From the Image menu on the main window select Scale Image... this will bring up a window titled Scale Image.

    From this window we are interested in the width and height, as you can see from the photo this gives us the actual image dimensions. Most websites will have a pixel width limit and some will even have a height limit as well. This doesn’t mean that we want our photo to take up the maximum size permissible, if we do this and the photo is of a 28mm foot figure it could make it that you will be showing your figure in a photo that is 600 times its original size and unless you are a top class painter your paint job isn’t going to hold up to this sort of size so bear this in mind when you choose your image size after all you want your hard work to look its best.

    So for my image I am going to select a width of 600 pixels by selecting what is already in the width box and over typing it. You will notice that when you do this the height box doesn’t change so once you have typed in your width click on the chain link that you see between the width & height box and the pixels box. As soon as you do this the height should auto change in proportion to the width that you have set (it will work vice versa as well) then click the scale button which will reduce your image on screen. To see this in its new full size use the zoom/magnify tool, at 100% this is the size of the image that you will be posting to a website, if you are unhappy with how it looks at this stage click on the edit menu of the main screen and choose Undo Scale Image and you can then go through the process again until you get an image you are happy with.

    Flattening the Image
    But it’s a photo it’s already flat I hear you shout at me!

    It is yes but at the same time all the adjustments we have been making have been increasing the file size, reducing the image size took off a couple of Mega bytes but not much. A lot of sites will also impose a file size limit as well as a photo size limit. This step is needed more if you have changed the background of your image or turned several images into a montage but it doesn’t hurt to do this in the basic stages.

    To do this click on Image from the main menu bar and select Flatten Image, you may not see much of a change at the bottom of the screen in regards to file size but don’t worry.

    Saving the ImageClick image for larger version

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    Click image for larger version

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ID:	424997Last part of this tutorial is saving our image, there are several steps to this, firstly from the file menu on the main screen select save as which will bring up the Save Image window. In this window name your photo and choose its destination folder, I have chosen desktop and I can choose exactly where on my desk top I want the saved image to go by clicking on the plus sign next to where it says “Browse for other folders” which will expand the window to give more options, choose the option you want and then expand the choices for “Select file type” and choose Jpeg, this is the most used standard for posting photos on the web.

    Once you have selected the file type and were you want to save it click on the save button, this will bring up another window titled Save as Jpeg or Save as whichever file type you selected.

    When this window first comes on screen it will say that the file size is unknown, click in the check box for “Show preview in image window” and the file size will be revealed notice the size difference of this. However some sites also limit you on file size so if this is the case by using the slider at the top of the “Save as” window we can reduce this further is need be. Then when you are ready click the Save button and you are done.

    Before you close the image in the GIMP window just make sure it has saved where you wanted it otherwise you could be searching quite a while for it. You are now free to post your image on the website of your choice.

    Next month I will expand on this article and cover making a montage and changing backgrounds and if I have enough time I will add in making a gradient background that can be used for photographing a miniature against.

    Here is the finished image using the techniques discussed in this article/tutorial.
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    • Chameleon
      Chameleon commented
      Editing a comment
      Nice tut! I've always had difficulty with altering the levels. If I do auto then it always seems too contrasty. Are there any general rules for how to alter the levels manually?

    • Endor
      Endor commented
      Editing a comment
      Just read through this tutorial, going step by step in GIMP at the same time. Thanks - this helped a lot as I am completely new to this program

    • War Griffon
      War Griffon commented
      Editing a comment
      Originally posted by Chameleon
      Nice tut! I've always had difficulty with altering the levels. If I do auto then it always seems too contrasty. Are there any general rules for how to alter the levels manually?
      Sorry Sue, I missed this when you posted it. for manually adjusting the levels manually it is more a case of a regularly calibrated monitor and then adjusting the 3 sliders under the graph instead of hitting the auto button so that you match the mini as close as possible.
      I usually try to get a reading (colour) across the graph which with my set up normally means adjusting the right hand side slider first bringing it in to where the spikes of the graph starts, then bring in the left slider if need be. The centre slider is the gamma and can also be adjusted, just give it a try and have fun if you mess it up you can always undo it

      You can also adjust by using curves this will bring up a line on a graph type grid and you can adjust the line al along its length, the idea being to get a nice S shape usually but this method can be quite difficult to get what you want and most people use levels.
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