This GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) tutorial introduces the flexible feature called layers. When I first started drawing with GIMP I had no idea what they were or how to use them. After getting acquainted with the basic drawing and painting tools, I decided to try using layers. They are now a favorite feature. A layer is like a transparent sheet that you can draw on and overlay onto the picture underneath. They can help you compose more complicated images and effects. Layers may sound intimidating, but GIMP makes them easy to use.
Are you unfamiliar with this software? Please read this GIMP tutorial that explains how to draw with the basic tools.
How to Create a New Layer with GIMP
Bring the image window to the front. One of the menus at the top of is called Layer. Go to Layer>New Layer. A prompt will appear that allows you to customize properties of the layer. You can change the name of the layer if you like, but there is no need to change anything from the default settings. You definitely want to keep it transparent, so don’t change that. Click the “OK” button and the new layer will be created on top of the existing image. The image window will always show all the layers together. The “Layer” menu will allow you to delete the active layer and some other managing tasks. The most comprehensive way to manage layers is to use the layer dialog box.
The GIMP Layer Dialog Window
When using layers, you will need to have this window open. If it does not automatically open when you start the program, you can open it from the main GIMP control panel. Go to File>Dialogs>Layers. This window allows you to manage them and select which one you are working on. The active layer is highlighted. You can also delete, rearrange, merge, and rename them. To change the active layer, click on it with your mouse. To change properties or delete, right click on the layer and select from the available options. To rearrange layers, drag and drop them in the order that you want. The first object in the foreground should be on the top because it will show in front of all the background and images behind it.
Saving GIMP Files with Layers
When you are saving a picture that is not finished it is important to save your file as an .xcf file. This is the default file type when you save with GIMP. It is the native GIMP file type and other programs cannot open it. Other file types do not always support layers. If you save it with all the layers merged, you will not be able to separate them again in order to continue working on different parts of the picture. After you have finished a picture and want to share it or use it then use “Save As” again and change the file type to .jpeg, .gif, or .tif. I keep a copy of the .xcf file and the finished .jpeg file just in case I ever want to edit or reuse some parts of the picture.
How to Use Layers to Compose Images
Try something new or risky in a new layer. That way you can delete it without ruining what you did before. If there is a problem with an object or an element you are drawing, you can erase and adjust it easily without ruining anything else.
Use layers to create background effects easily. Some ideas are adding layers of clouds to a sky or creating washes of sunset colors.
You can adjust placement of part of your picture by moving an individual layer. In the image window, place your cursor at the edge of the picture until you see the four-way arrow symbol appear next to your cursor. Hold the left mouse button down and drag the active layer where you want it. Lift your finger to place it where you stopped. It doesn’t matter what tool is active when you do this. When the cursor goes to the edge it activates the move layer function. I often do this by accident when I am using the smudge tool near the edge of a picture. Of course you can always undo it.
Draw the foreground picture on a separate layer. Later you can easily change the background color without having to start over with a new picture. This was a great advantage when I drew some holiday candles. I was unhappy with the original background color I had chosen. After experimenting with different colors I found just the right one and it made a huge impact on the finished picture.
After you paint a beautiful sunset or sky background, you can use it again with a new picture. Just open the .xcf picture file and delete the layers you don’t want to reuse. Create a new layer and start painting the new foreground picture. To make sure you don’t lose the original image, go to File>Save As from the image window. A save prompt will open for you to make a new name for your file.
GIMP has many powerful features. Layers are easy to use and can help you draw better pictures with more elements. They allow you to keep it simple by concentrating on one step or one element at a time. When each one is finished you may be surprised at the images you can paint. Find what works for you and use as few or as many layers as you like. They are easily customizable to the way you want to compose your picture. After following this GIMP tutorial, layers will help you unleash your creativity and paint impressive pictures.