Figure 3.2. The standard windows of GIMP
The screenshot above shows the most basic arrangement of GIMP windows
that can be used effectively.
The Main Toolbox:
This is the heart of GIMP. It contains the highest level menu,
plus a set of icon buttons that can be used to select tools, and more.
Docked below the main Toolbox is a Tool Options dialog, showing
options for the currently selected tool (in this case, the Rectangle
An image window:
Each image open in GIMP is displayed in a separate window. A lot of
images can be open at the same time, only limited by 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.
The Layers, Channels, Paths dock with the
Layers Dialog open.
This dialog window 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.
The docked dialog below the layer dialog shows the dialogs 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 around 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 whenever you work with an image that has
multiple layers: once you advance beyond the very 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.
If your GIMP layout gets trashed, fortunately your arrangement
is pretty easy to recover by using
in the upper right corner of a dialog. This opens the Tab menu. Select
, or .
To add, close or detach a tab from a dock, click on
Unlike some other programs, GIMP does not give you the option of putting
all your controls and image displays into a single comprehensive
window. The GIMP developers have always felt that this is a poor way of
working, because it forces the program to do the work of a
dedicated window manager. Not
only would this waste a lot of programmer time, it is almost impossible to
do in a way that works correctly across all of the operating systems GIMP
is intended to run on.
Earlier versions of GIMP (up to GIMP 1.2.5) were very profligate with
dialogs: advanced users often had half a dozen or more dialogs open at
once, scattered all over the screen and very difficult to keep track of.
GIMP 2.0 is much better in this respect, because it allows dialogs to be
docked together in a flexible way. (The Layers dialog in the screenshot
actually contains four dialogs, represented by tabs: Layers, Channels,
Paths, and Undo.) The system takes a little while to learn, but once you
learn it, we hope that you will like it.
The following sections will walk you through the components of each of the
windows shown in the screenshot, explaining what they are and how they
work. Once you have read them, plus the section describing the basic
structure of GIMP images, you should have learned enough to use GIMP for a
wide variety of basic image manipulations. You can then look through the
rest of the manual at your leisure (or just experiment) to learn the
almost limitless number of more subtle and specialized things that are
possible. Have fun!
Figure 3.3. Screenshot of the Toolbox
The Main Toolbox is the heart of GIMP. If you close it, you quit GIMP.
Here is a quick tour of what you will find there.
In the Toolbox, as in most parts of GIMP, moving the mouse on top
of something and letting it rest for a moment will usually bring
up a "tooltip" message that may help you understand what the thing
is or what you can do with it. Also, in many cases you can press
the F1 key to get help about the thing that is
underneath the mouse.
Tool icons: These icons are buttons which
activate tools for a wide variety of purposes: selecting parts of
images, painting on them, transforming them, etc. The
section gives an overview of how to work with tools, and each tool is
described systematically in the
The color areas here show you GIMP's current foreground and background
colors, which come into play in many operations. Clicking on either
one of them brings up a color selector dialog that allows you to
change to a different color. Clicking on the double-headed arrow swaps
the two colors, and clicking on the small symbol in the lower left
corner resets them to black and white.
The symbols here show you GIMP's
current selections for: the Paintbrush, used by all tools that allow
you to paint on the image (“painting” includes
operations like erasing and smudging, by the way); for the Pattern,
which is used in filling selected areas of an image; and for the
Gradient, which comes into play whenever an operation requires a
smoothly varying range of colors. Clicking on any of these symbols
brings up a dialog window that allows you to change it.
Active Image: In GIMP, you
can work with many images at once, but at any given moment, one of
them is the “active image”. Here you find a small
iconic representation of the active image. Clicking on it brings up
a dialog with a list of all the currently open images, allowing you
to make a different one active if you want to. (Clicking on the
window where the image is displayed will accomplish the same thing,
The “Active Image” preview is disabled by default. If
you want it, you can enable it in the
Toolbox Preferences tab.
At every start, GIMP selects a tool (the brush), a color, a brush and
a pattern by default, always the same. If you want GIMP to select the
last tool, color, brush and pattern you used when quitting your
previous session, check the Save input device settings on
You can get rid of the “Wilber's eyes” (replacing the old
Toolbox menu) from the Toolbox by adding the following line to your
It only affects the toolbox. The eyes in the Image window are only
visible when you do not have an open image.