GIMP is an incredibly powerful image editor that is able to manipulate pixels into almost any shape you could possibly want. You can even use it to create short pieces of text and then apply any of GIMP’s fancy filters to create some wild results.
If you want to keep things a bit less wild and more professional, there are some third-party plugins that offer more restrained text effects.
Keep in mind that while GIMP can create and edit text, it’s not really intended as a graphic design or page layout program, it’s supposed to be an image editor – so if you’re creating text effects all the time, you may want to consider trying other apps that are better suited to the task.
How to Add Text Effects in GIMP
The simplest way to add text effects is to create a text layer and then simply apply any filters that you want to your text layer.
Switch to the Text tool using the Toolbox or the keyboard shortcut T. Click and drag on your canvas to create a text box, and then customize the text settings in the Tool Options panel and enter your text.
Make sure the text layer is still selected in the Layers panel, and then open the Filters menu and apply any of GIMP’s filters to your text. Many of them won’t be very useful, but there are a few decent ones.
This is the fastest method, but it’s not the best method unless you’re in a big hurry. If you have the time, I strongly recommend that you explore the non-destructive method described below, and get yourself a copy of the Layer Effects plugin from the final section. They take a bit more time, but they’re worth it!
Bonus: Non-Destructive Method
The only problem with the simple method described above is that your text layer is converted into a pixel layer, and you can’t change anything about the text except by editing the pixels.
You can’t change the font or the size, you can’t correct spelling mistakes, and if you want to make a different version, you have to start all over again.
GIMP does have a neat feature that allows you to quickly make selections around the contents of a layer, though, and you can use this to turn your text layer into a stencil for repeated use while still keeping the text editable.
Create your text layer and fill it with your desired text, then create a new layer to hold the new text copy that you will add the effect to.
Open the Layer menu and click New Layer, or you can use the keyboard shortcut Ctrl + Shift + N (use Command + Shift + N if you’re using GIMP on a Mac). Give it a descriptive name, and click OK.
Next, hold down the Alt key (use Option on Mac) and click the text layer thumbnail in the Layers panel. Your text will be automatically selected perfectly!
Select your new layer in the Layers panel and fill the selection area with the foreground color of your choice by pressing Ctrl + . (use Command + . if you’re on a Mac). Just for clarity’s sake, that’s a period! You can fill the selection with the background color by pressing the comma key instead of the period key if you prefer.
Now you’ve got a brand-new copy of your text saved as pixel layer, ready to have your filters applied to it, and you’ve still got the original version as an editable text layer. You can repeat this process as many times as you like, using your original text layer as an editable stencil.
Add Effects to Text in GIMP With Plugins
You can accomplish a lot with GIMP’s built-in filters, but they’re not really very practical for the basics, and many of the filters that you would actually want to use on your text could be improved. I mean, the Shift filter is cool, but it’s probably not going to be useful very often.
If you’ve ever used Photoshop, you may be familiar with the Layer Effects panel which can add drop shadows, outer glows, bevels, and more to any layer, including to text layers. Back in 2008, a developer named Jonathan Stipe created an open-source version of these same effects as a plugin that could be loaded into GIMP.
The plugin has gone through a couple of updates by now, and I believe that several other authors have contributed to the project, but they’re very handy for adding effects to text in GIMP – and they’re free!
There are two versions of the plugin: one version is coded in Python, and another version is an SCM file that uses GIMP’s Script-fu scripting system (don’t ask me, I didn’t name it).
The two versions are almost identical, but not quite: the SCM version has a couple of extra tools, but the Python version allows you to preview your effects before applying them, while the SCM version does not. If you’re using GIMP on macOS, you may need to download the SCM version, since Apple no longer installs Python by default.
Personally, I prefer the Python version because of the preview option, but both versions can add lots of effects to your text.
Installing Layer Effects
Once you’ve downloaded the files, it’s easy to install GIMP plugins. You just have to copy the plugin file into the GIMP plugins folder. If you’re not sure where to find it, there’s a simple method using the GIMP Preferences window.
If you’re using GIMP on Windows or Linux, open the Edit menu and click Preferences.
If you’re using GIMP on macOS, open the GIMP application menu and click Preferences.
In the left side of the Preferences window, scroll down to find the Folders entry and click the + icon to expand it.
If you are using the Python version of the plugin, select the Plugins entry from the list, and the right side of the window will show all the folders that GIMP checks for plugin files.
If you are using the SCM version of the plugin, select the Scripts entry from the list, and the right side of the window will show all the folders that GIMP checks for script files.
Locate the folder path that contains your username, select it, and then click the File Browser button in the upper right corner of the window. GIMP will open a new window displaying the appropriate folder.
Place the plugin file into the folder, and then restart GIMP. GIMP only loads script and plugin files during the startup launch phase, so restart is necessary to activate your new layer effects.
Using Layer Effects on Text Layers
Assuming that you installed the plugin properly, it should load automatically when GIMP loads. If you open the Layer menu, you’ll see a new entry at the bottom of the menu entries tilted either Layer Effects or Layer-FX-2.10, depending on which version of the plugin you installed.
In my screenshot, I’ve got both entries visible because I had to test both versions of the plugin. They don’t conflict with each other, so feel free to do the same, if you want!
There are quite a few handy filters to add effects to your text, so feel free to experiment! Bevel and Emboss, Drop Shadow, and Outer Glow are the most useful filters, in my opinion, but you can combine them in any way that you want.
Best of all, the results of the Layer Effects filters get rendered onto their own separate layers, so that your original text isn’t affected at all, and you can still edit it any time you want.
A Final Word
Congratulations! You’ve just learned how to add effects to text in GIMP using several different methods, and you even got yourself a snazzy new plugin package in the bargain – for free!
It’s a good idea to be careful and cautious when downloading new plugins and software from the internet, but these plugins are simple and tested by thousands of people with no issues.
Enjoy your new text effects!About Thomas Boldt