How to Add Text in GIMP

Adding text is a common practice in image editing, whether you’re making a sweet meme or just adding a watermark overtop of your photograph before sharing it online.

Adding text in GIMP is easy to do, but you’ll quickly discover that advanced text handling is one of its weak spots. 

The Quick Guide to Adding Text in GIMP 

Step 1: Select the Text tool from the toolbox.

Step 2: Click and drag on your image to create a text area.

Step 3: Choose your font settings, and enter your text.

That’s all there is to adding basic text in GIMP! But as soon as you try to do anything more complex in terms of design and layout, you might start getting frustrated – I know I did the first time I tried setting text in GIMP. Even with practice, it still feels more tedious than it should. 

Even if you’re just adding your name to a photo, you’ll run into a few of the same issues with the Text tool that I have. There are a few tips and tricks that make the process easier, so let’s take a closer look at the Text tool and the other options that are available for adding text in GIMP. 

Using the Text Tool

The basic process of using the Text tool is extremely simple. Select the Text tool from the toolbox, or activate it with the keyboard shortcut T. If you know what typeface and other settings you’d like to use, now’s the last chance for you to use the tool panel options to control the text.

Click and drag anywhere on your image to create a text box large enough for your content, and a small popup with Text tool settings appears above it. This popup is now the only way to control the text in this text area, despite the fact that the main tool panel still shows the same options. 

GIMP’s Text tool creates a hovering popup with your text settings

As I mentioned before, the Text tool is a bit awkward to use at the best of times. Just in the process of screen capturing the quick watermark below to demonstrate the Text tool, I ran into a few of the most common issues you might experience (and a couple of odd ones). 

Selecting all the text and adding kerning causes the baseline of the characters to drop right out of the visible portion of the text area. GIMP shouldn’t even let me add kerning to them all at once, since letter spacing across a full line of text is known as ‘tracking’, and they serve very different purposes. 

Text handling can be a bit counterintuitive in the current version of GIMP

Those yellow boxes represent the selected characters with kerning applied, but they are located below the visible area of the text box. I could resize the text box using the handles at each corner, but there’s no sensible reason for kerning to create this outcome.

This panel overlap problem is a seriously confusing UI issue

If you’re working with text areas near the edge of your image workspace, you’ll see that the hovering text settings dialog actually disappears behind the rest of the GIMP user interface. You can’t click on them or interact with any buttons unless you can do it using just your keyboard without seeing the UI.

With that in mind, it’s easier to finish choosing all your text settings first before actually placing your text in the desired spot in your image. Text areas automatically become their own separate layers, so at least the positioning stage of adding text in GIMP is easy to manage.

Once you’re done, simply switch tools and finish up any other editing you need to do before exporting. If you want to go back and edit your text later, you can double-click on the thumbnail for your Text layer, and GIMP will switch back to the Text tool and the settings popup reappears.

The Text Editor

GIMP does provide an alternative to working directly on your image with the Text tool the way I outlined above. After selecting the Text tool from the toolbox, take a look at the Tool Options panel and you’ll see an unassuming checkbox marked Use editor.

If Use editor is enabled, you’ll get an additional popup window when you click and drag on your image to define the text area you want. Unfortunately, the GIMP Text Editor isn’t much more effective than the hovering tool popup – instead, it just adds a few different quirks of its own. 

This might be because the Text Editor is actually the older text entry system used before GIMP 2.8, and it was intended to be replaced by the process of editing text directly on the image. As a result, we’re left with two mostly-working systems that each have their own flaws.

The Text Editor does provide options for right-to-left text orientations which are essential for some alphabets and writing styles, and it also includes some other text orientation tools. Just keep in mind that it doesn’t always play nicely with the hovering popup Text settings panel. 

An Alternative Option

If you set a lot of text in GIMP, you might find it easier to work with a vector-based program such as Inkscape (which is also free and open-source software). Vector graphics programs are often used for page and text layout tasks, and they tend to have much better text handling systems with more comprehensive options. 

Of course, you can still add text in GIMP quite easily, but it’s best used for small pieces of text like watermarks – and your very best memes, of course. 

If you’ve found a better solution for adding text in GIMP, please share it with us in the comments – I bet everyone would be happy for any assistance they can get!  

About Thomas Boldt
I’ve been working with digital images since the year 2000 or so, when I got my first digital camera. I've tried many image editing programs. GIMP is a free and powerful software, but not exactly user-friendly until you get comfortable with it, and I wanted to make the learning process easier for you here.

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  • Louwrens

    Thank you. It should be so simple but it isn’t. I want to select Text, type something, change the font and its properties like the size and colour, and see it all changing till I’m happy. Will try Inkscape.

    Reply
    • Thomas Boldt

      Hi Louwrens, I know how you feel – working with text in GIMP can be very frustrating. Inkscape is much simpler to use for text, especially if you don’t need to do any image editing in the same file.

      Another solution is to use both programs together – they’re free, after all! You can do your image editing in GIMP, and do any text work in Inkscape. It adds a bit of time, but it saves all the frustration.

      Reply
  • Guy

    Hi Guy here from Montreal
    i want to print t shirts,texte only
    i would like to learn how to use Gimp for this,
    Or can you recommend a free or cheap easy to use tool
    Thanks
    Guy

    Reply
    • Thomas Boldt

      It should be possible to use GIMP for your project, but I think it would be better to use Inkscape (which is also free, like GIMP). Inkscape is usually better at working with text than GIMP is, depending on how much text you want to put on the t-shirts. GIMP is fine for a few words, but once you put in too much text it can get really annoying, lol!

      It will all depend on where you’re getting the t-shirts printed. Different companies have different image requirements for the designs they print, but they usually have a section on their website that tells you how to format your designs so that they get printed properly.

      Reply