How to Change Foreground Color in GIMP

Working with foreground and background color in GIMP is one of the most basic elements of the program, and it’s a simple skill that all GIMP image editors need to know. You’ll be using foreground color regularly for the Paintbrush and Bucket Fill tools, and it’s quite easy to do once you know how it all works. 

Note: if you arrived at this article hoping to find instructions about modifying the color of the specific objects in the foreground of an image, that’s a different post altogether! You can find some helpful tips and tricks in this article

The Toolbox Panel Color Swatches

The central hub for all your GIMP tools is the Toolbox panel, which is located on the left side of the GIMP interface by default, as you can see in the screenshot below. 

If the Toolbox panel is missing, it’s easy to bring it back. Open the Windows menu and click Toolbox, or press the keyboard shortcut Ctrl + B (use Command + B instead if you’re using GIMP on a Mac).

The Toolbox contains icons that represent all the available tools, as well as two color swatches at the bottom that display your currently active foreground color and background color. 

As you might guess, the foreground color swatch is positioned slightly in front of the background color swatch for easy visual separation. 

To change the foreground color in GIMP, click the foreground color swatch, as shown above. 

GIMP will open the Change Foreground Color dialog window, which contains a range of different methods for selecting a new foreground color. It can look a bit intimidating the first time you see it, but it’s like having access to every paint color you could possibly imagine without any of the mess, smells, or vast storage space requirements. 

The fastest and most intuitive way to select a new foreground color is to use the visual display on the left half of the window. 

Click anywhere on the color spectrum to set the hue value of your foreground color, and then select the specific color you want in the larger color window. 

If you prefer, you can enter RGB values for your color or even a hexadecimal code used in HTML color notation on the internet. 

In the upper left corner of the window, there are also several other options for representing your color choices, but they all do the same job, so it’s up to you to decide which option you find most comfortable. 

Once you’ve selected your new color, click the OK button to confirm your choice. 

The foreground color swatch in the Toolbox panel will now display your new foreground color. That’s all there is to it!

The Default Foreground Color

The default foreground color for GIMP is pure black, and you can instantly reset the foreground and background colors to their default settings using the keyboard shortcut D.

You can also swap the foreground and background colors back and forth by pressing the keyboard shortcut X, which is very handy when working with layer masks that use pure black and pure white. 

Using the Color Picker Tool

If you want to use the Paintbrush or Bucket Fill tool to create a color patch that matches another part of your image, you can use the Color Picker tool to change the foreground color quickly and precisely. 

Switch to the Color Picker tool using the Toolbox panel or the keyboard shortcut O.

In the Tool Options panel, make sure that the Pick Target option is set to Set foreground color

Place your cursor over the part of your image that contains the color you want to use, and click once. The foreground color swatch at the bottom of the Toolbox panel will change color to match your selected color, and you can now use it with any of GIMP’s paint tools. 

A Final Word

That covers everything you need to know to change foreground colors in GIMP! It’s worth spending some time with the color selection dialog so that you get familiar with it because you’re probably going to be using it quite a lot during your GIMP projects. 

Happy coloring!

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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  • Warren

    Thanks Thomas for the great instructions. Very nicely explained. However I am trying to use transparency as the “colour” and am finding it hard to figure out how to set the foreground colour as transparent so that I can clear out pixels that are fuzz around the edges of my image. Is there a way to do this ?

    • Thomas Boldt

      Hi Warren, thanks for your kind words! I could be misunderstanding your question, but it sounds like you should be using the Eraser tool to remove the ‘pixel fuzz’ around the edge of your image. You can also achieve the same effect using layer masks, but that’s a more advanced technique, so I think the Eraser tool is your best bet.

      Hope that helps!