How to Change Skin Color in GIMP

Have you ever wondered how you would look with the blue skin of a Na’vi from the movie Avatar? Maybe you’ve got a green thumb and wondered what you’d look like as a green forest dryad (or the Incredible Hulk, if you can’t keep houseplants alive) GIMP lets you see how things might be in another universe, and it’s fairly easy to do.

Note: the source image used in this tutorial was created by Hudai Gayiran, courtesy of unsplash.com. Thanks, Hudai!

The Quick Guide to Change Skin Color in GIMP

Whatever your reason for changing skin color in GIMP, the process is more or less the same as it is for changing other areas of color in any image. 

  • Step 1: Duplicate your image layer so you’re working on a copy. 
  • Step 2: Add a layer mask and mask out everything except the area you want to adjust. 
  • Step 3: Apply one of the many color adjustment filters such as Hue-Chroma. 

You’re done! If you just need a quick refresher on how to adjust colors in GIMP, that’s probably enough for you to get started, but if you want a more detailed explanation, read on for more info!

The Detailed Guide to Change Skin Color In GIMP

Step 1: Work on A Copy

It’s always a good idea to work on a copy of your image when you’re applying edits in GIMP. It’s not as good as a fully non-destructive editing workflow, but it can still save you some time if you need to adjust the results of your edit later on. 

To duplicate your layer, locate the Layers panel in the bottom right corner of the GIMP interface, right-click on the layer thumbnail, and choose Duplicate Layer from the popup menu. You can also use the keyboard shortcut Ctrl + Shift + D (use Command + Shift + D on a Mac) or apply the command from the Layer menu.

In the Layers panel, click the layer name and enter a new descriptive name before moving on to Step 2.

Step 2: Layer Masking

Next, we’ll add a layer mask to the duplicated layer to hide all the unwanted parts of the image. Layer masks act as a guide for GIMP, telling it which parts of a layer should be visible and which should be transparent. White pixels on the mask make that section of the layer visible, black pixels make it transparent, and gray tones allow for partial transparency. 

Depending on your image, there are several ways you can complete this step. If your subject is on a clean solid background, you might be able to use the Fuzzy Select tool to create a selection around your object. If not, you’ll have to paint your mask by hand.

Right-click the appropriate thumbnail in the Layers panel, and choose Add Layer Mask. You can also use the small mask icon at the bottom of the Layers panel, or use the Layer menu. GIMP will open the Add Layer Mask dialog box, giving you a few choices, as you can see below.

I’ll use the Selection method to create a quick mask

If you’ve been able to select the area of skin you want to adjust, set the Initialize Layer Mask to: option to Selection. Otherwise, set it to White (full opacity).

With a good selection, you might be ready to move on to step 3, but if your image is too complex for shortcuts then it’s time to start painting your layer mask. 

Click the layer mask thumbnail in the Layers panel to make sure it’s active, and switch to the Paintbrush tool using the keyboard shortcut P

Set your foreground and background colors to the default black and white by using the shortcut D. You can also use X to switch your foreground and background. 

Starting with black, paint on the layer mask to hide all areas of the image that you don’t want. You’ll probably realize that it’s next to impossible to tell what you’ve hidden because the layer below looks exactly the same! 

To get around this, select your original layer, and set the layer opacity to 25 or below. This allows the checkerboard transparency background to act as a guide. 

There are actually lots of different ways to create a layer mask efficiently, and you’ll want to experiment with them as you develop your own workflow habits.

Step 3: Color Adjustment

Now that you’ve got the areas of skin you want to adjust isolated using the layer mask, it’s time for the fun part of the process – color adjustment! There are tons of different ways you can adjust colors in GIMP, but the simplest one is to use the Hue-Chroma filter. 

Open the Color menu, and select Hue-Chroma from the list. GIMP will open the Hue-Chroma dialog box, allowing you to quickly adjust the color of your working layer. Because everything but the hand has been hidden with the layer mask, it will appear as though you’ve only changed the color of the hand when you look at the image as a whole. 

The Hue-Chroma filter in GIMP 2.10

The settings are quite simple: the Hue slider controls color tint, Chroma controls saturation, and Lightness does exactly what it says. Adjust the Hue slider and experiment with what looks good!

Of course, not everyone wants to be a forest dryad/Incredible Hulk, so a different adjustment of the Hue slider can create a dramatically different result. It might not look natural, exactly, but who cares about that when they’re editing images?

If you don’t like the results you get from the Hue-Chroma filter, try the Hue-Saturation filter or any of the other options in the Colors menu.

That’s everything there is to know about how to change skin color in GIMP, so now it’s time to let your imagination run wild.

Happy editing!

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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