How to Curve Text in GIMP

Curving text is a common technique in graphic design, used in everything from logos to stickers to mixed media art projects.

As you might know from my other guides here at TGT, working with text in GIMP can be a bit tricky sometimes, but with a bit of help from the Paths tool, you can curve text fairly easily in just a few clicks.  

The Quick Guide to Curve Text in GIMP

In the interest of giving you the best advice, I’ll tell you right away that GIMP is not the program that I recommend for this task. But if you absolutely have to curve text in GIMP, here’s how to do it in just a few steps:

  • Step 1: Create and format your text with the Text tool
  • Step 2: Use the Path tool to create a curved path that your text will follow. 
  • Step 3: Right-click on the text layer in the Layers panel and choose Text Along Path.
  • Step 4: Create a new layer, select the new curved text path, and choose Fill Path

If everything went smoothly, you’re all done! Your text won’t be editable with the Text tool, but you’ve still successfully created curved text in GIMP. 

You can use any of the usual transform tools on your new layer and any advanced filters you want, but if you want to edit the text you’ll have to repeat the process from Step 1

Of course, things don’t always go smoothly when you’re working with text in GIMP, so I’m going to break down the steps a bit further for those of you who want more detailed instructions and some screenshots to help guide the way. 

The Detailed Guide to Curved Text in GIMP

Here’s a more detailed explanation of how to curve text in GIMP, although I’d strongly suggest that you try using Inkscape for your text-based graphic design needs instead. If you’re determined, let’s press onwards!

Step 1: Create Your Text

This step is fairly simple. Select the Text tool from the toolbox or press the keyboard shortcut T. Click and drag to outline a text box, choose the typeface and font options you want, and enter your text. 

The location or color of your text doesn’t matter, but the size and formatting are important

Don’t worry about where you place your text box or what color the text is at the moment because GIMP will ignore those details in later steps. All you’re doing is creating a stencil or template of how you want the text to look. Think about alignment, size, and line spacing to get the best results. 

Step 2: Draw Your Curve

Once you’ve got your text sorted out, it’s time to define the curve you want your text to follow. Select the Paths tool from the toolbox or press the keyboard shortcut B to switch quickly. 

Click once on your image to set the first point of your path, and then click again to set additional points. You’ll need at least two, but you can create as many as you want to create more complex curves and shapes. 

This path forms the curve that my text box will be warped along

GIMP also includes additional handles that you can move around to adjust the shape of your curve, although keep in mind that the more complex your curve gets, the more distorted your final text will look. 

Step 3: It’s Time to Curve

Now that we’ve got both our key elements in place, it’s time to introduce them to each other. With the path you just created still active, locate your text layer in the Layers panel in the bottom right of the GIMP window. 

Right-click the entry for your text layer and choose Text Along Path from the popup menu. 

GIMP creates new paths automatically using your letterforms

GIMP will automatically create a very complex new path, outlining your letters in the new curved shape. You’ll note that the original text is still visible and unchanged, and the new curved text outlines are completely empty and invisible – so we’ll have to fix them both!

Step 4: Fill The Path

Create a new layer by opening the Layers menu and New Layer, or use the shortcut Ctrl + Shift + N (use Command + Shift + N on a Mac). Make sure the new layer is set to Fill with: Transparency in the New Layer options dialog and click OK.

Using the Paths tool, click on the new curved text to select the path. If your text is fairly small or you’re not very zoomed in, it might get lost under all the path handles, but they won’t be visible in the finished version. In the Tool Options panel, click the button marked Fill Path

The outlines are so complex that the letters are hidden underneath a forest of path point handles

GIMP will give you a quick popup window to adjust your fill settings, including the option to fill with a pattern instead of the currently selected foreground color. 

The Fill Path options are quite simple

Click the Fill button, and GIMP will use the curved text path as a stencil for filling with your chosen foreground color. At this point, your text won’t be editable anymore, but you can apply any other edits or transforms just the way you would with any normal pixel layer.

If you want to change the content of your curved text, you’ll have to go back to the very beginning of the process and do it all over again. In my experience, this can get frustrating fairly quickly, but perhaps you’ve got more patience than I do 😉 

All of this automatic path creation makes me wonder why GIMP doesn’t have support for vector shapes or more effective path and text handling overall, but I suppose that’s partly the legacy of previous versions that relied upon now-outdated technology. Let’s look forwards to GIMP 3!

A Better Option for Curved Text

If you’re creating a lot of curved text, GIMP will quickly become a source of frustration thanks to its limited text options. By comparison, Inkscape has much better text handling and allows you to type along a path while still leaving the text editable in case you need to revise it in the future. 

Inkscape is also free and open-source just like GIMP, so you don’t need to worry about paying for new software. It’s also very user-friendly and a great tool in your graphic designer’s toolkit! Check out my guide of GIMP vs. Inkscape to see which program is best for the project you’re working on.

Do you have a better method for creating curved text in GIMP? Let me know in the comments and I’ll take a look. 

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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