How to Cut Out an Image in GIMP

Whether you’re working on a web design project or creating your latest meme masterpiece, cutting out objects from a larger image is a skill that every image editor needs. It’s a skill that is easy to learn but tough to master, so let’s take a closer look at a few different techniques you can start practicing. 

The Quick Guide to Cut Out An Image in GIMP

If you’ve got a very simple image, the process is equally simple. A product photo set on a white background makes a perfect example. 

This image is now cut out from the original white background and is ready to be used in a composite or design project

Step 1: Switch to the Fuzzy Select (Magic Wand) tool, use it to select the image background, and then invert your selection. 

Step 2: Remove the selected object with the Cut command, and then use the Paste command to return it back to the image as a Floating Selection.

Step 3: In the Layers panel, click the green-highlighted New Layer button to convert the floating selection into a standard pixel layer containing your pasted pixels. 

That’s the quickest way to cut out an image in GIMP! It doesn’t work perfectly for everything, but the basic principle is the same no matter what your image contains. Your results will depend on what tool you use in Step 1 to make your selection, and how careful you are to match the edges of your object.

If you want to take a more detailed look at this and a couple of others ways to cut out an image in GIMP, then I’ll break the steps down in more detail below. 

The Detailed Guide to Cut Out Images in GIMP

There are lots of ways you can cut out an image, but let’s stick to the simplest method for this guide. It comes up all the time, and it’s a great way to get used to the basics before you move on to more complex projects. 

Let’s dive in!

Step 1: Making Your Selection

Depending on the image you want to cut out, this step can be very easy or the most painstaking and time-consuming process. In my example picture of a carnivorous plant from my collection, the background is a nice bright white which will make the process very easy. 

This plant should be easy to cut out from the background with just a few clicks

Switch to the Fuzzy Select tool using the toolbox, or press the keyboard shortcut U. Click once on a section of the background, and GIMP will automatically select all the pixels connected to it that are close enough in color to the pixel you clicked on. 

Invert your selection by pressing the keyboard shortcut Ctrl + I (or Command + I on a Mac). You can also open the Select menu and choose Invert Selection.

At this point, you should have a selection marquee around the object you want to cut out, and you’re ready to move on to Step 2.

If you don’t have a solid background in your image, the Fuzzy Select tool won’t create a proper selection, and you will have to use some of the other selection tools to select your object completely by hand.

If you don’t care about having a finely detailed edge, you could use the Rectangular Select tool or the Ellipse Select tool. But if you want to do the job properly, you’ll have to carefully draw out a selection using the Free Select tool, the Scissors Select tool, or some combination of all of them. 

Step 2: Cut And Paste

Now that you’ve got the area you want to cut out properly selected, the rest is fairly easy. Cut the selected pixels using the keyboard shortcut Ctrl + X (Command + X on a Mac), which will remove them from the image and copy them to the clipboard memory. 

The only time I’ll ever be cutting my Cephalotus! 

Return the cut-out pixels to your image workspace with the Paste command, using the keyboard shortcut Ctrl + V (Command + V on a Mac). If you want to put them into a different file, you can switch to that file now and paste the pixels there instead. 

Step 3: Create A New Layer

GIMP will create a Floating Selection using your pasted pixels, as you can see in the Layers panel below. A Floating Selection is a kind of temporary layer, and you won’t be able to edit the rest of your image until you either anchor your selection or move it to a new layer, using the green buttons highlighted at the bottom of the Layers panel. 

If you choose to anchor it, you’ll simply be pasting the pixels you removed back into the same spot. Instead, click the green New Layer button in the left corner of the Layers panel. This will automatically create a blank new transparent pixel layer, and anchor your pasted pixels into it. 

If you want, you can then delete the original layer or just hide it by clicking the “eye” icon representing layer visibility next to the appropriate entry in the Layers panel. 

Now you know how to cut out an image in GIMP! Like so many things, this skill is simple to learn but difficult to master, so practice, practice, practice! Or, if you’re feeling really adventurous, read on for 

Advanced Selection for Complex Scenes

I could fill an entire book with a full exploration of all the different ways you can create and modify selections in GIMP, which puts “completeness” sort of outside the scope of this article. But if you want to level up your skills, I can show you what to start practicing. 

If you’re trying to copy one person’s face out of a crowd, the Fuzzy Select tool isn’t going to work, because the edge detection algorithms aren’t designed for that degree of visual complexity. 

When in doubt, you can use a combination of the Free Select tool and Scissors select tool to create any selection you want – it just takes time and patience. You can also experiment using Quick Mask mode to create selections, although this isn’t as well-implemented in GIMP as it might be.

Quick Mask mode places a transparent red overlay over your image, which you erase using a brush tool to create a selection. It can be a useful tool in your toolkit, but I find the red overlay can be quite distracting and often clashes with the actual content of your image. 

The best workflows are the ones that balance speed and precision, so you’ll have to get familiar with each of the selection tools until you’re confident making the decision about which tool (or combination of tools) will let you get the best results with the minimum amount of manual effort. 

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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  • Constant

    Why is there NO tutorial here on how to remove objects from an image? For, I don’t think this tutorial is about that.

  • BobD

    Is there a way to confine Select by Color to a selection, i.e. a nested selection?
    Or can I build up different kinds of selection with adding and subtracting?
    My photo of a house with trees has a bright nearly white sky, with some bits of sky showing through the trees.
    Selecting the sky by color works surprisingly well, with the bits of sky selected, but it also selects bits of the house’s roof. Confiniing the Select by Color above the house would eliminate that.

    • Thomas Boldt

      Hi Bob, you’ve got the right idea – you can build and modify your selection using any combination of selection tools, adding and subtracting as necessary.

      To add to an existing selection, hold down the Shift key. You should see a small + sign appear next to the cursor.
      To subtract from an existing selection, hold down the Ctrl key (Cmd if you’re using a Mac), and you’ll see a – sign next to the cursor instead.
      You can also intersect your selections by holding down the Shift key and the Ctrl key (or Cmd for Mac) at the same time. This mode can be a bit hard to wrap your head around at first, but you get the hang of it quickly with practice.

      Hope that helps!

  • Kate

    Hi – I can’t seem to find the info I need, hoping you see this and reply… When I select with lasso tool and then Ctrl X – the outline is not clean, it’s fuzzy. If I continue to press Ctrl X for the selection, parts of the image beyond the selection boundary start being erased… How do I stop this from happening, I want to delete backgrounds with a hard crisp edge around the image I wish to keep.
    Many thanks!

    • Thomas Boldt

      Hi Kate, I think what you’re describing is an effect known as ‘feathering’. It’s useful in some situations for creating nice color/texture blends, but you can also disable it quickly. When you switch to the lasso/free select tool, before you start making your selection, check the Tool Options panel and make sure that the ‘Feather edges’ setting is disabled. That should give you crisp, pixel-perfect edges.

      Hope that helps!

  • Andrew

    How do I get the screen layout as shown under Step 2?? Thanks

    • Thomas Boldt

      Hi Andrew, which part are you referring to? The screenshot shows the image with the plant part cut out, that’s all!

  • Ernest

    Thank you for making this. It is a tremendous help to someone new to gimp (like me).

    • Thomas Boldt

      You’re very welcome, I’m glad you found it useful!