How to Dock Toolbox in GIMP

If you’re really going to dive into working with GIMP, it’s important to get comfortable with the user interface. For a very long time, I found GIMP’s interface to be unnecessarily complex because it used different windows for the toolbox, the tool options, and every other panel you need to use.

This made efficient workflows deeply frustrating – or nearly impossible – for a number of reasons that I won’t bore you with. As if that wasn’t enough, with everything as a separate window, it was all too easy to accidentally close a panel that you were trying to use instead of selecting something within it.

Finally, the GIMP development team hired a user experience consultant, and the problem was largely solved thanks to the introduction of Single-Window Mode – which is what will save the day if you get your toolbox configuration all mixed up. 

GIMP with Single-Window Mode disabled, just like it was in the good bad old days

The Simple Guide to Docking the Toolbox in GIMP

If you’re not interested in why all this is necessary, here’s how you can get your toolbox docked at the left-hand side of the GIMP interface the way it usually is:

Step 1: Open the Windows menu in GIMP, and click the Single-Window Mode option to disable it. If it is already disabled, skip straight to Step 2. 

Something feels weird, Wilber!

Step 2: Open the Windows menu again, and click the Single-Window Mode option again to turn it back on. GIMP will reassemble all of your individual windows into a single window, and the toolbox should be neatly docked on the left side, as usual. 

All back to normal!

For most situations, that’s all it takes! 

But if you’ve found yourself in a more complex situation like accidentally closing the toolbox instead of docking it, here’s how to set things right. 

If That Doesn’t Work…

You probably accidentally closed the toolbox. If all this just happened a minute ago, you should be able to restore the toolbox by opening the Windows menu, select Recently Closed Docks, and then click the entry containing Toolbox. (If there isn’t one, read on!)

If you closed GIMP and re-opened it hoping that you might get your toolbox back, you won’t be able to use the Recently Closed Docks option. Fortunately, the option you need is in the same place, just a tiny bit farther down the Windows menu – New Toolbox.

(Remember, that’s the Windows menu within GIMP, not the Windows operating system menu!)

When All Else Fails

If none of these tricks work for you, then there’s always the option of completely resetting the user interface layouts. 

Open the Edit menu and click Preferences. If you’re using GIMP on a Mac, you’ll find the link to the Preferences window in the GIMP application menu, next to the Apple menu. 

The Preferences window will open, giving you access to all the inner workings of GIMP. This is another set of windows that it’s a good idea to be familiar with, although it’s usually best not to change any settings that you don’t understand completely. 

For now, though, scroll down in the left pane until you see the entry titled Window Management. Click it to open the relevant settings in the right pane. The only option we’re concerned with at the moment is the giant button labeled Reset Saved Window Positions to Default Values

The Preferences window in GIMP 2.10

Click on it, and GIMP will pop up a small notification box letting you know that everything will be solved the next time GIMP loads. 

Click OK there, and click OK again in the main Preferences window. Close GIMP and reload it, and everything should be back to normal! 

If that still doesn’t work, you can try the ultimate reset using the Reset button in the main Preferences window, although that will reset any customizations you might have made to GIMP, so it should only be used as the very last resort. 

Use this option with caution!

If you’ve tried all these options and you’re still having trouble with the GIMP toolbox, let me know in the comments below and I’ll try to update this guide to reflect the additional situations that can crop up.

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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  • Bill Bailey

    I went into multi-window mode for a couple hours. While there, I failed the task of taking a layer from one xcf and transferring it to another. Then, I wanted to get comfortable again in single-window mode and had to dock things. So thanks for this.
    I have used your pages several times so thanks for those occasions as well.
    This message is also an attempt to see if you are still producing GIMP mini-tutorials like this.

    I am from Minnesota and age 83. Trying to use GIMP to animate some graphics.
    Peace,
    Bill

    Reply
    • Thomas Boldt

      Hi Bill, you’re very welcome! I’m glad to hear you’re finding the site helpful. I prefer to stick with single-window mode permanently since it feels more streamlined to me.

      As for creating more tutorials, I’m actually taking a bit of a break right now until the next version of GIMP is released. At that point, I’m planning to revisit the site and update these posts for the new version, as well as provide tutorials for all the new features.

      If you’re struggling with animating in GIMP, don’t feel bad – it might not be the best tool for the job. I haven’t had a chance to use it myself since I don’t do much animation, but many people recommend Synfig for animation. (https://www.synfig.org/). It’s also free and open source like GIMP, and it might save you some time and hassle!

      Hope that helps!

      Reply
  • friedmandesigns

    Thomas,
    Thanks so much for this. Been using GIMP about half a year after 30 years in Photoshop starting in high school computer lab. I’ve found GIMP *extremely* capable, and doing nearly everything I could ask for from PS — the only stop to actual “everything” is my own learning curve and overcoming years of baked-in keyboard shortcuts and muscle memory, ha. I didn’t have a problem with docking the Toolbox, but the actual “Tool Options” dialog menu…I’d somehow floated it out from its home, inline, below the top-left Toolbox and bottom-left “Devices / Undo / Images” tabs and couldn’t figure out how to restore its inline position. Dragging it back kept giving me a light-blue border over those menus, but dropping it would still leave it floating there. As I tried dragging it slowly this last time, I noticed that moving it and pausing ON TOP of the border between the Toolbox and tabs below it turned JUST that border a brighter, bold blue…and pow! Releasing it neatly docked-it inline again below the Toolbox where I like Tool Options to live. Really loving this program. Thanks for your site here…I’ll be back for more! Cheers. ☻

    Reply
    • Thomas Boldt

      It definitely takes some time to reprogram your muscle memory, I’ve experienced this as well! I still sometimes find myself trying to use the old custom keyboard shortcuts I used when I first taught myself Photoshop, even though I know better and it’s been ages since then.

      Glad you’re finding the site useful!

      Reply
  • Jim

    The dock I use has a top and a bottom [using single window mode ]
    Top is Layers, undo, channels, warnings, symmetrical paint…
    the bottom has patterns/brushes/gradients, fonts.
    i like to use this bottom one to see slightly better views of these,
    -The problem is this. On one laptop i can use the three dots between
    the upper/lower halves to change their size. -taller / shorter, -just like the
    three dots to make the pane narrower or wider. Yet on the other, i can
    only move these up/down a very short way.
    –It did work but now it does not so i have been looking for some option
    to get it to move a bigger distance or maybe i checked a limit to the top
    part keeping me from bringing up the bottom part?

    Any help would be appreciated – thank you

    Reply
    • Thomas Boldt

      Hi Jim, that’s a bit of a puzzle! My first guess would be that the laptops have a different screen resolution. I think GIMP has a minimum and maximum size in pixels for each dock, but they can appear to be displayed at different sizes if there is a resolution difference between the two laptop screens. For example, many laptops are 1366×768 while others are 1920×1080 – not very much of a difference visually for human perception, but perhaps enough to cause this issue?

      Reply