How to Draw Arrows in GIMP

It’s always seemed strange to me that many image editing apps ignore one of the most common tasks: drawing arrows onto an image.

Even Windows 11’s built-in screenshot tool is still a spectacular failure in this area, which is even more ridiculous since macOS has had excellent screenshot markup options for years. 

GIMP is no exception to this rule since it has no preset tool or filter for drawing arrows, but don’t worry – here are three easy ways to draw arrows in GIMP.

Method 1: Draw Arrows by Hand

This probably isn’t what you wanted to hear, but there’s a reason it’s Method 1: it’s extremely simple, and anyone can do it! You won’t get perfectly crisp and clean arrows the way you can with the other two methods, but it’s great for quick projects where polish doesn’t matter. 

If you’ve got a graphics tablet, it’s also a useful way to add a hand-written touch to your image if that fits with your project style. 

Switch to the Paintbrush tool, and start drawing! 

Definitely an inelegant solution, but it works for a quick demonstration!

If you need to make an arrow with perfectly straight lines, you can use GIMP to draw them for you.

Click in one place to start the shaft of your arrow, then hold down the Shift key and click at the endpoint of the line. GIMP will draw a perfectly straight line between the two points with your chosen brush settings. 

Something tells me I won’t win any graphic arts awards with this one, but…

You can use the same trick with any of GIMP’s brush tools.

Method 2: Drawing Arrows in GIMP with Custom Brushes

If you don’t want to draw arrows by hand – and I don’t blame you, I’m not very good at drawing either – then you can try downloading some preset GIMP arrow brushes. Preset brushes act sort of like “stamps” that you can repeatedly use in any situation.

There are probably thousands of different GIMP brush preset packs available for free around the net, but it’s important to make sure that you exercise caution when installing free software and only download from sources that you trust. 

Step 1: Download a Brush Pack is one of the earliest GIMP resource sites still running today, and it has a number of different arrow brush preset packs available courtesy of the author, Paul Sherman.

Personally, I think that his preset pack “Arrow Brushes BW 2” is the best option, but there are several others available for free download that can be installed using these same steps. If you have another brush preset pack from another source, you can also follow along.

Step 2: Locate Your Brushes Folder

Once you’ve got your brush pack downloaded, you’ll need to place the brush file inside GIMP’s Brushes folder. Depending on your operating system and your installation location, the path to the Brushes folder might be different, but there’s a quick way to locate your brushes folder.

Open the Edit menu and click Preferences. If you’re on a Mac, the Preferences option is located in the GIMP application menu instead.

In the left pane of the Preferences window, scroll down to select the Folders option and expand it. Continue scrolling to locate the Brushes section. 

In the right pane, you’ll see a list of all the folders that GIMP will check for brush files. Select the folder that contains your username as part of the location path, and then click the small file cabinet icon in the upper right to open a file browser window at that folder location.

Place the downloaded brush files into the folder, and then restart GIMP. GIMP only checks for new brushes during the startup phase, so they won’t be available until the next time GIMP loads.

Step 3: Draw Arrows in GIMP

When GIMP loads, you should see all your new brushes available in the Brushes panel in the upper right corner of the interface. 

If the Brushes panel is missing, open the Windows menu, select Dockable Dialogs, and click Brushes. You can also use the keyboard shortcut Ctrl + Shift + B (use Command + Shift + B if you’re on a Mac).

Switch to the Paintbrush tool (or any of GIMP’s brush-based tools) and then select your desired arrow from the Brushes panel, and click anywhere on your canvas to draw arrows.

Another stunning visual journey

You can adjust the Angle setting in the Tool Options panel to control the orientation of your arrows, and you can even adjust the brush size, spacing, and all other brush parameters. 

Method 3: Draw Arrows using a Script

This method takes the longest time to set up, but it’s a great option if you have a lot of arrows to draw and you need them to be a bit more customizable than you get using the Brushes method.

Step 1: Download an Arrow Script

There are lots of arrow scripts and plugins available, but for the purposes of this tutorial, I’m going to use one of the most popular scripts available. It has been floating around the net since Berengar W. Lehr released it back in 2009. 

Since then, it’s been edited a number of times by various contributors, as you can see if you open the script file in a text editor. This isn’t necessary to use the script, but it’s interesting! 

It was originally available from the official GIMP plugin repository, but they no longer host any files. It’s still available for download from a few places, but you can download a copy here

Normally, I wouldn’t recommend that you download random script files, but I’ve downloaded this one, scanned it for malware, and read through the script itself, so I feel confident telling you that it’s safe. 

Step 2: Install the Arrow Script

Once you’ve downloaded the script file, you’ll need to locate GIMP’s Scripts folder and place the arrows.scm script file inside it. 

Like the Brushes folder, the Scripts folder can be in a number of different locations depending on your installation directory and operating system, but you can use a trick similar to the one in Method 2 to locate it easily using the Preferences window.

First, open the Edit menu and click Preferences. If you’re using GIMP on macOS, open the GIMP application menu and click Preferences

In the left pane, expand the Folders section and then select the Scripts section. 

This will display all the folders that GIMP checks for scripts. Select the entry that contains your user name, and click the file cabinet icon to open the folder in a file browser. 

Paste the arrow.scm file into the Scripts folder.

Step 3: Restart GIMP or Refresh Scripts

Just like with new brushes, GIMP usually only checks for new scripts while the program is loading. 

You can restart GIMP to get it to recheck the folder, or you can open the Filters menu, select the Script-Fu submenu, and click Refresh Scripts

Step 4: Draw Arrows!

To start using your new script, you’ll need to use the Paths tool to define the length, position, and angle of your arrow. 

Switch to the Paths tool using the Toolbox or the keyboard shortcut B. Click once to place the start point of your arrow, and then click again to place the end point of your arrow. 

Next, open the Tools menu, select the new Arrow submenu, and click Arrow

Remember, this is a free script that was generously released in the spirit of open-source software, so don’t expect too much polish in the interface. 

Customize all the arrow settings that you want, and click OK

It’s a lot of work to set up for just a single arrow, but if you draw arrows a lot, this is still the best method! 

A Final Word

Who would have thought that something as simple as drawing arrows in GIMP could be so complicated? Anyone who has ever used GIMP before, that’s who 😉 Just kidding, of course. Sort of. 

Hopefully, one of these three methods to draw arrows in GIMP will be perfect for your project, but don’t get too discouraged if they don’t work out for you. GIMP is designed to be a photo editor, not a markup tool, after all!

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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  • Bruce

    Thanks for the excellent, and patient, tutorial layout in this small upgrade to GIMP. This is my first day with the program, and I was able [barely] to also install PHOTOGIMP. A small miracle given my weak skill set.

    Today [11-07-23] I finally gave up using Photoshop 7.0 in Windows 10. It seems Microsoft’s latest updates have finally stuck a fork in this venerable editing tool, rendering it unstable on my H-P desktop.

    I recalled a recommendation to try GIMP by a friend’s friend who was in graphic design. My stubborn reliance on the ancient PS7 had to end eventually, and I wanted to express my thanks for sites like yours that understand ‘handholding’ for novices.

    Well done, and thank you again.


    • Thomas Boldt

      Hi Bruce, you’re very welcome, and I’m glad you’re finding the site useful. GIMP definitely takes some time to get used to when switching from Photoshop, but hopefully you’ll soon be able to do (almost) anything you could do in PS7.

      Best of luck!