How to Make a Border in GIMP

Whether you’re looking for a seasonal flourish or a simple and elegant outline, there are lots of ways you can make a border in GIMP. Like most creative projects, the method will depend on exactly what result you want, so in this tutorial, I’ll cover a few of the best ways to make a border in GIMP.

Method 1: Making Borders with a Filter 

This is by far the simplest method, and so it only has a few basic options for customizing the results. With your image loaded in GIMP, open the Filter menu, select the Decor submenu, and click Border.

Adding a border is easy with the Add Border command

As you would expect, GIMP will open a dialog box to let you specify a few options. You’ll have to set the same border size for the top and bottom of the image, as well as one size for the left and right, instead of assigning the size of each border edge individually. 

Sharp-eyed GIMP users will note this is technically a script, not a filter

After size, you’ll need to set the Delta value on color option. I don’t know why GIMP insists on making things confusing for users, but what this setting does is allow you to create a ‘raised’ effect by altering the colors of the border to add the suggestion of a light source. 

To illustrate the difference, here’s the example image with the Delta value on color option set to 0 and the Border color set to black:

A basic black border from the Add Border script

If you change the Delta value on color option to 255, you’ll get a very different result, as shown below:

The same image with a Delta value on color setting of 255

You can also create more interesting effects by combining various thin borders into a larger one by repeating the Add Border script a few times with different settings.

Method 2: Make a Border Manually with Transforms

This method isn’t quite as simple as the first one, but it’s close! You’ll have to do a bit of basic math, but I’m sure you’re up for it. 

With your image loaded in GIMP, open the Image menu and select Canvas Size. GIMP will open the Set Image Canvas Size dialog box, which will let you create the extra room you need to put a border around your image. 

You’ll have to do a little bit of math to calculate the new dimensions of your image, but you can always come back and adjust it later if something goes wrong. 

In this case, to create a border 40 pixels wide around the whole image, I’ll add 80 pixels to the Width and Height sections. The small thumbnail of your image will show the newly added space, but you’ll see immediately that GIMP has simply added space on the right and along the bottom.

To create your new space evenly around the entire image, click the Center button in the Offset section, and GIMP will align everything properly for you. 

If you’re a fan of the framing style that adds a bit of extra weight along the bottom edge, now’s your chance to add a bit of extra space in the Offset Y section. Don’t forget to increase the height a little bit more to create even spacing at the top to match the left and right sides!

When you’re satisfied with the placement, it’s time to take a look at the Layers section. My preference is to fill the new space with transparency because then you can place another layer below to fill in the border and keep your border and image contents on separate layers. 

Another simple yet clean black border

But if you’re in a hurry, you can set it to fill the space with the foreground or background colors, or even with a pattern. If you’re really set on using patterns, though, I’d recommend using Method 3 (or a combination of Method 2 and Method 3). 

If you do, make sure to change the Resize Layers option to All Layers.

Method 3: Make a Border with Selections

This is arguably the quickest method to create a more decorative border around your image, although you can combine it with Method 2 to avoid overlapping any of your image edges if you want to. 

It’s ridiculously simple: open your image in GIMP, and press Ctrl + A to select the entire image. You can also open the Select menu and choose All.

Next, open the Edit menu and choose Stroke Selection. This will allow you to apply a stroke around the edges of your selection, and because GIMP uses the selection marquee as the halfway point for the stroke, you can simply enter a line weight setting that is twice the size of your desired border, and you’ll get the results you want. 

You can even tell GIMP to apply a pattern along the stroke instead of a solid color or dashed line. If you want to add some seasonal snowflakes, falling leaves, or rain of porcupines (depending on the look you’re going for), now’s the perfect chance. 

I’ve only got GIMP’s built-in patterns because I am not a big fan of the pattern system, but I’ve got a guide about creating custom patterns in GIMP here if you want to experiment. 

A line width of 80 returns a border 40 pixels wide since the other half of the 80-pixel border is outside the frame edges

If you’re not happy allowing your border stroke to extend beyond the canvas, you can adjust the exact borders of the selection area using the commands found in the Select menu. 

The Shrink command is most useful in this case since it allows you to contract the size of a selection evenly in all directions. Applying the Shrink command with a setting of half your desired border width in pixels will let you avoid overlaps. 

If you want, you can even use the selection method to create a border anywhere in the image that you want – it doesn’t just have to be around the edges of your image! 

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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