How to Make a Dotted Line in GIMP

GIMP is a very large and complex program, which means there are often many different ways to accomplish a single task.

It’s up to each image editor/digital artist to decide which method works best for their particular combination of tasks and workflow – even for simple projects like making a dotted line. 

In this tutorial, you will learn three different ways that you can make a dotted line in GIMP – and it’s no surprise, really, but I kept the best-advanced method for last. 

Method 1: Make a Dotted Line Using the Path Tool

The simplest way to make a dotted line in GIMP is by drawing out the line using the Path tool and then applying a stroke to it. It may not be a perfect way, but it’s definitely the fastest. 

To get started, switch to the Path tool using the Toolbox or the keyboard shortcut B. Click anywhere on your canvas to place the first anchor point of your line, and then move your mouse and click again to place the next anchor point. GIMP will draw a line between the two points. Continue placing anchor points until your line is complete.

To add a curve to your line, click and drag while placing an anchor point. You can also adjust the handles that are attached to each anchor point to control the curvature of the connected line segments.

Anchor points and curves on a path can be modified at any time by clicking and dragging, so don’t stress too much if they’re not in the perfect placement right away. 

Once your path is complete, it’s time to make your dotted line! 

In the Tool Options panel, click the Stroke Path button. You can also open the Edit menu and click Stroke Path

In the Stroke Path dialog window, you can customize the style of the stroke you want. Since we want to make dotted lines, we’ll need to adjust the line style section. Click the + Line Style button to expand the line style options section. 

You can create a custom dash pattern, but it’s easier to select one of the Dash Presets. There are several options that make dotted lines, as well as dashes and other combinations. 

Once you’re happy with the pattern, click the Stroke button, and GIMP will draw your dotted line. 

That’s all there is to it! 

Of course, you might notice that these dots are pretty dash-like, and they’re not as sharp as they could be. They look like they were drawn with a felt-tip pen, and there are times when you want a sharper dot pattern. 

If so, then you may want to try out the advanced method using the Paintbrush at the end of the article. 

Method 2: Make a Dotted Line Using a Selection

If you want to make a dotted line surrounding and enclosing a specific area, you can use the same trick as the previous method using an active selection instead of a path. As you probably know, GIMP has a huge number of selection tools available, which can dramatically simplify the process of actually making the selection in the first place.

Once you’ve got your selection ready, open the Edit menu and click Stroke Selection

GIMP will open the Stroke Selection dialog window, which is virtually identical to the Stroke Path dialog window, aside from the different names. Adjust your settings as desired to get the dotted line pattern that you want, and click the Stroke button. 

GIMP will draw the dotted line you configured along the boundaries of your selection area. 

This method is a lot quicker than using Paths, although the more time you spend practicing with the Path tool, the faster you’ll get with it. It’s best used for simple shapes that are easily made with selection areas or to outline larger areas that would take too long to draw a path around. 

It’s not without problems, though. You’ll notice that the edges of the line are rather rough, despite all the antialiasing settings being on, just like you saw within the Path method. 

Additionally, when you’re using an enclosed shape, GIMP may not adjust the dash pattern to line up properly at the “start” and the “end” of the line, and there’s not very much you can do to control this aspect. 

Method 3 (Advanced): Custom Paintbrush Settings

There’s one last way to make a dotted line in GIMP, and I think it’s the best method available: using the Paintbrush. I know, I know, but don’t worry – I’m not talking about just freehand drawing a dotted line! 

By setting the Spacing parameter of your Paintbrush tool, you can control how often GIMP places the brush image that it uses to create brushstrokes. 

As long as your Spacing setting is over 100, you should be able to see individual brush “stamps” instead of a solid brushstroke –  and if your brush is a perfect circle, then you’ll be able to paint dotted lines.

Switch to the Paintbrush tool using the Toolbox or the keyboard shortcut P. Next, locate the Spacing setting in the Tool Options panel, and set it to at least 100

The exact value you choose will control the spacing between each dot on your line, so you might have to play around a bit with different values to find the perfect setting. 

Increasing the Spacing setting allows you to control the distance between the dots

You can then use any of the normal Paintbrush tricks, including holding down the Shift key while painting to draw perfectly straight lines

You can also click in one place to set the start point of a line, hold down the Shift key, and then click again in another spot to place the end point, and GIMP will draw your spaced-out brushstroke dots all the way along the line between the two points. 

Most interestingly of all, you can also use this custom paintbrush in combination with the Stroke Path and Stroke Selection methods that I described earlier in the post. This gives you the best of both worlds, balancing ease of use and customizability. 

In the Stroke Selection or Stroke Path dialog windows, select the Stroke with a paint tool option, and select the Paintbrush tool from the dropdown menu. Click the Stroke button, and GIMP will apply your current Paintbrush settings to the selection or path automatically. 

This method produces the best results by far, and you can play around with it a great deal thanks to all the possibilities of the brush system. 

If you configured the Paintbrush tool to use the star brush pattern and set the Spacing value correctly, you can make a dotted line out of stars – or any other shape that you can make into a brush, which is just about anything at all! 

A Final Word

That covers everything you’ll need to know to make a dotted line in GIMP, no matter what form you need it to take. 

The different methods each have their own strengths and weaknesses, but I think the best option is the Paintbrush method since it produces a much higher quality result than the Stroke method. It can take a bit more time to set up, but it’s worth it for the better-looking dots and the customization options. 

Happy dotting!

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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