How to Make Geometric Shapes in GIMP

GIMP is mostly intended as an image editing app, but it has a number of different tools for creating new images and designs. There are several ways that you can make geometric shapes in GIMP, but here are three of the best methods available. 

Each method has different strengths and weaknesses, so it will be up to you to decide which is best for your current project:

  • Method 1 is fast and simple.
  • Method 2 gives you unlimited customization options for your shape.
  • Method 3 is an advanced option for creating complex patterns and designs with repeating shapes. 

Method 1: Using Selections to Make Geometric Shapes

This is the simplest method to make geometric shapes in GIMP, and it works best for squares, rectangles, circles, and ellipses, but it makes up for those basic options with speed!

Step 1: Choose a Selection Tool

To get started with this method, decide what type of geometric shape you want to make. 

If you want to make a square or rectangle, choose the Rectangle Select Tool from the Toolbox or use the keyboard shortcut R

If you want to make a circle or oval/ellipse, choose the Ellipse Select Tool from the Toolbox or press the keyboard shortcut E

To make a freeform polygon shape like a triangle, a star, or a pentagon, choose the Free Select Tool from the Toolbox or press the keyboard shortcut F

Step 2: Make Your Selection

If you’re using the Rectangle Select Tool or the Ellipse Select Tool, you can just click and drag anywhere on your document window to create a selection of the desired size.

To force the selection area to match the same height and width, create a perfect square or perfect circle, and hold down the Shift key while creating your selection. 

You can also edit the position and size of your selection using the Tool Options panel if you need pixel-perfect precision placement (say that five times fast!

If you’re using the Free Select tool, you can create a polygonal selection area. With the Free Select tool active, click once anywhere on your document to place the first point of your shape. 

As you move the cursor, you’ll see a preview of the next line placement. 

Click again to place the next point on your shape, and continue clicking until you’ve completed the entire shape boundary. 

To complete your shape, double-click instead of single-clicking on your canvas. 

Step 3: Fill or Stroke? 

Once your selection is complete, it’s time to actually convert it into pixels! You have a couple of different options: you can fill the shape with color or pattern, or you can draw a stroke around the selection boundary to create an outlined shape. 

To apply a fill, open the Edit menu and click Fill with FG Color or Fill with BG Color to fill with either the current foreground or current background color. You can also choose Fill with Pattern.

To apply a stroke around the edges of your selection, open the Edit menu and click Stroke Selection

GIMP will open the Stroke Selection dialog box, allowing you to customize all the features of your outline. You can even make a dotted or dashed line, and even use any of GIMP’s brush tools to draw the line.

Method 2: Make Geometric Shapes Using the Paths Tool

The best method to make geometric shapes in GIMP is with the Paths tool. The Paths tool allows you to create a shape by placing anchor points that are connected by lines or curves which form the outer boundary of your shape. 

You can edit the anchor points, lines, and curves that form your shape path at any time, and use the path like a stencil to create as many iterations of the shape as you need for your project.

It’s the closest thing GIMP has to actual vector shape objects, though you have to use a couple of tricks to actually draw the shape once you’ve finished creating the path boundary.

Working with the Paths Tool can be a bit tricky when you first start using it, but it’s simple enough to understand once you get a bit of hands-on practice with using it.

Here’s how it works!

Step 1: Make Shapes with the Paths Tool

Switch to the Paths tool by using the Toolbox or by pressing the keyboard shortcut B

To use the Paths tool, click once anywhere on your canvas to place your first anchor point. Move your cursor and click again to place your second anchor point, and GIMP will draw a straight line between the two points.

If you want to add a curve to your line, click and drag while placing the anchor point. 

Repeat the process until you’ve created your geometric shape. Ideally, you should use as few anchor points as possible to create your shape. 

To finish your shape, hold down the Ctrl key and click on your original anchor point. 

Step 2: Finalizing Your Shape Path

Once your shape path is completed, you might notice that the placement isn’t quite right after all – but don’t worry, you can adjust every element until it’s perfectly positioned. 

To reposition an existing anchor point, simply click and drag until it’s in the position you want. 

You can also hold down the Ctrl key (use the Command key on a Mac) and then click and drag on an existing anchor point to add a curve to the line on either side.

Step 3: Stroke or Fill?

Once you’re happy with your shape path, it’s time to draw some actual pixels. With the Paths tool active, look at the bottom of the Tool Options menu and you’ll see a button labeled Fill Path and another labeled Stroke Path.

Click the Fill Path button to add a solid color fill using the current foreground color or to add a pattern fill. 

Click the Stroke Path button to open the Stroke Path dialog, which has similar options to the Stroke Selection dialog that you may have seen back in Method 1. 

Method 3: Making Shapes with Gfig

I almost didn’t include this method because it can be unpredictable and a bit buggy, but it allows you to do some pretty amazing things with your shapes! I’d recommend it for advanced users who want to push the limits of what they can do with GIMP or anyone who’s looking for a challenge 😉

Step 1: Launch Gfig

Gfig is actually a plugin that comes preinstalled with GIMP, so you can launch it by opening the Filters menu, selecting the Render submenu, and clicking Gfig.

GIMP will open the Gfig window. 

Keep in mind that the interface is a bit rough since it’s just a plugin. It almost feels more like a developer’s experiment than a polished part of GIMP, but it’s worth a look. 

Step 2: Select Your Shape Type

It’s a bit hard to see using the dark theme, but along the top of the Gfig window are a series of tool buttons. You can hover the cursor over each one to choose what type of shape you want to draw: lines, rectangles, circles, arcs, regular polygons, and you can even construct your own shapes. 

Step 3: Draw 

Once you’ve selected your shape type, click and drag in the Gfig preview window to draw your shapes. You can adjust the Stroke and Fill settings to control the color and style of your shapes, although it’s best to configure this before you start drawing your shapes. 

Once you’re happy with your shape(s), click the Close button and GIMP will render the shapes from Gfig on a separate layer with a convenient transparent background – assuming nothing goes wrong, of course. 

As I mentioned at the beginning of this section, you might find yourself running into too many errors for Gfig to be worth using. It’s very promising, but it doesn’t really seem like it’s ready for serious usage yet.

While I was taking the screenshots for this post, I managed to crash the plugin multiple times, as you can see.

That can’t be good…

I’m hoping that GIMP will overhaul this entire shape process in the next version, but until then, these are still the best methods available. 

Alternative Apps to Make Geometric Shapes

When most people think of creating geometric shapes in a graphics app, they’re usually thinking of a vector shape that can be moved around as a distinct object and modified at any time, and GIMP can’t really do that outside of basic paths.

While GIMP has a lot of different features, its original purpose is to manipulate existing images. The cue is right there in the name, which stands for GNU Image Manipulation Program. 

Despite that, many people use it very successfully for creating brand-new digital art and images of all kinds, but there is one area of the digital arts where GIMP is severely lacking: vector graphics.

Fortunately, there is an excellent free and open-source vector graphics app named Inkscape which might be exactly what you’re looking for!

In the same way that Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator can be combined to create a complete raster/vector image creation and editing workflow, GIMP and Inkscape can work in tandem to do the same job. 

Remember that you should always make sure to download your software from a reliable website! 

A Final Word

That covers everything you need to know about how to make geometric shapes in GIMP using three different methods!

If you’re hoping to create your geometric shapes as vectors, then you’ve also learned that you’ll have much better luck working with the equally excellent (and equally free!) vector graphics app Inkscape. 

Keep making those shapes!

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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