How to Make an SVG File with GIMP

GIMP is capable of creating and editing a wide range of file types, and it can be difficult to keep track of them all.

GIMP is almost exclusively used for raster graphics, another term for pixel-based images, although it does have extremely basic support for vector graphics using the SVG format. 

When I say extremely basic, I really mean it – but let’s take a closer look at how all of this works. 

Key Takeaways

  • SVG stands for Scalable Vector Graphics
  • Vector graphics and raster graphics are two different ways of creating digital images
  • GIMP is primarily a raster graphics editor with very limited support for vector graphics
  • You can make an SVG file with GIMP, but it’s not the best program to use 

If that all makes sense to you, then you might want to skip ahead to the step-by-step section below  – but if you’re confused about raster vs. vector graphics, then read on for more details. 

What is an SVG File?

Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) is a widely-supported vector graphics format and one of the few vector formats that can be used on the web since they can be read by all major web browsers. 

However, as I mentioned earlier, GIMP is a raster graphics editor, not a vector graphics editor. 

Raster graphics are images made up of pixels, and the vast majority of digital images, like JPG photos, use this format. Vector graphics are made up of mathematical expressions that describe the shapes, lines, colors, and all other image data. 

Because they’re just math, vector graphics can be enlarged easily without losing image quality, while raster graphics quickly become blurry (unless you use a fancy AI-powered upscaler, and even then, the results aren’t perfect). 

That covers the basics, but you can learn more about the technical details of raster graphics and vector graphics on Wikipedia. 

Can GIMP Export SVG Files?

Yes, GIMP can export SVG files, but it has extremely limited support for drawing and editing vector paths. SVG files created by GIMP are exclusively made from vector paths, so while you technically can make them in GIMP, you’re making things unnecessarily difficult for yourself. 

In the example above, only the outline of Wilber’s head and paintbrush can be saved as an SVG with GIMP.

This means that any pixel data, color information, or text layers in your document cannot be included in the SVG file. In most situations, this isn’t good enough to make a useful SVG file unless you’re creating a very simple icon or logo.

If you want to make a complex SVG file, or even if you just want to make more than one, I strongly recommend that you use one of the dedicated vector graphics apps mentioned at the end of this post. There’s an excellent free and open-source option included there as well! 

Making an SVG File in GIMP

If you’re new to the world of digital image editing, all this might be a lot of new info to learn, but the actual process of making an SVG file in GIMP is fairly simple once you know where to look. 

SVG files in GIMP are created using the Paths panel, and they can only contain vector path data. 

Step 1: Create Your Paths

You can create vector paths in GIMP in a couple of ways: using the Paths tool or the Path from Selection command. 

The Paths tool is probably the most familiar to anyone who has used a vector drawing app before. Switch to the Paths tool using the Toolbox or the keyboard shortcut B

Click once on your image to place the first anchor point on your path, then click again in another spot to place a second anchor point, and GIMP will automatically draw a vector path line between the two. Repeat the process until you’ve created the shape you want. 

You can click and drag while placing an anchor point to add curves between your points, and you can adjust the handles on each anchor point to adjust the curvature of each connected line. 

Alternatively, you can use one of GIMP’s selection tools or any other method to create a selection and then apply the Path from Selection command. 

In this example, Wilber, the GIMP mascot, has been selected, although I find it a bit amusing that it would be easier to create this character in a vector graphics app instead of directly in GIMP. 

Once your selection is complete, open the Paths panel, and click the Path from Selection button at the bottom of the panel (as shown above). 

By default, the Paths panel should be a nested tab in the bottom right corner of the interface, next to the Layers panel. If it’s not visible, open the Windows menu, select the Dockable Dialogs submenu, and click Paths

If you want to customize how the path is applied to your selection, hold down the Shift key while making a selection, but most of the time, this is unnecessary. 

Most of the advanced features are so esoteric that they’re unintelligible to me, but they are there if you need them. 

A new path named Selection will be created and listed in the Paths panel. It will be invisible by default, but you can click the small eye icon to make it visible. If necessary, you can modify it using the Paths tool. You can repeat this process as many times as you want.   

Step 2: Export Your Paths

After you’ve created your vector path(s), return to the Paths panel. Right-click on the path you want to save as an SVG file and click Export Path from the popup menu. 

GIMP will open the Export Path to SVG dialog window, which only has a couple of options. You can export your selected path, or you can export all the paths in your document. 

Give your SVG file a name, and then click Save. 

Congratulations, you just made an SVG file with GIMP – but you’ve probably also realized that it’s not going to be capable enough for your needs.

Can GIMP Convert JPG to SVG? 

GIMP does not contain a tool for automatically converting JPG files into SVG files. As you learned earlier in the post, there are two ways to make a digital image: a raster image made of pixels or a vector image made out of mathematical expressions. JPG is a raster format, while SVG is a vector format. 

If you’re dedicated to the Paths tool and/or you’re working on a very simple JPG image of a shape or logo, you could hand-draw a series of paths overtop of an image and then export them using the method described above, but this is a complex and clumsy solution. 

Alternative Option: Use a Vector Graphics App

The best choice for making SVGs is to use a program that is dedicated to vector graphics. GIMP only contains the most barebones implementation of vector paths, and as soon as you try a dedicated vector app, you’ll see why they are so much better.

Adobe Illustrator is the most popular vector graphics app in the world, although it’s got some competition from Affinity Designer, which just recently released version 2.0. While Affinity is a comparatively new app, it grows in popularity every day with those looking for an alternative to Adobe’s market dominance. 

If you want a vector graphics program that’s free and open-source, like GIMP, then you should try Inkscape, which you can download from the official developer website. It’s not quite as powerful and polished as the paid apps that I mentioned above, but it’s available for Windows, macOS, and Linux – and you can’t argue with the price. 

A Final Word

That covers everything you need to know about how to make an SVG file with GIMP – including the fact that you’re probably better off using Inkscape to make your SVGs instead 😉

It can seem a bit intimidating to learn a new type of graphics program, but there are plenty of tutorials available, and you’ll save yourself a huge amount of time and frustration by using the proper tool for the job. 

Happy vectoring!

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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