How to Rotate an Image in GIMP

Image rotation is one of the most basic adjustments that you’ll need to do as an image editor, and it’s also one of the easiest edits you can do in GIMP. There are a couple of different ways you can go about it, but if you just need to do a quick 90- or 180-degree rotation, here’s how.

The Quick Way to Rotate an Image in GIMP

This one is so quick it only has a single step, as long as you already have your image open in GIMP!

Step 1: Open the Image menu from the GIMP menu bar, select the Transform submenu, and then choose the rotation angle and direction that you want.

A few simple rotations are available in a single click within the Image/Transform menu

This method will apply the rotation to your entire image canvas. If you want to rotate a single layer within your image, you’ll use the same commands, but you should access them in the Layer menu instead of the Image menu. 

This quick method is great when you want to swap a photo back and forth between portrait and landscape orientation or a quick 180 flip, but you’ll need to do a bit more if you want a custom rotation angle. It’s almost as easy, but there are a couple of different ways to do it. 

Rotating an Image in GIMP

As I mentioned before, there are a couple of different ways to rotate an image in GIMP, and each one has its own strengths and weaknesses, so let’s take a closer look at the three most commonly used methods.

1. Using the Unified Transform Tool

The Unified Transform tool does exactly what it says: it combines move, scale, rotation, shear, and perspective into a single transform tool. This can be very useful when you’re doing multiple transform adjustments all at once, but it can be a bit finicky if you just want to rotate your image. 

The Unified Transform Tool combines all transform operations in one spot, as you’d expect

Find the tool in the toolbox or use the keyboard shortcut Shift + T to switch to the tool. Click once anywhere on the image, and handles appear for precise control over your transform. To rotate, click a blank area of workspace outside your image boundary and drag in the direction you want to rotate. 

The buttons are useful, but the Transform Matrix doesn’t make much sense to me

GIMP provides a small popup overlay that shows a transform matrix describing the changes in your image, but I find it a bit counterintuitive to use unless you’re doing precise calculations. When your image is rotated the way you want, click Transform to finalize the rotation.

2. Using the Rotate Tool in GIMP

Despite the Unified Transform tool, GIMP hasn’t abandoned specialized tools. If you want to prevent yourself from accidentally resizing during your rotation or any other tiny mishaps that come from overly helpful tools, you can ditch Unified Transform in favor of the dedicated Rotate tool.

The Rotate tool is your go-to option for precise control over image rotation in GIMP, from fixing horizons to adjusting your compositions. You can find it in the toolbox nested under the Unified Transform tool, or use the shortcut Shift + R to access it.

The Rotate tool popup offers precise rotation control

Not only does it allow you to specify the exact degree of rotation, but you can also set the point your image or layer will be rotated around.

Most of the time, you’ll be happy to leave this at the default center point, but there are lots of times where it’s useful to rotate your layer around one of the corners or edges, especially if you need a very precise layer alignment that’s being calculated with pixel transforms. 

To finalize your rotation, click the Rotate button in the Rotate popup window, and you’re done!

3. Arbitrary Rotation

You probably noticed back in the Quick Way section of the post that there is an entry in the Transform submenu labeled Arbitrary Rotation. 

Despite what it might seem from the name, this command allows you to specify exactly what angle and direction of rotation you’d like to apply to your image. It may sound like you’ll get a random result, but actually, GIMP simply selects the Rotate tool for you.

It feels like this is a bit of a legacy command left over from previous versions of GIMP, but feel free to use it if you prefer. As far as I can tell, there’s no difference compared to using the Rotate tool. I like the word arbitrary, but it’s probably not worth the extra clicks when a shortcut will do.

That’s everything there is to know about how to rotate an image in GIMP!

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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  • R

    Hi,
    How do I rotate a selected layer of free select section without rotating all the other layers?
    So I select the piece then copy paste to another layer then rotate it. Then all other layer also gets rotated for some reason.

    Reply
    • Thomas Boldt

      I’m not sure that I understand the question! If you make your selection, and then use the Rotate tool or the Unified Transform tool, GIMP should automatically separate the selection for you and place it on a temporary layer called a Floating Selection.

      Is it possible that you’ve got all your layers linked in the Layers panel? That’s the only reason I can think of why GIMP would rotate all of your layers instead of just the free select area.

      Reply
  • noname

    Hi to the author,

    Thank you for your effort to make these guides,

    However I would appreciate if you could advise me how to transform without CROPPING from landscape to PORTRAIT while using GIMP application.

    I don’t see the point of rotating the picture with all the content from horizontal to vertical, as the content looses its all meaning to do so,

    THank you for your replies.

    Reply
    • Thomas Boldt

      I’m pretty sure that’s impossible, unless I misunderstand your question =)

      I guess you could use the Canvas Size tool to change the dimensions into a portrait format, and then use the Unified Transform tool to stretch your image into the new shape without cropping or rotating, but it would look extremely strange and distorted so I really don’t recommend it!

      Reply
  • Szasz Eugen

    Hi, After the Arbitrary Rotation there is a Shortcut to reset Picture to Zero degre or horizontally/ vertically or something else to do this?

    Reply
    • Thomas Boldt

      Not as far as I know! I think you’ll have to use the Undo command (Ctrl + Z) to reset your picture.

      Reply
  • Rens Duijsens

    Thanks for this explanation.
    It’s very clear…..but, yesterday I had a strange experience…..
    I was removing parts of the image using the eraser.
    I was holding down CTRL and/or Shift to make lines straight.
    At some moment in time, I also scrolled my mouse wheel, and the whole image rotated, including the canvas!
    I have no idea what I did exactly and I have not been able to reproduce it, but the IS a keyboard combination that makes the canvas rotate when using the scroll wheel.
    Do you have any idea what I did?

    Reply
    • Thomas Boldt

      Wow, that’s pretty cool, but I’m as surprised as you are!

      When I use the Ctrl + Shift + Mousewheel shortcut, GIMP cycles through brushes for me. I took a look through the Keyboard Shortcuts dialog box, but it looks like all my shortcuts for rotation are disabled, except for the standard ‘Rotate tool’ shortcut which is Shift + R.

      Did you apply some customization to the shortcuts? If you search the shortcuts for ‘canvas’ or ‘rotate’ you might be able to track down the shortcut in question and see if any of them are active for you.

      Sometimes mouse wheels also have a button, or even special scrolling modes (usually found on fancy gaming mice, but the technology is spreading to more casual home devices too). Maybe one of those specialized buttons caused the confusion?

      Sounds like an intriguing mystery, lol!

      Reply
      • Binky

        Hold Control + Shift + Mousewheel as a button down, then move the cursor to rotate everything, including the canvas.

        Reply