How to Use Pressure Sensitivity in GIMP

The computer mouse is a truly amazing piece of hardware, but that doesn’t mean it’s always the best way to interact with your computer – especially when you’re working with digital images. 

Not only is it difficult to maintain precision during movement, but a computer mouse can also only interpret button clicks as a binary choice.

A graphics tablet and stylus are the best way to add a whole new input dimension to your image editing workflow. The tablet’s working area is directly mapped to your screen, and most graphics tablets support thousands of different pressure sensitivity levels. 

This allows you to control aspects of your brush using pressure, similar to using pens, brushes, and other physical media.

I still can’t draw better than necessary to win a game of Pictionary (sometimes, at least, lol), but my brushstrokes in GIMP will be extremely dynamic!

The Quick Guide to Pressure Sensitivity In GIMP

Assuming your tablet is set up properly, here’s how to use pressure sensitivity in GIMP:

  • Step 1: Switch to any brush-based tool, such as Paintbrush.
  • Step 2: In the Tool Options panel, click the Dynamics icon and select an option from the list.
  • Step 3: Start painting with your stylus.

That’s all there is to it! As you probably noticed, GIMP has quite a few different presets and options, and an impressive range of customizable brush dynamics that allow you to create some truly incredible brush effects. 

Want to learn more about how they work and how you can customize them? read on.

Note: If you’re having trouble getting GIMP to respond to your tablet’s pressure sensitivity, you might have a technical issue. Skip to the end of the tutorial for some troubleshooting tips!

The Detailed Guide to Pressure Sensitivity in GIMP

Once you understand the basics of how pressure dynamics work, you can configure GIMP to do an almost infinite number of things with the pressure sensitivity data from your tablet. 

Let’s take a closer look at how to use existing pressure sensitivity presets, as well as how to configure and customize your own dynamics.

Using Brush Dynamics Presets

To get started using brush dynamics, switch to a brush-based tool like Paintbrush using the toolbox or the keyboard shortcut P. These steps work the same on any brush-based tool in GIMP, so you can use whichever you’d like, but Paintbrush is best for getting a sense of how things work. 

With your tool selected, find the Tool Options panel, usually located below the toolbox on the left side of the screen. Towards the bottom of the panel, you’ll see the entry for Dynamics. Click the icon beside it (marked in red in the screenshot below) to display the Dynamics preset dropdown menu.

There are quite a few options to choose from, but for this first demonstration, scroll down the list and select Pressure Size

Now, whenever you draw in your image with your tablet stylus, the brush size will vary based on the amount of pressure you apply. Light pressure makes for a thin stroke, while heavy pressure makes the stroke as wide as possible based on your current Size setting. 

If you don’t want to have to use such a tiny dropdown menu to view all your Dynamics presets, you can open the Paint Dynamics panel to make things easier by opening the Windows menu, selecting Dockable Dialogs, and choosing Paint Dynamics from the list.

The Paint Dynamics panel will appear in the right-hand dock area, in a tabbed layout next to your Brushes panel. 

The Paint Dynamics panel in GIMP 2.10

Feel free to experiment with all the presets, and when you’re ready to start customizing your pressure sensitivity, you’re ready for the next section.

Custom Brush Dynamics

In case you jumped straight to this section, make sure that you’ve got your Paint Dynamics panel open by opening the Windows menu, selecting Dockable Dialogs, and choosing Paint Dynamics from the list. 

Along the bottom row of the Paint Dynamics panel, you’ll see a row of icons. You can edit existing dynamics with the first icon (from the left), but the second icon allows you to create entirely new dynamics, so click that one to open the Paint Dynamics Editor in another new tab beside the Paint Dynamics panel. 

The Paint Dynamics Editor panel in GIMP 2.10

Each square in the grid allows you to link one of the brush properties on the left with one of the tablet dynamic properties on the top. As you can now imagine, there is an impressive number of possible combinations. 

If you want to get extremely detailed in how you customize the responses, you can even select the Mapping matrix dropdown at the top to customize the response curves to individual factors, although you’ll probably want to get more comfortable with the basics before you start tweaking that aspect of the available dynamics. 

Customizing the pressure response curve in the Paint Dynamics Editor

Last but not least, enter a name for your preset (when it says TGT Example Dynamics in the screenshot above) and it will be available in both the Paint Dynamics panel and the dropdown menu in the Tool Options panel. You can even customize the icon if you want, in order to make it stand out from the other entries in the list. 

Troubleshooting Your Tablet With GIMP

Using specialized hardware such as tablets and scanners with open-source software can sometimes cause issues, but there are a few steps that you can take to help track down the source of the problem.

Try not to be embarrassed, but first, make sure that your tablet is properly connected to a USB port that can provide sufficient power, and that the cable is undamaged. This is the tablet tech support equivalent of ‘try turning it off and back on again,’ so *cue The I.T. Crowd laugh track*.

Input Devices

The first thing to check is that GIMP is actually configured to use your tablet. Open the Edit menu, and click Input Devices. GIMP will open the Configure Input Devices window, and you should see your tablet’s device name in the list on the left.

Change the Mode setting from Disabled to Screen, and then click Save. Once new settings are saved, you can close the Configure Input Devices window and your brush dynamics should work properly. 

If your tablet doesn’t appear in the list below Core Pointer, then for some reason, GIMP isn’t recognizing your tablet. 

Driver Updates

If your tablet doesn’t appear in the Input Devices panel, then you may have a more serious hardware issue. The first thing to do when you’re experiencing hardware issues with GIMP is to make sure that you’ve got the latest version of GIMP, and the latest version of your tablet’s driver software. 

The About GIMP window, complete with the Check for Updates button

You can check for GIMP updates by opening the Help menu and choosing About GIMP. A button in the center of the window will let you know if you’ve got the latest version.

Updating your tablet driver may be a bit more difficult, but you should be able to find the latest version by visiting the manufacturer’s website. 

Hopefully, you’ve now got your pressure sensitivity working perfectly in GIMP! If you’re still having a problem, try leaving a comment below to crowdsource some unofficial tech support. 

Enjoy your dynamic new brushes!

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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  • Aafke Gnodde

    I have a lenovo ideapad flex 5 14″ 82hs with the lenovo pen 2. In the menu I can choose isd stylus and pressure stylus. The pressure stylus does not work. If I only use spressure stylus and disable isd I can’t paint. Only the isd styles works. I would love to use the pressure function. I’m on win 11 and have al the latest drivers installed. Please help.

    Reply
    • Thomas Boldt

      Hi Aafke, I’m really sorry, but I don’t know what to suggest for your situation! I haven’t used Windows 11 yet, so I’m not familiar with any potential issues that it might cause with GIMP.

      Because you’ve got a combination of very new hardware and very new software, I think your best option would be to talk to the development team over at http://www.gimp.org and see if they can help you.

      Sorry I can’t do more!

      Reply