How to Warp Text in GIMP

GIMP is a very powerful image editor, and many new graphic artists assume that it can use those powers for text. While it’s possible to warp your text in GIMP, it’s not really the best choice of software for any text-based project because it only has very basic text handling options. 

As a graphic designer, I have to say that most of the time when you want to warp text, you probably shouldn’t. I don’t mean to sound dismissive, but there are tons of reasons why it can ruin a design (illegibility and downright ugliness are two major ones, see above) and not very many reasons why you’d actually need it. 

Curved text is one of the few useful exceptions, so we’ll also take a look at how to warp your text into a curve in GIMP, but that process comes with its own separate problems thanks to GIMP’s limited typography options. 

Hey Wilber, you should only be painting in a properly ventilated room or those fumes will mess with your head! Is that why your pupils are so dilated?

As you might know from my other tutorials, working with text in GIMP can be frustrating even at the best of times. If you want to keep your text editable, there’s very little you can do to a text layer – even rotating the layer causes GIMP to automatically rasterize your text. 

This process converts the text layer into pixel-based image data, and your text is no longer editable with the Text tool. 

If you’re going to be doing a lot of work with text in projects like logo design and page layout, you’re better off using Inkscape. It’s also free and open-source, and it has much better tools for working with text and letterforms. You can read my full comparison of GIMP vs Inkscape.

If you’re really determined to use GIMP to warp your text, there are two primary methods: rasterizing your text layer and then warping it, or typing your text along a path.

Method 1: Rasterize, Then Warp

As I mentioned earlier, GIMP doesn’t really seem to like keeping text as an editable text layer, but it does have a lot of distortion filters that it can use on pixel layers. 

Fortunately, those filters also rasterize your text layer for you, so at least they save you from doing the extra step yourself. 

Step 1: Enter Your Text

Switch to the Type tool using the toolbox or the keyboard shortcut T. Click and drag in the main image window to create a text box, and enter your text. 

Editing text with the Text tool in GIMP 2.10

Customize the font and placement to your heart’s content – but remember that you won’t be able to edit it easily after this step, so it’s worth taking the time to get it exactly how you want it. 

Step 2: Apply Your Warp

Now comes the fun part! GIMP has a huge selection of filters that can warp and distort your text in just about any way you can think of, from a simple ripple effect (shown below) to a crazy kaleidoscopic filter that will make sure nobody can ever read your text at all, although it certainly looks cool. It’s all up to you!

GIMP has quite a few different ways to warp your text

Open the Filters menu, and select the Distorts submenu. Just about any of the filters in the Distorts submenu will warp your text, although there are way too many to cover them all here. 

If you’re not sure where to start, try experimenting with the Ripple, Spherize, and Whirl and Pinch filters. 

Don’t forget to try Kaleidoscope when you have the time to mess around with the incredible amount of settings it contains 😉 It’s not always great for text, but it sure is fun! 

After warping, the text layer is just another pixel layer

Once you apply your filter, you’ll notice that the icon for your text layer has changed into a thumbnail of the image contents, which indicates that it’s now a normal pixel layer. 

You won’t be able to use the Text tool to edit it, so if you made a typo or you want to change the wording, you’ll have to use the Undo command to return to a point before you applied your text warp filter. 

Hopefully, GIMP 3 will include much better text handling, but we’ll have to wait and see until it’s finally released to know for sure. Until then, this is the only way to apply complex warps to text in GIMP. 

Method 2: Type Along Path

If you don’t want to apply a complex warp to your text using one of the Distort filters, you might be able to get away with using the Text Along Path method. It’s a bit more tedious than the first method, but it can give you more control over the outcome.

Step 1: Create Your Text

Use the Text tool to create your text, paying special attention to the size, typeface, and relative position of each word. With this method, you don’t need to worry about the color of your text yet, because the text layer is only going to be used as a template for creating the warp paths. 

Don’t worry – it will become clearer =) Stick with me! 

Step 2: Create Your Path 

Switch the Paths tool using the toolbox or the keyboard shortcut B. Draw out the path you want to use to distort your shape. In the example below, I’m just using a very basic curve with two points, but you can use as many as you want. 

Use the Paths tool to draw a simple curve

Too much curvature in the path will create unreadable text by the time we’re done, so keep it simple until you understand how the method works. 

Step 3: Text Along Path

In the Layers panel, right-click on the text layer you created earlier, and select Text Along Path from the list of options. 

The Layer context menu has many helpful options

This creates a whole new set of paths using the outlines of your text as the template, but they are all warped along the original curved path that you created by hand. It looks confusing at first, but we’ll sort it out in a second.

Suddenly, there were paths everywhere!

Step 4: Fill The New Paths

Let’s clear some space so we can see what’s going on by hiding the original text layer. Click the small ‘eye’ icon beside your text layer in the Layers panel, and it should disappear without actually being deleted. 

Next, we need to create a new pixel layer to hold the new letters. Create a new layer filled with transparency using the shortcut Control + Shift + N (use Command + Shift + N on a Mac). You can also use the New Layer button at the bottom of the Layers panel, or open the Layers menu and choose New Layer.

Switch the Fill with setting to Transparency, if it’s not already set to that by default. You can technically use any background color you want, but keeping all your image elements on separate layers is always the preferable option. 

With your new layer still selected in the Layers panel, switch over to the Paths panel (located in a tabbed window right next to the Layers panel). You’ll see your new text paths, as well as your original curved path.

Right-click the path with your new curved letters in it, and select Fill Path. Alternatively, if you still have the Paths tool active, select the correct path in the Paths panel and click the Fill Path button in the Tool Options panel. It’s up to you which method to use since they both lead to the Fill Path dialog.

You can choose to fill with a solid color, which will use your currently selected foreground color, or you can fill with a pattern (although I don’t recommend using this with text for a number of reasons). 

Click the Fill button, and the new pixel layer we created at the start of this step will now display your warped text. 

Reposition it to wherever you want in your image, and you’re done! Your warped text will not be editable with the text tool, but you’ve still got your original text layer available if you want to try again. 

A Final Word

I love GIMP, I really do – but it’s not the best option when it comes to handling text. These methods allow you to warp text in GIMP, but you’re probably better off using Inkscape for these kinds of projects. 

Inkscape allows you to warp text along a path and do all sorts of other things – all while keeping your original text editable. Remember, it’s also free and open-source, so you’ve got nothing to lose, and a whole lot to gain!

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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