How to Zoom in and Zoom Out in GIMP

One of the most important elements of any creative art is being comfortable with your chosen tools. In digital editing, zooming in and out is essential for creating pixel-perfect adjustments, and it should be as natural to you as breathing.

There are three general ways you can zoom in and zoom out in GIMP: using the Zoom tool, using one of several keyboard/mouse shortcuts, or using the buttons in the UI. Using shortcuts is the best method in most situations, but it’s worth knowing about the other ways too! 

The Zoom Tool in GIMP

This one probably seems obvious, but it’s actually not the best solution because stopping to change tools usually slows down your workflow. Zooming should happen with the smallest interruption possible, so you can stay focused on your current edit. 

The Zoom tool is located in the toolbox, if you want to use it

If you still want to use the Zoom tool, it’s the handy magnifying glass icon at the end of the toolbox, or you can use the keyboard shortcut Z to switch to it. With the tool active, clicking on your canvas zooms in, while holding Ctrl and clicking on the canvas zooms out.

There are better and faster methods you should know about, though, so read on!

Zoom In and Out With Shortcuts

Note: Shortcuts mentioned in the tutorial are for Windows users. Mac users can switch the Alt key to the Option key, and the Ctrl key to the Command key. 

Shortcuts are the perfect way to control GIMP without breaking your editing flow. Zoom in and zoom out in GIMP like an editing pro by practicing these keys and techniques until you don’t even have to think about them anymore. 

It seems like there are some duplicate entries, but it’s not immediately clear what the ‘accel’ tag means on these shortcut names. 

Zoom In and Out with Your Keyboard and Mouse

The fastest shortcut is usually the one closest to your hand, so a keyboard and mouse combo shortcut is perfect for GIMP image editing. To zoom in or zoom out in GIMP, hold down the Ctrl key and spin your mouse wheel. Spinning up zooms in, and spinning down zooms out!

If you want to get extra fancy, you can hold down Alt instead of Ctrl to scroll up and down with the mouse wheel or hold down Shift to scroll left to right through your image with the mouse wheel. You can also click your mouse wheel and drag to get accurate positioning while zoomed. 

Keyboard Cowboy Zooming

If you don’t want to use your mouse for zooming at all (or if your mouse wheel is broken or nonexistent), there are a lot of keyboard-only shortcuts for zooming. Zoom in using the + key on your keypad, and zoom out using the - key right beside it.

If you don’t have a keypad, you can use the + and - keys next to your numbers row, but you’ll have to actually hold Shift while you zoom in or GIMP will read it as an = instead of a + and just sit there like a lump. I felt silly the first time I realized why it wasn’t working as expected for me! 

Zoom Presets

Two great zoom presets include the ` button (also the ~, beside the number 1, above Tab) which allows you to switch rapidly between your last two zoom levels, and Shift + Ctrl + J which zooms your image to fit your current image workspace. 

Because pixels are square, it usually works best to stick to an even zoom level like 25%, 50%, or 200%. Using a level like 33% or 182% can cause your pixels to look strange as the screen decides which pixels to keep and which to discard while displaying your image. 

GIMP has a few quick pre-programmed zoom levels that can easily be reached using the numbers 1-5 on your keyboard or number pad:

1: 100% Zoom

2: 200% Zoom

3: 400% Zoom

4: 800% Zoom

5: 1600% Zoom

In a confusing twist, there are a corresponding set of shortcuts – Shift + 2, Shift + 3, and so on – that should zoom out to 50%, 25%, and smaller, but they don’t work for me on Windows or macOS. They are listed in the Keyboard Shortcuts window above but don’t have any effect.

Zooming with the UI

Last but not least, you can always zoom in or out with the buttons in the user interface. Generally, I avoid these buttons since using shortcuts is so much faster. Down in the bottom left corner of your editing workspace, you’ll see a zoom level setting with a bunch of preconfigured zoom levels. 

Zooming in to 400% really shows off the JPEG artifacts in this source image

If you want to set up your GIMP interface more like Photoshop, you can enable the Navigator by opening the Windows menu, selecting the Dockable Dialogs submenu, and clicking on Navigation. The Navigation dialog appears on the right, complete with another zoom level setting.

The Photoshop-style navigator isn’t enabled by default, but it’s easy enough to add it to your interface with a few clicks. 

The Navigator can be useful, but it’s still better to learn the proper shortcuts for an optimal workflow.

A Final Word

That’s a surprisingly exhaustive list of all the ways to zoom in and zoom out in GIMP, and I think covered them all – but be sure to let me know in the comments below if I’ve skipped over your favorite method.

Probably the most important takeaway of this whole article is the importance of using shortcuts in your workflow. Zooming in and out is the perfect example of a necessary process that can also be very disruptive if you have to stop what you’re doing in order to perform it.

So practice those shortcuts, and turn them into muscle memory!

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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