How to Shade on GIMP


GIMP is a free graphic design program you can use to create and edit images on the computer. When digitally drawing, beginning illustrators may find it nonintuitive how to create the subtle color changes that would come so easily by shading with everyday art supplies. Instead of continually changing the color of your paintbrush in GIMP, you can use Dodge and Burn tools to shade an object and add a gradual change of color as you see fit.

  • Launch GIMP and create a new workbook by clicking "File," "New." Choose an entry from the "Template" drop-down menu or insert custom dimensions, and click "OK." If you already have a workbook started, click "File," "Open" instead, select your document and click "Open."

  • Click on the Paintbrush tool located in the main toolbar and click on the "Foreground Color" box. From the pop-up box, choose the color you want to begin painting with and click "OK." Change the brush type and scale as desired, and click within the workbook itself to apply your first paint stroke. You can make isolated clicks, or you can click and drag your cursor to apply continuous color.

  • Select the Dodge/Burn tool in the main toolbar. Adjust the brush type and scale as needed, and select "Dodge" from the menu if you want to begin shading with a color lighter than what you have been working with. Use this tool like you would use the Paintbrush tool, but recognize that every time you click and drag your cursor over an area, it will become one shade lighter until it eventually reaches the color of white.

  • Switch the tool to Burn mode by clicking on "Burn" in the menu. The Burn function performs the opposite operation as Dodge, meaning every time you click and drag your cursor over the image with Burn, you achieve one shade darker and closer to black.

  • Apply a Blur filter to make your shading more seamless if desired. Select "Filters," "Blur" and "Selective Gaussian Blur." Adjust the blur radius and click "OK." Select "File," "Save As" to save your document.

Tips & Warnings

  • To create subtle shading changes, use a brush type with a soft edge. To create more dramatic changes in color, use a hard-edged brush. You can also change the menu settings to fade out, apply jitter, or use a hard edge.
  • You may want to save changes as you go in case GIMP develops an error and unexpectedly needs to close before allowing you to save your shading.

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  • Photo Credit Digital Vision./Digital Vision/Getty Images
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