In this help article I’ll be showing you how to add a stroke to your shapes using a simple, beginner-friendly method. You can watch the video version of this tutorial below, or skip over it for the full help article version available in 30+ languages.

Table of Contents

Step 1: Draw Your Shape

To start, you’ll want to open GIMP and create a new document (go to File>New or hit ctrl+n on your keyboard).

With your new document open, grab a shape selection tool from your tool box (red arrow in the image above) such as the Rectangle Select tool (hit the “R” key on your keyboard for the shortcut) or the Ellipse Select tool (hit the “E” key on your keyboard for the shortcut – blue arrow in the photo above).

Once your tool is active, click and drag your mouse across your composition to draw your shape. If you hold the shift key while you drag, your shape will have a 1:1 aspect ratio. If you also hold the alt key while you drag, the shape will draw from the center. Release your mouse to apply the shape selection.

You can fill your shape in with a color using a few simple steps. First, Create a new layer in the Layers panel (blue arrow in the image above) by clicking the New Layer icon (red arrow). Name the layer whatever you want (I named mine “Shape Fill” – outlined in green) and make sure the “Fill With” dropdown is set to “Transparency” (pink arrow). Click OK to create the layer.

Now, with this layer active, click and drag the foreground color you want to use from your Foreground Swatch to the area inside the selection (follow the red arrows along the green dotted line in the image above). Your shape will now be filled with this color.

Step 2: Draw Your Stroke

Keeping the selection area active, we’ll now draw our stroke around the shape. First, create another new layer (red arrow in the image above). This time, name it “Shape Stroke” (outlined in green) and make sure “Fill With” is still set to “Transparency” (pink arrow). Click OK to add the new layer.

You have two options for drawing a stroke.

Method 1 – Stroke Selection

The easiest method is to go to Edit>Stroke Selection. This will bring up the “Stroke Selection” dialogue.

Next, click on the foreground swatch to select the color you want to use for your stroke (I’ll choose white for mine). Click OK to set this color as our foreground swatch color.

Now you’ll want to adjust the settings of the stroke using the Stroke Selection dialogue. I’ll make sure mine is set to “Stroke line” (red arrow in the photo above), plus the “Solid color” (pink arrow) option. Keep “anti-aliasing” turned on to ensure a smoother stroke, and set the width you want to use for your stroke (I went with 20 pixels – outlined in green).
If you click the “Dash Preset” dropdown (outlined in red), you’ll have some additional options for your line’s settings and the type of stroke you want to use around your shape. I’ll select the “Line” option from the dropdown.

You’ll notice here that there’s another option for “Stroke with a paint tool” (red arrow in the image above) – this option will use your currently active paintbrush and brush settings to paint the stroke around your shape. I prefer going with the “Stroke line” option at the top as it allows for a bit more control and produces a cleaner result. However, there may be plenty of cases where you want to stroke with a paintbrush.

When you’re ready, click the “Stroke” button (green arrow) to draw the stroke around your shape.

One issue with this method for stroking your shape is that the stroke will look a little jagged or “sloppy,” as I like to say, around your shape. You can see this in the photo above – especially in the area where the red arrow is pointing. I personally prefer converting the selection area to a path first before drawing my stroke.

Method 2 – Stroke to Path

The next method for stroking your shape has a couple extra steps, but in my opinion it is the better method because of the smoother stroke it produces. If you want to follow along, I’ll continue this method from after the point where we filled in our circle shape with blue.

To start this method, with your shape selection area still active, click on the “Paths” tab (green arrow in the image above). Then, click the “Selection to Path” icon (red arrow). This will convert your shape selection to a path.

Now, deselect your selection area by going to Select>None or hitting ctrl+shift+a on your keyboard.

With the selection area deselected, click on the “Paint along path” icon at the bottom of the Paths tab (red arrow in the image above). This will bring up the “Stroke path” dialogue (outlined in green).

Next, navigate back to the “Layers” panel (red arrow in the image above). Make sure you are on a new layer for the stroke (I still have my “Shape stroke” layer from earlier – denoted by the green arrow, but you can create a new layer if you don’t have one here).

The settings for the “Stroke path” dialogue are the same as the settings we covered earlier for the Stroke Selection” dialogue. Once you’re ready to paint your stroke, click OK.

That’s it! Super easy, and a great way to add additional effects or dimension to your shapes. If you enjoyed this article, you can check out more GIMP Help Articles on my site, watch my GIMP Video Tutorials, or get access to additional content by becoming a DMD Premium Member.