The Handle Transform tool in GIMP is a unique tool that allows you to place between 1 and 4 handles on your image, then use those handles to transform your layer, image, path, or selection (depending on what transform mode you have set in the Tool Options).
To use the tool, hit shift+L on your keyboard. Or, click on the tool in your Toolbox by clicking and holding your mouse over the first transform tool group (red arrow), then releasing your mouse on the “Handle Transform” tool (blue arrow).
Because this tool is a Transform tool, it utilizes “interpolation” (red arrow in the image above) to rearrange, add or remove pixels from your layer to perform the transformation. If you have a faster computer, I recommend changing the “Interpolation” option in the Tool Options to “LoHalo” for a higher quality result (blue arrow).
By default, the clipping should be set to “Adjust” (red arrow in the above image). This simply means that as you transform the pixels in your layer, the new layer that’s created when you apply the transformation will adjust to fit the new size of your pixels. Nothing gets cut out of the new layer.
I recommend having the “Show Image Preview” option checked in the Tool Options (small blue arrow) for this tool as that will allow you to see a real-time preview of what your layer looks like with the transformations applied to it. If your computer is slow, however, you may want to leave this unchecked to keep GIMP from freezing up.
Finally, like many other Transform tools in GIMP, the Handle Transform tool lets you have guides inside the transformation area (green arrow in the above image). I’ll set this dropdown to “Rule of Thirds” for now so you can better see what kind of transformations occur on your layer with this tool.
With all that out of the way, let’s see this tool in action!
With the tool active, click anywhere on your layer to add the first handle. I purposely created four white circles on our composition as areas to place handles, so I’ll click in the first circle to add my first handle (red arrow in the image above). When I click to add this handle, a few things will happen. First, a handle will appear where you just clicked your mouse. This handle is similar to handles that display around your layer when using other transform tools like the Scale Tool or Perspective Tool.
The second thing that happens if your guides will appear inside the layer (green arrow – assuming you turned on guides using the “Guides” dropdown in the Toolbox – which you can turn on or change at any time).
And finally, the “Handle Transform” dialogue will appear in the upper right corner of our composition (outlined in blue in the above image). This displays a “Transform Matrix” to show you what kind of changes are occurring to your layer as you transform the layer. If I’m being honest, this matrix isn’t super helpful to the average user as it just displays a bunch of numbers in a matrix, so you may just want to ignore it for now.
When using this tool, if there’s just a single handle on your layer it will act as a “Move” tool. You’ll notice that when you hover your mouse over the handle, your mouse pointer will now display the Move tool mouse pointer. To move your layer, click and hold your mouse on the single handle (red arrow), then drag it around to a new location (follow the blue dotted line). Release your mouse, and your layer will now be repositioned as if you just used the move tool.
Things get more interesting from this point.
You may remember that I said you can add 1-4 handles with this tool. So, let’s click on the second circle on the right-hand side of the composition to add a second handle (red arrow in the image above).
Now when we hover our mouse over the second handle, the mouse pointer will change to the “Rotate” tool mouse pointer. This is because with two handles active, the handles act as a Rotate tool. However, they also act as a “Scale” tool simultaneously – essentially combining the two transform tools into one. When you hover your mouse over this second handle, you’ll see in the “Title and Status Bar” at the bottom of the image window (green arrow) that it reads: “Click-Drag to rotate and scale.”
To perform these transformations, click and hold your mouse on the new handle (red arrow in the above image) and drag it around your composition. Your layer will rotate in whatever direction you drag your mouse, pivoting around the first handle we created earlier (blue arrow).
Additionally, if you drag towards the first handle, the layer will shrink (or scale downwards), and if you drag away from the first handle, the layer will grow (or scale upwards – as demonstrated in the image above). Releasing your mouse will set your layer at that new position.
So what happens when you add a third handle? Let’s find out.
Click on the third circle in the lower left-hand corner of the composition to add a third handle (red arrow in the image above). Now when you hover your mouse over this handle, the mouse pointer changes to the “Shear” tool’s mouse pointer. Additionally, the Title and Status bar reads: “Click-Drag to shear and scale” (blue arrow). As you may have guessed by now, adding a third handle gives you the ability to shear or scale your layer.
So, if I click and drag my mouse on this third handle, the layer will shear or shift the pixels in that direction. Additionally, if I drag my mouse away from the other two handles the layer will grow (as demonstrated in the photo above), and if I drag it towards the other two handles the layer will shrink.
Plus, if I cross the other two handles with the third handle (meaning I drag the third handle passed the other two), it will essentially flip my layer and display a mirror-image of the pixels on the layer (while still adding shearing and scaling to the layer – as demonstrated in the image above).
However, I’ll readjust the third handle so that it is sheared slightly to the left and scaled up (drag the handle down and to the left slightly from its original position).
That leads us to the fourth and final handle. I’ll click inside the lower right-hand circle to add this last handle (red arrow in the image above). When I hover my mouse over it, you’ll see in the Title and Status bar that this handle allows me to “Click-Drag to change perspective” (blue arrow). Also, my mouse pointer changes to the “Perspective” tool’s mouse pointer.
With all four handles places on my layer, dragging any of the handles will transform the perspective of my layer as if I were simply using the Perspective tool. The main difference between the Handle Transform tool and the Perspective tool is that the Handle Transform tool will transform the perspective of your layer based on the position of the handles, whereas the Perspective tool always uses the four corners of the active layer. In this sense, the Handle Transform tool may offer you more options and more freedom when changing your layer’s perspective.
Just like you can click to add handles to your layer, you can also hold the ctrl key and click on an existing handle to delete that handle (like I did for the node located where the red arrow is pointing). This would then revert the tool back to whatever features are available for three handles, for example, and you can once again click and drag any handle to apply the transformation (just a refresher: with three handles you can shear and scale the layer).
You can add or remove handles at any time and continue readjusting your layer.
When you’re ready to apply your transformations, click the “Transform” button in the Handle Transform dialogue (blue arrow in the image above). Your handle transformations will now be applied to your layer!
The Handle Transform tool is a unique but useful tool found in the GIMP Toolbox. It allows you to perform transformations around the handles you place in locations of your choosing, and let’s you continually add, remove, or relocate handles to further customize and transform your layer.
That’s it for this tutorial! If you liked it, you can check out my other GIMP Help Articles, GIMP Video Tutorials, and my GIMP Masterclass: From Beginner to Pro Photo Editing!