In this tutorial, I’ll show you how to combine some great GIMP photo editing and manipulation techniques with graphic design techniques to create a dynamic final composition – which in this case is an album cover (but can be whatever you would like it to be!), pictured below. You’ll combine shapes, images and filters for a professional-looking final product.

I am using the newest version of GIMP, GIMP 2.9.8, which is a development version of GIMP that contains a lot of the new features that will be found in GIMP 2.10. It should be noted, however, that this is considered an “unstable” version of GIMP – and so there are still a few bugs that the GIMP team are working on prior to releasing the stable 2.10 version. The program still works great in my opinion – and I simply recommend saving every few minutes to avoid running into any issues and losing your work (hit ctrl+s on your keyboard to save while you work – and save the file in the native .XCF file until the end, when we’ll export it to JPEG).

I should mention that this is a fairly advanced tutorial, but I have explained it in a way that is very beginner friendly. I don’t think anyone will have any issues following along.

You can download this development version that I’ll be using throughout the tutorial on the GIMP website here.

Once you have downloaded GIMP 2.9.8, you can follow along with me by using your own images or by using the same images I’m using. I downloaded these images from Pixabay, a free stock image site. The main photo I’ll be using is of a girl holding two flares with brightly colored smoke which you can find and download here. I recommend downloading the largest file size so that you won’t have to scale the image up later to fit the album cover dimensions (4.724 in. x 4.724 in.). However, in order to do that you need to sign up for an account on Pixabay. You can get away with scaling this photo up, so long as you are OK with losing a little bit of quality.

We’ll also be using a photo of stars in a galaxy, which you can download on Pixabay here.

Once you have both images downloaded onto your computer, you’ll want to open up GIMP and then open the main image. To do this, go to File>Open (depicted in the photo above).

Select the image file from the folder where you previously saved your image. Once you have selected the main image file you wish to open, click the “Open” button at the bottom right.

Now that your image is open in GIMP, go over to the Layers panel on the right side of your screen (if you don’t see a layers panel, go to Windows>Recently Closed Docs>Layers, Channels, Paths, Undo… to open it) and click on the main image layer. I’ll first double click the name of the layer to change the name of the layer from colorful-1844… to “Main Image.” Next, click the duplicate layer icon (depicted in the image above) to duplicate this main image layer. This will create a new layer called “Main Image copy.”

With this duplicate layer selected, I now want to adjust the color temperature of the layer so that it is a bit cooler than what it currently is. To do this, I’ll go to Colors>Color Temperature (depicted above).

This feature is made to be able to adjust the color temperature of a photo when perhaps the lighting conditions where your photo was taken don’t match the temperature settings of your camera at the time of the photo. However, it can also be used to adjust the overall temperature of your photo when you simply want to change the mood of the composition, as in this case. I have set my “original temperature” to just over 9000K (Kelvin) and my intended temperature to a little over 5400K.

If you are wanting to legitimately fix the color temperature of your image for the reason I described above, there are some presets built into GIMP that allow you to select the original temperature and intended temperature settings based on common lighting conditions (i.e. sunset, studio lighting, overcast daylight, etc.). Just click the left-facing arrow to enable a dropdown list of these settings.

Once I have my desired settings, I’ll click OK.

Next, I’ll click the show/hide icon (shaped like an eye) to hide the duplicate main image layer and will select the original “Main Image” layer.

I want to brighten this layer up a little bit, focusing on the complexion of our subject and the colors of the flares as these will be the only things that will be visible in the final composition. I’ll start by going to Colors>Hue-Saturation.

I’ll turn the lightness up by .6 by clicking and dragging the adjustment bar, or by clicking on the numbers and typing .6. Next, I’ll turn up my saturation to about 36 to increase the intensity of the colors on this Main Image layer.

A new feature in GIMP 2.9.8 (which will be released with 2.10) is the ability to show a “Split View” by checking the Split view box (denoted by the green arrow above), which allows you to preview your image with changes compared to the image prior to making the changes. I’m really loving the convenience of this side-by-side comparison as I don’t have to keep checking and unchecking the “Preview” boxes to see what my changes look like before and after. You can see in the image above how a pinkish line runs down the middle of the image, dividing up the “before” and “after.”

I’ll click OK to apply the changes.

GIMP 2.9.8 Color Balance Tool

Next, I want to adjust the Color Balance on my image – so I’ll go to Colors>Color Balance (shown above).


I’ll adjust the Shadows, Midtones, and Highlights of my image using the settings shown in the photos above. I can also enable my Split view again to perform a side-by-side comparison of my changes to the original image. Once I’m happy with the changes, I’ll click OK.

I’ll now draw the triangle shape that will frame the girl holding the flares, adding dimension and depth to the composition and further drawing attention to the girl as the focal point for my album cover. For starters, I’ll click and drag on the rulers around the frame of the composition to bring in a guide, and will set the first guide in the center of my image. You can drag and release the guide anywhere to start, then grab the alignment tools from the toolbar (denoted by the red arrow in the image above), click on the guide, and click the “Distribute Horizontal Center of Targets” option in the Tool Options on your toolbar (denoted by the green arrow). This will center your guide on your image, as shown above.

Next, I want to bring in a second guide, and want this guide to be 400 pixels from the left edge of the image. I will again grab the Align tool, click on this second guide, then, under Tool Options, change the “X offset” to 400 (denoted by the red arrow in the image above). I’ll then click on the Distribute Left Edges of Targets option (denoted by the green arrow). This will align my second guide 400 pixels from the left edge of my image.

I’ll repeat this step by bringing in another guide, but will, using the Align tool, click on the third guide, change the “X offset” option to -400 (denoted by the red arrow above), and will click the “Distribute Right Edges of Targets” option (denoted by the green arrow above). This will align my third guide 400 pixels from the right edge of my image.

Finally, I’ll drag down a horizontal guide and will place it at about 1020 pixels (just above the hand holding the blue flare). You can see the coordinates where your guide is located by looking at the numbers in the bottom left corner of the canvas (mine say 894, 1020).

Next, I’ll create a new layer in my layers panel.

If you’ve used previous version of GIMP, you’ll notice that there are now a lot more options for creating a new layer than there have ever been previously. I’ll change the name of my layer to Triangle Layer, and can even assign a color code to this layer (denoted by the green arrow in the image above) to make it easier to differentiate the layer from other layers in my layers panel. I’ll click OK to create the layer.

I will click and drag this new layer to arrange it so that it is at the top of my layers panel. You’ll see the layer is denoted by the color purple over the show/hide icon.

I’ll grab the Free Select tool (denoted by the green arrow), and will click a little bit above my subject’s head to create an anchor point and begin drawing the triangle. I’ll then create a second and third anchor point where my guides converge to create the bottom points of my triangle.

Finally, I’ll click again on the top anchor point I created to connect the triangle. You can click and drag the top anchor point if you want the triangle to start a bit higher above the subject.

Now, click on the Bucket Fill tool, denoted by the green arrow in the photo above, (this should cause your triangle area you just drew to turn into a selection area – denoted by the moving dashed outline) and double click on your foreground color (denoted by the red arrow above) to bring up to bring up the Change Foreground Color dialogue box. Click on the Eyedropper tool (purple arrow) and select the pink color from the smoke coming from the flare by clicking on it. Click OK to apply this color. Then, with your Triangle Layer still selected, click inside the Triangle selection area you drew to fill this area with the pink color.

Now go to Select>Shrink as we are going to erase the middle part of the triangle so that the triangle shows up as a stroke rather than a full triangle shape. Shrink the selection area by 50 pixels (enter 50 in the box, and make sure the unit it set to pixels), then click OK.

With the Triangle layer still selected, press the Delete key on your keyboard. This will delete the pink inside the selection area, leaving you with a pink triangle-shape outline. It is OK if the triangle overlaps the subject a bit – this will allow us to make the subject appear as if she is popping out of the image (we will address this later).

Go to select>none to deselect the area.

Next, I’ll import an image of a galaxy with lots of stars to add to our triangle. Go to File>Open to import the image into GIMP.

Then hit cntrl+c on your keyboard or go to File>Copy, then come over to your main composition and hit ctrl+v on your keyboard or go to File>Paste. This should add your galaxy photo as a floating selection layer (denoted by the red arrow). With this floating selection layer still selected, click the “Create a new layer” icon to add it to its own layer (green arrow).

Drag the galaxy image using the Move tool (hit M on your keyboard) so that it is centered with the triangle – or so that it is in the location you want it in.

Next, click on the triangle layer and go to Layer>Transparency>Alpha to Selection (shown above). This will once again create a selection area around your triangle.

Go to Select>Invert to invert the selection area. Then, click on the Universe layer. Hit the delete key on your keyboard to delete everything outside the triangle shape. Go to Select>None to deselect the triangle selection shape.

With the Universe layer still selected, change the layer mode (green arrow) to “Overlay” (red arrow).

Now, adjust the opacity of the Universe layer and triangle layer by clicking on each layer and adjusting the opacity slider (denoted by the green arrow) to get the look you want. I have my triangle layer set to around 32% opacity and my universe layer around 65%.

I don’t need the guides anymore, so I’ll go to View>Show Guides and will click on this option to hide the guides.

Next, I’ll create a “Line Nova”. I’ll start by creating a new layer and naming it Nova. You can also assign a color to this layer. I’ll then move the Nova layer below the triangle and universe layers by clicking and dragging the layer in the layers panel.

The color of the lines created will be the same as your currently selected foreground color, so be sure to change that prior to generating the Line Nova. I’m going to select the same pink we grabbed using the eyedropper tool earlier and that we used for the triangle for continuity (this should still be the color you have selected as your foreground color as well if you’ve been following along). Next, go to filters>render>Line Nova.

I’m going to decrease the number of lines created by the filter to 100, and will change the randomness to 10. I’ll click OK to render the Line Nova (the image above shows the Line Nova as its rendering).

I now want to remove any lines that are visible within the triangle, so once again I’ll select the triangle layer and will go to Layer>Transparency>Alpha to Transparency. This will select my triangle. I’ll then go to the Nova layer, right click on it, and select “Add Layer Mask.”

I’ll select White (Full Opacity) for the “Initialize Layer Mask to:” option.

I want to make sure I have the Nova layer mask selected (denoted by the purple arrow above), and not the Nova layer. This is because I want to paint on the layer mask to create transparency. Next, I’ll grab the paint brush tool (green arrow) and will select black as my foreground color (red arrow). I’ll then paint over the entire area within the triangle with this black. You can see in the image above that the lines inside this area are now disappearing as I paint.

I then want to erase all the lines inside the triangle (where our subject’s face and upper torso are) as well. So, I’ll go to Select>Invert – this will select everything surrounding the triangle.

I’ll paint the area inside the triangle to erase the Line Nova. It should now appear as if your Line Nova stops at the outer edges of the triangle. I also want to remove the Line Nova from my subject, so I’ll paint over any areas where I see the Line Nova overlapping the subject or the flares she’s holding (although I’ll only do her arms as I still want her legs to be covered). If you remove too much of the line nova, you can always paint it back by changing the color of your brush to white and then painting over those spots you want returned to the image. Just be sure you are still on the mask layer when you do this.

I’ll go to Select>None.

I’ll decrease the opacity of the Nova layer to about 6%.

Next, I want to erase the parts of the triangle that overlap my subject so that it appears as though she is popping out of the shape. I’ll right click on the triangle layer and will go to “Add Layer Mask,” once again setting the Initialize Layer Mask to setting to White (Full Opacity).

I’ll then grab my paint brush, select black as the color, and will paint over the subject’s arms and flares wherever I want the subject to pop out. I can use the zoom tool to zoom in on the areas I am painting to be more precise.

I’ll also paint over parts of the smoke so that it creates more depth in the photo – as if the smoke is passing through the triangle. I’ll repeat these steps with the Universe layer – adding a layer mask to that layer, and painting black on the layer mask over the parts of the galaxy triangle that I want my subject to “pop out” of.

Next, I will come down to the duplicated image layer (“Main Image Copy”) and will right click on it. Go to “Add layer mask” (shown above) and choose White again for the “Initialize Layer Mask to:” option. I will grab the brush tool and select black as my foreground color, which I will be painting with again.

I want to paint some of the brighter colors back into parts of my subject, including the subject’s hair and skin. This will help the subject stand out in the image. I’ll go ahead and paint over these areas with the layer mask, which will allow the image layer below it, which we adjusted earlier to be brighter, to come through (you can see this beginning to happen in the image above). I will also paint over the smoke coming from the flares to help brighten them up a bit as well. You can adjust the size of your brush while you paint using the left and right brackets on your keyboard (“[” and “]”).

I’ll now create a lens flare. With your top duplicate image layer selected (not the layer mask), go to Filters>Light and Shadow>Lens Flare. My X and Y positions are .846 and .199. You may need to unlock the chain link to keep the X and Y values from adjusting with each other automatically. I’ll click OK to render the lens flare.

Next, we need to crop the composition so that it fits the typical size of an album cover (if that is what you are intending to use this for) – or fits the size you want your composition to be. I’ll grab my crop tool (denoted by the green arrow in the image above) and, under Tool Options, will set the Fixed Aspect Ratio to 1:1 (another common ratio is 1920×1080) – denoted by the red arrow. Click and drag the crop tool on your composition, including as much of the composition as possible. You can click and drag the corners and outer edges of the crop outline to adjust the size and area of it (denoted by the purple arrow above). Once you have your crop area set, double click within the crop area to apply the crop. Go to Image>Scale Image to make sure your image is exactly 4.724 inches wide and tall – these are the standard dimensions of an album cover (GIMP may round to 4.723 inches like mine was doing). Click OK. If you scaled your image, like I did, you may lose a bit of quality – though in this case it isn’t really noticeable.

Grab the text tool and type your album name anywhere on the composition. I chose the bottom corner as I think it looks best and is easier to read against the dark background. Resize your text and change the color (click where the purple arrow is in the image above) to match your preferences (you have to highlight all of the text using the text tool to be able to successfully change the color). You can also change the font – I used Proxima Nova Light as my font (denoted by the two red arrows in the photo above – there are two separate places where you can change the text style, size, and color). You can use the move tool (press the M key on your keyboard) to adjust the position of the text after you have made your design adjustments. Make sure the text layer is at the very top of the composition (click and drag it to the top in the layers panel) to prevent accidentally moving any other layers.

Finally, create a new layer and name it “Gradient.” I have assigned the color yellow to this layer’s color tag. Move this layer below the text layer by clicking and dragging it in the layers panel.

Grab the gradient tool (denoted by the green arrow in the image above), and choose the blue/teal and pink colors from the flares as your foreground and background colors (if you don’t have the blue color yet, double click on the foreground color box, grab the eye dropper tool, and select a blue area from the smoke created by the flare in the image). With the Gradient shape set to Linear (denoted by the red arrow), click and drag the gradient from the top left corner to the bottom right corner. In GIMP 2.9.8, the “unstable development version,” you can make adjustments to the gradient directly on the canvas (the purple arrow points to the editable line where you can add points to the gradient or move the original start/finish placements of the gradient). Once you are happy with the final placement of the gradient, click on another tool in the Tool panel to solidify the changes to your gradient (i.e. click on the move tool). Keep in mind the gradient is still active until you do this.

Change the mode (red arrow) of the gradient layer to “Soft Light” (green arrow).

Now, export your image by going to File>Export if you haven’t saved it before or File>Export As. Choose JPEG as your file type under the Select File Type dropdown (red arrow). You can change the name of your file (green arrow) and the location where you would like to save it (purple arrow), then click Export. Adjust the quality of the image and click Save.

And that’s it! Phew! Thanks for reading this tutorial! If you like it, please check out our other GIMP Text Tutorials on our site, or visit our YouTube channel for GIMP Video Tutorials. You can also take our GIMP Photo Editing Course on Udemy if you want to go from a Beginner to a Pro Photo Retoucher. Thank you!