In this tutorial, I’ll show you how to place a picture inside your text, plus create a 3D pop-out effect with an element from your photo so that it appears the photo is popping out of the text!

I use a free font called Advent Pro Bold which you can download here, and a free photo of the Denver Capitol Building found here on Flickr. I’ll be using GIMP version 2.9.8, which is the “development version” and considered the latest version of GIMP. It contains almost all of the new features to be found in GIMP 2.10, though there are some bug fixes the GIMP team is still working on for the release of the stable version. You can download GIMP 2.9.8 free here on the GIMP website. You can also follow along using GIMP 2.8.22, which is the latest stable version of GIMP (at the time of this post).

You can save your composition as you work in the native .XCF file format by pressing ctrl+s on your keyboard or going to File>Save. Be sure to do this throughout the tutorial to keep from losing your work!

Step 1: Open Your Image

Once you have downloaded your image, open it into GIMP by going to File>Open. The “Open Image” dialogue box will appear, which allows you to search for your image within files on your computer, select it, and open it.

Step 2: Create a New Composition

Create a new composition by going to File>New. The “Create a New Image” dialogue box will appear (shown in the photo above), which allows you to choose the dimensions of your composition. Since the image I have downloaded is 1024 pixels wide, I’ll choose that as my width. The image is 768 pixels in height, but I want to be able to crop some of the image out, so I will set the composition height a little lower than that – 720 pixels. You can set your composition to whatever dimensions you would like. Click OK to create your new image/composition.

Step 3: Create a Gradient Background

Using the Blend Tool Picture in Text Tutorial

Grab the blend tool (denoted by the green arrow in the photo above) and change your foreground and background colors (red arrow) to a light blue (html notation: 3cccf5) and a dark blue (html notation: 2b748f). In the blend tool options, change your gradient to Foreground to Background (RGB) – denoted by the purple arrow above, and change the shape to Radial (pink arrow).

Come over to your background layer and click on the middle of your composition (red arrow), dragging to the bottom right corner (purple arrow). This will draw your gradient, with the light color in the middle and dark color around the edges in a radial shape. If you are using GIMP 2.9.8, you can use the Live Gradient editing capabilities to adjust the positioning of your gradient (you can click and move around the start and end points denoted by the arrows above).

Step 4: Copy Your Image Into the Composition

Once your background has been created, navigate back over to your Capitol building image (either using the tabs in single window mode or by clicking on the image window in multi-window mode) and copy it by pressing ctrl+c on your keyboard or by going to Edit>Copy.

Come back over to your composition and hit ctrl+v on your keyboard or go to Edit>Paste to paste the photo into your composition. This will add your photo as a “floating selection” layer, denoted by the red arrow in the image above. Click on the floating selection layer in your layers panel, then click the “Create a new layer” icon (purple arrow) to add the floating selection layer to a new layer.

Double click on the name of this new layer to edit the layer name (it will be highlighted with blue at first, like in the photo above), and change the name to “Capitol” (if you are following along with the same image I’m using).

Now, with this layer still selected, hit the “Duplicate layer” icon twice so that you now have 3 Capitol layers.

Step 5: Add Your Text

Text tool GIMP 2.9.8

Grab the text tool from your Toolbox (denoted by the red arrow above), change the font to the Advent Pro Bold font you downloaded earlier (or whatever font you want to use – denoted by the purple arrow), change the size of the text to 395 (green arrow), change the text color to white (yellow arrow), and click anywhere on your composition. This will automatically create a new text layer (pink arrow). Type your text, which in my case is “DENVER” – with all of the letters capitalized. Then, highlight all of your text with the text tool and decrease the “kerning” of your text, or the spacing between all of your letters, so that your letters are closer together. I decreased my kerning to -73 (black arrow).

Next, grab your alignment tool and click on your text layer. Click on “align middle of target” under the alignment tool options to align your text to the horizontal center of the image.

You can then grab your move tool (red arrow) from the Toolbox or by hitting “m” on your keyboard and vertically align your text. You won’t be able to use the alignment tool for this because the custom kerning we applied to the text affected the alignment of the text within the text box – making the text box off-centered (as you may notice above).

Duplicating the layer GIMP pic in text tutorial

Duplicate your text layer so that you now have two “DENVER” text layers. The layer name has a bunch of symbols to the left and right of the “D” (shown above) because of the kerning we applied to the layer earlier.

Step 6: Create “Picture in Text”

Alpha to Transparency GIMP Picture in Text Tutorial

Next, click on the top DENVER text layer and go to Layer>Transparency>Alpha to Selection. This will create a selection area around your DENVER text.

Select Invert GIMP Photo in Text Tutorial

Then, click on your Capitol Copy #1 layer. Go to Select>Invert, which will invert your selection area so that everything surrounding your DENVER text is selected. Then, hit the delete key, which will delete everything inside of the selection area.

To see if it worked, hide the Capitol Copy and Capitol layers below the Capitol Copy #1 layer (click on the icon in the layers panel that looks like an eye). You should now just see the background layer. If you also hide both DENVER text layers, you should see our Capitol picture within the word DENVER (as shown in the photo above). Go to Select>None to deselect the selection area (also shown above).

Step 7: Create the 3D Pop-out Effect

Unhide the “Capitol Copy” layer, hide the “Capitol Copy #1” layer, and unhide the top DENVER text layer (shown above) so that now only these two layers (Capitol Copy and the top text layer) along with the background layer are visible. Right click on the Capitol Copy layer and go to “Add Layer Mask.”

Under “Initialize Layer Mask to:” choose White (full opacity). Click “Add” to add the layer mask.

Painting on a layer mask gimp pic in text

Now, grab your paintbrush tool (denoted by the green arrow above) and change the color to black (html notation #000000 – red arrow). Increase the brush size using the Size slider (purple arrow) until your brush covers a decent area of the image. We will decrease and increase the brush as we work using the left and right bracket keys (“[” and “]”) on your keyboard once we start painting over some of the more detailed parts of the image. I should mention that by using a layer mask, you are using a technique called “non-destructive editing” because you erase objects by painting black but can bring those objects back by painting white – unlike the eraser tool where you can erase objects but can’t bring them back once they’ve been erased (unless you hit ctrl+z to undo the eraser). This makes editing more flexible. Start painting black on everything on the Capitol Copy layer mask except for the dome portion of the building. You should start to see everything erase while you paint.

Grab the zoom tool from the Toolbox or hit z on your keyboard and click to zoom in on the dome part of the image. I am keeping all of the columns underneath the dome until the building meets with the letters “N” and “V.” The sky around it is getting erased, along with every other part of the image.

Grab your brush tool again and decrease its size so you can erase around the details of the dome without erasing any parts of the dome itself. You may also want to change your brush to a hard brush (i.e. Hardness 100 – denoted by the red arrow above) so that you can erase along the edges of the dome more precisely.

Your composition should look similar to mine shown above once you have used the layer mask to erase everything around the dome.

Grab the zoom tool and hold the ctrl key on your keyboard to zoom back out until you can see your full composition again.

Step 8: Add a Gold Outline Around Your Text and Dome

Hide your DENVER text layer and unhide the Capitol Copy #1 layer. It should now look like your DENVER picture in text has a dome popping out of it. With the Capitol Copy #1 layer selected, go to Layer>Transparency>Alpha to Selection to create a selection area around the DENVER picture in text.

Then, go to Select>Grow and grow the selection area by 5 pixels. Click OK. The selection area around the DENVER text is now 5 pixels out from the edge of the text, which will allow us to create a border around the text.

Create a new layer (click the “Create a new layer” icon in the layer panel) and name it Denver gold outline. If you are using GIMP 2.9.8, you can assign a color tag to it – I’ll assign the yellow color tag and click OK to create the new layer. Click and drag this new layer underneath the Capitol Copy #1 layer in the layers panel.

Golden gradient GIMP tutorial

Next, grab your blend tool (green arrow) and change the gradient to the default Golden gradient (red arrow). Then, click in the top left corner of the DENVER text (purple arrow) and drag the gradient to the bottom right corner of this text (pink arrow). Note the start and end positions of this gradient as it will be important later. Grab the move tool to apply the gradient (for version 2.9.8). Go to Select>none to deselect the text.

Mask to selection GIMP picture in text tutorial

Next, come over to your “Capitol Copy” layer (the layer with the Layer Mask) and click on the Layer Mask. Right click on the Layer Mask and go to “Mask to Selection.” This will turn the white area within your layer mask into a selection area.

Click on the Capitol Copy layer now (to the left of the layer mask – denoted by the pink arrow) and hit ctrl+c on your keyboard or go to Edit>Copy. Then, hit ctrl+v on your keyboard or go to Edit>Paste to paste the selection area onto a floating selection layer (red arrow). Click on this floating selection layer and click “Create a new layer” to add it to its own layer (green layer). Rename this new layer “Dome” by double clicking on the layer name.

Layer to image size

With the new Dome layer selected, go to Layer>Layer to Image Size so that the boundary around your layer matches the boundary of your composition.

Next, go to Layer>Transparency>Alpha to Selection to turn the dome into a selection area. Go to Select>Grow, and grow the selection by 5 pixels again.

Create a new layer and name this layer Dome gold outline. You can also assign this layer the yellow color tag, then click OK to create the layer. Drag this layer below the Dome layer in the layers panel.

With the Dome gold outline layer selected, grab the blend tool (green arrow), make sure the gradient is still set to Golden (red arrow), and draw your gradient with the start and end points in the same location as your last gradient (start at the top left, denoted by the purple arrow, of the DENVER text and drag to the bottom right of this text, denoted by the pink arrow). This ensures that the gradient on your dome layer lines up with the gradient on the DENVER text layer. Grab the move tool to apply the gradient if you are using GIMP 2.9.8. Go to Select>none to deselect the selection area.

Step 9: Apply a Drop Shadow

Applying a drop shadow GIMP photo in text tutorial

Click on the Denver gold outline layer and go to Filters>Light and Shadow>Drop Shadow.

Set your settings to match mine above, then click OK to apply the drop shadow. Repeat this step on the Dome gold outline layer so that both the text and the dome now have drop shadows (you can also click on the Dome gold outline layer, then go to Filters>Repeat “Drop Shadow”).

Step 10: Erase Overlapping Elements

Now that you have your golden outlines and drop shadows created, you’ll notice that some of these elements overlap each other and sort of screw up the effect we are trying to create. To fix this, right click on the DENVER gold outline layer and click on Add Layer Mask. Under Initialize Layer Mask to, select White (full opacity).

Grab the paintbrush tool and select black as your color. Paint the black over any of the parts of the gold outline that overlap with the dome. Remember – you can adjust the size of your brush with the brackets on your keyboard. Use the zoom tool (z on your keyboard and click to zoom in) to zoom in on the details while you paint away the outline.

If you erase too much of the outline, you can switch the color to white and paint the outline back in.

Hold ctrl to zoom back out until your whole composition is once again visible.

Step 11: Create a Background Overlay

Reduce layer opacity GIMP 3d pop out effect

For the last design step, unhide your original Capitol background layer (red arrow). Click on that layer, then drag the opacity slider for the layer (green arrow) so that the image becomes more transparent. I decreased the opacity of the layer to between 17 and 18. By making this image more transparent, you are creating a “background overlay” type of effect, which further enhances the DENVER picture in text effect.

Step 12: Save/Export Your Composition

You can now save your image by going to File>Save or File>Export. Name your file, choose the location where you want to save the file and the file type you want to save it as, then click OK. Depending on the file type you chose, you will likely need to adjust some other settings (you can usually stick with the default settings and be fine) before finalizing the save.

Picture in Text with 3D Pop Out Effect

That’s it for this tutorial! If you enjoyed it, check out more text and video tutorials on our GIMP Tutorial page, or visit our GIMP YouTube channel.