In this article, I’ll be showing you how to save selections in GIMP, as well as how to export selection areas from one composition and import those selections into another composition.
I have a video version of this tutorial, which you can watch below, or you can skip over to the help article, which is available in 30+ languages via the language dropdown in the top left corner.
Method 1: Save Selections with Channels
Step 1: Draw Your Selection
The first step is to draw your selection. I won’t be covering this process for this particular help article as I have several tutorials on how to draw selections using various tools (i.e. using the Foreground Select Tool or Removing the Background from a Photo). You can use a variety of tools to get the job done, including the Lasso Tool, Foreground Select Tool, or Paths Tool (I recommend the last two tools).
Once your selection is drawn, you’ll see “Marching Ants” around the selection area – which are simply the moving dotted lines that outline the selection area (red arrow in the image above).
Step 2: Save to Channel
Now that your selection area is drawn, you can save it by adding the selection area as a channel in your Channels tab. To do this, navigate over to the Channels tab (red arrow in the image above).
Click the “New Channel” icon in the lower left corner of the Channels dialogue (blue arrow in the image above).
This will bring up a dialogue box labeled “New Channel.” Here, you can set a name for your selection (red arrow in the image above), add a color tag for labeling purposes, set a “Fill Opacity” and fill color (I recommend dragging the Fill Opacity slider all the way down to 0 – this will keep the channel from overlaying a color onto your original image), and finally it has an option to “Initialize from Selection” (blue arrow in the image above).
I’ll change the name of my selection to “Saved Selection,”click on the first color tag option to give the selection a color tag label, set the Fill Opacity to 0, and most importantly make sure I check the box labeled “Initialize from Selection” (blue arrow in the image above). If I don’t check that last box, the channel you create will not contain your selection area, and thus your selection will not be saved.
Click OK to apply your settings (red arrow in the image above).
You will now see your selection area in the “Channels” tab (red arrow in the image above) – with the white area denoting everything inside the selection, and the black area denoting everything outside the selection.
I can now deselect my selection area by going to Select>None (red arrow in the above image). I can continue working on my image, and can come back to the Channels tab at any time to activate my selection area that has been saved.
To reactivate my selection, I can simply click the icon labeled “Replace the current selection with this channel” in the bottom right corner of the Channel dialogue (red arrow in the image above). This will redraw my selection area that I saved as a channel. Click this button now to follow along with the next step.
Step 3: Use Quick Mask to Export Selection
If I wanted to transfer my selection area from my current composition into a new composition, I first want to make sure my selection is active (which mine currently is after following the last step).
Once I have an active selection, I’ll turn on my quick mask by clicking the small Quick Mask icon in the bottom left corner of my canvas (blue arrow in the image above), or by using the shortcut key shift+q on my keyboard.
Next, I’ll hit ctrl+c or go to Edit>Copy to copy my quick mask. Then, I’ll navigate over to the composition where I’d like to paste my quick mask.
Once I am on my second composition, I’ll once again turn the quick mask on using the icon in the lower left corner (blue arrow in the image above) or by using shift+q.
I’ll then paste the selection area I copied early by hitting ctr+v on my keyboard or by going to Edit>Paste. You should now see the shape of your selection from the previous composition on the quick mask (blue arrow in the image above). In this case, my selection area is much smaller than the second composition because the first composition was a smaller image.
Finally, turn off the quick mask by clicking the quick mask icon (red arrow) or using the shift+q shortcut key. Your selection area will now be drawn on your second composition.
Method 2: Save Selections with Paths
If you’d like to be able to save your selections to use in a future session without having to re-open the composition that contained your original selection, you can use a different method that allows you to import selections to any composition at any time.
Step 1: Draw Your Selection
As I mentioned above, you’ll of course need to draw your selection first. See Step 1 from the previous method for more info.
Step 2: Save to Path
Once your selection is drawn, you’ll want to navigate over to your Paths tab (red arrow in the image above). Once in this tab, click the “Selection to Path” icon (blue arrow) to convert the outline of your selection area to a path.
By default, your path will be named “Selection,” however you can double-click on the path name (red arrow in the image above) to change it to whatever you want. I renamed my path “Subject Outline.”
If you click the “Show/Hide” icon (red arrow in the image above), you will see your selection area (denoted by the marching ants) now also outlined by a path. If you then go to Select>None (blue arrow) to deselect the selection area, the path will still remain. You can show or hide the path at any point, and can click the “Path to Selection” icon in the Paths tab to convert the path back to a selection.
Step 3: Export the Path
Once your selection has been converted to a path, you can export it out of GIMP and then import it at any time into another composition.
To do this, start by right-clicking on the path and going to “Export Path” (red arrow in the image above). This will bring up the “Export Path to SVG” dialogue.
Choose a folder where you’d like to save your path on your computer using the “Places” section (outlined in blue in the photo above), then type a name for your path at the very top in the “Name:” field (red arrow in the photo above). Make sure you end your path name with the “.svg” file extension. Click Save (blue arrow) to save your path. Remember the file location where you saved it.
Step 4: Import path
Now that you’ve exported your path as a .SVG file, you can open up another composition and import the path to that composition. You can open a new composition by going to File>Open and choosing an image from your computer.
Once in your new composition, navigate back over to the Paths tab. Right click in the blank dialogue and go to “Import Path” (red arrow in the image above).
The dialogue should automatically pop up in the “Recently Used” folder, which contains all your recently created paths, but if it doesn’t you can simply navigate to the location on your computer where you saved your path in the previous step. In this case, I’ll click on the path we just exported (red arrow in the image above) and click “Open” (blue arrow).
The path now shows up in our Paths tab (red arrow in the above image). We can click the show/hide icon in the Paths tab to unhide the new path and see the outline of our subject (in this case, it ended up being really small as denoted by the blue arrow in the image above – you can always use the scale tool, denoted by the red arrow in the image below, set to the “Path” transform mode, blue arrow, to scale up the path, green arrow).
Once your path is the size you want it and in the location you want, click the “Path to Selection” icon (red arrow in the image below) to convert the path back to a selection.