How to Make Retro Sun Rays in GIMP

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How to Make Retro Sun Rays in GIMP

Retro Sun Rays Background
Retro Sun Rays Background. Text and Images © Ian Pullen

Retro sun rays have been a popular graphic style for many years and their popularity shows no sign of waning. In this step by step tutorial, I'll show you how you can create your own sun rays effect using GIMP, the free raster image editor.

This graphic style is perfect for adding interest to backgrounds of all sorts of projects, including blog banners and adverts. While there are a few steps to take to get a balanced design, this isn't particularly complex and should be suitable for beginner GIMP users.

If you've not used GIMP before, you can find out a bit more about the app in our review of GIMP and you'll also find a link to the download site from where you can get you own free copy.

On the next page I'll get started with showing you how to make your own retro sun rays graphic.

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Open a New Document

Adding Guides in GIMP
Adding Guides in GIMP. Text and Images © Ian Pullen

First up is to open a blank document and add guides to mark the center of the sun rays.

Go to File > New and in the Create a New Image dialog, set the size as you require – I selected the 1024x768 template option for the purposes of this tutorial.

Next you need to add a horizontal and vertical guide to mark what will be the center point of your sun rays. Click on the ruler to the left side of the drawing area and, holding the mouse button down, drag across onto the blank document. As you do so, a guide will appear and you can place this where you want by releasing the mouse button. Repeat this by dragging a horizontal guide down from the vertical ruler above the page. You can place these where you want, perhaps to center the sun rays on the page, but I chose to place mine off center.

Next we'll start to mark out the dimensions of the first ray.

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Add a Virtual Guide to Mark the Position of the First Ray

Setting Up the Document
Setting Up the Document. Text and Images © Ian Pullen

Each ray is a simple triangle, but to ensure that they all fit together neatly, we need to take a little care with drawing the first one. Each ray will have an internal angle of 12 degrees and to enable us to draw this, we need to add a couple of straight lines to the page that we can angle and then use as guides.

If the Layers palette isn't visible, go to Windows > Dockable Dialogs > Layers to open it. Now click on the Create a new layer button at the left of the bottom bar or go to Layer > New Layer and then check that the Layer Fill Type is set to Transparency, before clicking the OK button.

Click on the Rectangle Select tool in the Tools palette and in the Tool Options palette that appears below, click on the Fixed check box, select Height from the drop down list and set the input box below to one pixel.

Now click and drag to draw a thin horizontal box across the page and then go to Edit > Fill with FG Color. If you go to Select > None now, the selection will disappear and you'll see that you're left with a thin line on the page.

Next you can position two virtual guides that will mark the position of the first ray.

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Add a Second Virtual Guide

Setting Up the Document
Setting Up the Document. Text and Images © Ian Pullen

We'll use the line added previously as a guide for drawing the first ray, but we need to angle it first.

Click on the Rotate Tool in the Tools palette and click on the page to open the Rotate dialog. Change the value of the Angle input box to six and click Rotate. Now select the Move Tool and, ensuring that the Move the active layer option is selected in the Tool Options, drag the angled line so that it passes through the point where your two guidelines cross.

Now click the Duplicate layer button at the bottom of the Layers palette to make a copy of the angled line and again use the Rotate tool, but this time set the angle to -12. Again move the line to ensure that it crosses the point where the two guidelines cross. You may need to zoom in to ensure that you're being accurate. See the article about zooming and navigating a page in GIMP if you're not familiar with how to zoom and pan.

These two lines now mark out the shape of the first ray and we can use them to trace from in the next step.

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Draw the First Ray

Drawing the First Ray
Drawing the First Ray. Text and Images © Ian Pullen

Now we'll draw the first ray using the Paths Tool.

Add a new layer to the document and then click on the Paths Tool to select it. Click on the page at the point where the two guidelines cross, then click at the edge of the page where one angled line runs off the page. Now click on the point that the other line runs off of the page before finally clicking back on the first point to close the shape. You should now see that you have drawn a triangle shaped path. Finally click on the Selection from Path button in the Tool Options to turn the path into a selection.

We'll use this selection to draw a gradient filled ray in the next step.

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Add a Gradient Fill to the First Ray

Adding a Gradient Fill to the First Ray
Adding a Gradient Fill to the First Ray. Text and Images © Ian Pullen

Now we can start adding color to the page. Firstly click on the Foreground color box in the bottom of the Tools palette and in the dialog select a color that you will use for the rays. You can also click the Background color box and set a color that you will use for the page background too,

Next click on the Blend Tool and in the Tool Options, select FG to Transparent and check that Shape is set to Linear. Now click inside the triangular selection and drag across before releasing to draw the gradient. If you hold down the Ctrl key while dragging, you will find it easier to keep the gradient horizontal. If you don't like your first attempt, just go to Edit > Undo and try again.

When you're happy, go to Select > None to remove the selection and you can also delete the angled guide lines as we no longer need these. Just click on a line layer in the Layers palette to select it and then click the little trash can icon at the bottom right to delete it.

Finally, before moving on, click the Background layer to select it and go to Edit > Fill with BG Color to apply your chosen background color for your design. In the next step we'll start to duplicate the ray to produce our circular design.

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Duplicate and Flip the First Ray

Duplicate and Flip the First Ray
Duplicate and Flip the First Ray. Text and Images © Ian Pullen

Our first ray can now be duplicated and flipped as the first step in creating our design.

In the Layers palette, click on the ray layer to select it and then click the Duplicate layer button to add a copy to the page. Next zoom in several times so that you're centered on the point that the two guidelines cross.

Now select the Flip Tool, check the options are set to Horizontal and click on the page to flip the duplicate layer. Switch to the Move Tool and drag the flipped layer until its point aligns with the crossed guidelines. Finally right-click on the upper most layer in the Layers palette and select Merge Down.

This new layer can now be duplicated and rotated to complete the design.

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Duplicate and Rotate the Rays

Duplicate and Rotate the Rays
Duplicate and Rotate the Rays. Text and Images © Ian Pullen

The rays layer created in the previous step can now be duplicated and rotated to complete the design.

Click the Duplicate layer button and then select the Rotate Tool from the tools palette. Click on the page and then set the angle to 22.5 degrees. You should see a circle with cross hairs in it that represents the center point of the rotation – click on this and drag it to position it on the point where the two guidelines cross. Now click the Rotate button to complete this transformation.

You now need to repeat this step until you have a complete burst of sun rays.

With your design now complete, you can export this as a PNG and use it as a background in other projects. If you'd like tio change the color of your sun rays design, visit the two tutorials below to learn how.
Change the Color of Digital Papers With Colorize in GIMP
• Change the Color of Digital Papers with Hue-Saturation in GIMP