Non-Destructive Sepia Tone Effect with the GIMP

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Picking a Color for the Sepia Tone

Picking a Color for the Sepia Tone
Picking a Color for the Sepia Tone.

Here's a quick and easy way to give your photo a sepia tone effect with the free GIMP photo editor. Best of all, it's completely non-destructive, so if you change your mind, you can go back to the edited photo easily.

This tutorial uses GIMP 2.6. It should work in later versions, but there may be differences with older versions.

Open the image you want to work with in the GIMP.

Go to the color chooser at the bottom of the toolbox, click the foreground color swatch, and choose a reddish-brown color. The exact color is not important. I will show you how to adjust it in a later step.

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Adding a New Layer for the Sepia Color

Adding a New Layer for the Sepia Color
Adding a New Layer for the Sepia Color.

Go to the Layers palette and click the New layer button. In the New layer dialog box, sett he layer fill type to Foreground color and click OK. The new brown color layer will cover the photo.

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Change the Blend Mode to Color

Change the Blend Mode to Color
Change the Blend Mode to Color.

In the layers palette, click the menu arrow next to "Mode: Normal" and select Color as the new layer mode.

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The Initial Results May Need Adjusting

The Initial Results May Need Adjusting
The Initial Results May Need Adjusting.

The result might not be the exact sepia tone effect that you want, but we can fix that. The original photo is untouched in the layer below as we have only applied the color as a layer blending mode.

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Apply a Hue-Saturation Adjustment

Apply a Hue-Saturation Adjustment
Apply a Hue-Saturation Adjustment.

Make sure the brown fill layer is still the selected layer in the layer's palette, then go to Tools > Color Tools > Hue-Saturation. Move the Hue and Saturation sliders until you are satisfied with the sepia tone. As you can see, by making large adjustments to the Hue slider, you can create color toning effects other than sepia toning.

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Turning off the Sepia Effect

Turning off the Sepia Effect
Turning off the Sepia Effect.

To return to the original photo, just turn off the eye icon on the layers palette next to the color fill layer.