Create a Non-Destructive Vignette Effect with The GIMP

01
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Making the Selection for the Vignette Effect

Making the Selection for the Vignette Effect
Making the Selection for the Vignette Effect.
A vignette is a photograph whose edges fade out gradually. This tutorial shows you a non-destructive way to create this effect for your photos in the free GIMP photo editor using a layer mask. This is a good introduction to working with masks and layers in the GIMP.

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.

Activate the Ellipse Selection Tool, by pressing E. It's the second tool in the toolbox.

Click and drag inside the main image window to make a selection. After releasing the mouse button, you can further adjust the selection by clicking and dragging on the inside edges of the bounding box that surrounds the elliptical selection.

02
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Add a Layer Mask

Add a Layer Mask
Add a Layer Mask.
In the layers palette, right click on the background layer and choose Add Layer Mask.

In the Add Layer Mask dialog, choose White (full opacity) and click add. You will see no change in the image, but a blank white box will appear next to the image thumbnail in the layers palette. This is the layer mask thumbnail.

03
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Enable Quick Mask Mode

Enable Quick Mask Mode
Enable Quick Mask Mode.
In the lower left corner of the main image window, click on the Quick Mask toggle. This shows the masked area as a ruby overlay.
04
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Apply a Gaussian Blur to the Quick Mask

Apply a Gaussian Blur to the Quick Mask
Apply a Gaussian Blur to the Quick Mask.
Go to Filters > Blur > Gaussian Blur. Set a blur radius that is appropriate for your image size. Use the preview to check that the blur does not extend outside the border of your image. Press OK when you are satisfied with the blur amount. You will see the blur effect applied to the red Quick Mask. Click the Quick Mask button again to exit quick mask mode.

Go to Select > Invert to reverse your selection.

05
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Reset the Foreground and Background Colors

Reset the Foreground and Background Colors
Reset the Foreground and Background Colors.
At the bottom of the toolbox, you will see your current foreground and background color selection. If they are not black and white, click the small black and white squares or press D to reset the colors back to default black and white.
06
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Fill the Layer Mask Selection with Black

Fill the Layer Mask Selection with Black
Fill the Layer Mask Selection with Black.

Go to Edit > Fill with FG color. To fill the selection with black. Because we are still working in the layer mask, the back color acts as a transparency mask for the layer content. The white areas of the mask reveal the layer content and the black areas hide it. Transparent areas of your image are designated by the checkerboard pattern in the GIMP (as it is in most photo editors).

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Add a New Background Layer

Add a New Background Layer
Add a New Background Layer.
We no longer need the selection, so go to Select > None or press Shift-Ctrl-A.

To add a new background for the image, press the new layer button on the layers palette. In the New Layer dialog, set the Layer fill type to white, and press OK.

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Change the Layer Order

Change the Layer Order
Change the Layer Order.
This new layer will appear above the background, covering your pictures, so go to the layers palette, and drag it below the background layer.
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Change the Background to a Pattern

Change the Background to a Pattern
Change the Background to a Pattern.
If you would prefer a patterned background for the vignetted photo, select a pattern from the patterns dialog, then go to Edit > Fill with pattern.

This vignette is non-destructive because none of the pixels in our original photo have been changed. You can reveal the entire photo again by right clicking in the layers palette and choosing "Disable Layer Mask." You can also modify the vignette effect by further editing the mask. Try toggling the layer mask off and on to reveal the original image.

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Crop the Image

Crop the Image
Crop the Image.
As a last step, you will probably want to crop the image. Choose the crop tool from the toolbox, or press Shift-C to activate it. It's the 4th icon in the 3rd row of the toolbox.

Click and drag to make your crop selection. You can adjust it after releasing the mouse just like you did with the elliptical selection. When you are happy with the crop selection, double click inside to complete the crop.

Since cropping is a destructive action, you may want to save your image under a new filename so your original image is preserved.

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Free Vignette Script for the GIMP

Dominic Chomko was kind enough to create a script for the vignette effect method presented in this tutorial, and offer it for download.

The script creates a vignette around a selection.
  • Vignette based on selection and active layer.
  • Softness, opacity, and colour of the vignette can be changed in the dialog box.
  • Checking "Keep Layers" allows adjustment of vignette opacity after the fact.
  • Also check "Keep Layers" if you have other layers visible otherwise they will be merged down.
Location: Filters/Light and Shadow/Vignette

Download Vignette Script from GIMP Plugin Registry

Dominic's Bio: "I am a mechanical engineering student at the University of Waterloo and have been using gimp to edit photos for about half a year now."