Generate a Color Scheme From an Image in GIMP

Painters color swatches

Digital Vision / Getty Images 

The free image editor GIMP has a function to import a color palette from an image, such as a photo. While there are various free tools that can help you produce a color scheme that can be imported into GIMP, such as Color Scheme Designer -- producing a color palette in GIMP can be a very convenient option.

To try this technique out, you will need to select a digital photo that contains a range of colors that you find pleasing. The following steps show you how to use this simple method yourself so that you can produce your own GIMP color palette from an image.

Open a Digital Photo

This technique builds a palette based on colors contained within a photo, so pick a photo that contains a pleasing range of colors. GIMP's Import a New Palette can only use open images and can't import an image from a file path.

To open your selected photo, go to File > Open and then navigate to your photo and click the Open button.

If you are happy with the mix of colors throughout your photo you can proceed to the next step. However, if you want to base your palette ​on the colors contained in a particular area of the photo, you can draw a selection around this area using one of the selection tools.

Index the Image

Converting the image to indexed colors stores the color data from the image as a custom palette. This process enables you to select the maximum number of colors or use a web-optimized palette, if you prefer.

  1. Select Image from the toolbar.

    Screenshot of Image menu in GIMP
  2. Select Mode and choose Indexed. The Indexed Color Conversion dialog box will open.

    Screenshot of Image > Mode > Indexed in GIMP
  3. Select Generate Optimum Palette. Change the number in the Maximum Number of Colors, if desired.

    The Columns setting will only affect the display of the colors within the palette. The Interval setting causes a greater gap to be set between each sampled pixel.

    Screenshot of Convert Image to Indexed Colors in GIMP
  4. Select Convert.

  5. Select the Palettes tab in the left pane. The new palette will be displayed as a colormap of the current image.

    Screenshot of new palette in Palettes tab in GIMP
  6. Select Duplicate this Palette at the bottom of the Palettes pane.

    Screenshot of Duplicate this Palette in GIMP
  7. Enter a name for the custom palette.

    Screenshot of Palette Name field in GIMP
  8. Press Enter.

Use Your New Palette

Once your palette is imported, you can easily use it by double-clicking on the icon that represents it. This opens the Palette Editor and here you can edit and name individual colors within a palette if desired.

You can also use this dialog to select colors for use within a GIMP document. Clicking on a color will set it as the Foreground color​ while holding the Ctrl key and clicking a color will set it as the background color.

Importing a palette from an image in GIMP can be an easy way to produce a new color scheme and also ensure consistent colors are used within a document.