Introduction to Layer Groups in GIMP

See how GIMP layer groups can help in your workflow

Paints and paintbrushes with the GIMP logo on paper.

This article will introduce you to the Layer Groups feature in GIMP. Anyone who has worked with images containing a large number of layers will appreciate how this tool can make complex composite images much easier to work with.

Even if you don't work with masses of layers in your GIMP files, you can still benefit from understanding how Layer Groups work, as they'll help you better manage files, especially when it comes to sharing them with others.

Use GIMP's Single Window Mode to make the interface more coherent.

The GIMP interface.

Why Use Layer Groups?

It helps to think of layers as individual sheets of transparent acetate, each with a different image on them. If you were to stack these sheets on top of each other, the clear transparent areas would allow layers lower down the stack to give the impression of a single composite image. The layers can also easily be moved to produce different results.

In GIMP, the layers are similarly virtually stacked up on top of each other. By using layers with transparent areas, the lower layers will show through resulting in a composite image that can be exported as a flat file, such as a JPEG or PNG.

By keeping the separate elements of the composite image in separate layers, you can return to the layered file and easily edit it before saving a new flattened file. This is especially helpful when, for example, a client wants you to make small edits to a submitted image, such as making a logo slightly larger.

Using Layer Groups in The Layers Palette

Follow these steps to create a new Layer Group in GIMP.

  1. Select Windows > Dockable Dialogs > Layers to open the Layers palette, if it is not opened by default.

  2. Create a new Layer Group. The Layer Group button is located at the bottom bar of the Layers palette, to the right of the New Layer button; it is represented by a small folder icon. If you select it, an empty Layer Group will be added to the Layers palette.

  3. You can name the new Layer Group by double-clicking on its label and entering the new name. Remember to press Enter on your keyboard to save the new name.

  4. Drag layers into the new Layer Group. You'll see that the group's thumbnail becomes a composite of all of the layers that it contains.

Just as with layers, you can duplicate groups by selecting one and choosing Duplicate in the bottom of the Layers palette. The visibility of a Layer Group can be turned off, and you can use the opacity slider to make the group semi-transparent.

Notice that each Layer Group has a small button next to it with a plus or minus symbol. These can be used to expand and contract layer groups; they are used to toggle between the two settings.

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