Create a Non-Destructive Vignette Effect with GIMP

GIMP vignette cropped

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 GIMP.

This tutorial uses GIMP 2.10. It should work in later versions, but there may be differences with older versions.

Create a Non-Destructive Vignette in GIMP

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

    Gimp with image for vignette
  2. Activate the Ellipse Selection Tool, by pressing ​E. It's the second tool in the toolbox.

  3. 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.

    GIMP with elliptical selection
  4. In the layers palette, right click on the background layer and choose Add Layer Mask.

    GIMP add layer mask
  5. 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.

    GIMP layer mask options
  6. In the lower left corner of the main image window, click on the Quick Mask toggle. This shows the masked area as a ruby red overlay.

    GIMP toggle quick mask
  7. 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.

  8. Go to Select > Invert to reverse your selection.

    GIMP invert selection
  9. 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.

    GIMP reset colors
  10. 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 GIMP (as it is in most photo editors).

    GIMP fill with foreground color
  11. We no longer need the selection, so go to Select > None or press Shift-Ctrl-A.

    GIMP vignette foreground filled
  12. 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.

    GIMP add background layer
  13. This new layer will appear above the background, covering your pictures, so go to the layers palette, and drag it below the background layer.

  14. 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.

    GIMP fill with pattern
  15. GIMP's built-in patters are kind of dated, and they don't all look great. You have another option. You can find a picture with a pattern to use instead. Open it with GIMP, copy it, and paste it into your image. Then, right click the image and set it as a new layer. Drag the image behind your portrait in the layer listing.

    GIMP vignette with image background
  16. 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.

    GIMP layer mask disabled
  17. 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.

    GIMP crop vignette

    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.

    GIMP vignette cropped

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

  18. Now, save and/or export your your image.