One Four Challenge – March Week 3 – (A GIMP Tutorial)…


Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

This week I played around with creating text to show my image.  When you think about it, it really is just a mask of text where the colors show though, I’ll show you how to do this in GIMP (if you are versed in masks you should be able to translate the information here to another program like Photoshop).

I believe in giving credit where credit is due, I would not have been able to do this image without the book, The Artist’s Guide to GIMP – Creative Techniques for Photographers, Artists, and Designers by Michael J. Hammel (O’Reilly, Amazon).

option 4 - vo

You will need:

  • A photo editor, I used GIMP*
  • Your imagination

Tutorial – Quick Glance:


  1. Starting with your image.
  2. Change the background color (optional).
  3. Create a new White layer.
  4. Add text.
  5. Copy and Paste text.
  6. Add a Black mask to your image.  Copy and Paste text into mask.
  7. New from visible your image+masked text (optional).
  8. Add a new transparent layer, using radial gradient create white vignette.  Change blend mode to Overlay (or you could also use one of these: Grain Merge, Value, Dodge) (optional).

*** The order of the layers does matter, keep this in mind as you create the new layers. ***

Detailed Notes:

1. Starting with your image.

When you are choosing your image pick something with a fairly plain background and an obvious subject.  A subject that has an identifiable silhouette.   I choose a coffee mug.  I used one of my intermediate images from the previous weeks, I removed the labeling on the mug and the steam…

2. Change the background color (optional).

I decided that I wanted to make the background standout from the main subject.  To do this I picked the complimentary color to the coffee color, which happened to be a really nice blue.

To find that color this is what I did… using the color picker tool color-picker-tool, I clicked on the coffee color – which made the Foreground color a shade of brown.  Then using the new layer icon new-layer I made a transparent layer.  Then going to Edit->Fill with FG Color.  Now I had a brown layer.  To find it’s opposite, I went to Colors->Invert which inverted my brown to a nice blue.  Again I used the color picker tool and clicked on the blue – which made the Foreground color a shade of blue.  Then clicking on the blue section of the color block icon color-block I got this information…color-infoThe information we want from this is the H value, here it is 212.  Remember that number, we’ll need it in a second.

That layer is of no use anymore, feel free to delete it.

Duplicate your image layer using the duplicate tool duplicate-layer.  Then go to Colors->Colorize and put that value into the Hue section…colorize

Now go to Layer->Mask->Add Layer Mask and choose White.  Paint in the mask using Black the parts of the image you don’t want changed…mug-blue

Now go to Layer->New from Visible, which will create a layer that is the two layers combined (we will need this layer in step 6).

3. Create a new White layer.

At the bottom of the stack add a white layer using the new layer icon new-layer.

4. Add text.

Originally I was going to use the text ‘Coffee • Tea • Hot Cocoa •’ on repeat… but two things happened… one there was sometimes a diagonal line created by the way the words wrapped around the image, and two there was just too much white space.  The goal is to see the image, and then realize it’s made with words.  Ultimately, actual paragraphs worked best.

The font you choose is important as well, I used Lato Ultra-Bold in my final image, but initially I tried Droid Sans Bold.  You want a font that is sans (not script) and bold.  Your goal is to pick a font that is thick and removes as much white space as possible.  I probably could have used a thicker font, but I didn’t feel like installing more fonts. I’d been tinkering with it for some time and was happy with Lato Ultra-Bold.  The author of the book used ErgoeExtraBold Thin, I don’t know where he got it though.

Here’s an example of the varying fonts/sizes/AllCaps that I tried (click to enlarge)…

Having a semi-idea of the font and size will really help, because if you change your mind you will have to do several steps over again.

Using the text tool text-tool, drag a box on your image…text-box

Paste in the text you want into the text-box, then to remove even more white space change the line spacing (red) to -12 and the letter spacing (blue) to -3…text-box2

Move the text layer to beneath the image layer (see layer stack order in the quick tutorial box).

5. Copy and Paste text.

With the text layer active, go to Layer->Transparency->Alpha to Selection, which will put marching ants on all your letters.  Now click on the white layer and then go to Edit->Copy, then Edit->Paste which will create a floating selection… floating-selection

Now go to Layer->To New Layer and a new layer with white text will be created.  Turn off visibility to the text layer (the original text layer)…mug-blue-white-text

6. Add a Black mask to your image. Copy and Paste text into mask.

If you did step 2, use the layer you created from visible, otherwise duplicate your image using the duplicate icon duplicate-layer.  Add a Black mask by going to Layer->Mask->Add Layer Mask.

Now click on the white text layer (that you created in step 5) and go to Edit->Copy.  Then click on the black mask and go to Edit->Paste, once again you’ll have a floating layer, this time right click on the floating layer and choose Anchor Layer.  If you turn off visibility to all layers except the black mask layer and the white layer you’ll get something like this…

option 1

You can stop here if you’d like (this is option 1 from my last post).  Or you can add a white vignette, see the next two steps.

7. New from visible your image+masked text (optional).

Go to Layer->New from Visible to create a layer we can work on without having to worry about which layers to have visible.

8. Add a new transparent layer, using radial gradient create white vignette. Change blend mode to Overlay (or you could also use one of these: Grain Merge, Value, Dodge) (optional).

Create a new transparent layer using the new layer icon new-layer.  Using the gradient (or blend) tool gradient-tool, change the options to FG to Transparent, Radial, and White is the Foreground, you might have to click on the double arrows to get the gradient to go ‘transparent to white’ (left to right)…gradient-optionsClicking on the center of your image and pulling out towards your left (while holding the ctrl key) create your gradient…gradient-in-actionWhich will give you something like this…gradient-whiteThen you get to play… change the blend mode to…


option 4 - vo

Grain Merge:

option 3 - vgm


option 2 -vd


option 5 - vv

Or some other blend mode that makes you happy.  And that’s it, you’ve created an image out of words! 😀

I hope that you got something out of this tutorial and that you will try it (or parts of it) out.  Please let me know if you do and tell me how it went.

Until next time…

* GIMP is Open Source software that is available for all platforms (Linux, Mac, and Windows), it is a photo editor that does many (if not all) of the things you can do in Photoshop. You can download it for free here. The GIMP online manual can be found here.


Like Wilber? You can get him here.

I have joined a month-long photo post-processing challenge called One Four Challenge, hosted by Robyn at Captivate Me. “This challenge is about processing 1 image in 4 different ways over 4 weeks.” Every Monday Robyn posts a new version of her photo and challenges us to do the same each week.

celtic-shamrock-125The shamrock came from

6 thoughts on “One Four Challenge – March Week 3 – (A GIMP Tutorial)…

    • Thanks, Ben. I keep trying out new ways to write the tutorial, one to make it easier for me to write and two to make it easier to understand. Some of the blend modes may not be available in Photoshop, like Grain Merge perhaps, but overall I think it would be an easy translation.

      • I have always found writing out workload and tutorials a great way to teach yourself and remember how you did something. I know there is not grain merge in photoshop but I am sure I will find something similar.

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