February 22, 2019

GIMP 3-D, 3 Ways

Drop-Shadows and Bump Maps

  • June 10, 2010
  • By Akkana Peck
When you add text to a photo in GIMP, sometimes it comes out looking flat and boring. Today, let's explore three ways of adding an extra dimensions to your images and text.

Drop-Shadow Tricks

You're probably familiar with the basic Filters/Light and Shadow/Drop Shadow.... But you can use Drop Shadow to round your text and make it more three-dimensional as well. The trick is to make a drop shadow of the inverse of the text.

First, make sure your Layers dialog is visible -- Control-L or Windows/Dockable dialogs/Layers will bring it up if it isn't showing already -- and that your text layer is the active layer (Figure 1).

<em>Layers dialog</em>
Layers dialog

Create some text with GIMP's Text tool -- the big A button in the toolbox. Click in the image, choose a color, font and size, and type your text to create a new text layer on top of your photograph. You can move the layer around to put it whereever you want it.

Then select the text, with Layer/Transparency/Alpha to Selection. Invert that selection with Select/Invert -- now everything except your text is selected -- and bring up the Filters/Light and Shadow/Drop Shadow... dialog. Un-check the Allow resizing box and click OK.

To see the effect better, get rid of your selection with Select/None. Of course, if you like the effect but want to tweak it a little bit, you can Undo and try again with different drop shadow parameters. If you combine it with a regular drop shadow, the effect is even more 3-D (Figure 2).


Once you have the effect the way you want it, be sure to save your working image as filename.xcf.gz or filename.xcf.bz2. XCF is GIMP's native format, so you'll preserve all your layers and text effects, while gz and bz2 are two different types of compression to make the file a little smaller. It doesn't make much difference whether you choose gz or bz2 compression.

Then, if you need a copy for the web or to share with friends once you've saved the XCF, use File/Save a Copy... to create filename.jpg.

Bump Map

GIMP also has plug-ins specifically designed to make 3-D effects. The most useful is Bump Map.

Bump Map uses one layer to raise (or lower) part of another layer. Your text layer should be white where you want it to "push up on" the photo layer. If you used some other color for the previous step, you can change its color by right-clicking on the layer in the Layers dialog and choosing the topmost menu item, Text Tool. Then you can click on the color button in the text tool options to change the color to white. Of course, you can always make a brand new text layer, if you prefer.

Once you have some white text, go back to the Layers dialog and click on the photograph layer. This is the layer bump map will operate on; the text layer is the bump map itself.

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