How To Customize the GIMP Interface & Install Themes

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Looking for a fresh look for GIMP? Like using brushes in GIMP or changing fonts, you can change how GIMP’s interface looks too! This is helpful for those of us that have switched to GIMP from Photoshop.

Although we can’t turn GIMP into Photoshop, we can set up the interface to mimic what we’re used to. For those new to GIMP and editing software in general, this may not be a big deal. But, you will still benefit from learning how to rearrange your interface based on your preference.

For example, the icons, previews, and more can be resized larger or smaller. As I get older, my eyes continue to get worse. It helps to enlarge those teeny tiny icons to “Huge.” I’ll show you how to do that and more in this article.

Also, what follows are quick tips for setting up your GIMP interface. If you’d like more detailed information, watch the Youtube video above. Sometimes it’s easier to see how it’s down vs. reading. At least that’s been my experience.

If you’re ready, let’s do it!

Table of Contents

How To Get A Single Window Interface

When you first install GIMP (on a Mac or Windows) and open it does so with multiple windows. This creates clutter and will slow you down (see image below). 

multiple windows

To fix this, go to Windows and select “Single-Window Mode.” This combines all the panels into one (see image below)!

How To Change the GIMP Theme + Install New Custom Designs

By default, GIMP comes with four themes to choose from; Dark, Gray, Light, and System. As per the names, each gives the interface a different level of brightness, except System.

The System theme is for those that prefer the old interface of GIMP (2.8 and older). If you ask me, it’s outdated.

Either way, to change your theme, go to Preferences > Interface > Theme. Clicking on each will auto-update the interface to show you how it will look. Choose your favorite and click ok to use it.

How To Install GIMP Themes With New Interface Designs

If you’re looking for a fresh look, you can find free theme designs to install and use in place of what GIMP provides. Here are a few places to discover new layouts;

Once you download a new GIMP theme, extract the file to be added into GIMP.  To install your new theme into GIMP it has to go in the correct folder.

Here is how to find that location for Mac, Windows, or Linux users;

Preferences > Folders > Themes

There might be more than one folder location available (to the right). Make sure to select the one that has your version of GIMP. For me, it’s GIMP 2.10.

GIMP can also help you quickly open that folder location by clicking on the “Show file location in the file manager” icon to the right (looks like a drawer).

Place the extracted folder or file into this folder, click OK, and restart GIMP.  Go back to Preferences to choose your new theme!

Change the Size of Your Icons & More

In another article, I showed you three different ways to increase your brush size. Now, I’m going to show you four different sizes and styles for your icons. Plus, how to change the preview size and layers!

How To Change the Tool Icon Sizes

Go to Preferences > Icon Theme

To the right, you’ll find four different Icon Themes to choose from; Color, Legacy, Symbolic, and Symbolic Inverted.

Click on each, and your interface will update with the new theme design. Pick your favorite, and now take a gander below. Via the dropdown menu, you have three options;

How To Change the Preview Sizes

You can increase your layer’s size, undo preview, and navigation previews via Preferences.

Preferences > Interface

Each of those has a dropdown menu to adjust the size based on your preference. For Mac users, the Layer (and channel) option did nothing via Preferences. Instead, I had to go to the Layers Panel and adjust the size from there.

To do so, click on the left-pointing arrow (to the right of the) Layer Panel tab and choose Preview Size. Pick your option, and it will update in real-time.

Move Your Tabs & Resize

new layout

Notice how the layout is different vs. the image at the top of this article.  Each main panel was expanded inward and the stacked panels were resized too.

The GIMP interface is made up of a left and right panel. The middle of the interface is where you work on your documents. Inside of the main panels are additional (smaller) panels that contain options for your tools, layers, and more (depending on the tab).

Each of those tool panels can be rearranged. Plus, they can be resized as well as the main panels. When you open GIMP for the first time, your panels are most likely in a different position vs. mine…

I’ve set up my interface to match what I used in Photoshop. You can do the same. Here’s how;

How To Dock the Toolbox in GIMP To the Tools Panel

A lot of my students ask how to dock the toolbox in GIMP under the Tools Panel. The toolbox consists of the tool options and is updated with those options based on the tool selected.

By default, the toolbox is auto placed under the tool icons when first installed. You may have noticed that mine is placed to the right main panel.

This is a personal choice.  If you moved it by mistake you can click the tab and drag it back to the left.  Once you release your mouse button it will be docked in the main panel!

How To Open Tool Options

If you accidentally remove a panel, like the Tool Options, and wish to get it back; go to Windows > Dockable Dialogs > Tool Options.  Or select any panel you want to show.


Now What?

If you’re new to GIMP, you might be wondering how to use GIMP. Wonder no more! I’ve put together over three hours of free GIMP tutorials for beginners.

The first can be found here and includes over 2 hours of content all beginners should know. This tutorial consists of an hour of tips about editing your photos and more.

Here’s one more!

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