GIMP Tutorial {80s Synthwave Retro Text Effect}

Play Video



This GIMP retro text effect tutorial brings back memories of growing up in the ’80s. Not only are you going to learn how to put 2 color gradients on one text layer, but you’re also going to learn how to make your text glow, create a lens flare, create a gradient stroke, and more.

Oh, and we can forget the cool, Synthwave background to complete the ’80s style.

Ready to master this text effect? Awesome, let’s do it…

Table of Contents

Note: the video tutorial was created with beginners in mind. The following step-by-step instructions are for more experienced users.

Step 1: Create a New Document

As always, we need to create a new document to get started. Here are the dimensions for this design project; 1920 x 1080 @ 300 ppi.

Also, Let’s set the background color to black.

create a new doc

Pro Tip:

Why a resolution of 300 ppi? The reason is GIMP, unlike Photoshop, is 100% raster-based software (i.e., pixel-based). The text, in GIMP, will have sharper details at a higher resolution.

Even if I’m working on a design project that will be mostly for online use, I will still use a resolution of 300.

Then, when I’m ready to post online, I will resize the canvas to a resolution of 72 ppi.

Step 2: Text + Align

For this design, we’re going to add two different text layers. For the “Retro” text layer, I’m going to use a free Google font called Oswald Bold, and for the “Outrun” layer, I’ll use the Road Rage font.

Grab your text tool (T) and type out in all caps; “Outrun.” For the font size, let’s go with 121, and for the color, I’m using hexadecimal #f113a1.

Hit your Escape key to deactivate the tool and grab it again (T) to type out your next text layer… “Retro” also in all caps. This text I’m sizing to 300, and the color will be white.

Use your alignment tool to align both layers via the horizontal center. Here’s how…

  1. Grab your Align Tool (Q)
  2. Select one of the text layers and click inside the layer boundary to activate the layer to be aligned
  3. In the tool options, set “Relative to” to “First item” and click on the “Align to middle and center of target” icons
  4. Repeat for the second text layer

Position the text layers with Outrun above Retro, and the layers arranged accordingly.

2 layers of text

Step 3: Color Gradients on Text

How do you add not one but to different color gradients on a single text layer? Glad you asked. It’s actually relatively easy. Here’s how…

First, duplicate the Retro text layer so you can work non-destructively and name it Gradient 1. Hide the original Retro layer by clicking the eye icon to the left of the layer.

Next, make a selection of all the letters by right-clicking on the Gradient 1 layer and choosing “Alpha to Selection.” Set your foreground color to white and your background color to #2726a2.

Select your Gradient Tool (G) and within its panel, choose “FG to BG (RGB).” Add your gradient, and it will be confined to within the selection. Deselect with Shift + Ctrl or Command + A.

apply gradient to first text layer

For the second gradient, duplicate the first and rename it Gradient 2. Grab your Rectangle Select tool (R) and make a selection around the text. The goal is to cut the text in half (approximately).

Hit your Backspace or Delete key to remove that portion of the text and deselect. In the Gradient panel, change your gradient type to “FG to BG (HSV clockwise hue).” Make a selection of this layer and apply your new gradient (deselect).

Presto! Two gradients for one word.

apply gradient to first text layer

Step 4: Add a Gradient Stroke To Your Text

add a stroke to your text

Although GIMP includes a stroke tool, we’re going to manually create one instead. The reason being is GIMP’s built-in option creates a low-quality, pixelated stroke. Plus, you can’t make a gradient stroke with it. Here’s a better method…

Step 5: Glowing Text Effect + Italic Style

make your text glow

Glowing text effects are easy when you the secret. Let’s find out…

  1. Create another selection with the Stroke layer
  2. Create a new layer named Glow and set to Transparency
  3. Move the Glow layer below the Stroke layer
  4. Grow the selection to 10 pixels
    Fill in the selection; Edit > Fill with BG Color
  5. Deselect; Shift + Ctrl or Command + A

The last step is to blur this layer…

Filters > Gaussian Blur

Set the X + Y size to around 50 or your own personal preference. For me, at 50, it’s a bit intense. So, after clicking OK, I’m going to set the layer’s opacity to around 50.

Italic Text

cut the text

To change the text’s style to italic, you’ll need to first group all the layers together. Create a new grouped layer and add all the Retro (+ gradient) layers into it. Rename the group to Retro Original, duplicate it, and name this one to Italic.

This allows you to work non-destructively in-case you change your mind about adding an italic style. It’s better than starting over!

To style this grouped layer, grab your Shear tool (Shift + H). Then, click on the canvas and drag it to the right based on your creative vision. Once it’s tilted, the amount you like hit Enter or Return.

Step 6: Add an Image + Resize

add an image and resize

This retro text effect wouldn’t be complete without a Synthwave image. Once downloaded, find it in your operating system folder and drag it over your GIMP interface.

After releasing your mouse button, the image will be added as a new layer. Make sure this new image layer is just above the background layer. If the image is smaller or larger than your canvas, resize to fit within.

This can be done with the Scale tool (Shift + S). In the Scale box, type in the width that matches your canvas.

For me, that’s 1920. Since I have the link activated for the width and height, it will auto adjust the height. This is a quick way to ensure the image stays in proportion.

Step 7: Create Some Stars

add some stars

Start off by creating a new layer named, well, Stars and set the Foreground color to Black. Next,

Filters > Noise > HSV Noise

Here are the settings I’m using for this text effect design…

noise settings

So far, we have a lot of stars. Too many, actually. At least for my test. Let’s remove some with our Levels tool; Colors > Levels.

We’re going to adjust the black point to reduce the number of stars. Grab the left node icon (just below the Histogram) and drag it to the left.

Adjust as desired and hit Enter or Return. Before moving on, change the Blending Mode to “Screen.”

Step 8: Create Lens Flare

add a lens flare

Let’s take our retro text effect design to a whole new level with a Lens Flare.

First, create a new layer named Lens Flare and set the Foreground color to Black. This new layer should be at the very top of all layers.

Yes, it’s going to hide all the layers below it. No worries. Let’s fix it temporarily by adjust the Opacity of the layer to 50. Then…

Filters > Light and Shadow > Lens Flare

Adjust the settings according to your creative vision and click OK. For the Blending Mode, change it to Screen.

Only one thing left to do, and that is…

Action Is Power

… it’s now your turn to complete this project, and I want to see your final design too…

Head on over to our community and post your “synthwave retro text effect design.” It’s an excellent place to ask questions about GIMP, post your designs, and more.

Before you go, check out my GIMP text effects playlist with over 20 more GIMP tutorials.

Using GIMP can be challenging when you’re new to the software. If you’d like to master GIMP with less frustration, check out my GIMP Made Easy tutorials.

You can also click here to find all my free articles on GIMP.

Would you like to see how to process this design in Photoshop? If so, check out the Photoshop videos tutorial and article.

Like this article? If so, please share!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.