GIMP Tutorial: How To Create a Retro Text Effect

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This fun-filled GIMP tutorial has a boat-load of tips and tricks for creating this retro text effect design. In fact, I’m going to show you how to create and use your own custom patterns!

Plus, you’ll also learn how to create crisp strokes around your text, blend images into your design, create 3D long shadows, create inner shadows, and much more!

If you’re ready to get started, 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

For this design project, I will use the following dimensions; 1920 x 1080 @ 300 ppi. Let’s use this hexadecimal number (representing a retro orange) – #a84428 for the background color.

To use this color, click on your foreground color swatch and type the hexadecimal into the HTML notation box.

create a new canvas

Pro Tip:

Make sure the resolution is set to 300 ppi. The reason why is GIMP, unlike Photoshop, is 100% raster-based software.

The text, in GIMP, will have sharper details at a higher resolution.

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

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

Step 2: Create a Custom Retro Dot Pattern

I could give you the patterns I created and show you how to install them. But how fun would that be? Not very much. So…

… let’s create a new document for your custom patterns. Let’s start off with 5px for the Width and Height for the dimensions @ 300ppi. For the color, set the foreground to black.

Next, increase your canvas size to 25px for the Width and Height.

Image > Canvas Size

For this design, I’d like the black square to be dead-center in the up-sized canvas. At this time, it’s going to be located on the top left of the canvas. So, we need to tell GIMP to center it by clicking on the “Center” button… click Resize.

Now, you need to export the pattern to be used with your retro text effect design. But first, you have to determine the folder location to export it to. It’s different for Windows, Mac, and Linux users.

No worries, it’s easy to find. Here’s how…

Edit > Preferences

Locate the “Folders” option, expand, and select “Patterns.” This will display the folder structure for your system. Make a note of it, so you know where to export your pattern to.

File > Export As

Via the “Save in Folder:” option at the top, navigate to the folder location you found previously. Give your pattern a name and make sure the file extension is set to “.pat,” click Export. A new window will appear, giving you the option to add a description and then click Export again.

Although the pattern has been saved in the correct folder, it’s not accessible in GIMP until you refresh the Patterns.

Open up the Patterns panel via Windows > Dockable Dialog > Patterns.

At the bottom of the panel, click on the Refresh Patterns icon. You should now see your new pattern within.

create your first custom pattern

Step 3: Create a Custom Diagonal Pattern

create a diagonal line pattern

Our second pattern is going to be a diagonal line. Which we’re going to create from the previous pattern and canvas. Let’s change the color of the square to the following hexadecimal #807472. Fill it in with your Bucket Fill tool.

Go to your Layers Panel and duplicate the layer four times. With your Move tool (“M”), adjust each new layer to create a diagonal line. Next, export your pattern and refresh the patterns as you did previously.

Step 4: Create a Custom Newsprint Pattern

settings for the third pattern

Our next custom pattern is going to be a half-tone or newsprint effect. You can close the document used for the last two patterns and create a new one for this pattern. The size will be 512×512, and set the “Fill with:” to the same brown color used previously.

This pattern is going to be created with a built-in GIMP filter…

Filters > Distort > Newsprint

Adjust the settings to match mine…

Newsprint pattern settings

Export and refresh the patterns.

Step 5: Add Your Text + Align To Center

add your text we add our patterns, let’s add some text. For the font style, I’m going to use ChunkFive with a font size of 350. For the color, let’s do white. For this project, let’s type out RETRO in all caps. Also, the spacing between the letters is a little too tight.

You’ll need to increase the spacing to achieve the text effect we’re creating in this design project. Go to the tool options and increase the Kerning or via the text toolbox before typing. I’ve set mine to 80.

As for the alignment, I’m going to use my Move tool (M) to move it into position. Place it up a little higher than the center and try to eyeball the horizontal center.

For this text effect to turn out the way we want it to, you’ll need to increase the layer boundary…

Layer > Layer to Image Size

Step 6: Add a Stroke To Your Text

create a stroke around your text

Now the fun begins! Let’s start off by creating a stroke around the text. Although GIMP has a built-in stroke tool, we’re going to make one manually. Why? The Stroke will be crisper and will not be pixelated vs. the built-in option.

Right-click on your text layer and select “Alpha to Selection.” This auto selects each individual letter! To create a stroke, we need to first increase the size of the selection.

Select > Grow @ 4px

Create a new layer for your Stroke, name it Stroke, and set to Transparency. Then, set the foreground color to #baa78a, and fill in the selection (any letter will do) with your Bucket fill tool. Next, if needed, move the Stroke layer below the text layer.

Step 7: Create an Inner Shadow

add an inner shadow for your text

At the time of this GIMP tutorial, an Inner Shadow tool was not available. That’s ok, though, since we can create one manually.

First, make a selection of your text by right-clicking on the text layer and choosing “Alpha to Selection.”

Next, duplicate the Background layer and move it above all the other layers. Right-click on this layer and select “Add Alpha Channel.” Now, hit your Delete key or Backspace key to remove the pixels within the selection and deselect with Shift + Ctrl or Command + A.

To add the Inner Shadow…

Filters > Light and Shadow > Long Shadow

Let’s change the color of the shadow to dark grey or black. The “Style” option at the top will adjust the softness of the shadows edge. By default, we have Finite selected, which creates a hard edge.

I prefer a softer edge and can achieve this by selecting Fading. I’m going to keep the other settings at the defaults. Feel free to play around with the different options to adjust the shadow based on your personal preference.

Once you’ve applied the shadow, double click on the layer name and rename it to “Inner Shadow.”

One more thing… the orange color on the shadow layer needs to be removed. Invert the selection by going to Select > Invert and then hit your Backspace or Delete key.

Don’t forget to deselect before moving on; Shift + Ctrl or Command + A.

Step 8: Apply Your First Retro Pattern

add the first custom pattern


It’s now time to add our first custom retro pattern that you created previously. Click on your Retro text layer (to activate it), right-click, and choose Alpha to Selection.

Next, create a new layer named Pattern 1, set “Fill with:” to Transparency, and hit OK. Grab your Bucket Fill tool (Shift + B), go to the tool options, and set the Fill Type to “Pattern fill.”

Just below, click on the square box and select the Newsprint pattern. Then, fill in that pattern by clicking inside of the selection. Deselect with Shift + Ctrl or Command + A.

Step 9: Apply Your Second Retro Pattern

add the second custom pattern

This time, select your Background layer, create a new layer labeled Pattern 2, and apply the dot pattern. Also, set the Opacity of the layer to 50.

Step 10: Create a 3D Long Shadow

Create a long shadow

Let’s add some depth to our design with some long shadows.

Select your Retro text layer and duplicate it with the name of 3D Shadow. Move this layer below the Stroke layer.

Filters > Light and Shadow > Long Shadow

For the shadow color, I’m using #333333. I’d like it a little shorter for the length and will adjust the “Length” to 61.

Step 11: Apply Your Third Retro Pattern

create your third pattern

Duplicate the 3D Shadow layer and rename it Lines. Guess what pattern we’re adding next? Yep, the Diagonal Line pattern.

Make a selection of the layer with Alpha to Selection (like we’ve done many times throughout this GIMP tutorial) and fill it in with your line pattern… deselect.

Step 12: Create a Second & Third Drop Shadow

add a second drop shadow

Another shadow or two to enhance the text style!

Duplicate your Diagonal Line layer and rename to Shadow 2. Move it below the 3D shadow layer. Go ahead and add a long shadow as you did previously (with the same color) and shorten the length to 23.

Duplicate Shadow 2 and name it Shadow 3. Make sure this new layer is below Shadow 2.

Add another Long Shadow with a little longer length, change the angle, and drop the opacity to your preference.

To further style this shadow, I changed the Blending Mode to “Overlay.”

add a third drop shadow

Step 13: Create a Retro Texture

add a retro texture to your design

Last but not least, let’s add a retro texture to our design. Here is the texture file I’m using. Once downloaded, find the file on your system and drag/drop over the GIMP interface.

Once you release your mouse button, the file will be added as a new layer. If needed, resize the layer to match the width and height of your canvas. In Blending Modes, let’s switch the mode to Screen and then drop the layer’s Opacity to 15.

Oh, and move this layer below Shadow 3!

One more thing…

Action Is Power

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

Head on over to our community and post your text effects project. I’ll answer any of your questions. Also, if you want feedback, add #CC.

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!

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