How To Use the Intelligent Scissors Tool in GIMP

scissor feature large

Intelligent Scissors? What an odd name for a selection tool. Wouldn’t you agree? Don’t let the name of it fool you, though. It’s a powerful, intelligent tool for precise selections.

In today’s GIMP tutorial, you’ll discover what the Intelligent Scissors tool is, how it works, and how to use it. If you’re ready… let’s do it!

Table of Contents

What Is the Intelligent Scissors Tool For GIMP?

The Intelligent Scissors tool is similar to the Magnetic Select tool in Photoshop. What it does is it magically adheres to the edge of the subject you wish to select. 

This is achieved by GIMP reading the contrast on either side of the border. The difference in contrast tells GIMP where the edge is, and then it applies the selection along with it.

Intelligent Scissors Tool Settings

scissor settings

Although the Intelligent Scissors is powerful, don’t let the few settings in Tool Options fool you. There are 4 modes to help you refine your selection. As well as an Antialiasing, Feather edge, and an Interactive boundary setting.

To activate the Intelligent Scissors tool, use your keyboard shortcuts with the letter “I.” Once activated, make sure the Tool Options panel is visible, Windows > Dockable Dialogs > Tool Options.


This section includes an icon for each of the scissors settings. Three of these can be activated with a keyboard shortcut.

How To Use the Intelligent Scissors

Since GIMP does all the hard work in determining the edge, all you have to do is give a starting point. This is done by clicking with your left mouse button along the edge to be selected. This leaves behind the first control node.

You’ll then add additional control points along the edge. When you do, GIMP will magically link two consecutive control points and place a path along the edge!

You’ll continue adding new control points until you get back to the original.

To close out the selection, you’ll hold down your Command or Ctrl key and click on the first control node. Then, you’ll hit Enter or Return for the path to be updated to a selection.

Ideas For Using the Scissors Tool For Selections

Here are a few ideas on how you can use the Intelligent Scissors tool for your own projects.

Sky Replacement

For this image, I used it for a tutorial on the Free Select tool too. Free Select isn’t recommended for images like this. Instead, I’d recommend using Intelligent Scissors since the process will be more precise. Oh, and faster too!

control nodes

Each hollow circle (the control points) around the subject represents where I clicked and added a control point. I did nothing else! GIMP intelligently discovered the edge… perfectly. 

Although, it didn’t do a great job on her hanging hair. For that, I tweaked the selection with the Quick Mask mode.

sky replacement
layers panel with layer masks

Once I completed the path, I hit the Return key (or Enter if you’re on a PC) to convert it to a selection. After that, I was able to make a Layer Mask from the selection. Then, I dropped a new image layer below it to replace the sky!

B&W Spot Color

Black and white photography is an art form by itself. With black and white images, a popular type of editing effect is converting only a portion of it into B&W and leaving the rest in color!

spot coloring and mono mixer

First, I duplicated the image layer and converted it to black and white using the Mono Mixer. Once that was complete, I used the Intelligent Scissors to make a selection of my subject. After converting it to a selection, a (black) Layer Mask was applied to reveal the color below!

Blurring the Background

Sometimes, you may not be able to blur out the background as you had envisioned due to unforeseen circumstances. Maybe your lens doesn’t have a fast enough aperture to achieve the desired result. Or the subject is too close to the background, and there isn’t enough separation to blur it out.

Either way, you can make a selection and blur it out. Here’s how…

  1. First, duplicate the original image layer to work non-destructively
  2. Make a selection with the Intelligent Scissors and convert it to a selection
  3. Then, go to Filters > Blur > Lens Blur and adjust the settings as needed!
lens blur

I used the same image for the previous example and duplicated the b&w layer.  Then, a Lens Blur was applied to this new layer.  

Once that was completed, I added a white Layer Mask and used the Gradient tool to mask out the foreground to bring back the sharp detail.

What's Next?

With over 9 different selection tools in GIMP, how do you know which one to use when? It starts by learning each selection tool and practicing with them. In time, you’ll know which tool to use for specific photos.

To elevate your GIMP editing skills, check out my free tutorials here and more advanced tutorials here.

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