How To Use the Clone Tool in GIMP {Complete Guide}

large featured clone tool

Retouching in GIMP is not that much different from Photoshop. They both share a lot of the same (retouching) paint tools. One of them being the Clone Tool. Using the Clone Tool is easy but should always be used non-destructively. More on that coming up in this article.

In this tutorial, you’ll learn what the Clone Tool is and how to use it properly. If you’re ready… let’s do it!

Table of Contents

What Is the GIMP Clone Tool?

before clone tool after clone tool

Photo by Karolina. The before and after result with the Clone Tool.

The Clone Tool is one of several paint tools in GIMP. It was designed for retouching your image… plain and simple! How it does that is simple too. As its name implies, the Clone Tool “clones” or copies pixels from your image and replaces the unwanted pixels where applied.

This allows you to remove things like pimples, trash, other unwanted objects, and even people. Before you can use the Clone Tool, you have to give GIMP a target area (source) from which to clone from. More on that coming up soon.

Clone Tool Settings

Click the image to enlarge.

The Clone Tool acts like a brush, and you’ll use the Tool Options to adjust it as needed. To activate the Clone Tool, you can either click on its respective icon in the toolbar or use the keyboard shortcut, “C.”

You’ll notice the Clone Tool settings are similar to that of the Paintbrush tool. Albeit a few new features are located at the bottom of the options panel. Let’s go over the new options for the Clone Tool, and you can discover the other brush settings here.

When activated, it will ignore the current brush’s fuzziness and gives a hard contour to the cloned area.

Tells GIMP which reference will be used for the Clone Tool, either an image or pattern. If you choose the image as the source, you must tell GIMP which layer to use if more than one is available. If the pattern is selected, the pattern dialog will come up, and you can choose the pattern to paint with. This is only relevant if you are cloning from a pattern source.

By default, this setting is not activated, and the Clone Tool will sample from the active layer. If more than one layer is available and you’d like to sample from them, then turn this option on. This is setting is recommended to work non-destructively by working on a new transparent layer as you clone.

This setting defines the relation between the brush position and the source position. By default (“none”), the source position adopts the brush position, and it will reset to its original location after you’re finished applying.

Aligns the source point with your brush stroke continuously.

This allows you to set the source point and your brush to be the same. This is useful when you want to clone pixels from one layer to another. 

Unlike None & Aligned, the source point will not move as you clone.

How To Use the Clone Tool For Retouching in GIMP

I always advise editing non-destructively. This simply means not applying your edits to the original layer. Doing so can cause irreversible damage if the modifications are saved with the actual file. This is due to not being able to undo what you did if you discover you’re unhappy with the final result.

before cloning after cloning

Photo by Daniella

Instead, what I recommend is duplicating the original layer and applying edits to it. When it comes to using the Clone Tool to retouch or repair problem areas, you have two choices…

Duplicate the original layer and use the Clone Tool on it.


Create a new transparent layer to be used for receiving the cloned pixels. This is achieved by activating the “Sample Merged” setting in the Tool Options.

Once activated, you’ll set your source image point by holding down your Ctrl key and clicking on an area of the image for your source. As you apply the Clone Tool, pixels will be copied from the original image layer to the transparent layer.

How To Remove Anything In GIMP

original image cloned and removed

Removing anything from an image in GIMP is seamless with the Clone Tool… and the right settings. In this tutorial, I showed you how to remove a person with both the Clone + Heal Tool. 

Although the methods used were non-destructive, you’re about to discover a more advanced technique.

You’ll learn how to remove the lady from the scene with the Clone Tool for this image. Oh, and you’ll do so non-destructively like a pro. Here are the steps…

While you’re cloning away your subject, take a look at your transparent layer… it’s starting to fill in with the pixels from the original layer. How… cooool… is that?

If you’re unhappy with the results, delete the contents of your new layer and start over. Or reposition your source image point and paint over your subject again to update the layer being cloned to.

What's Next?

As you just witnessed, the Clone Tool is fantastic for retouching an image. Wouldn’t you agree?

But, you know what’s even more powerful? Using the Clone Tool in conjunction with other paint tools, like the Heal tool, for better results.

Ready to elevate your GIMP image editing skills? If so, you’ll be amazed by these free tutorials. Oh, and don’t forget these too.

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