How To Use the Free Select Tool in GIMP

free select feature large

When it comes to selection tools in GIMP, you have a lot of choices. The key is knowing all the options and how they work. This will help you decide which one to use when. This tool tutorial is all about the Free Selection tool.

Free Select gives you the “freedom” to make a precise selection. It can be used for one or multiple ones too. Oh, and let’s not forget about using the Free Select for a straight edge selection also.

If you’re ready to learn how to make “free” selections… let’s do it!

Table of Contents

What Is the GIMP Free Select Tool?

Free Select is similar to the Lasso tool in Photoshop. It allows you to draw out your selection freehand with your mouse or a Wacom tablet. You can create a straight edge selection too. Perfect for architecture and other elements with straight edges.

Free Selection Options


Free Select is simple (but powerful) for making a selection. When you open the Options panel (Windows > Dockable Dialogs > Tool Options), you’ll notice only 2 main sections; Mode + Behavioral settings. To activate it, use the keyboard shortcut “F.”


In this section, you’ll find four icons with the following properties. Each will affect how you make a selection in your image.


The next two options include Antialiasing and Feather Edges. Antialiasing is used to ensure the edges of your selection are not jagged and are soft. Feather Edges takes this one step further and gives you control over the softness.

Using Free Select with Your Image

Photo by Chevanon Photography. Click to enlarge.

The process for using Free Select in GIMP is easy. Determine the subject in your image you’d like to choose and draw around it. Your first selection step is to hold down your mouse button as you draw around the object. Completing the process requires going back to the starting point. Once you see a yellow circle click your mouse button again to close it out.

An Image with Straight Line (s)

Image by Nubia Navarro

Another option is using the straight-line option for a subject with, well, a straight edge. Instead of drawing freehand, you’ll click once to create the starting point. Once you navigate away from that point, you’ll have a line that’s connected to it. It will follow your mouse until you click in a new area.

Then, the two points will be connected by the line. Like before, you’ll need to go back to the beginning to close it out.

Selecting An Object In Your Image

Most objects or subjects you’ll want to select in an image will require precision, like a person. Unless you have a steady hand, it might not be perfect from the get-go. In that case, you’ll need to use another tool in conjunction with it, like Quick Mask Mode.

For this image, the intent was to select the bus. Using Free Select can get the job done, but it’s tedious. Here is the outcome…

free select

Note: the bus has windows, and the content seen through it should not be part of the selection. This requires “subtracting” from it.

Although this can be done with the free selection, it was quicker with Rectangle Select and refined with Quick Mask mode. Otherwise, I’d have to click my mouse button several times and “subtract” from it. Overall multiple tools were required to make the final selection.

Now, here is the same selection with Select by Color… done in half the time.

subject by color

Again, the selection is not perfect, and both tools require another to tweak it. To further refine the selection I’d use the Quick Mask mode.

Selecting a Building In Your Image

When it comes to selecting an object with a straight edge, there isn’t anything better than Free Select. It’s perfect for an image with buildings! I clicked my mouse button at the bottom left of the building to get started.

Multiple Selections

multiple selections

Photo by June

There may come a time when you need multiple objects selected in an image not touching each other. For an image like this, Free Select is ideal for getting started with.

Since the subjects were separated from each other, I created two selections that are, in fact, one. This was done by “adding” to the first one. Oh, and instead of changing the Mode to “Add,” use your keyboard shortcut instead, by holding down your Shift key. 

Pro Tip

Personally, I only use the “Free” select tool for rough selections and finish it in Quick Mask mode. It’s only when I have a building or other subject with a straight edge that I’ll use it.

What's Next?

Free Select is only one of many tools for making a selection in your image with GIMP. Knowing which selection tools to use when will take time, practice, and discovering how each works.

To improve your image selection skills with GIMP, check out some more free tutorials here and more advanced tutorials here.

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One Response

  1. Nice job of explaining, I also registered for your Udemy course and enjoy that too. Please, when you do these tutorials include the Mac paths you know what I mean I’m sure but just in case like Gimp 2.10> preferences> tool options. Thanks for helping me learn to use this powerful and adaptable tool.

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