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How to Face Swap Yourself With GIMP

Entry Poll

GIMP or Photoshop?

I get this question quite often:

"GIMP is free, but I hear you can't do as much with it as you can with Photoshop. Which is better?"

The answer is based on your personal preference (and bank account). One of the free alternatives to Photoshop is GIMP (now GIMP 2.0), a massively underestimated graphic design program that many overlook because it is free. GIMP 2.0 has a huge community that offers support, feedback, and my personal favorite: plugins (something that adds to the program). With the right set of plugins you can do almost everything that Photoshop can do and more. Most GIMP plugins are completely free as well. I use both GIMP 2.0 and Photoshop and I cannot say I like one over the other. Both programs have their own unique way of doing things that if they were to be combined it would be to my delight.

Let's Start!

As with any face swapping venture we undertake, we will need at least two photos to work with. I will supply some here that I will be using in this tutorial. You are always free to use your own and work that way loosely following my instruction. If you are following along with me, please save the following two pictures and open them in GIMP or GIMP 2.0.


GIMP Layout

If you are starting GIMP for the first time, you may notice that GIMP is in multiple broken parts on your screen. If you want GIMP all in one piece on your screen, in the top menu bar (where things like File, Edit, and View are) select the "Windows" drop down menu and click "Single-Window Mode. This will make GIMP appear much sleeker in design on your screen and you can focus on one entire window. TIP: While not in single-window mode, you can drag the tab windows to different side of the GIMP work space. When single-window mode is activated again, the tabs will adhere to the side that you dragged them to.

The Free Select Tool is selected for use in this image

The Free Select Tool is selected for use in this image

The Free Select Tool (Lasso Tool)

To begin our tutorial, we will be tracing out the head and hair of the normal girl who is not Wonder Woman. To do this, we will be using the Free Select Tool. This tool is most similar to the Lasso Tool in Photoshop, but has a key difference. GIMP allows its users to click and drag this tool to create a free form selection, but will also allow you to click and then choose the spot of the next point without having to switch to a different variation of the same tool. This allows you to be precise when selecting long, straight lines and tricky curvy corners.

Let's use the Free Select Tool now. In the toolbox, it has a lasso icon. Trace out the girl's head and surrounding hair. This trace does not need to be exactly perfect. If you miss some hair around the edge, that is ok. We will most likely going to erase most of the hair later! In order to complete your selection, you must connect the end of the selection line to the beginning starting point. When you have successfully connected the end to the start, a flashing dotted line will appear around your selection.

TIP: Try experimenting with this tool. Try holding down the left mouse button and dragging your mouse to freehand your selection. Letting go of the mouse button creates another starting point on the same selection line. Alternatively, try clicking the mouse on different points of the image. This allows for a more controlled selection, but with straighter edges.

The girl's head is selected in the image.

The girl's head is selected in the image.

Copying, Pasting, and Layers

After you have the head selected, we are then going to copy it and paste it into the Wonder Woman photo. To copy, go to File (in the top menu bar) and click "copy". Alternatively you can hold Ctrl on your keyboard and then press C. The head is now copied and we can paste it into the Wonder Woman photo. To paste, go to File and click "paste". Alternatively you can hold Ctrl and then press V. You should see the head of the girl show up on your screen.

In order for the head to be completely transferred over to the Wonder Woman photo, we need to ensure that a new layer was actually created. When a layer is copied and pasted, GIMP creates something called a "floating layer". A floating layer is not technically a layer quite yet. It allows you to make edits before applying the newly pasted item onto its own layer. Since we want to add a new layer and make changes to it later, all you need to do is press the new layer icon in the layer's tab. This will change the pasted item from a "floating layer" to an actual layer with a small thumbnail of it on the layer's tab.

The new layer icon is located at the bottom left of the layers tab.

The new layer icon is located at the bottom left of the layers tab.

Scale and Move Tools

The next two tools we will use are fairly simple ones. The Move Tool allows us to move the selected layer around the work space. There are different settings for this tool, but by default we do not need to know them for this tutorial. The Move Tool icon looks like a plus sign with arrow heads at each of the ends.

Scroll to Continue

TIP: If you need to move around the work space, but not move your images, hold Spacebar and then simply move your mouse. If nothing happens, right click your mouse and then left click anywhere in the work space and try again. Alternatively, if you have a mouse that has a wheel, click and hold the wheel to move around the workspace.

The Scale Tool is designed to resize a layer without changing the dimension of the entire image. For example, if an image is 10x10 that means our default layer size is 10x10. If we scale the layer to 5x5, our layer became smaller, but our image size stays at 10x10. To use the Scale Tool, select the icon that looks like a rectangle is bring shrunk, and then click on the layer you wish to scale. The layer will then be covered in lines crisscrossing over it vertically and horizontally and a dialogue box will appear.



IMPORTANT: In the dialogue box, next to the Width and Height options, you will notice a broken set of chain links. These links indicate whether you want the Scale Tool to resize layers in or out of proportion. When the links are broken, the layers will be resized disproportionally; meaning you could resize the girl's face to be skinny and tall or fat and short. If the links are connected, the layer will be resized in proportion.

If the links are not connected, click on the links to connect them. Resize the head to cover the face of Wonder Woman just enough so that it would appear as normal. We want the head to not be too large or too small or else it would not look natural.

You will notice that the original starting location of the layer can still be seen while scaling. Once the scaling process is done, it will disappear. When you have the girl's head where you want it, in the dialogue box select "scale" to complete the process.

Tip: The Scale Tool has a built in Move Tool feature. If you look at the layer that is being scaled you will notice a small circle in the direct middle of the layer. When you hover you mouse over the circle it will change from the Scale Tool icon to having a tiny Move Tool icon above it. This change is very subtle. If you hold down the left mouse button you will be able to move the layer while still in scaling mode. This is very useful because you don't need to keep switching between two tools constantly while scaling.



Next we will be using the Eraser Tool. This one is easy to pick out because it looks just like a classic eraser. We will want to use a special kind of eraser that has a soft edge on it. By default, this type of eraser should already be selected. But if it isn't, there is a way to change it. In order to do this, we need to locate the Tool Option Tab. This tab houses all of a tool's special features and functions. For the Eraser Tool, we are looking for a small white box with a circle in it.It should be located directly under where "Opacity" is. Click the small white box and select one of the faded circles. The faded circle means that this eraser is in the shape of a circle and has a soft edge that works the best for blending our girl's face and hair into the picture of Wonder Woman.

Tip: For all tools that require a certain shape or brush to be used, you can adjust the size of it by using the Tool Options Tab. Find the Size option and simply drag the bar left or right to decrease or increase the size of the tool. You can also type in a number if you do not want to drag the slider bar.


From this point on, every action we make is subjective to the person doing it. You may decide to keep more or less hair in the photo than I do. It all depends on what you think looks good and natural. We will slightly erase around the outside edge of the hair so that it looks like the hair blends right into the photo. I've kept some hair, but decided to erase a large portion of it.


Hair Coloring

Most people will likely stop at this point. If you have your head where you want it to be and it is blended in well, then you're good to go. However, our hair color and skin color may not match the other image. There are several ways to do this, but I will show you one of the easiest ways to match colors.

The Color Picker Tool selects a color from your image by simply clicking on the icon that looks like an eyedropper and then clicking on a color in your photo. It copies the desired color into your Foreground Color. However, it will only select colors of the active layer.

The Paintbrush Tool is one of the most versatile tools in the GIMP program. It has a ton of features that a series of tutorials could cover it.

Let's continue on by matching out hair color. Switch to the Wonder Woman layer by going to your layers tab and clicking it. Select the Color Picker Tool and click anywhere on Wonder Woman's hair. This will give you a dark grey or black color. Switch to the layer of the girl's face. Now select your Paintbrush Tool. In the Tool Options Tab there is a dropdown box that says "Normal" on it. Click the dropdown box and switch it to "Color".

To paint using the Paintbrush Tool is super easy. All you need to do is hold the left mouse button and drag across the area you want to paint. In this case, it will be the hair we have left over from the girl's face layer. Be sure to only paint the hair and try to avoid her face!


Dodge / Burn Tool

Now we just need to start fine tuning some features. The Dodge / Burn Tool basically brightens (dodge) or darkens (burn) an image according to a number of factors. We only need to change one thing before we start using this tool. To change the tool settings we first select to icon that looks like a tiny black circle with a line coming out of it. We then go back to our good friend the Tool Options Tab and select the circle next to the word "Burn" (this is originally defaulted to "Dodge".

Use this tool just like the Paintbrush Tool. Hold down the left mouse button and drag the mouse over the areas you want to darken. If you need to change other settings, the image to the right is the default settings that I used.


Face Painting

You may have noticed by now that our girl is bit tanner than Wonder Woman. Just like we colored the hair, we are going to do the same with her face. Switch to the Color Picker Tool. Switch to the Wonder Woman layer. Click a spot on Wonder Woman's shoulder to get a flesh color. Now switch back to the girl's layer. Switch to the Paintbrush Tool. In the Tools Option Tab, change the "Opacity" to 35%. You can do this by dragging the bar when your mouse pointer switches or by typing in "35" where the numbers are. We do this to slowly adjust the skin tone. If you paint a section once and let go of the mouse button and then paint over it again, you will double the opacity. In this case, 35% will double to 70%. Paint however much or as little you need. I only painted over the face twice.

Begin painting the girl's skin. You'll notice that the color will start to change to reflect what Wonder Woman's skin tone is. Make sure you paint only the skin! Painting over the eyes, lips, and eyebrows will also change those colors too! Adjust the size of the tool if you need to.


The Final Touch

Sometimes the skin isn't quite matching and needs the tiniest adjustment to work. This is where a thing calls Curves comes in. Curves is color manipulation that spans the red, green, and blue (RGB) spectrum that we use. It is great for the tiny adjustment that we may need.

In order to access Curves, go to the top menu bar, click Colors, and then click "Curves...".

A dialogue box will pop up with what looks to be a graph on it. We will adjust the diagonal line ever so slightly by clicking the very middle of it and dragging slight;y upward and to the left. This will brighten our girl's face layer to match Wonder Woman's skin tone.


Final Result And Exporting/Saving

We're done! Now it is time to save your work. Go to File and click "Export As...". This is how GIMP saves images to files other programs can use. By default, GIMP exports images as .png. If you don't care about file type, .png will open in just about anything. You can also type in a file extension or select one from the drop down choices at the bottom right of the dialogue box.

Sow how did your photo turn out?


Exit Poll

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2016 Drew Overholt


Drew Overholt (author) from New York on May 13, 2019:

Hi John! Did you connect the lasso end to the beginning? If you are still having issues, you can alternatively use the basic shape selection and work from there. Hope this helps!

John Traynor on May 13, 2019:

The lasso copy and paste results in the full picture being pasted.What am I doing wrong?

Dale Anderson from The High Seas on December 11, 2017:

This was a fun hub. Ive been using Gimp2 for a while but only to do a few basic things now and then so this was informative for me.

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