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The Gimp: Making Colors in a GIF Transparent

© January 2004 Crouse

By Crouse
USA Linux Users Group
Web Site: https://www.usalug.org

Sometimes when working with an image you want to make a certain color transparent. When working with a gif file this would make a round circle look round on any color background. This is actually very simple once you do it once. Finding the information for this took me a while so I thought I would pass it on to anyone that was interested.

1. Open your image in the gimp.

2. Right click the image and go to LAYERS then ADD ALPHA CHANNEL. You won't notice anything happening, but don't be concerned. It basically adds a transparent layer at the bottom of your image so when we erase the colors.....it's shows the transparent layer. Which of course would show whatever was under it on the screen.

3. Right click on the image again and go to SELECT and then down to BY COLOR. A window that is all black opens up. Don't change any of the settings....just use the defaults for now.

4. Now click on the color in the image you want to be transparent. These colors will now show up outlined.

5. Right click on the image again and go to EDIT and then down to CLEAR. This should now erase the outlined color you just picked from the image and the "transparent gimp checkerbox" should show through. This is the Gimps way of showing you that section is now transparent.

6. Right click on the image and choose SAVE AS and make sure to save as a GIF file if you want the transparency to work on the web.

Most of this information was gleaned from this webpage: (link dead, sorry) and of course my Gimp Bible and my Essential Gimp books.

Editor's note: the Washington.edu link above has disappeared. This University of Washington link works as of May 2015.

Another fun feature that can be used while using the SELECT and BY COLOR ..... instead of hitting CLEAR you can FILL W BG COLOR or the other one FILL W FG COLOR ........... this allows you to change the colors over the entire image instantly for the particular pixel color you choose to start with. Very fast and fun once you figure this out.

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Hey thanksr for that. Aparently the delete key does not have the same effect as the clear command. as a matter of fact... none of the shortcut keys are working :p

You rock! Thanks for writing this howto :D

Just the info I needed, Thanks. David

Couldn't get it to work.
It just filled with the background colour, black in my case.

Very useful. I wish I'd read it sooner! Also useful is the Fuzzy Selection tool, which can select a single contiguous area of one color.

Thought this would work just great, until I got to Step #2 and find that the option to 'Add Alpha Channel' is grayed out and can't select it. I saved as a PNG, did not save background color, then re-opened the file and was able to follow these instructions.

Just followed these steps using GIMP2.0 on a PNG...worked great! Thanks!

Great page--just what I needed!

Many, Many thanks, I looked long and hard and then found this, brilliant, to the point!

I already know how to do this, but the porblem is saving it.
It's in gif form, and in indexed mode. When i save it, it always filled the transparent part in with colour.

---July 19, 2004

---August 10, 2004

Thank you - don't have Paint Shop Pro, and couldn't work out how to do this until reading your page. Great!

---August 12, 2004

I can see the alpha "checker-box" but then after I save it as a GIF and look at it in a browser I can't see my drop shadow anymore... why won't this darn thing work!?!?!

---August 12, 2004
Because you had the dropshadow included in the alpha mask.

---September 10, 2004
Thanks a lot for this short and clean explaination :)

---September 22, 2004
Thanks for publishing this tip. This worked great for me after many frustating hours trying to get it working on my own. -- Ben

---September 23, 2004
Thanks! Saved me hours...

---October 2, 2004

Sarah: Thanxs So much! I've been so frustrated downloading different Programs and finally GIMP is the one I believe I'll stick with Thanxs so much for the How to! really needed that! Thanxs

---October 8, 2004

I'm not an experienced Gimp user but was able to help a college with this task. It took me 15 min to find your page and solve his prob. I should mention that I'm the only Linux-user at my company... Now, maby, they will get a hint why, he, he, he... THANX! /Wojtek J.

---October 8, 2004

What Bob said! Thanks for the post!
---October 21, 2004

---October 29, 2004

Thanks - I actually tried some stuff in the by color menue, but I couldn't figure out to click on the color on the image..
Somebody asked about the weird key for deleting:
I think it has something to do with the platform GIMP was designedn for first.

---November 15, 2004

Anon: instructions not clear enough and 'Add Alpha Channel" was ghosted out - pretty useless help page if you ask me

---November 22, 2004

"the gimp gif transparent" with google sent me here, very nice tip, thanks a lot !

---December 14, 2004

Small change for Gimp 2.0, should be:
2. Right click the image and go to LAYERS, then TRANSPARENCY and ALPHA TO SELECTION.
The remainder is still accurate. Cheers, Colin.

---December 18, 2004

I knew it could be done, but forgot how. Google brought me to your page. Thanks, your page has been bookmarked! -- Arnold

---December 23, 2004

woohoo yeah! thanks! this really helped ;)

---December 31, 2004

helped a lot! Merci.

---January 10, 2005

first link in google to 'gimp transparency' and right on time, right on the money!!!

---January 24, 2005
thanks man, much appreciated

---January 25, 2005
Fantastic write-up! It helped me out quite a bit today on a web graphic. Thanks again! -- Paul

---January 27, 2005
Yet another thankful tip reader.

---January 29, 2005

Handy, Gimp Help Transparant in Firefox got me just what I wanted :)

---January 31, 2005

---February 1, 2005
Rock on the gimp. Instructions like this teach people 'how to fish'... Thanks for your efforts!

Wed Apr 6 06:49:20 2005: 279   anonymous

Very useful and well written. Great job!

Tue Apr 26 01:08:21 2005: 372   anonymous

Just a thanks ... it was my first transparent gif with The gimp (a newbie) after several years with Corel Paint ... and I wasn't able to discover it for my self!! Now I dont need to instal Corel Paint anymore !!

Thu Apr 28 16:58:57 2005: 408   anonymous

it works, cool

Fri May 6 09:01:28 2005: 469   anonymous


Fri Jun 10 15:54:41 2005: 645   anonymous

I had the same problem as others, after saving it was no longer transparent. I saved it as a PNG instead of GIF and deselected "Save background color" and it worked great.

Mon Jun 13 04:58:09 2005: 648   anonymous

Just what I was looking for (gimp + transparent in Google -> your page)
Thanks a lot !

Wed Jun 22 18:29:35 2005: 682   anonymous

Another happy reader. Thanks for this helpful document.

Fri Jun 24 10:28:13 2005: 692   anonymous

Frustrated after trying to make a transparent gif from ms paint. installed gimp on windows and searched google which took me to your page. I wonder what would have I done without this info. Thanks a lot.

Thu Jul 14 08:53:03 2005: 797   anonymous

Thank you!!!!!!!!!!!!!
(from Italy)

Thu Jul 21 20:46:41 2005: 844   anonymous

amazing. such a simple concept, and it took me forever to figure it out. and even so, I didnt figure it out. I found you! thanks!

Tue Jul 26 19:00:19 2005: 879   anonymous

I spent a half hour trying to find this in GIMP. So many options. :-) Thanks.

Tue Aug 30 16:15:45 2005: 1044   anonymous

i never would have figured that out on my own.

one caveat, though. on my version of gimp, the "add alpha channel" feature was hidden under a submenu called "transparency" instead of being in the "layers" menu.

layers -> transparency -> add alpha channel.

Wed Sep 14 23:57:41 2005: 1091   anonymous

This made may life so much easier and I've furled so I have it for future reference. Thanks again!

Thu Sep 15 19:14:01 2005: 1093   anonymous

i bookmarked this. there are some things graphic morons like me do once every 4 months, so why memorize all this? thank you!

Thu Sep 29 17:49:32 2005: 1135   anonymous

Thanks man!

Tue Oct 25 18:19:04 2005: 1246   Bill

Thanks! This is just what i needed.

Sat Dec 3 23:18:05 2005: 1403   Brian

This is just what I was looking for!

Fri Jan 6 22:40:41 2006: 1481   anonymous

Great post. Was pulling my hair out before I Googled this blog. Thanks a ton!

Sat Jan 14 13:02:12 2006: 1509   anonymous

Thanks man, that helped me a lot.

Sat Jan 14 16:46:46 2006: 1510   LiamMcDermott

Just wanted to say thanks for such a useful article. Thought I was bashing my head against a brick wall with this problem, until I found this blog!

Thank you!

Thu Mar 2 02:09:21 2006: 1733   David

Thanks a lot man! you are a lifesaver. I spent almost 4 hours trying to make a transparent .gif without any luck, until I found this!

Tue Apr 4 11:23:18 2006: 1854   James

Very nice little manual on how to do this simple task. I was stuck playing with the layers until I read your walk-thought. Great stuff!

Thanks a LOT!

Fri Apr 14 22:04:47 2006: 1920   CarlfromPortlandOregon

Thank you very much for this tutorial. I found something by accident that might help others. If you didn't really set your picture up with a special color for the background and you find you now want to remove it, you can use the Magic Wand to select the color, but this tool has a great feature you might not know about. If you click on a color and then drag the mouse to the right or left, it will adjust the "Threshold" on the fly and show you a preview of what it will select when you let go of the mouse button. Actually up and down work as well for this. If you hold down the Shift key as you select the various colors you can very quickly get everything you want selected and the go through the Edit->Clear route, also using the other selection tools (while holding down shift) until you have exactly what you want to remove selected.

Tue May 2 04:35:53 2006: 1995   anonymous

problem im having is that the image has a white background which im trying to make transparent (using it on a grey page) but the problem is when i do the above it actually removes the white from the actual image that should stay remaining... wonder if anyone knows how to get past this? im supposed to flatten the image first aren't i? hmm...stumped

Mon Jun 5 17:31:04 2006: 2068   anonymous

Thank you!! I've been sitting here trying to figure this out ...

Fri Jun 30 20:17:18 2006: 2201   anonymous

Thank you! This was exactly the information I needed, and it let me do in a couple of minutes what I would otherwise have wasted hours trying to do.

Wed Jul 12 21:35:55 2006: 2244   anonymous

Thank you so much!

Sun Aug 27 05:21:11 2006: 2431   Pat

Thank you so much for your concise guide to making transparent backgrounds in the GIMP! It helped make my astronomy web site look beautiful again.

Tue Sep 12 06:50:21 2006: 2452   anonymous

augh!! you wouldn't know how to do it on ms paint by any chance?

Wed Sep 13 23:32:01 2006: 2453   anonymous

Didn't work for me. First the alpha channel is under a different heading, second it was greyed out, third tried saving as a png without saving background color and it gave an error message and died.

Useless open-source crap basically, designed for tech-heads. Get a real program.

Wed Sep 13 23:37:49 2006: 2454   anonymous

Try Microsoft's .NET Paint.

Or Microsoft's Photo Editor for that matter. Here's what you do -

Open the file.
Click 'tools'
Click 'set transparant color'
Click the color

But of course, that's Microsoft, so you'll hate it.


Thu Oct 5 14:16:12 2006: 2503   anonymous

Thanks so much for the tip. It's concise and thorough instructions like this that are hard to find on the web. Thanks a million.

Mon Oct 16 00:28:21 2006: 2520   anonymous

thx dude

Fri Nov 24 21:16:13 2006: 2654   anonymous

Thanks Crouse,
Great (and simple) explanation on how to use the gimp features.

Wed Dec 6 20:59:04 2006: 2700   anonymous

Great! Just what I looked for to draw the next countdown days of my animated xmas candle.
I new transparency was simple, but this was the only easy-to-find place that provided a HOWTO.

Thu Dec 14 11:11:03 2006: 2731   KesavanAthimoolam

- Create a new picture by File -> New option
- In the "Create a New Image" dialog, expand "Advanced options"
- Choose "Transparency" in the "Fill with" option

That's it! "

Fri Dec 15 02:40:42 2006: 2742   anonymous

Bro, you just helped me out so much with your post! I've been trying forever to make an image transparent with no success. You made it real easy. Thanks a million!

Sat Dec 16 18:15:47 2006: 2753   VolleyChick

Thank you, thank you, thank you! I have been trying for months to create transparent pngs for my store and gotten so frustrated I gave up. I found your site, downloaded Gimp and followed the tutorial. Giddyup - I just made my first one and it looks pretty good! Thanks again,


Wed Feb 28 11:37:53 2007: 2881   anonymous

Very useful, thanks.

Sat Mar 3 21:49:49 2007: 2893   anonymous

Thanks for the help! :]

Wed Mar 28 08:05:14 2007: 2928   anonymous

Thanks, this helped. All the best for what you do!

Sat May 5 20:04:38 2007: 2989   James

Nicely done. Helpful and easy to follow.

Fri Jun 1 09:48:29 2007: 3012   anonymous

Thx - worked like a dream - you can do virtually anything with the Gimp - problem is finding how to do it. following these instructions 2 minutes - job done. Last night, several hours of severe muttering.

Tue Jun 5 17:05:41 2007: 3019   anonymous

Great article. Thank you so much.

Sat Jun 23 23:30:05 2007: 3045   Donald

If you want to overlay a picture with some other picture or part of picture first of all make sure that the fileformat supports transparency. PNG cannot always. If you have a color index (palette) you need to EXPORT the picture as RGB-PNG, maybe some other format also will enable RGB. Then close, exit, reopen the file and make sure you get RGB channels and NOT INDEX!!!

To summarize: A layer which you want transparent need to have RGB-channels and then you can set the property to transparent and the display will show degrees of transparency.

I have plunged into this problem earlier but had forgot the solution. Therefore I repeat:

Make a new JPG from the PNG with color-index. Use "save-as". This is not easy to see from the Gimp documentation. PNG's with color-index do not support transparency, it is either-or. It is impossible to transform the "bad" PNG's to RGB-PNGs with "ImageMagick-convert" and other programs. You must go via JPG, even if Gimp documentation says that PNG can do everything.

Donald Axel

Sat Aug 25 03:11:40 2007: 3084   anonymous

God bless you for putting this online

Wed Aug 29 01:57:39 2007: 3094   anonymous

Note that this works when starting with an RGB image (a GIF is indexed). Check using the image -> mode menu and convert if necessary.

You save it as an indexed GIF at the end.

Mon Oct 1 02:10:56 2007: 3178   anonymous

Thanks very much for this set of instructions, I've found them most helpful.

Thu Oct 11 13:55:16 2007: 3194   AC

An excellent piece of advice - thanks very much!

Tue Oct 23 21:26:11 2007: 3198   anonymous

This is very helpful -- and I did need this advice -- BUT if you're just trying to remove white from a photo, you would also remove the whites of the eyes - and possibly clothing or teeth.

If your photo has areas like the above then, after doing a 'color select', use the erase tool and 'erase' the color only from the highlighted areas that you don't need.

Of course, this is a no-brainer for a GIMP pro, unlike myself!

Tue Nov 20 18:29:29 2007: 3263   anonymous

excellent - worked perfectly, thanks.

Wed Nov 28 05:08:35 2007: 3280   anonymous

"Make a new JPG from the PNG with color-index. Use "save-as". This is not easy to see from the Gimp documentation. PNG's with color-index do not support transparency, it is either-or. It is impossible to transform the "bad" PNG's to RGB-PNGs with "ImageMagick-convert" and other programs. You must go via JPG, even if Gimp documentation says that PNG can do everything. "

I'd recommend going to a lossless format instead of JPG if what you say is actually correct, otherwise you're just going to introduce more distortion into your image.

Great tutorial. I've been fumbling around with how to do this for a long time, able to get it to work on some images but not others, and now I finally have a clue why!

Sun Dec 2 13:08:56 2007: 3286   anonymous

Many thanks!!!

Thu Dec 27 07:09:58 2007: 3352   anonymous

Thanks for the page

Mon Mar 31 13:13:13 2008: 3923   pow

easy and usefull! thanks!

Fri Apr 18 04:06:22 2008: 4059   anonymous

thank very much - that helps me a lot :) thank you.


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