9 min read

In the previous article I’ve written ( Creating Convincing Images with Blender Internal Renderer-part1), I discussed about creating convincing 3D still images through color manipulation, proper shadowing, minimal lighting, and a bit of post-processing, all using but one application – Blender. This time, the article you’re about to read will give us some thoughts on how to mimic a 3D scene with the use of some basic 2D tools.

Here again, I would stress that nothing beats a properly planned image, that applies to all genres you can think of. Some might think it’s a waste of precious time to start sitting and planning without having a concrete output at the end of the thought process. But believe me, the ideas you planned will be far more powerful and beautiful than those ideas you just had, when you were just messing around and playing with the tool directly.

In this article, I wouldn’t be teaching you how to paint since I’m not good at it, rather I’ll be leading you through a series of steps on how to digitally sketch/draw your scenes, give them subtle color shifts, add fake lighting, and apply filter effects to further emulate how 3D does its job. Primarily, this all leads you into a guide on how I create my digital drawings (though I admit they’re not the best of its kind), but somehow I’m very proud, I eventually gave life to them from concept stage to digital art stage.

It might be a bit daunting at first, but as you go along the series, you’ll notice it gets simpler.  However, some might get confused as to how this applies to other applications since we’re focusing on The GIMP in this article. That’s not a problem at all once you are familiar with your own tool; it will just be a matter of working around the tools and options. I have been using The GIMP for a long time already, and as far as I can remember, I haven’t complained on its shortcomings since those shortcomings are only but bits of features which I wouldn’t be need at all.  So to those of you who have been and are using other image editing programs like Adobe Photoshop, Corel, etc., you’re welcome to wander around and feel free to interpret some GIMP tools to that of yours.  It’s all the same after all, just a tad bit difference on the interface.

Just like what Jeremy Birn has said on one of his books: “Being an expert user of a 3D Program, bit itself, does not make the user into an artist more than learning to run a Word Processor makes someone into a good writer.”

Additionally, one vital skill you have to develop is the skill of observation, which I myself ham yet to master.

Methods Used

  • Basic Drawing
  • Selection Addition, Subtraction, Intersection
  • Gradient Coloring
  • Color Mixing
  • Layering
  • Layer Modes
  • Layer Management
  • Using Filters


  • Latest version of The GIMP (download at http://www.gimp.org/downloads)
  • Basic knowledge of image editing programs with layering capabilities
  • Patience

Let’s Get Started!

I would already assume you have the latest version of GIMP installed on your system and is running properly, otherwise, fix the problem or ask help from the forum (http://www.gimptalk.com). I’m also assuming you have all your previous tasks done before sitting down and going over this article (which I’m pretty much positive you are). And then lastly, be patient.

Sketch it out

The very first thing we’re going to do is to sketch our ideas for the image, much like a single panel of a storyboard. It doesn’t matter how good you draw it as long as you understand it yourself and you know what’s going on in the drawing. This time, you can already visualize and create a picture of your final output and it’s great if you did, if not, it’s fine still. The important thing is we have laid down our scene one way or another. You can take your time sketching out your scenes and adding details to them like how many objects are seen, how many are in focus, what colors do they represent, how are your characters’ facial expressions, what is the size of your image, etc. So just in case we forgot how it’s going to look like in the end, we have a reference to call upon and that is your initial sketch. This way, you’ll also be affected by the persistence of vision where after hours and hours (yay!) of looking on your sketch, you somehow see an afterimage of what you are about to create, and that’s a good thing!

I’m not good at sketching so please bear with my drawing:

Creating Pseudo-3D Imagery with GIMP

After this, it’s now time to open up The GIMP and begin the actual fun part!

First Run

After executing GIMP, this should (and most likely) be the initial screen that’s going to be displayed on your screen:

Creating Pseudo-3D Imagery with GIMP

The GIMP Initial Screen

We don’t want Wilbur (GIMP’s Mascot) to be glaring at us from a blank empty window all the time, do we? And right now we could go ahead and add a canvas with which we’ll be adding our aesthetic elements into, but before that you might want to inspect your application and tool preferences just to make sure you have set everything right. Activate the window with the menu bar at the top (since we currently have three windows to choose from), and then locate Edit > Preferences, as seen below:

Creating Pseudo-3D Imagery with GIMP

Locating GIMP’s Preferences

Creating Pseudo-3D Imagery with GIMP

GIMP Preferences

Everything you see here should be self-explanatory, if it isn’t, just leave it for the moment and check the manual later, since I’m pretty much sure that thing you didn’t understand on the Preferences must be something we will not use here.  So go ahead and save whatever changes you did and sometimes, GIMP might ask you to restart the application for the changes to take effect, then do what she says and we should be back on the black canvas shortly after application restart.

By now, we should be having three windows, the main Toolbox Window (located on the left), the main Image Window (located on the middle), and the Layers Window (located on the right).  If, by any chance, the Layer Window is not there, go ahead and activate the Image Window and go to Windows > Layers or press CTRL + L to bring up the Layer Window.

Creating Pseudo-3D Imagery with GIMP

Showing the Layers Window

Creating the Canvas

Now that everything’s set up, we’ll go ahead and add a properly-sized canvas that we’ll paint on, which will be the entire universe for our creation at a later stage. Let’s go and create than now by going to File > New or by pressing CTRL+ N. A window will pop up asking you to edit and confirm the image settings for the canvas you’re creating. You can choose from a variety of templates to use or you can manually input sizes (which we are going to do).  Before that, change the unit for coordinate display to inches just so we could have a better visual reference of how big our drawing canvass will be. Then on the Width input box, type 9 (for nine inches), and for the Height input box, type 6 (for six inches) respectively. This, however, is a very subjective portion, since you can just have any size you prefer, I just chose nine inches by six inches for the purposes of this article. Clicking the Advanced Options drop-down menu will reveal more options for you.  But right now, we’ll never deal with that, just the width and height are sufficient for what we’ll be need. When you’re done setting up the dimensions and settings, click OK to confirm (is there a chance we could chance the OK buttons to “Alright” buttons, which sounds, uhmmm, better).

Creating Pseudo-3D Imagery with GIMP

Creating a New Image

At this moment, we should be seeing a blank canvas with the dimensions that we’ve set awhile back. Then just at the right window (Layers Window), you’ll notice there’s already one layer present as compared to the default which is none. So everytime we add a new layer (which is very vital), we’ll be referencing them over to the Layers Window. Since the creation of the layering system in image editors, it has been a blast to organize elements of an image and apply special effects on them as necessary. We can imagine layers as transparent sheets overlaying each other to form one final image; one transparent sheet can have a landscape drawn, another sheet contains trees and vegetation, and another sheet (which is above the tree sheets) is our main character. So together, we see a character with trees on a landscape in one. But as far as traditional layering is concerned, digital layering has been far more superior in terms of flexibility and the amount of modes we can experiment with.

Creating Pseudo-3D Imagery with GIMP

New Image with Layer

This time might be a good idea to save our file natively, by that I mean save it in a format that is recognizable only by GIMP and that is lossless in format, so whether we save it a couple of times as such, no image compression happens and the image quality is not compromised. However, the native format is only related to GIMP and is not known elsewhere, so uploading such file to your website will show no image at all because it isn’t recognized by the browser. In order to make it generally compatible, we export our image to known formats like JPEG, PNG, GIF, etc. depending on your need. Saving an image file on its native format preserves all the options we have like selections, paths, layers, layer modes, palettes, and many more.

This native format that GIMP uses is known as .XCF which stands for “eXperimental Computing Facility”. Throughout this article, we’ll save our files mainly in .xcf format and later on, when our tasks are done and we call our image finished, that’s the time we export it to a readable and viewable format.

Let’s go ahead and save our file by going to File > Save, or by pressing CTRL + S. This brings up a window that we can type our filename into and browse and create the location for our files. Type whatever filename you wish and append the “.xcf” file extension at the end of the filename, or you can choose “GIMP xcf image” from a list on the lower half of the window.

Creating Pseudo-3D Imagery with GIMP

Saving an Image as XCF


  1. This article has nothing to do about creating pseudo-3d imagery. It is about creating a blank page and saving it in XCF format, and it took a lot of wind to say it.


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