How to Convert a Picture to Watercolor in GIMP

by Shawn Radcliffe

Watercolor is a painting technique that uses water-based paints. Artists such as Cézanne and Whistler both employed watercolor in some of their paintings. Using free image-editing software such as GIMP, you can convert digital photos into a picture that resembles a watercolor painting. This opens up new possibilities for displaying and sharing your favorite photos.

Duplicate the Image


Open the picture that you want to convert to watercolor in GIMP. Click on the "File" menu, choose "Open," browse to the photo file and click "Open."


Select the image layer by clicking on it in the "Layers, Channels, Paths..." window.


Duplicate the layer. Click on the "Create a duplicate of the layer..." button below the list of layers in the "Layers, Channels, Paths..." window. Make sure the duplicate layer is selected.

Adjust the Duplicate Layer


Desaturate the duplicate layer. Click on the "Tools" menu, select "Color Tools" and then "Desaturate." Leave "LIghtness" selected in the dialog box and click "OK."


Click on the "Colors" menu and select "Curves." Leave the channel drop-down as "Value."


Click on and drag the diagonal line in the "Adjust Color Curves" window until you have the desired amount of grayscale. Click "OK" to save the settings.

Arrange the Layers


Drag the original layer in the "Layers, Channels, Paths..." window so it is above the duplicate layer.


Change the mode of the original layer to "Color" in the "Mode" drop-down.


Save the modified image as a new file. Click on the "File" menu and choose "Save a copy."


  • check Adjusting the color curves may take several attempts, and settings will vary with the picture being adjusted.

About the Author

Now living in Portland, Ore., Shawn Radcliffe has written about science and health since 1998, including online and print content for Drexel University and Oregon Health & Science University. He holds bachelor's degrees in music, English and biology from the University of Pittsburgh, as well as a Master of Science in science education from Drexel University.

Photo Credits

  • photo_camera Images