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A walk-the-walk learning experience.

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A fresh start

Starting a new job comes with a ton of excitement, this weird phenomenon of confidence and staggering insecurity at the exact same time, and freshness. Like, the kind of freshness you feel when moving into a new home; all of your things are in boxes, some got lost in the move, and your roommate accidentally sold your favorite mug at the yard sale. A fresh start, with all the enthusiasm and inconvenience that comes with it.

So I may not have access to some of the resources and programs I did at my previous institution— some proprietary resources, specifically… *cough* the Adobe suite *cough*…— and while I could get access if I wanted, I’m choosing to take this fresh-start opportunity to explore alternative, opensource applications. I mean, that’s part of the fun, right? I work with this awesome team that’s excited about homegrown open resources and values that learning process and experience; I’d be missing out if I didn’t dive right in with a support system like this.

All this to say, I was asked to update some internal documentation this week, which primarily involved taking new screenshots to align with one of our system’s updated style. I wanted to closely emulate the original screenshots to avoid any potential confusion when folks review the document, and those screenshots were ~fancy~ in that the important part of them was in a neat little box while the irrelevant parts of the shot were greyed out.


It’s the little things.

Now, if there is an easier way to do this, DON’T TELL ME. This is what I came up with and I’m stickin’ to it.

Changing my mindset

While I typically just mark up screenshots using Preview, this “greying out” challenge triggered my instinct to spin up Photoshop. But… I don’t currently have Photoshop. Fresh start.

Then I remembered an opensource program a former student of mine recommended with a name I wasn’t crazy about. (This student was a lot cooler than me btw and used all sorts of open software… he was a Brave diehard, sommelier of Linux distros, the whole 9.) Perfect.

Installing GIMP

There are a couple of ways to install GIMP depending on your OS. I’m just going to cover how to do it on Mac and Windows1… if you’re doing it on Linux you’ve probably already done it by now, and you’re probably bored. (If you want to learn the really cool stuff get on over to my colleagues Chris Blankenship, Taylor Jadin, and pretty much anyone at Reclaim‘s blogs.)


For macOS, you can either

  1. download the DMG file or
  2. install via Homebrew with brew tap homebrew/cask && brew install --cask gimp

I’m a big fan of Homebrew; it makes installing the entire package and dependencies really easy and quick. And, you know, beer puns.


For Windows, GIMP is available on the Microsoft Store or an executable file.

Greying out part of an image in GIMP

Once you have GIMP installed, open it up and let’s get started.

  1. Drag the screenshot you’re working with into the application.
  2. Click the “New Layer” button in the lower left-hand corner of the Layer tab to the right of the GIMP window.Red arrow pointing to New Layer button in Layer tab in GIMP.
  3. Arrange the new layer to be first in the layer order in that tab.
  4. In this new layer, click on the “Bucket Fill Tool” Bucket fill icon in GIMP., set the active foreground color to a dark shade, and click into it in the image viewer to fill.
  5. In the Layer tab, adjust this layer’s “Opacity” using the drag-bar at the top of the tab until you’ve reached the greyed-out level you prefer.
    Opacity drag-bar in GIMP.
  6. Click back into the screenshot you initially uploaded and right click to select “Duplicate Layer.”
    Duplicate Layer option in GIMP.
  7. Move this third layer to the top of the Layer tab, now above the dark-filled layer.
  8. While in this third layer, click the “Crop Tool” Crop icon. and drag the crop box over the area of the screenshot you’d like to have highlighted.
  9. Once desired area is selected, press “Enter” for the remainder of the image to be cut.


Is this overkill for making a basic, greyed out screenshot? Probably. Did I learn a lot about how to work in GIMP? Absolutely. Hope you did too!

3 thoughts on “Learning GIMP”

  1. You are inspiring me to return to some GIF work that made the digital storytelling course ds106 so much fun. Image editing was a foundational part of that class, and Gimp was central because it allowed everyone access. People were free to buy photoshop if they wanted, but Gimp did the same thing, if a bit winkier at times, and really taught a basic literacy around working with media more generally, the power of layers. A concept that would come back in design, audio, and video. A tool like Gimp is in many ways ground zero for literacy around working with media, and for that reason I loved your fresh start is focused on using accessible tools to big in on literacy and understanding rather than the all too easy route if the known that is often paved with costly convenience.

    1. The more I hear about this ds106 course the more I think of it as a glorious era I missed out on. Like NYC in the ’90s. Image editing is essential to being a fully participating citizen on the internet!

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