How to Erase White Backgrounds from Illustrations and Drawings in Gimp

Gimp is a completely free program often used for manipulating images, digital painting, photo retouching, converting photo formats, and more. It is a great alternative for those who cannot afford the high price of Photoshop, and with plugins it actually matches many of its capabilities.


By popular request from followers of Artpromotivate, I will be providing many tutorials using this free digital manipulation software. Whenever I publish a tutorial on how to do something using Photoshop, I will try to repeat the same process using Gimp.


Recently, I posted a Photoshop how to article on how to remove the white background from illustrations. Here is the tutorial for those who missed it: How to Delete White Background from Drawings in Photoshop


If you do not have GIMP already, download it here for free: Gimp Download 




For Gimp users, here is how to get rid of that white background in a line drawing.


  1. Import a drawing into Gimp

    Go to File and click Open, and find your drawing on your computer. Click on it to open the drawing with Gimp. This tutorial is for black and white line drawings, created digitally or on paper.
  2. Adjust Levels

    gimp dodge toolFirst go to View / Zoom and zoom in on a section of your image. Select Colors / Levels and move the right arrow to the left until the background is pure white. Now zoom back out to the full image, and make adjustments to the levels accordingly. If there are still unwanted grey areas, use the Dodge tool in the Toolbox.
  3. Remove the black from the white background

    select by color tool gimpOpen up the Gimp Toolbox. If it is not displayed, go to Windows / Toolbox, or just hit Ctrl + B. Hit the Select by Color Tool as displayed in the image.

    Set the Threshold to 0 if its a digital drawing, with just one shade of black for the drawing. If it is a scanned one adjust the threshold to about 50 or more. I had to adjust it to 100 for my example.
  4. gimp white backgroundIn the Select by box, choose Composite. Select the dark part of your drawing. All the dark parts should be selected. You may have to adjust the threshold a couple times after making your selection, until all is selected.

  5. Next, choose Edit / Cut. This will delete the lines in your drawing and leave it with a transparent background.
  6. As you can see from my image to the right, there is nothing left only the selection. Hit Shift + Ctrl + A to get rid of the selection.  You may be left with a cool ghost image.
  7. cool ghost image

    As this layer, isn’t needed anymore, delete it by going to Layer / Delete. You are left with a transparent background. Go to Layer / New Layer. Select White in the popup box and hit OK. Now you have a white background.

    Right click on the white background and choose Edit in the menu. Select Paste as, then New Layer. The drawing you cut out should appear on a new layer.

    remove background gimpYou can view my result on the right. I think my drawing needs some additional fixing of the lines so I will do that later. But, you get the idea how this process works. The process of removing the white background works better for illustrations in black and white and especially digital illustrations.

    Now save the file by going to Save / Save as. Make sure the file ends in .xcf, which is the extension for Gimp files. Now, color can be added later if need be. If you plan on uploading to the web, select File then, Export to save in a different  format.
  8. To add color, simply create a new layer for each one.
  9. I hope this tutorial is helpful. If you have any questions at all about this process of removing white backgrounds from illustration and design, please leave a comment below. I will be happy to help!
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