How to Make Speech Balloons Using GIMP

This page describes the basics for creating a speech balloon using GIMP. It is an extremely detailed, step-by-step guide. It may seem like a lot of work, but, after a bit of practice, it ends up taking less than a minute.

  1. Create the comic! I'm assuming you already have it in the GIMP, in the layout you want. Here's the base image I'm starting with:
  2. Select the text tool

    and click on the comic image roughly where you want the text. It doesn't need to be precise, since we'll adjust it later. You'll see a pop-up for you to enter the text. Enter your text into this dialog.

    At this point, you need to take several steps to ensure that the text is setup correctly.
    1. In the tool dialog, switch to "centered" justification.
    2. Adjust the font, font size, and font color from the tool dialog until it looks like what you want.
    3. Adjust the text with line breaks so that it wraps nicely into sort of an oval shape. This takes some practice, and may require some rewording or word reordering.
    4. Click "Close" on the text dialog.
  3. Select the move tool, and adjust the location of the text layer you just created. This can be hard to do if you use "Pick a layer or guide," so I usually change that setting (in the tools dialog) to "Move the active layer."
  4. If the color of the font makes it hard to see the text, then you may want to add a temporary "translucent" layer. I do this by:
    1. Create a new transparent layer above the comic, and below the text. Make sure it's selected, so that new painting will go to it.
    2. Select the bucket fill tool, set the background color to white, set the "fill type" to BG color fill (the white color), set the "affected area" to "fill whole selection", and set the Opacity to 50%. The reason for using the BG fill color will become apparent later.
    3. Click somewhere in the picture. This should make the comic turn a hazy, and make the text stand out.
    4. You can turn on and off this layer by clicking on the "eye" icon in the layer dialog. You'll want to make sure it's turned off before you save to the final image.
    Now you're ready to make the balloon.
  5. Create a new transparent layer above the comic layer(s). Select that layer, so that the drawing will appear on it.
  6. Select the oval selection tool, and draw an oval around the text. You can adjust the selection after you've finished the mouse movements by clicking inside the selected oval; the "square" shows where you can move (the middle) or resize (the outside) the selection.
  7. Select the path tool, and draw 3 points to make the arrow part of the balloon. The two end points should be inside the selected oval area, and the middle point should be near the speaker's mouth.

    You can adjust the points by dragging them around. I find the path creation one of the trickiest aspects to GIMP, so don't be afraid to delete the path and start over again if things get too wild.
  8. In the path dialog, hold down the "shift" key while pressing the "path to select" button.

    This should add that triangle to the already selected oval.
  9. Delete the triangle path. You won't need that anymore.
  10. In the path dialog, click the "selection to path" button, to transform the balloon into a path.
  11. Select the bucket fill tool. Make sure that the Opacity is 100%, the Mode is "Normal", the fill type is "BG color fill", and the affected area is "Fill whole selection".

  12. Fill the selected region of the image.
  13. If you want to add an outline to the balloon, then
    1. Select an outline color as the foreground color. Here is the advantage for choosing the background color for bucket fill - we can keep the foreground and background colors the same for all the balloons while we create them, saving a bunch of clicks.
    2. Remove all current selection (Ctrl+Shift+A on my setup).
    3. In the path dialog, with the newly-created path selected, click the "paint along path" tool (or "stroke tool"). You'll get a dialog with some options.

      I usually go for a 2-point line, but you can get some nice effects by playing with these options.

Advanced Techniques

You can make nice looking balloons by curving the paths:

But this gets tricky, and can make very odd looking paths unless you're careful. I've found that the straight path ends up looking better, anyway.