How to Create Sepia Tone Photographs from Color Photos in GIMP

Published Oct. 17th 2008

Some of your favorite photos may look great with a vintage sepia tone. Using an image editor like GIMP, that transformation is very easy to accomplish.

Your first step is to start by scanning a photo into GIMP or by opening up a digital photograph already on your computer.

The pears image that I’m using below is the same one I used for a GIMP painting tutorial a few weeks back. I think it will look great as a sepia tone image too.


Since sepia tone photographs don’t have full color, you’ll begin by removing all the color from your image. Go to "Colors" in the Menu bar and choose "Desaturate." A dialog box will pop up with three different options for desaturation your image: Lightness, Luminosity, and Average.

Test out all three options—pick one, then undo (Ctrl+Z) and try another. I ended up going with the Luminosity option.

If there’s not enough contrast in your photo, return to "Colors" and choose "Levels."

Move the sliders to get more contrast—dragging both ends inward to the nearest high mountain is a good start, then just use your own artistic judgment.


Now it’s time to add some of that lovely sepia-tone color.

Go once more to "Color" in the Menu bar, and choose "Colorize." You can use the top slider to scroll through the entire color spectrum, but for a sepia-tone photo you’ll want to stop between red and yellow.


It may help to increase the saturation as well, and then feel free to fine tune your photo with the lightness slider.

If you want to add a traditional vintage edge to your image, use the Rectangular selection tool to select a large box in the center of your photo.

Go to "Select" in the Menu bar and choose "Inverse" so that just the edges will be selected. Return to "Select" and choose "Feather."

A wide value like 25 or 30 works well for this. Make sure your current background color is black, then delete! Your image will now fade to black around the edges.


As a final step, feel free to lighten your image as necessary to get an old, faded look.


Of course, if you’d rather not go through these steps each time, you can also open up your image and choose "Filters" in the menu bar, then "Décor," then "Old Photo."

After using that filter you should see something similar to the left half of the image above. The downside to using a filter for the entire process, however, is that you won’t have as much control over the final product.

Try sepia-toning another photo, but this time experiment a bit with the settings—select a different hue in the colorize section, or use one of the many GIMP brushes available to "scratch" away at the image and add spots or stains to the surface.

Experimentation is where the fun truly begins in digital imagery. Enjoy your sepia tone photos and make sure to come back next week for another GIMP tutorial!

Did you like this article? Share it!
Then check out the related posts below.
In my last GIMP tutorial I showed you how to make a sepia-tone photo from a color photo. Today we're going to do something similar—follow along to learn how to digitally color a black and white photo in GIMP. Step 1. Find a black and white (or grayscale) image The image I found from the . . . read more
Even with our best efforts, photographs of paintings and other 2D artwork don't always come out looking like the real thing. Luckily, using GIMP, we can salvage these less than perfect images by adjusting color, angles, and more. NOTE: If you haven't yet installed GIMP (a free photo imaging so. . . read more
NOTE: If the following tutorial feels overwhelming, or you're just not interested in learning the software and would rather pay a professional, there ARE other options. Head over to to find out more. For everybody else, here's how to color your photographs yourself: One of Adob. . . read more
Photomontage is an art form where multiple photos are combined to create one image, similar to collage. In today's tutorial I'll be showing you several techniques for creating a digital photomontage using GIMP. Before we get to that, however, the first thing you'll need is a bunch of images on. . . read more
Many artists use GIMP just to create digital paintings or edit photos, but it also has some great built-in features for making eye-catching text. If you're designing a web banner, a brochure title, or a logo, the following tutorial will show you some quick and easy ways to create amazing text . . . read more
Stay current.
Subscribe to EmptyEasel's free weekly newsletter for artists. Sign up today!
Art Contests
More art contests. . .
EE Writers
Cassie Rief Niki Hilsabeck Brandi Bowman Michelle Morris Lisa Orgler Adriana Guidi Carrie Lewis Aletta de Wal

If you'd like to write for EmptyEasel, let us know!

We love publishing reader-submitted art tutorials, stories, and even reviews.Submit yours here!