Retro halftone text in GIMP

As I mentioned on the weekend, I saw a photoshop tutorial for halftone text. I thought it was kind of cool… retro. So I decided to try it out in GIMP (v2.4). It’s really simple!

New image

Create a new file with a white background (usually the default). Mine was 500×300, but you can make it any size you want.

Write your text

Select the text tool and type your word into the middle of the image. The text is automatically put in a new layer. Duplicate that layer and toggle the visibility (the eye button) so that it’s hidden.

text tool duplicate text layer

Create the ‘halftone’ dots

Choose the original text layer and go to Layer > Layer to Image Size.

Then go to Filters > Blur > Gaussian Blur… I used a blur radius of about 80 pixels to completely blur the shapes of the letters, I guess this value will depend on your image size.

The gaussian blur makes the blurry layer a bit too light. I tried two methods to fix this: darkening with levels and duplicating the layer. I thought duplicating the layer was a bit more effective, so I duplicated the layer about 7 times and then merged all of those blurry layers down to the background.

multi blur layers

Change the image mode to grayscale (Image > Mode > Grayscale). Then go to Filters > Distorts > Newsprint.

Newsprint dialogue

I used mainly default settings for the Newsprint effect. The main things to play with are Cell size (changes the size of the dots), Angle (changes the direction the dots radiate), and Oversample (a higher value produces smoother, rounder dots).

Add text back in

Now choose the hidden text duplicate you made. Make the layer visible and invert the colours (Colors > Invert).

That should be it! You can make the final text a bit bigger or smaller if you want to.

final halftone text

Halftone around objects

This technique can also be used with objects using a few methods.

One is to create a drop shadow (Filters > Light and Shadow > Drop Shadow) with no x- and y-offset and a large blur radius (e.g. 80). You may want to duplicate the layer to darken it, as before.

Another method is to create a selection around the object and expand it (Select > Grow) I found 30 pixels reasonable. Then within the selection, on the background layer, apply a black-white blend with the Shaped (spherical) shape setting.

Yet another way is to duplicate the object and use brightness/contrast to make the object all black. Then apply a gaussian blur.

retro people outlines

Good luck making some retro pics! Please ask questions, leave comments, make tutorial requests. :)


  1. says

    great stuff, I’m actually going to do a tutorial involving halftone effects but had no idea how to achieve it with GIMP.

    perfect timing :), thanks

  2. says

    Nice! You made this so easy. I’ve never bothered with the Photoshop versions before because it’s usually included within a huge tutorial (with the halftone dots only being a part of it).

    Your style of writing is very easy to follow and understand. Good job on this tut!

  3. says

    Thanks istarlome!

    I saw one of your tutorials – the one with the girl, but didn’t look for other. Your first one on the newsprint filter is really thorough. Very nice!

  4. says

    Awesome, it’s so cool knowing I can make such great-looking graphics in a program other than Photoshop!

    Thanks! ^^

  5. Mike says

    Great tutorial. Thanks for sharing.
    Quick question for you. I’m trying to re-create a similar effect in vector, straight from Illustrator. Haven’t had much luck thus far. I know you can create the effect in Photoshop and then import it to Illustrator and Live Trace, but the dots just never come out looking right.
    I’d most appreciate any ideas or thoughts.

  6. Mike says

    Thanks istarlome! I think this gets me in the right directions. I really appreciate it. And you as well kristarella.

  7. istarlome says

    hey kid, it turns out i still get notices when someone posts here. that’s from my post back in may of 2008.

    we actually have some things in common. i am a molecular biologist as well and i am also a photographer. do you do triathlon? that would be too crazy!!

  8. says

    Istarlome — Heh, no I don’t do triathlon 😉 Not really fit enough for that at the moment, and haven’t been swimming for a long time, except when I go sailing and capsize the boat! I do karate and try to go to the gym regularly, that’s all.