I am not a good artist. As a TAYer, that means putting together decent thumbnails for all these articles is often a challenge. However, with enough experience and frequency of practice, I’ve developed some good habits which at least help make that task easier. Here is another one.

Just a quick note before beginning: You will want to click on the images to see them at full resolution; otherwise, the little important details may be too hard to see.

For this post, I’ll go over a reliable way to add a border, using GIMP as my image-editing program of choice. There may be easier, more straightforward ways to do this in paid programs like Photoshop, but I think using GIMP instead will be more instructive. It’s available for free, and that means some trade-offs had to be made to make it happen, including some features that would be in paid programs maybe not being there. An easy outlining tool, from what I can tell, is one of those missing things from GIMP.

However, there IS still a way to use GIMP’s other tools and features to get the same outlining border effect! The concepts underpinning it ought to translate to other image-editing programs as well, both free and paid, and I think they are so useful that it’s worthwhile to grasp them even if you do have an easier method available.

This is the second technique, after my little logo stamp, that gives me the full logo for my RedStripe Loved Trax thumbnails. To wit, for the example screenshots accompanying the instructions, I will be essentially continuing to put together my example James Bond thumbnail from my last post on thumbnail creation tricks. This was where we last left off .

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The Loved Trax logo has been applied—you can see that it has its own layer at the top of the layer stack—but as was said last time, it’s looking a bit plain. An easy way to give it some more pizazz would be to give it an outline. Even with that single-color text, giving it an outline, even if the outline consists of just one different color, does a surprising amount of heavy lifting in making the text pleasing to the eye. On a practical level, the outlining effect also makes it easier for the logo to stand out from the rest of the picture.

So let’s get to applying the border! I’m doing this with text in my examples, but this will work as well with images. Just make sure that the image in question is placed into its own dedicated transparency-supported layer, separate from the rest of the image. The reason why should be clear very soon.

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First, create a new empty layer, and place it directly below the text or image to be outlined. This layer is where the outline will be filled in; imposing that upper layer on top of this lower layer is how we achieve the effect.

Next, select the layer which contains the text or image to be outlined. Verify that it’s highlighted in the layer list. From here, in GIMP, go to Layer from the top menu, then Transparency, and select Alpha to Selection.

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This is an extremely useful tool, not just for this trick, but in general. From what I understand, it takes the NON-transparent part of a layer and makes that the selection. Hence why you need to make sure the thing being outlined is in its own dedicated layer; the surrounding transparency is what makes this tool work.

Practically speaking, with my Loved Trax example, there would now be a moving dotted line that outlines the text. If it’s an image being worked on instead, then the the dotted line should now be surrounding that image.

With that in place, go to Select from the top menu, and then select Grow.

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This will open a box that will allow you to select how much to Grow the selection by. “Growing a selection,” in this context, means expanding the borders of the selection outward by whichever number of pixels, inches, or other unit of measurement specified.

After making your choice, click OK, and you will see the selected area change accordingly.

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This would be a good time to now decide on the color(s) of your outline! I usually only use a single solid color, but if you wanted to be a bit more elaborate, you could maybe give certain words or even letters their own separate outline colors, or perhaps color in the outline with a blended gradient. For single solid colors, you can just change the first color in the two-color palette. For gradients, however, it’ll be good to set both of the colors in the two-color palette.

Once you’ve decided on a color, it’s time to make the outline. Make sure that you’ve selected the newly-created outline layer, verifying that is is highlighted in the layer list. Then, fill in the selection. For a single-color outline, that can be accomplished by choosing the Bucket Fill Tool and left clicking anywhere within the area of the selection.

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Alternately, you can fill in the outline with a gradient instead, via the Blend Tool.

Finally, to see the results of your outline, get out of the selected region area. In GIMP, you can do that by either choosing the Rectangle Select Tool and then clicking somewhere outside of the selected region area or choosing Select from the top menu and then None.

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So, what combination of outline sizes and colors works best? That entirely depends on your own preferences, and what it is you are going for. Talking about just the thumbnails for my Loved Trax posts, I personally like to keep its outline thin, so growing the text selection by 2 pixels works for me. You might find yourself better served with a thicker outline, or maybe an even more razor-thin single-pixel outline.

As for the colors of the outlines, I usually like making them either the same as or similar to something in the background image. That is going to inevitably vary depending on what I make the background image, which is the big reason why I opted to not make the outline part of my logo stamp. For this James Bond-related thumbnail, for example, I wanted the outline to be colored similar to the surrounding gunbarrel. For a goal like that, the Color Picker Tool is especially handy.

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The only thing I can say that would be applicable as a useful hint is this: Experiment, experiment, experiment as much as you desire until you get the effect that you think works best. Do not be ashamed to put that Undo (Ctrl + Z on Windows systems) through its paces; that’s what it’s there for!!

If you’ve followed the steps above, then after deselecting the area at the very end, it would take three Undos to get back to where the shape the image/text is selected, so that a new Grow size can be tried. It would likewise take two Undos to remove the outline color application, so that new outline colors can be tried.

Once you are fully happy with the results, you are done! For my James Bond example, after doing both the stamp trick from last time and now the text outlining this time, this is the final result.

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And that is how a RedStripe Loved Trax thumbnail gets made.