Stitch Painting using Gimp


Disclaimer: This tutorial series is intended for educational purposes only and is aimed at needlepoint hobbyists. If you make use of any information presented in this series, please do not infringe on any copyrights.

In a prior tutorial, we saw how to trace a line drawing of a design.

Modified PD Illo

Modified PD Illo

In a nutshell, we placed a piece of 18m canvas on a drawing and traced it.

There was discussion about what type of pencil or marker to use, how to color it as easily as possible, and how to fix the crude result with skilled stitching techniques.

Now that we know how to do this, we can move on to exploring how to produce a more precise interpretation of an illustration. If you are like me, and are not a skilled illustrator, the result that you are likely to get from tracing is probably going to prove unsatisfactory.

The only answer is to try to produce what in effect is a stitch painted canvas, by employing the techniques of counted stitching to produce on canvas a far more accurate reproduction of a given needlepoint design.

In this latest tutorial, I’ll try to show  you how to produce a primitive (but potentially extremely useful) one using Gimp.  And just to be clear, we’re not talking about this Gimp.

Kenny Oliver is a talented artist who has kindly given me permission to use his illustration of a Florida panther for this educational tutorial.

Very beautiful, but rather detailed.

So…. what now?

Let’s say you decide to trace this image using a mouse. The result will probably look like this.


Not good, to say the least.

So, again… what now?

The first thing I’m going to re-iterate (I have said it many times in the past in this blog) is that you should always follow the + sign.  In other other words, when stitching a canvas, you should always look to the center of each set of four stitch holes in your mesh that have been either line-drawn or painted  — this is the key to stitching a design properly.

In basic needlepoint stitching like the tent, continental or basketweave, the center of the + , or intersection, is what the yarn  covers. With decorative stitches, the premise is the same except multiple intersections are covered depending on what pattern is being implemented.

Our objective in this particular tutorial (which may eventually have several parts to it) will be to figure out how to create a stitch-painted canvas that is a faithful replica of some design (that we’ll attempt to create), itself a highly simplified, needlepoint-specific interpretation of Kenny’s panther illustration.

We will use Gimp 2.8 to do this.

The first thing we are going to do is open the image with Gimp, and set it to a grid of .0555. This means we now have an 18 mesh grid that overlays the illustration. (Note: I’ve pre-used some Gimp filters to sharpen the image.)

Gridded Panther

Gridded Panther

The next thing we do is create a transparency. This means we create an invisible or opaque layer (we will not get into technical differences here regarding the difference between opaqueness and transparency) that will sit on top of the illustration. We do this by using the Layers dialog box.


Then we can use either the Paint brush or Pencil Tool to “trace” the design. In effect, however, we aren’t tracing, but producing a kind of dot matrix image tailored to needlepoint stitching.

We can maybe set the thickness of the brush to, say, 4 or 5 pixels, and color it blue, so we can differentiate it from the baseline image. Now we just outline the image, making sure the blue dots or squares are in the center of each + sign of your mesh, as you follow the panther’s outline.

Enlarged Gridded Transparency

Then we can make the thickness of the brush smaller (maybe by 1 or two pixels), change the color to red, and start working on the inside detail of the illustration. Don’t forget: what you are clicking on is the center of each + sign.  Don’t forget you can enlarge the image as much as you want, even getting down to what I call pixel art levels.

Try to be as accurate as possible (the snap to grid option helps in this regard) and don’t worry if you can’t exactly follow the image outline. What in effect you will be doing is creating an interpretation of the illustration that is suited to needlepoint stitching.


Note the red traced boxes around the eye in the image above are slightly off center (from the all-important + sign). This is because the Crop Tool changed the proportions of the image when I decided to show you a smaller segment of the larger image (after I had already traced part of it).  On your own monitor, each blue or red box should be more or less exactly centered.

By the way, there is no need to draw everything.  For example, you can eventually create the variations of color in his eyes by needle-blending or using slightly different colored threads. I would probably use embroidery floss, although you could also use a couple of closely colored metallics. Needlepoint is an interpretative art and no two pieces are ever stitched exactly the same.

Once you have completed tracing (I only did a section of the illustration here as an example) you can then trash the underlying baseline image, bucket-fill the transparency white, leaving the grid turned on, use the snipping tool to capture the image (since Gimp won’t print gridded images), and print out the resulting image (I kept it here under 8.5 x 11 so it would come out on one page). You now have a more or less exact copy of your design that you can then stitch paint with relative precision using acrylic paint on 18 mesh canvas.

I’ll show you this in one of my future posts, once I have Ken’s design outlined to my satisfaction, then we’ll do some additional “experiments” when transferring the design to canvas using acrylic paint.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this mini tutorial on how to produce a needlepoint paint chart of a design of your choosing using Gimp 2.8.

Latest Update

Here are some better screen grab images of the process.  I’ve sectioned off a piece of the original illo, and saved it in a PNG  file that I have named Eye of the Panther.  (Currently, the size of this segmented piece is approximately 5.5′ W x 12″ H.  I may change this later.)

Eye of the Panther

Eye of the Panther

Then I used Gimp to create 2 intersecting lines that tell me the exact center of my image.  Locating the center of your canvas is critical to this entire process.  To be extremely precise, I used millimeters, then converted back to inches.  I drew the lines used the Paths Tool then Edit -> Stroke Path.  This is Gimp speak for determining a path for a line (in this case, between two points), then drawing (or “stroking”) a line between the points.  What is drawn between the points is customizable, so you could use some pattern that you predefine.  I didn’t bother with any of that since this is not a Gimp tutorial.  But as you use Gimp, you will start to realize how powerful it really is, in terms of being customizable.

Think, for example, of being able to create custom pattern fills for sections of the panther that represent stitch patterns that you predefine then have Gimp insert them automatically where you choose in your design. You can read more on this exciting idea here.

Eye of the Panther – top half outline

Then I overlayed a grid, and clicked on the outline of the panther using the Pencil tool.  I colored the Pencil tool Blue, and sized it to 2 pixels.    You now see the outline that I drew with the Pencil symbol (squares and crosses) on the center of each + on the grid.  When I am done marking the entire image, I will get rid of the underlying image — in Gimp speak,  trash the baseline image.   Then I will only see the layer with the dots and crosses on my grid.

Top Half 1

Top Half 1

Top Half 2

Top Half 2

This will serve as a chart for me to produce a nearly exact replica of the segmented image, using acrylic paint.   This process is similar to that used in counted cross stitch.  In a future post, I’ll discuss in more detail various issues that you might encounter when creating a paint chart for a needlepoint canvas using Gimp.

Erin McGrath and, 2012 – 2016.


About Erin

Owner of Needlepoint Land, LLC. Professional in the field for more than 15 years, during which I have managed and/or worked with various high-end needlepoint shops. I enjoy teaching both beginners and advanced stitchers, and have created numerous stitch guides, with speciality thread selections, for in-store customers and private clients. I maintain contact with an extensive network of needlepoint vendors, custom artists, and, most importantly, reliable, high-quality finishers. I look forward to hearing your comments on my blog!

2 responses »

  1. Pingback: GIMP Tutorial – naturalistic skin and eye retouching | Lost Packets

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