Create a 3D Photo Effect with GIMP

Here’s another take on the “out of the box” that will create a useful photo effect for scrapbooks, greeting cards, newsletters and brochures. You take a digital photo, highlight the white border as if it were a printed photo, and make the object pop out of the printed photo.

The main tools and/or skills needed to achieve this effect:

  • layers

  • perspectives

  • Remove masks/background

If you want to brush up on these tasks, check out the Graphics Software tutorial links included with this walkthrough.

While the instructions in this walkthrough are for GIMP for Windows, you can achieve the same effect in other image editing software.

  1. Choose a photo
  2. Customize your layers
  3. Create a frame
  4. Add perspective
  5. Add mask
  6. Remove background
  7. Edit frame
  8. Change the background
  9. Refine your 3D photo

Choose a photo

The first step is to choose the right photo. This works best with a photo in which the main subject that will appear in the background has clear, sharp lines. A plain or reasonably clean background works well, especially if you’re using this technique for the first time.

There is no need to crop the photo at this point. You remove unwanted parts of the image during the conversion process.

Note the dimensions of the selected photo.

Customize your layers

Create a new blank image the same size as the photo you want to work with and open the original photo as a new layer in the new blank image. Now you have two layers.

Add another new transparency layer to hold the frame for your 3D photo.

You now have three layers:

  1. Background (bottom layer)

  2. Photography (middle layer)

  3. Frame (transparent top layer)

Create a frame

On the latest transparent layer, create a frame for your new 3D photo. This border is the equivalent of a white border around a printed photo.


  1. Select the main subject of your photo and as much of the background as you want to include.

  2. Fill the selection with white.

  3. Reduce selection Select > Compress with 20-50 pixels. Experiment to get the desired frame width.

  4. Cut out the center of the frame by pressing Ctrl + X on Windows.

Add perspective

With the frame layer still selected, use the perspective tool and simply click and drag on the corners of the bounding box to change the perspective. In GIMP you will see both the original and the new perspective until you click transform on the perspective toolbar.

Add mask

Select the middle layer of your image (original photo image) and add a new mask to the layer.

Before you start removing the background from your image, you may want to check or set a few other options in GIMP. When drawing or drawing on a mask, you must draw or paint with the foreground color set to black.

Your background is probably white at this point. Since your frame is also white, it may be helpful to switch to the background layer and fill the background with another solid color that contrasts with both your frame and the main subject of your photo. Gray, red, blue – it doesn’t matter if it’s solid. You can change the background later. When you go to the next step, the background color becomes visible, which is useful if it doesn’t match the frame and subject of the photo.

Remove background

If you changed the background in the previous step, make sure you now have the middle layer (original photo image) with the mask layer selected.

Start by removing all unnecessary parts of the photo by masking them (covering them with a mask). You can draw with a pencil or brush (make sure you draw or paint in black).

When you draw or paint over unnecessary parts, the background color shows through. In this example, the background is gray-pink. Zoom in to carefully remove unwanted areas around parts of the image you want to keep.

Once you have the mask you want, right click on the photo layer and select Apply layer mask

Edit frame

The 3D effect is almost complete, but you need to put some of this frame behind it, not crop the subject.

Now select the frame layer. It can be helpful to set the opacity of the frame layer to 50-60% or so to make it easier to see exactly where to edit the edges of the frame when they intersect for the subject of your photo. Increase if necessary.

Use the eraser tool to easily erase the part of the frame cut out for your subject. Since there is only one border on this layer, don’t worry about staying within the lines. You don’t damage the underlying layers when you erase the frame.

Set the opacity of the layer back to 100% when you’re done.

Change the background

Select a background and fill it with a color, pattern or texture. You can even fill it with another photo. You now have a photo of the person or object that comes out of the photo.

For more details, see Andrew546’s original Instructables guide that inspired it.

Refine your 3D photo

You can enhance or adjust this 3D photo effect in various ways.

  1. Add appropriate shadows for added realism.

  2. Give your photo a less flat look by slightly bending the edge of the photo or giving it a wavy look (experiment with image filters).

  3. Have your subject emerge from a mirror or other reflective surface rather than from a photograph.

  4. Let your subject transition from one photo to another.

  5. Let your subject come out of the Polaroid photo.

  6. Add a person or object (perhaps isolated and photographed with a simple light box) to a completely different scene that looks like a photograph.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *