How to Blur and Censor Photo Backgrounds in GIMP Editor


GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) is a free and open-source image editing software. It is a great alternative to paid software like Adobe Photoshop and comes with powerful features for photo editing.

One common photo editing task is to blur or censor the background of an image. This can be useful for:

  • Maintaining privacy by blurring faces, signs, license plates etc.
  • Creating a depth of field effect where the background is out of focus
  • Removing distracting or undesirable background elements
  • Making part of an image unrecognizable for censorship

In this article, we will show step-by-step how to blur and censor backgrounds in GIMP using two main methods:

  1. Using the Blur Tool
  2. Using the Gaussian Blur filter

We will also cover some additional tips and techniques for getting great results.

Blurring the Background with the Blur Tool

The Blur Tool in GIMP provides a quick way to apply a blur effect to part of an image. Here is how to use it:

Step 1: Select the Area to Blur

Use one of the selection tools to select the part of the image you want to blur. For example, the Rectangle Select tool lets you draw a rectangular area.

Tip: Select just outside the edges of the foreground subject so that you don’t accidentally blur the edges.

Step 2: Activate the Blur Tool

In the Toolbox, select the Blur/Sharpen tool hidden under the Smudge tool. Make sure the tool is set to Blur mode in the top Options bar.

Tip: Adjust the brush Size to control the thickness of the blur effect.

Step 3: Brush Over the Area

Brush over the selected area to apply the blur effect. You can brush multiple times to increase the blur intensity.

Step 4: Deselect and Save

Hit Ctrl/Cmd+Shift+A to deselect the selection or click outside the selection. Save your results!

The Blur Tool provides a quick way to get the job done, but the results can lack precision. Using a selection is also destructive. For more control, we can use the Gaussian Blur filter instead.

Blurring with the Gaussian Blur Filter

The Gaussian Blur filter applies a highly-controllable blur effect to the entire layer. Combined with a layer mask, you get very precise control over the blur effect.

Step 1: Duplicate the Background Layer

In the Layers panel, right-click on the background layer and choose Duplicate Layer. Name the copy something like “Blur Layer”.

Step 2: Apply the Gaussian Blur Filter

With the Blur Layer selected, go to Filters > Blur > Gaussian Blur. Adjust the Blur Radius and click OK.

Tip: Try a Radius between 5-20 to start. Higher values create more blur.

Step 3: Add a Layer Mask

In the Layers panel, add a layer mask to the Blur Layer by clicking the Add Layer Mask button. The layer will now show the unblurred image.

Step 4. Paint on the Layer Mask

Select the layer mask thumbnail. Then brush black onto the layer mask to hide the blurred layer and selectively reveal the sharp background layer.

Tip: Use a soft, low-opacity brush to create smooth transitions.

Step 5: Save the Image

Save your results! The layer mask gives you lots of control to fine-tune the blur effect.

By using the Gaussian Blur filter method, you can create high-quality blurs with smooth transitions and precisely blurred areas.

Censoring Part of an Image

In addition to blurring backgrounds, you may want to censor or block out part of an image completely. Here are two easy ways to do it in GIMP:

Use the Pixelize Filter

The Pixelize filter transforms a selection into large, mosaic-like pixels. To use it:

  1. Make a selection
  2. Go to Filters > Blur > Pixelize
  3. Adjust pixel size and click OK

This abstracts the area into unrecognizable squares.

Paint Over the Area

Another option is to simply paint over the area you want to censor:

  1. Choose the Paintbrush tool
  2. Set the foreground color to black
  3. Adjust brush size
  4. Brush over the area to cover it up

You can also do this on a new layer above the image for more flexibility.

Additional Tips for Great Results

Here are some additional tips for working with blurred and censored backgrounds in GIMP:

  • Use feathered selections for smoother transitions
  • Add a Gradient Map to create a simulated depth of field effect
  • Use the Smudge tool to manually stretch out backgrounds
  • Combine filters like Motion Blur to create unique effects
  • Use multiple layers and layer masks to build up effects

Don’t be afraid to experiment! Adding blurs and censorship effects is a great way to unlock more creative ideas in your photo editing.


Learning how to blur and censor backgrounds is a handy skill in GIMP. The Blur Tool and Gaussian Blur filter provide customizable ways to apply professional focus and depth of field effects. Strategic censorship also enables you to maintain privacy or creative control over your images.

With a bit of practice, you’ll be able to leverage layers, selections, filters and painting tools to craft beautiful works of photo art!