The following guide will teach you how to use the GIMP image editor to print precisely to scale. In particular, printing maps, assets, and tokens on a 1-inch grid.
The GNU Image Manipulation Program (GIMP) is a popular, free image editor, a powerful alternative to Photoshop, and what I used personally for years!
You can download GIMP here.
This is not a sponsored post, but it is the best free way that I know of to print stuff to scale.
Pick Your Printing Method
Many of my maps and assets come with PDF files designed for easy printing using Poster Print mode. If your goal is simply to print an un-edited battle map or another one of my PDF files, you will probably prefer to use my simpler Printing Guide.
If your goal is to print a custom selection of character tokens, map assets, an edited battle map, or some of our content that doesn’t already have a PDF file, then please read on! This guide will teach you step-by-step how to do so.
Create a GIMP Canvas
Download and install GIMP if you haven’t already. You’ll be greeted by a blank screen, so our first step will be to create the canvas.
- Click File > New to open the Create a New Image dialogue.
- Change the image size unit type from pixels to inches.
- Enter your desired canvas size in the width and height (refer to the table below or, if you’re making a digital map you don’t intend to print, set these to whatever you like).
- Expand the Advanced Options section.
- Set both the X Resolution and Y Resolution to 300 pixels/inch.
- Press the OK button to create your canvas.
- (Optional) If you would like to change the orientation of the canvas, press Image > Transform > Rotate 90° clockwise.
What sort of paper will you print on?
Check the packaging on your paper if you’re not sure. As a rule of thumb, standard printer paper will be US Letter in the Americas and A4 elsewhere in the world. Click here for more information from Wikipedia…
|Paper Type||Actual Dimensions||Recommended Dimensions*|
|US Letter||8.5 × 11 in||8 × 10 in|
|A4||8.3 × 11.7 in||8 × 11 in|
|A3||11.7 × 16.5 in||11 × 16 in|
|A2||16.5 × 23.4 in||16 × 23 in|
* Many printers require a margin at the edge of the paper, hence I recommend rounding the dimensions down. If your printer has a borderless printing option then feel free to try the Actual Dimensions instead.
Enable the Grid Overlay
Our next step should be to set up a 1-inch grid overlay for our canvas so that we can accurately scale and arrange our eventual assets.
- Click Image > Configure Grid to open the Configure Grid dialogue.
- In the Spacing section, set both the Horizontal and Vertical Pixels to “300” to match the X and Y Resolution we defined when creating the canvas. The in (inches) section should change to “1.000” as in the reference image.
- (Optional) Adjust the Appearance options as you wish.
- Press the OK button to confirm your new grid settings.
- Enable the grid by clicking View > Show Grid.
Please note: this grid is only an aid and will not be printed. If you would like to print a grid, there is an Add a Grid to Print section coming up…
Arrange Your Image Assets
We now have a blank canvas, a 1-inch grid overlay, and are ready to start adding assets!
If you’ve made it this far and don’t have any yet, you can click here to browse my gallery of map assets. I also have a few assets and tokens to try out below if you would like a few hand-picked pay-what-you-want packs. Please feel free to try them out for free!
From this point on you will probably want to save your progress as you go. To do so in a way that you can open it again in GIMP and rearrange the assets, be sure to save it as an XCF file. To do this, use the File > Save option and not the File > Export option, unless you plan on exporting it as a JPG or PNG for digital use.
Adding assets is as simple as dragging and dropping them from your file browser and onto the canvas. If you are using assets marked as “300 DPI” then they will import to scale, otherwise they will need to be scaled manually (see the ‘scale’ step below).
To move assets around, select the Move Tool (hotkey: M) from the tools panel (top-left, by default) and click and drag an asset.
To rotate an asset, select the Rotate Tool (hotkey: Shift+R) and select the asset in the Layers panel (bottom-right, by default). Click on the canvas and drag to rotate, and press Enter to confirm.
To scale or resize an asset, select the Scale Tool (hotkey: Shift+S) and select the asset in the Layers panel. Click the asset on the canvas and use the handles to scale it. You can hold Shift to preserve the aspect ratio, and press Enter to confirm.
For the Scale Tool, I recommend setting Interpolation to “None” in the tool options (left, by default). If you are scaling assets up, as this tends to minimize the quality loss.
If you would like layers to snap to the grid, you can enable this setting with View > Snap to Grid. This is particularly useful for resizing Roll20 assets that have their intended dimensions listed in their file names.
To change the layer order of the assets, drag and drop them into your desired order using the Layers panel (bottom-right, by default). Layers at the top of this list will appear above all the layers beneath them on the canvas.
This covers all the basics that you’ll need to prepare a canvas to print tokens or assets, or even to create a custom map from scratch using my textures and map assets. If you have any tips of your own, please leave a comment below!
Add a Grid to Print (optional)
The grid that we enabled previously is only a visual aid and a tool for snapping layers in place; if you wish to print a grid, follow these steps.
GIMP does not provide any grids for printing by default, so we will have to make one. For this guide we will be using Incompetech’s public domain grids, which includes square grids, hexagonal grids, isometric grids, and many more. In this instance we’ll use the Simple Grid for a black-and-white square grid:
Download this as a PDF and drag and drop the PDF into your canvas as you would any other asset. An Import from PDF dialogue will open. Simply change the Resolution here to “300” (to match our canvas’ X and Y Resolution) and press the Import button to transform the PDF into an image layer and place it on the canvas.
Our new grid will already be to scale, but you will need to use your move and rotate skills from Arranging your Image Assets to line it up with your GIMP grid. You should also change the layer order to put it above all of the other assets.
Finally, we will make the grid into an overlay. To do this, select the grid image in your Layers panel and, in the same panel, change the layer Mode from “Normal” to “Multiply.” You may also want to adjust the Opacity slider here to make your new grid overlay semi-transparent.
Prefer a white grid? Select your black-on-white grid image layer and click Colors > Invert to transform it into a white-on-black grid. Next, change the layer Mode to “Screen” to turn it into a white-grid overlay – voila!
Print Your Canvas
We’ve arrived at the final step: actually printing the thing! We will do this directly from GIMP so as to preserve the 1-inch grid scale.
I recommend making a test print first using only a simple black and white square grid in order to test the scale and positioning, since some of the settings below may have to be tweaked based on your particular printer model. This way, should things go wrong on your test print, you can make tweaks without using up a whole lot of ink. 🙂
Important note: There seems to be no way in the current version of GIMP to reliably change the orientation of your print using the Print dialogue. This means, if your map is currently in Landscape orientation, you will need to press Image > Transform > Rotate 90° clockwise to switch it to Portrait before proceeding.
Get started by clicking File > Print or press Ctrl+P to open the Print dialogue.
There are two tabs in this dialogue, and the first is General. This tab controls your printer selection and (if you press Preferences) settings which are specific to your particular brand of printer. Unfortunately, for this reason, I cannot provide any sure-fire instructions here.
I would recommend looking over these Preferences to:
- Confirm the paper type you are using,
- Switch between color and grayscale, if you want your printer to manage this,
- Control the print quality and,
- If your printer has the option, enable Borderless printing.
Other than that, good luck! Please feel free to add a guide for your printer model to the comments if you have any specific advice for future readers, it would be much appreciated.
The next tab is Image Settings. In most cases the default values here will need to be tweaked:
- Enable Ignore Page Margins at the bottom of the window; we have accounted for margins when we rounded our page dimensions down during canvas creation, and leaving this disabled tends to lock up you out of the next step. This option may be partially obscured, as in my screencap below.
- Set the X and Y Resolution to “300” pixels/in. The Width and Height should adjust automatically.
- Ensure that Center is set to “Both” so that the margins.
- If the Preview image looks right, you’re ready: press the Apply and then the Print button!
As you can see in my example screencap, your settings should mirror what you initially entered when creating your canvas, though the width and height may be swapped if you had to make that last-minute orientation adjustment.
The white margins are a result of me using the recommended dimensions when creating my canvas. These are usually recommended as printing at the edges is unreliable or impossible for most home and office printers. In my case my printer defaulted to A4 so the horizontal margins are not visible, but there will usually be margins on all sides.
Pro tip: If you intend to cut your new assets out, I would recommend tracing around their edges with a thick black marker before you whip out the scissors. This will give you what I call a “cutting aid” that will allow a much larger margin of error when you manipulate the scissors around them.
This concludes my humble guide to printing tokens, assets, and customized maps. I hope that it serves you well! Please leave a comment below if you have any questions, comments, or tips of your own.
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For exclusive map variants and even the PSD files, consider joining the amazing community that makes these maps possible:
A few assets and tokens to try out
Here are a few popular, pay-what-you-want textures, map assets, and tokens to get you started. Please go ahead and try a few for free!
Alright, that’s it! Please leave any feedback or questions in the comments below and, if you are interested in more of our content, you can enjoy some of our recent articles below. Till next time!