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How to quickly add a filmstrip border effect to any photo or image

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Written by Vera C. Last updated on .

Two photos each with a filmstrip border effect

You can increase the impact of your photo or image with a filmstrip border effect. Rest assured this is free, quick and easy to do, and you definitely do not need to know anything about graphic design to do it. Here is a step by step illustrated tutorial for how to add a camera film border to your photo.

This works equally well on the landscape or portrait orientation for photos, so it doesn't matter which way around you held the camera when taking the original photo. The method also works on any image or artwork, it doesn't need to be a photo.

GIMP - the free alternative to Photoshop

The free GIMP image software has the option to add a filmstrip effect at the click of a button, so I'm illustrating this on GIMP. I do all my image processing on GIMP actually, I've used it for years, and it's great that it's a well-established free alternative to Photoshop.

If you don't already have GIMP, it's available for Windows, Mac and Linux. You can download it from the official site here (don't go with third party sites) and you can learn more about it in general on the home page of the official site.

Assuming you have GIMP installed on your computer or laptop, let's move on with our tutorial. It will literally take you 1 minute to add the filmstrip effect to your photo! These are super-easy quick steps to do. After you've done it once, it will take you less than a minute for subsequent times.

1. Open up your photo or image in GIMP

So, open up GIMP, then go to File > Open and select your desired image to open. Here is what your window will look like once you've done that:

Screenshot of the desired image opened in GIMP

2. Use the "slide" filter in GIMP's decor filters

In GIMP "slide" means the camera film-style border effect. To do this, go to the menu at the top and go Filters > Decor > Slide

Like this:

Screenshot of GIMP showing the filters and decor menus

Next a dialog box will come up giving you options for any text you might want on the filmstrip border.

3. [Optional] Specify any text you want on the camera film border

The dialog box that comes up allows you to choose your own text and numbers to write on the film border. You can pick the color too. It looks like this:

Screenshot of dialog box for text options in GIMP filmstrip effect

I recommend changing the text and number from the defaults you see above. This is because the default will display the text GIMP on your filmstrip border, which might be confusing for people viewing it.

Don't worry, the dialog box is a great way to include a brief description of the photo in the text. For best results, keep the text as brief as possible. You could use the year in the place of the number. Alternatively you can just delete both fields to leave off the text and number. You can change the font color if you like. But keep the box checked "Work on copy" (that's the default anyway).

Then click "OK". It will instantly generate the filmstrip effect for you and (since "work on copy" was checked) it will open it in a new tab, that way your original photo remains unchanged. The result will look something like this:

Screenshot of the resultant photo in GIMP with film border effect

Back before in the dialog box I used the text "The girls" and I chose the number 3, so you can see above where these wind up.

4. Export the new image containing the filmstrip border

You want to have your final filmstrip image in JPG format to make it easy to view and share. In this situation, you want to export the file.

Exporting lets you save it in JPG format. In you instead do a straight save, it would only save it as an XCF file which is a format that only GIMP can read. So you want to be sure to export the image.

Simply go to File > Export As and then type your desired filename followed by .jpg (a dot and then the letters jpg). Mission complete!

Now you you've saved the result as a JPG file and you can share it on social media or do whatever else with it. By the way, if you're using your computer or laptop a lot, you might like to read our article on how to pick screen wallpaper that minimizes eye strain.

Tips when using GIMP to add a film border to your photo

The tutorial is complete now that you've generated your image, but I decided to write this optional extra section of tips so you'll know what to expect for image sizes that are a little different to the one in the tutorial.

Vertical photos (portrait format) will have the filmstrip running down both sides instead of top and bottom

In our previously illustrated example we looked at a horizontal (landscape) photo. If you were to do a vertical photo instead, then the filmstrip would run along the left and right sides instead, as shown below:

Ferris wheel image Ferris wheel image with filmstrip effect

Square images will result in some loss

We have looked at horizontal and vertical images, but what about square images? Don't worry, GIMP will still add the film border to square images but in doing so it will cut a bit off your square images to fit in the border properly. So if you're using a square image, make sure you don't have anything important at the edges of it.

Border text will wrap, so keep it brief

The reason you want to keep your text brief in the dialog box is that it will split long text to wrap it around to the start of the filmstrip frame. It's best for the sake of readability to keep your text as short as possible (around 12 characters or less).

Unusual aspect ratios will result in cropping of the image

If you have a more extreme aspect ratio than a typical photo (for example, you have a very wide banner that's not very tall) then be aware that large chunks of your image will be removed from both sides when the filmstrip effect is added. Therefore the camera film effect in GIMP is not well suited to images with extreme aspect ratios.

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