Making Family Trees with GIMP


I’ve gotten so many people asking me how I make my family trees and how they can create family trees for their own Sims families that look like mine.

The truth is, I use Photoshop CS4. I used Tiari’s Family Trees Tutorial to make my family trees with Photoshop, which can be found on this blog under Tutorials > Making Family Trees in Photoshop.

People often become discouraged at this. I realize not everyone can afford a 700 dollar photo manipulation program just to be able to support a hobby like The Sims, so I’m posting a tutorial here on how to create a nice family tree using a free graphics program called GIMP.

I’ve done my best to make this tutorial easy to follow for people who have never used GIMP before.

NOTE: I know there’s already a Family Tree tutorial for GIMP on TSR, but it’s poorly written and the tree looks very bad, in my opinion. My aim is to easily show you how to make a family tree of similar quality to my own.


What You Will Need

GIMP v. 2.6.8. Download it for free here.**
The ability to follow simple instructions.
Some patience and perseverance.

** GIMP has been updated since this tutorial was written and it’s perfectly fine to download and install the most recent version but this tutorial was written using version 2.6.8 so be aware that some things may vary slightly if you download a newer version.


Starting Your Family Tree

First thing’s first. You’ll need to open up GIMP and start a new project.

Fire up GIMP, then go to File and select New…

A popup will appear that looks like this:

Here, you can choose how big you want your new picture to be. Those are the default dimensions. Those look okay to me, so I’m going to go ahead and click Okay.

Now you have a blank canvas to work with and we can get started on adding to your family tree.


Adding Portraits

No family tree is complete without nice portraits of your Sims, so go to File and Select Open. Then browse through your computer until you find a nice screenshot of the Sim you want, and select it.

I’ve found this picture of Sean Coin. I’ll use his family as my example family tree.

Anyone can see that this picture is way too big for a family tree. We’re going to need to crop it and shrink it down to a more suitable size.

Select the crop tool in your tool menu. Once you have the crop tool selected, look at the bottom of the tool menu to see more advanced options for that tool.

Check the box that says Fixed, and then select Aspect Ratio from the drop-down menu beside it. Underneath that, select a ratio for the tool to crop your image with. I find 7:8 is a good ratio for portraits, so I’m going to go ahead and type that in.

Now, I’m going to crop around Sean’s head. With the crop tool still selected, click and drag your cursor to create a box around your Sim’s head. See how the crop tool isn’t letting you crop outside a certain ratio? That’s what you want. It’s an easy way to keep all your portraits the same size. Once you’ve created your box, you can drag it around to adjust the placement until you’re happy with the selection.

Now hit Enter on your keyboard and it’ll crop around the selection. Now Sean looks like this:

The proportions are better, but it’s still pretty big. We’ll need to resize it.

Go to Image and select Scale Image.

A popup will appear that will give you the option to choose how big or small you want to make the image. I like to use 70×80 pixels for portraits, so I input that and make sure that Pixels is selected. Since we’ve already cropped the image with a 7×8 aspect ratio, we can resize it to 70×80 pixels without it looking stretched or distorted.

There! Much better! Now Sean is starting to look more like a portrait.

Sometimes, your pictures can look a little dark or blurry after resizing it, which is what happened here with Sean’s picture. We should sharpen it up, huh?

Select the Blur/Sharpen tool in your tool menu. Look at the bottom for advanced options and settings for the tool. Make sure Sharpen is selected and select whatever brush size you prefer, then give your image a quick brush over. Be careful not to over-sharpen.

Since Sean is outside during the daytime in this shot, the lighting’s already pretty good, but if you think your Sim’s portrait is a little dark and want to lighten it up, that’s simple to do.

Go to Colours and select Brightness-Contrast…

A popup will appear, allowing you to adjust the brightness and contrast of your image. Just play around with the sliders until you find a nice combination you’re happy with. There’s no standard setting for all pictures.

Finally! Sean’s ready to be moved over to that blank canvas we created a while ago.

Right-click your portrait image and select Edit -> Copy to copy the image to your clipboard.

Now, go back to that blank canvas we created back at the beginning of this tutorial, right-click on it and select Edit -> Paste. Now you have your first Sim on your family tree.


Understanding Layers

Notice how there’s a moving dotted outline around your portrait? That means that your portrait is on a different layer. Layers are extremely useful for creating family trees. They allow you to keep everything on separate layers so when you move around one layer, you don’t disturb anything else on your tree.

Think of layers as see-through sheets of paper. All of your portraits, text and whatnot are stickers you stick onto individual sheets of that see-through paper and lay on top of each other. When you move one sheet, only the stickers on that one sheet move and nothing else.

You’ll probably want to be able to see your layers at all times, so to do that, go to Windows > Dockable Dialogs and select Layers.

That will open up a little box that looks like this:

Notice how our portrait is labeled as a floating layer? We don’t want that. We want to make this portrait a fixed layer of its own. To do that, right-click your floating layer and select New Layer. That will anchor your portrait on a separate layer.

Every single portrait should be on a separate layer, along with every single name, so over time, you’re going to have a lot of layers to keep track of. With Photoshop, you could organize all of these layers into folders or groups to keep everything organized. Unfortunately, GIMP doesn’t have this capability (at least not to my knowledge), so be prepared to have to sift through large amounts of layers once your tree starts to expand. The best way to keep your layers organized with GIMP is to name them all. Name all your portraits, names and whatnot. Just double-click the layer in your Layer Box and type in a new name.


Adding Some Flair

So Sean’s portrait is looking pretty good, but it’s still a little boring, isn’t it? Borders are a really good way to add a bit of flair to your family tree and make it look professional.

This is so much easier in Photoshop, and a bit annoying trying to do with GIMP, but GIMP is what we’re working with so we will play GIMP’s game. This may get a wee bit tricky to follow, but read carefully, refer to the screenshots and you should be just fine.

Make sure your portrait layer is selected in your Layer Box, go to Layer and select Layer Boundary Size.

A popup will appear that will allow you to adjust the boundary size of the layer. The boundary is really just the cushion of space around your layer. Make it about double the size of your image. You probably won’t need that much space, but it doesn’t hurt. Drag the preview image in that box to the center, so it’s not in the top left corner of the boundary. You want it in the center with an even amount of space all around. Then click Resize.

Now go to Layer -> Transparency and select Alpha to Selection. Make sure your portrait layer is still selected when you do this.

Now go to Select and select Grow. Another popup box will appear, asking you how much you want to grow the selection. That basically just means how thick you want your border to be. I like nice thick borders of 5 pixels all around, so I’m going to input that, but you can make your border whatever size you want.

See the dotted outline around your portrait inside the big cushion of space? That’s where your border’s going to be.

Now go to Layer and select New Layer… Make sure the new layer is transparent. Drag the new layer underneath your portrait layer in the layer box.

Now go to your tool menu and pick a nice colour for your border. Just click the black box that’s your foreground colour and play around with the hues in the popup that comes up until you find something you’re happy with. I settled on a light pink for this tutorial.

Make sure your new transparent layer is still selected and go to Edit and select Fill With FG Colour. Then just go to Select and select None. You’ll now have a border around your portrait in the colour you chose.

Whenever you want to add a new portrait to your family tree, just repeat everything I just did here with Sean. It may seem like a lot of work when you’re a beginner, but as you do it more often, you’ll start to memorize the steps and the whole process will become much faster.


Adding Relation Lines

This is probably the easiest part of the tutorial. Relation lines are the lines you use to connect the Sims to each other on the family tree. Over time, as your family tree expands, you’ll need to move these lines around and erase them altogether sometimes. That’s why it’s important to keep the relation line on a separate layer.

The Relation Line Layer needs to be at the very bottom of your Layer Box, beneath all your other layers, because the lines are underneath everything.

Just go to Layer and select New Layer… then drag the new layer down to the bottom, beneath all your other layers, like you just did to add a border around your portrait.

The easiest way to put in the lines on your family tree is to draw them manually. Pick a colour you like for the relation line the same way you chose your colour for your border. I like having my relation line and border the same colour, but this is your family tree, so pick whatever colour you want.

Now select the paintbrush tool from your tools menu and select your brush size. The smaller and sharper the brush, the more precise your family tree will look.

Using your paintbrush, hold down your Shift key on your keyboard and draw a line with your mouse at the same time. Holding down the Shift key keeps your line straight.

And just keep doing this to draw your lines and connect all your Sims.


Adding Text and Symbols

Adding text and symbols is easy to do. Most people want to put symbols representing relationships between Sims on their family trees. Most people also like to have the name of the Sim written beneath their portrait.

To add text to your family trees, select the text tool from the tool menu, select your font style and size and the colour of your text. I’ve chosen 10 px Arial Bold and dark grey for my text.

Select where you want to type your text and type your Sim’s name into the little popup that appears.

You now have a new text layer in your Layer Box, so drag that text layer above your portrait layer if it isn’t, already.

If you want to add a border around your text, you can do so the same way you added a border around your portrait.

For symbols, I recommend just using a symbol you like from the internet and using those for your tree, since I’m not even sure if GIMP has a shape tool to create your own or not. Feel free to use mine from my Charm family tree (I just stole them off Tiari’s tree, anyway, heh heh. She said we could use them in her tutorial).

Now that you’re all GIMP-savvy from this tutorial, you should be able to figure out how to open them and put them in your tree on your own.


Adjusting the Tree

Is your family getting too big and won’t fit on your canvas anymore? Did one of your Sims age up and you need to change their portrait? No worries. Adjusting your family tree is easy!

To make your canvas bigger, go to Image and select Canvas Size…

You’ll get a popup where you can adjust the size of your canvas. Make it as big as you want, then select Resize and voila! Instantly more room for your family tree!

To change portraits, just add a new portrait like you normally would and add the border, except plop it on top of the old one, then delete the old portrait.



That was a very long tutorial, but hopefully I’ve provided you with the tools to create good-quality family trees like mine with a completely free program.

Feel free to post questions, feedback or complaints about my horrible tutorial that explains nothing, heh heh. Gosh, I hope it helps someone. It was a lot of work to write and put together.

One thought on “Making Family Trees with GIMP

  1. Thanks
    Is there any way to auto configure the number of lines and points along the hierarchy .. any way to download a pre established GIMP family tree template please? I have up to 14 siblings in some lines …

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