How To Create A CRT Television Effect (Using Open-Source Software)

Well, it’s been a while since I last wrote an image editing tutorial, so I thought that I’d show you how to make your artwork (or photos) look like something on an old CRT television using version 2.10 of a free, open-source image editing program called the GNU Image Manupulation Program (GIMP).

This was something I discovered whilst messing around with one of the digitally-edited paintings I’ll be posting here in September and, unlike in older versions of GIMP (where you had to create layers etc…), it’s a lot easier to do in version 2.10 and hopefully whatever the latest version is when this article eventually goes out (it’s already up to 2.10.12 at the time of writing). It can be used to create effects like this:

This is an edited version of an upcoming painting, showing off the effect. I had to boost the colour saturation using another editing program and I also added a LED-style detail etc… But, for the most part, this is what the effect looks like.

So, how do you do it?

Firstly, you’ll need a digital copy of the image you want to edit and a copy of GIMP 2.10 (although there may be later versions available now, older versions can still be found here).

A copy of the image we’ll be using – another piece of art I’ll be posting here in September – loaded and ready to edit in GIMP 2.10 🙂

Set the background colour to black using the two squares on the left-hand side of the screen directly below all of the small icons. Click on the lower of the two and change the colour to black.

Make sure that the lower of these two squares (on the middle-left of the image) is black. Click on it and select a colour.

—-Optional (This might be useful later)—-

To get the best effect with some of the more advanced stuff we’ll be doing later, you might need to do some extra optional stuff now:

If your image doesn’t already have one, add a black border to it (“Filters > Decor > Add Border”). Then, select an area around the main part of your image that looks like a slightly curved square. You can do this by clicking on the lasso-shaped “Free Select Tool” on the left-hand side of the screen and then drawing the shape with the tool, before clicking on the icon next to it to turn your outline into a selection. If you mess this up, just go into “Select > None” in the toolbar at the top of the screen and then try again.

Drawing a slightly curved square/circle around the image using the “Free Select Tool” (the lasso-shaped icon highlighted in the upper left corner of the screen)

Then click on the icon next to the lasso in order to turn your outline into a selection.

This isn’t strictly necessary, but it’ll come in handy later. Anyway….

——- Back to the main part of the tutorial —-

Go to the top of the screen and select “Filters > Distorts > Video Degradation”:

The “Video Degradation” option.

This will bring up a toolbox that allows you to select several different types of video degradation patterns. Choose the “Large staggered” pattern from the drop-down menu. You now have a very basic CRT-like effect. But, if you want, then there’s a lot more we can do….

Using a “Large staggered” pattern. It looks a bit like a CRT television image, but we can make it look even more convincing…

If you’ve ever used a CRT television, then you’ll know that the screen is at least slightly curved. Luckily, this is fairly easy to replicate in GIMP 2.10.

Remember the optional part about adding a black border and selecting a slightly curved square earlier? Well, this is where it comes in handy. You can still do this without it, but what I’m about to show you looks better if you’ve done this beforehand. At the very least, make sure that you’ve set the background colour to black before doing this.

To get a curved screen effect, start by clicking on “Filters > Distortions > Lens Distortion”:

The “Lens Distortion” option.

Once the toolbox opens, look for the slider called “Edge” (it’s the second from the top) and increase it until the selected area of your image starts to curve like an old CRT monitor.

Increasing the “Edge” slider until the picture looks a bit like a curved CRT monitor.

If you want to enhance the “old VHS” effect even further, then start by going into either “Filters > Artistic > Softglow” or “Filters > Artistic > Softglow (legacy)” and applying this effect. It’ll make everything look a bit brighter and more washed-out. But, at the moment, the image will probably look too washed out…

Applying the “Softglow” effect. I used the “legacy” variant for the background image, but the main version will work well too. At the moment, the picture looks too washed-out though.

To make the image look a bit less washed-out whilst still keeping that “old VHS tape” look – go into “Colours > Hue-Chroma” and/or “Colours > Hue-Saturation” and mess around with the levels until the picture looks a bit more vivid and/or gloomy. Personally, I recommend slightly increasing the chroma and/or saturation levels and decreasing the lightness levels a bit. But, just mess around with the sliders until the picture looks good again.

Making some adjustments to the chroma and lightness levels. You can also adjust the colour saturation levels using the “Hue-Saturation” option on the menu.

And, voila! You now have a CRT monitor style image:

This is the finished edited image. As you can see, it looks a bit like a VHS tape playing on an old CRT TV screen 🙂


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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