I'm having intermittent problems with GIMP, where the 'move layer' command suddenly stops working. The mouse pointer changes to the one below:


When I make an explicit selection, e.g. CTRL+A on a layer, then MOVE works again. But normally I can move whole layers without any selection (e.g. Select/None or CTRL+SHIFT+A). This stops working out of the blue and I have no idea why.

It behaves very much like when you press ALT in MOVE mode. Pressing ALT with a selection allows you to move the selection around, as opposed to move the layer. Pressing ALT without a selection gives the same cursor as above, which is perfectly normal. Somehow when my problem starts, it looks as if ALT-mode is stuck and I can't get out.

Note I am a rather seasoned GIMP user and I use keyboard commands a lot, perhaps I switch too fast between commands, but I haven't been able to consistently reproduce it yet. Happens once every few hours or so. Only solution I found so far is to quit GIMP and restart. Other functions continue to work, I can still save etc (luckily).

I'm using GIMP 2.8.2 on Windows.

Thanks for any pointers.

  • I ran into this because I used <kbd>Alt</kbd>+<kbd>Tab</kbd> to switch between two GIMP windows. Feb 7, 2016 at 16:37

4 Answers 4


Looks like your move tool is in 'Move selection' mode. Check the Move setting in the tool options (this image is from the docs and shows Move layer mode):

GIMP Move tool options

The Alt key toggles to the 'Move selection' mode (Ctrl does the same for 'Move path'), and is supposed to switch back to 'Move layer' once you let go of the key. If you manage to steal the input focus from the canvas while in this mode, then the tool may remain in 'Move selection' mode.

See the following bug report for an example: https://bugzilla.gnome.org/show_bug.cgi?id=732160

So to answer the question and solve the problem, you should set this back to 'Move layer'.

However, for me in GIMP 2.8.14 the cursor stays like this only until I actually try to use the tool again; it switches back to 'Move layer' mode automatically then.

  • 7
    OMG, thank you for this! It was driving me crazy!
    – Costin_T
    May 4, 2016 at 10:52
  • 2
    I know you're not supposed to just say thanks but you're a lifesaver!
    – dldnh
    Nov 3, 2016 at 0:48
  • 4
    Gimp is just so awful when its comes to UI Jul 14, 2019 at 23:19
  • 1
    @JamieHutber we're always open to suggestions, but please make them read like you have invested more than five minutes of your time into them :) Jul 15, 2019 at 13:37
  • 1
    @MichaelSchumacher this could be a textbook example of a 'modal error' (see Jef Raskin Humane Interface). This is terrible UI because A) there's no indication that the Move tool has multiple modes, and whatever indicators you use to indicate the current mode are not apparent. B) it layers an additional 'submode' upon the additional 'major mode' regime of the 'selected tool' (this idea of submodes should be scrapped) C) can easily be activated by accident by some key combo, effect is to 'disable GIMP' D) submode selection survives GIMP restart.
    – EoghanM
    Nov 8, 2019 at 16:05

Not exactly an answer but related. To view Toolbox Options on mac, which can be a bit tricky to find, is one of the 'tab' next to layers and can be activated from Windows > toolbox Options - brushes

enter image description here

  • FYI, on Windows at least, you can also double click on a tool (e.g. the move tool) to activate/open the Tool Options for that tool.
    – geert3
    May 20, 2017 at 11:19
  • If you have the panel open, you can find it in selection menu.
    – arenaq
    Feb 6, 2019 at 14:25

I ran into this problem where I couldn't move the layer. I tried setting tool options appropriately and even resetting the tool options. It turned out I had a layer mask on all my my layers so when I selected a layer it was selecting the mask instead of the image. I could see the boundary moving, but the image was stationary.

Selecting the image after selecting the layer solved this issue for me.

  • Had the same problem ("I had a layer mask on all my my layers"), that's because I clicked the right logo in the layers panel, instead of the left one... tricky Gimp!!
    – Déjà vu
    Oct 26, 2021 at 7:14
  • 1
    Can you clarify “Selecting the image after selecting the layer”? Jun 6, 2022 at 2:17

Ran into a similar problem (for text boxes) where the Move tool would not change focus (ie: dotted outline changes to the text box I click on. Turns out I had the Layers windows in 'Paths' mode. When I switched back to Layers, the problem was 'fixed'.

  • 1
    Uh? What to you mean by Layers windows in 'Paths' mode?
    – xenoid
    Dec 8, 2017 at 22:15

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