I am trying to draw an outline around any arbitrary object using OpenGL and shaders with a different color than the original object, while also retaining compatibility with alpha values <1. I am currently trying to get this working with just a rectangle. I tried using points to determine x, y, width, and height, but these would then fail to be transformed by view and projection matrices. Using triangles renders a regular rectangle, but I can't figure out how to create an outline around it. While I am making a 2D engine, being able to transform into 3D (ex: spinning the object on all 3 axes while retaining the outline, but not actually rendering 3D objects) is important to me.

Here is my current vertex array:

float vertices[8] = {
    0.5f,  0.5f,
    0.5f, -0.5f,
   -0.5f, -0.5f,
   -0.5f,  0.5f

Here is my vertex shader:

#version 330 core

layout (location = 0) in vec2 inPos;

uniform mat4 transform;
uniform mat4 view;
uniform mat4 projection;

uniform vec4 vsColor;
uniform float vsOutline;
uniform vec4 vsOutlineColor;

out VS_OUT {
    vec4 color;
    vec4 outlineColor;
    float outlineWidth;
} vs_out;

void main() {
    gl_Position = projection * view * transform * vec4(inPos, 0.0, 1.0);
    vs_out.color = vsColor;
    vs_out.outlineColor = vsOutlineColor;
    vs_out.outlineWidth = vsOutline;

Here is my geometry shader, which currently just acts as a passthrough:

#version 330 core

layout (triangles) in;
layout (triangle_strip, max_vertices = 3) out;

out vec4 fsColor;

in VS_OUT {
    vec4 color;
    vec4 outlineColor;
    float outlineWidth;
} gs_in[];

void main() {
    // Draw main triangle (passthrough)
    fsColor = gs_in[0].color;
    gl_Position = gl_in[0].gl_Position;
    gl_Position = gl_in[1].gl_Position;
    gl_Position = gl_in[2].gl_Position;

    // ===UNKNOWN===
    // Outline the object (WIP)
    fsColor = gs_in[0].outlineColor;


Finally, here is my fragment shader:

#version 330 core

in vec4 fsColor;

out vec4 fragColor;

void main() {
    fragColor = fsColor;

    if (fragColor.a == 0) discard;

I am unsure if I need to do outlining in the geometry or fragment shader. I would like to have an implementation that could work with non-regular shapes (such as sprites), but that is not required at this time. However, it does have to work with other shapes such as circles and triangles.

Here is an image of the current state of my engine, with the pink rectangle needing to be outlined: engine screenshot

The box texture shows how objects may be transformed in the game, as well as the necessity of alpha compatibility.


Here is my render function:

void c2m::client::gl::Sprite::render() {
    // Set shader uniforms if the shader is initialized
    if (shader != nullptr) {
        if (outlineWidth > 0) {
            glStencilFunc(GL_ALWAYS, 1, 0xFF);

        shader->setMat4("transform", trans);
        shader->setVec4("color", color.asVec4());

    // Rebind the VAO to be able to modify its VBOs

    // Reset vertex data to class array
    glBindBuffer(GL_ARRAY_BUFFER, vbo);
    glBufferSubData(GL_ARRAY_BUFFER, 0, sizeof(vertices), vertices);
    glBindBuffer(GL_ARRAY_BUFFER, 0);

    // Bind texture

    // Draw
    glBindBuffer(GL_ELEMENT_ARRAY_BUFFER, ebo);
    glDrawElements(GL_TRIANGLES, 6, GL_UNSIGNED_INT, 0);

    // If the outline width is 0 return
    if (outlineWidth == 0) {

    // Draw outline
    if (outlineShader != nullptr) {
        glStencilFunc(GL_NOTEQUAL, 1, 0xFF);

        outlineShader->setVec4("color", outlineRGBA.asVec4());
        // Temporary transform matrix to prevent pollution of user-set transforms
        glm::mat4 tempTransform = trans;
        tempTransform = glm::scale(tempTransform, glm::vec3(outlineWidth + 1, outlineWidth + 1, outlineWidth + 1));
        outlineShader->setMat4("transform", tempTransform);
        glDrawElements(GL_TRIANGLES, 6, GL_UNSIGNED_INT, 0);

        glStencilFunc(GL_ALWAYS, 1, 0xFF);

And here is the result of the function: updated engine


Here is my initialization and clear code:


// Enable various OpenGL functions
// Enable depth testing/z-indexing
// Stencil
// Disable stencil writing by default, to be enabled per draw cycle
glStencilFunc(GL_NOTEQUAL, 1, 0xFF);
// Alpha

Clear code (run every draw cycle):

// clear the buffers
glClearColor(0.1f, 0.1f, 0.1f, 1.0f);

The only other code related to stencils is in the render() function shown above.


2 Answers 2


A possible solution for your problem might be using stencil testing. Here is a link that explains it. It also describes how object outlining is done.

You basically need to populate the stencil buffer while rendering your object. Then you render your object slightly scaled up a second time while using a simple single color fragment shader. During the second rendering process, you discard every fragment where the stencil buffer was set during the first rendering call. Have a look at the link for the details.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I used the method outlined on the website, but the problem is that the rectangle outline completely overwrites the original rectangle. The sizing is correct and when I make the outline size <0 I can see the original rectangle, but if I make it >= 0, then the first rectangle is overwritten. I will update my question with my render method. \$\endgroup\$
    – ImTheSquid
    Commented Apr 2, 2020 at 17:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ Before you try using the technique on your own project, try reimplementing the tutorial until it works first. Also, make sure that you have a basic idea of what is going on in this tutorial. Ask if you need help. It's been a while for me since I last used stencil outlining, but I know that it is easy to make some small mistakes that produce absolute garbage. As I said, it's been a while, so I can't see what the problem of your code is, without rereading the tutorial. \$\endgroup\$
    – wychmaster
    Commented Apr 3, 2020 at 7:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ Additionally, there is a link to the full source code of the tutorial: learnopengl.com/code_viewer_gh.php?code=src/4.advanced_opengl/… Maybe you should step through it and compare it with your code. It might help you to find the errors in your code. Have you set glEnable(GL_STENCIL_TEST);? \$\endgroup\$
    – wychmaster
    Commented Apr 3, 2020 at 7:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ I have gone through the tutorial many times, but I have discovered something interesting in my code. When I comment out all glEnable(GL_STENCIL_TEST)s, it doesn't affect anything (I still get the same overlay). This leads me to believe that something else may be overriding the stencil or just flat out ignoring it. I will add my glEnables and other GL methods to my question. The shaders are the exact same as the ones in the tutorial. \$\endgroup\$
    – ImTheSquid
    Commented Apr 3, 2020 at 21:38

It turns out that the library I was using (SFML) has the stencil buffer disabled by default. All I had to do was pass a sf::ContextSettings object with the stencil buffer argument set to 8 to a sf::RenderWindow constructor to fix everything.


You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .