Inkscape: What To Use When You’re Beyond Image Editing Software
Inkscape is a free open source tool for vector drawing. Vector graphics are all based on geometry—but don’t worry, you don’t need to know geometry to use Inkscape. Unlike regular image editing tools like Photoshop and the free image editing software GIMP, which use raster graphics, the geometry behind vector graphics lets them scale infinitely—they can be as big or as small as you want with no loss in quality.
To install Inkscape for Windows, go to Inkscape.org, click the Download link, and choose the Windows installer. (You can also install a portable version of Inkscape which runs from a USB flash drive.) After the download finishes, double-click on the .EXE to install it.
Importing An Image From Image Editing Software
After Inkscape is installed, you probably want to start using it by just playing around. Inkscape is really easy to use at a basic level (and it serves as a great drawing program for kids).
Most of the time, you’ll probably want to build an image around a raster graphic. For example, I recently created an image for Tips4PC using the Skype logo. I downloaded a copy of the logo from the Skype website and imported it into Inkscape using the Import option in the File menu.
Basic Inkscape Features
On the left-side of your screen are icons to create all of the basic geometrical objects Inkscape supports. Here are some of the more important buttons:
- The Mouse Cursor icon isn’t a geometrical object—it just lets you select, move, and rotate an existing object instead of drawing a new object.
- The Square, Circle, and Star/Polygon icons let you draw circles and objects with any possible number of corners. When you select a tool with configurable options like the polygon tool, you can change its options in the lowest top toolbar. For example, the polygon tool lets you choose how many corners your object will have.
To draw a square, circle, or polygon, just click and drag. To draw an object with equal-length sides (for example, a square instead of a rectangle), hold the shift key while you drag.
- The Text Tool lets you create text. The fonts used by Inkscape are all vectorized so the text looks good in any font size. Unfortunately, this does mean that some of your favorite non-vectorized fonts may not be available. You can always edit text after you create it, which is another advantage of Inkscape over other image editing software.
- The Colour Picker lets you choose a color from an existing object so that you can create more objects with that same color.
- The 3-D Tool lets you create three-dimensional objects by just clicking and dragging. It’s surprisingly easy to use and a lot of fun to play with.
What’s Different In Inkscape From Typical Image Editing Software
When you create a new object in Inkscape, you may notice that it’s quite different from creating a similar object in Photoshop or GIMP. Every object in Inkscape is made up of two parts: the fill and the stroke.
The stroke is the border of an object and the fill is what’s within the border. You can adjust the fill and stroke by clicking the paintbrush icon on the top toolbar. From the same screen, you can also adjust the stroke style, which lets you widen borders, create rounded corners, use dotted or dashed lines, and change the opacity of the border.
In Inkscape, each object also has a path—the geometric expression of its shape. A rectangle, for example, has four paths: the location of its top-left corner, the location of its bottom-right corner, its horizontal rounding, and its vertical rounding. By clicking on the Path Editor tool, you can tweak all of these settings. For example, if you set the horizontal and vertical rounding to max, the rectangle becomes a oval.
Real Life Inkscape Example
Earlier, I introduced a quick image I made in Inkscape. The goal was to put the Skype logo on an diamond-shaped American-style caution road sign along with the text “Slow, Skype In Use.” I could’ve done this with typical image editing software by downloading an image of a caution road sign, carefully erasing the existing text, filling in the new text, and adjusting the new text’s perspective to match the sign. Not including the hassle of finding a public-domain photo of a caution sign, doing all of those steps would probably take me at least 15 minutes. In Inkscape the following steps took me less than 60 seconds:
- Import the Skype logo using the steps explained above.
- Draw a square by clicking the rectangle tool, holding shift, and dragging.
- Select the mouse tool, click on the rectangle twice to activate rotate mode, click on the corner of the rectangle and drag it on its side 90 degrees until it forms a diamond shape.
- Click on the paintbrush at the top of the screen to open the Fill and Stroke editor. Color the inside of the diamond yellow and the border black like a typical caution sign.
- Still in the Fill and Stroke editor, thicken the border so it looks more like a sign.
- Use the text tool to add the word “SLOW”. Use it again to add “Skype [newline] IN USE”.
- Use the mouse tool to drag the text over the diamond, then click and drag on the borders of the text until it’s the right size to fit in the diamond.
- Use the mouse tool again to drag the Skype logo into the middle of the diamond.
- From the File menu, save a copy in Inkscape’s SVG format so I can tweak it later if necessary.
- From the File menu, export a copy in PNG format for uploading at Tips4PC.
Although 10 steps may sound like a lot, you can see all of them were easy and straightforward. They required no special artistic talent or skill with image editing software.
I use Inkscape almost every day to avoid the hassle of complicated image editing software.