InkScape

I've been playing with Inkscape. Here are a few things I've learned along the way...

(by the way, I'm by no means even remotely artistic, so don't think you're going to learn anything about design, layout, colours or anything else from me!)

A Note for Firefox Users

Firefox is gradually implementing SVG viewing directly into the browser. That might mean that when you click the attachments on this page they open (badly!) in your browser. To stop this, you can turn off Firefox's native SVG support:

  • Go to "about:config" (type it in the location bar)
  • Type "svg" into the filter box at the top of the page
  • Change "svg.enabled" to value "false" (double click it)

Now, when you click .svg files, Firefox will ask you which application to open them in.

Internet Explorer users: You too can enjoy SVG support in your browser. Just download the upgrade

Flowing Text

Getting text to flow into objects is one really cool feature of Inkscape. It means you can layout a page and stop it looking like a wordprocessor document and make it look far more impressive.

See textflow.svg (attached) for an example and instructions!

An email on the inkscape-users list points us to a very good documentation work-in-progress. It has details about a good number of the finer aspects of Inkscape. The details of the boolean operations on the Path menu are here. I've also stumbled upon this which is a great tutorial on complex shapes.

Portable SVG Files

One problem with SVG files is that they specify fonts you have on your system. So if you move your file to another system, the font you used may not be available. Clearly, this makes sending files around a problem (and definitely an issue if you want to use Firefox's upcoming SVG support for the web!).

There is a solution, but it probably shouldn't be used unless absolutely necessary. You can convert all of your text to paths. That means the SVG file stops containing the words "hello world" and starts containing vector points that when drawn look like the letters you need. This is really space-consuming (compared to simply including the words you need). The good news is that no matter where your file goes, the letter shapes will be the same. There's more bad news though - it's a one-way process, so you can't go back to having text, so you can't edit it (except by bending lines and curves into new shapes - not likely to be much use!).

This technique is has real uses though. If you wanted to create a logo, for example, which has a stylised letter, then convert the word to paths, bend the letter around however you want and you're all done!

Convert text to paths using Path -> Object to Path while a text object is highlighted.

Producing A4 PDF Files

Inkscape doesn't seem to be able to produce A4 PDF files. This seems to be the case if you use "Save As...", or use ps2pdf or even Adobe Acrobat. However, it's possible to force ps2pdf to use A4:

ps2pdf -sPAPERSIZE=a4 myfile.ps

(will produce myfile.pdf, which hopfully should be A4! Also, adding -dPDFSETTINGS=/prepress will make ps2pdf output a print optimised PDF, which will generally be of higher quality than the default).

Cut-Outs

Overlapping objects can sometimes look a bit naff. Sometimes it's neat to make one object look like it's 'cutting out' the background object. In other words, the top object has a white border around it, so there's a little gap between it and the background.

Making these 'cut outs' is really easy, and saves having to try and actually change the shape of the background to accommodate the foreground object. All you need to do is duplicate your foreground object and change it's stroke. See howto-cutout.svg for details.

CD Jewel Case Inlay Cards (and CD Stickers)

From time to time, I've produced CDs for various things. Using Inkscape to layout the page is an easy way to have decent looking graphics and text on the CD. I've attached three Inkscape sheets that have the correct sized boxes shapes for making up CDs and their jewel cases.

One note about CD stickers - they're a pain to use, because all printers print in slightly different ways on the page. Thus, if you get the sheet working on one printer, it won't necessarily be perfect on another. As a result, you may have to move the CD circles up and down a tiny amount from the way they're laid out on the page. I'd recommend you don't print anything too close to the edge of the circle either. Leaving a gap of one of two millimeters seems to do the trick quite nicely though.

Drop Shadows

Since Inkscape doesn't have a 'drop shadow' button, many people think you can't make decent shadows with Inkscape. This tutorial shows you how you can give any object a realistic looking drop shadow, cleverly using objects, colours and gradients. See How to Drop Shadow for details.

Sheep


I got a bit bored one day, and made some sheep. Here's the result, and how I got to it! See How to Make Sheep for details.

I actually started this drawing using Visio 2003, and saved out my work as an SVG file. It imported fine, and seemed to be fine from then on. It looks to me like Visio might be an alternative SVG program...?

Gradients

Gradients are arguably the most visually useful tool Inkscape has. You can bring life to otherwise two-dimensional objects. I wouldn't regard myself any sort of expert, but you can do some very nifty things with gradients. It does take quite a bit of hacking about and experimenting, but it's worth it.

Take a look at Fun with Inkscape Gradients for some ideas and technique hints.

Tracing Bitmaps

The ability to trace bitmaps is an incredibly powerful feature of Inkscape. However, this power doesn't come without complextiy. Firstly, there are a plethora of ways to perform tracing, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. Secondly, working with the result can be somewhat problematic.

I wouldn't generally recommend tracing a photograph or something similar. The amount of detail in it makes the resulting "bunch of nodes" so complex, and so big that Inkscape grinds to a halt. Instead, it is possible to trace simple images - by simple, I mean easy blocks of colour, and not too many complex shapes.

In actual fact, Inkscape is very good at tracing bitmaps that are exports of Inkscape pictures. You may wonder why on earth you'd ever want to do this. Well, it's a handy way to make a complex shape become one thing (ie. if you stick a few objects together, even though they may be the same colour, they don't all behave as one object). It's also a good way to add in a bit of 'realism' to shapes. For example, the attached file, Innasitee Graffiti is of graffiti. Well, grafitti is very much hand produced, so you don't necessarily want the perfectly clean lines that a vector picture has. Of course, you can add some "distress" yourself, but as it turns out, bitmap tracing can do the same thing.

My most used trace is the "Colour" mode under "Multiple Scanning". Essentially, each scan is a separate colour, so having just two scans will give you black and white. Just adding in a couple more scans adds in some "intermediate" colours that smooth off edges and add a bit of humanity to an otherwise homogonised picture.

The resulting objects can be really hard to work with. Experiment with various settings and their results, and work with whatever suits. I found that the objects produced still needed a bit of work to make them do what I wanted. Still, this is what Inkscape is really good for, so get going with intersections, combinations and exclusions!

Attachment Size
cd-inlay-back.svg 9.27 KB
cd-inlay-front.svg 8.33 KB
cdlabels.svg 11.12 KB
howto-cutout.svg 16.85 KB
howto-dropshadow.svg 60.03 KB
textflow.svg 9.41 KB
howto-make-a-sheep.svg 145.57 KB
gradient-fun.svg 63.96 KB
innasitee-grafitti.svg 57.37 KB