Intro to Inkscape for graphic design

Vector Graphics vs. Rasterized (Bitmap) Graphics

In general, diagrams are usually best made in a vector format, while photo-realistic images or paintings are better served with bitmaps. A rasterisation is the conversion of a vector-graphics format to bitmap. This has to be done to display it (in editors, browsers, print, etc.), but preferably as a last step.


Vector Bitmap
data type shapes pixels
stored as object and parameters arrays of colours
editing lossless editing loss due to rasterization (e.g. aliasing)
uses diagrams photos


Vector vs. Bitmap

Notice how at its regular size, all copies look the same for screen/printing resolutions lower than 96dpi. The difference is noticeable once we try to zoom in, or view it at higher resolutions.

Closed/Proprietary vs. Open Source

There are all sorts of philosophical reasons for opening source code and toolsets, and others for opening up content created. When it comes down to practice, the reasons are basically:

Inkscape is the most mature, and most cross-platform vector graphics program.

Interface Tour

The interface of inkscape tends to be quite crowded, so it can be overwhelming when you first open the application. In fact, it’s so crowded, I don’t think it will help much to include a screenshot.

Instead, here are the important things to notice (in order of importance):

Keyboard and mouse

The other tricky part is that it’s optimized for keyboard and mouse. Most tools have different behaviour when a modifier key is held down. For example, with the selector tool, shift+click adds to the selection, Alt+Drag does a path-selection instead of rectangle, and shift+alt+drag adds to the current selection with a path-selection. Note: if something is already selected, alt+drag moves the object.

Right-clicks and middle-clicks will also have different behaviours.

A notable modifier key is Ctrl (^). This will often force more “regular” shapes/orientations. For example, horizontal/vertical lines and moves, 45-degree rotation, and aspect-ratio locked scaling.

Often, Shift is used as a secondary modifier for opposite behaviour. Examples,

Notable hotkeys

Most hotkeys can be seen in the menus, or hovering over buttons on the interface. The following are ones that I use frequently.

Demo Tutorials

Everything else is probably best learned through using it. Here are some samples of what we’ll make in the tutorial.

flow chart
Demonstrates rectangles, transforms, lines, text, clone, and gradients
phages (group and clone)
Demonstrates polygons, rounded rectangles, elipses, object->path, grouping, spraying clones, arranging objects.
Demonstrates polygons, rounded rectangles, elipses, object->path, grouping, clones, arrows, importing PDFs.
Demonstrates circles, tiled clones, arrange, layers, lines, paste formatting, transform panel.
beaker drawing
Demonstrates rounded rectangles, object->path, bezier curves, path offsets, gradients, clipping, transparency, layers, spraying clones
dna diagram
Demonstrates extensions (render -> plot function), cutting/joining paths, breaking/combining paths, cloning, z-order, rounded rectangles, transformations.

Python extensions

There may be a problem related to python versions when running some extensions. If an extension raises a syntax error, be sure to have Python 2.7 installed, and then specify the interpreter in ~/.config/inkscape/preferences.xml

On my system (Mac OSX), Python 2.7 was located at /usr/bin/python2.7. The interpreter option will likely not be there initially.


The plot function extension also depended on the lxml module, which can be installed with pip (pip2 if you have multiple versions of Python).