Inkscape, a vector drawing program

Graphics software come in two flavours, bitmap or vector. The most popular commercial bitmap software is Adobe’s Photoshop with Gimp coming close on its heels as an open source alternative. For many years, Freehand was the only vector drawing program to be an industry standard, until Adobe bought Macromedia, the company behind it. Eventually Adobe killed off Freehand as it already had a similar software, Illustrator.


In this review I am looking at a free, open source alternative to Illustrator called Inkspace. Just like the program it gets inspiration from, at first it can look complicated (but really it is not that hard to learn and use) but end results look great. Starting a new document gives the user a number of layouts to choose from, including A4, DVD cover sleeve, business card and many more. Alternatively one can manually edit these sizes through the document properties menu.

Inkspace’s layout may look quite busy. A number of toolbars rest on top of the artboard and similar to Illustrator, the tools are made available through a toolbar on the left side of the display. Through these tools one can draw basic shapes such as triangle, square and circle and their attributes, including the stroke (outline) thickness and colour, fill colour and so on can be changed as needed. Subsequently, forms can be merged, intersected, divided and cut using options available in the ‘Path’ menu. ‘Draw Bezier Curves/Straight Lines’ tool from the toolbar is used to draw a shape or a path manually. Once a shape has been created, it can be manually edited, first by clicking ‘Edit paths by node’ tool, and by then manipulating the nodes.

Shapes, paths and also text can be manipulated as needed by the user. These can be resized, flipped, rotated, duplicated or distributed around the artboard as required. Objects can also be accurately placed within the document using the X and Y co-ordinates. Similarly, these can be made bigger and smaller using the Width and Height attributes.

Inkspace document files are saved as an .SVG format. Other industry standard vector formats are supported, including .EPS and .PDF. Alternatively files can be saved as a bitmap in .PNG format.


I recommend Inkscape a lot, do not let its busy appearance discourage you, it is not difficult to work with and with some dedication you will be able to create drawings, logos or even handouts to be used in your class. You do not have to learn about all the tools and options to be proficient with Inkscape, in fact, with very few tools you can create good illustrations. This software can come useful especially for subjects in which illustrations are used, including Maths (Geometry) and Graphical Communication.

Inkscape can be downloaded for free from www.inskape.org.

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