An Introduction to Inkscape

Inkscape is an open-source vector graphics editor similar to Adobe Illustrator, with tons of features to help you execute your concepts and turn them into professional-grade designs. As a graphic designer, you will be using Inkscape for a lot of your work, so it’s best to master what the program has to offer as soon as possible. In this introduction, you will learn some of its most-used features by turning a simple sketch into a vector graphic.

First, be sure to download the latest version of Inkscape. When you first open the program, you will see something like this:

The Inkscape Interface


Don’t worry about the interface — you will get the hang of it soon enough. Let’s start by importing a sketch into Inkscape. In this case, you will be using a lion head by FirmusDesign. Simply right click and save the image below:

Pride Logo by FirmusDesign


After saving the image, import it by pressing CTRL + I. A notification will pop up, with a few options for you to choose from. Inkscape stores an image when it’s embedded, so you don’t have to worry about losing the image even if the original file is deleted. Conversely, since you don’t require this sketch after tracing it, you can just link it to save memory.

Importing an Image


After the sketch is imported, try using + or – to zoom in and out. Oftentimes, you will be zooming in to make sure the lines are as close to the sketch as possible. Now, it’s time to truly make use of Inkscape’s features. Press SHIFT + F6 or click on the button as shown below to activate the Bezier Tool:

The Bezier Tool


The Bezier Tool is one of Inkscape’s most powerful features. Basically, it allows you to create and manipulate nodes, which in turn gives you control over lines. Use the Bezier Tool and click on a a point on the lion’s mane to create a node. After that, you might notice a line extending from the node to your cursor, which you can ignore. Instead, focus on following the outline of the mane and click on every turn to create new nodes. For now, ignore that fact that the lines between nodes are all straight. Finally, close the line by clicking on the first node you made.

In addition, you can end a line without closing it by double clicking on the canvas — which is useful for the lion’s head and teeth. If you want to add a node to a line, you can do so by simply double clicking on that particular point of the line.

Once you have created all the nodes from the sketch, you should get something like this:

Creating Nodes and Lines


It doesn’t look very close to the sketch, but that can be improved by adjusting the lines and nodes. Press F2 to select the Node Tool, then click on a line to show all its nodes. Next, click on and move a line segment in between 2 nodes around — you will notice that it bends and curves based on how you move the cursor. By adjusting the line segments, the tracing should look much closer to the sketch:

Adjusting the Line Segments


However, there’s still room for improvement. Check out the areas circled in red:

A Few Sharp Corners


A few of the corners are much sharper compared to the sketch. Fortunately, the Node Tool gives you a few ways to manipulate a node — one of which is to make it smooth by clicking on the button shown below:

Make Nodes Smooth


You can select multiple nodes by holding down SHIFT and clicking on any nodes you wish to include. In addition, you will notice that there are 2 handles on either side of a node; moving them gives you better control over the line and how it curves.

Using the Node Handles


It takes practice, but learning to manipulate the nodes properly with the Node Tool will allow you to vectorize any graphic quicker and easier. In the meantime, do your best to make the lines are as close to the sketch as possible. Once done, delete the sketch and make further adjustments if necessary until you’re satisfied with the result:

Tracing Done


Now that the lines are done, let’s add some colors. It’s a good idea to keep the lines and colors separate using layers. Oftentimes, you will have to change the lines or colors. If you have everything on one layer, things might get messy, especially if a graphic has a lot of lines, nodes and colors.

You can create and edit layers by pressing SHIFT + CTRL + L, which opens up the Layers dialog on the right side. Here, you will see a few buttons: + and – adds and removes a layer respectively, while the arrows moves a layer above or below the next layer. In addition, you can rename a layer by double clicking on it — do so for both the “colors” and “lines” layers. Make sure the “colors” layer is below the “lines” layer, since you want the colors to stay within the lines:

Adding Layers


Next, select the “colors” layer and use lines and nodes to block in the areas where you want to add in the colors. Notice that you only have outlines with no colors — let’s change by choosing an outline and clicking on a color from the color swatches:

Filling in Color


Conversely, holding down SHIFT and clicking on a color will change the stroke color instead. You can see FILL and STROKE colors, as well as line thickness at the bottom left of Inkscape’s interface. After you have filled in the colors, you can remove the outlines by holding down SHIFT and pressing the x on the left most side of the color swatches. Notice that STROKE now indicates “None”:

Fill and Stroke


You’re more or less done. However, you might want the lines to be thicker so the graphic scales down better. You can do that by going to the “lines” layer, selecting a line, then right clicking on the number beside STROKE color. You will see a list of numbers come up, corresponding to line thickness:

Line Thickness


Now, it’s just a matter of filling in the colors and adjusting the lines until everything looks perfect. Good job! You have created your first vector graphic in Inkscape, and learn how to use some of its basic features. At the same time, there are a few ways to achieve the same result, so feel free to explore and find what works best for you.

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