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.


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In this tutorial, the Inkscape version used is 0.91

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 through turning a sketch into a vector graphic.

1.

First, download Inkscape. When you first open the program, you will see something like this:

The Inkscape Interface

Don’t worry about the interface, as 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. Right click and save the image below:

Pride Logo by FirmusDesign

2.

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. You will probably be zooming in and out a few times to make sure the traced lines are as close to the sketch as possible. Now, it’s time to truly dive into Inkscape’s features. Press SHIFT + F6 or click on the button as shown below to activate the Bezier Tool:

The Bezier Tool

3.

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 the lines created. Use the Bezier Tool and click on any point on the lion’s mane to create a node.

You might notice a line extending from the node to your cursor. Focus on following the outline of the mane and click on every corner to create new nodes; ignore the fact that the lines between nodes are all straight for now. Finally, close the line by clicking on the first node you made.

You can end a line without closing it by double clicking, 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 the particular point of the line.

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

Creating Nodes and Lines

4.

It doesn’t look very close to the sketch, but that will 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, try clicking on and moving a line segment between 2 nodes around; notice that it bends and curves according 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, 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

5.

It takes practice, but learning to manipulate the nodes properly with the Node Tool will allow you to vectorize any graphic quickly and easily. 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 are satisfied with the result:

Tracing Done

6.

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 make additional changes to 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. Let’s do so for 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

7.

Select the ‘colors’ layer and use lines and nodes to block in the areas where you want to add in the colors. Next, choose an outline and click 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 find 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

8.

You are more or less done. However, you might want the lines to be thicker so the graphic scales down better. Go to the “lines” layer, select a line, then right click 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 experimenting with colors and line thickness 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. Feel free to explore further and see what works best for you.

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