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 likely 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 useful features through a quick session of turning a sketch into a vector graphic.
In this tutorial, the Inkscape version used is 0.91
LET’S DIVE IN
First, let’s download Inkscape. When you first open the program you will see something like this:
Don’t worry too much 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:
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. In this case you can just link it to save memory, since we won’t need this sketch after we are done .
After the sketch is imported, try using + or – to zoom in and out. You will probably be zooming in and out multiple times throughout this session to check for any issues with your work. Now it’s time to dive into Inkscape’s features. Press SHIFT + F6 or click on the button as shown below to activate the Bezier Tool:
The Bezier Tool is one of Inkscape’s most powerful features. 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.
Notice the line extending from the node to your cursor. Use it to follow the outline of the mane, clicking on its 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 for the lion head, you should get something like this:
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. Make the tracing as close to the sketch as possible by adjusting the line segments.
Much better, but there’s still room for improvement. Check out the areas circled in red:
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:
You can select multiple nodes by holding down SHIFT and clicking on any nodes you wish to include. In addition, notice how there are 2 handles on either side of a node — moving them gives you better control over the line and how it curves.
It takes practice, but learning to manipulate the nodes properly with the Node Tool will allow you to vectorize any image quickly and easily. Once done, you can delete the sketch and make further adjustments until you are satisfied with the result.
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 your work 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 and not the other way around.
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.
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 how Stroke now indicates ‘None’:
You are more or less done. However, you might want the lines to be thicker so the image scales down better. Go to the ‘lines’ layer, select a line, then right click on the number beside the current stroke color on the bottom left. You will see a list of numbers come up that corresponds to line thickness.
AND WE’RE DONE
Now it’s just a matter of experimenting with colors and line thicknesses 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 else Inkscape has in store for you.