Using Inkscape: Insider tips from Inkscape developer Dmitry Kirsanov

by James Gaskin - Dmitry Kirsanov is one of the core developers on the Inkscape open source project. He considered himself a designer more than a programmer, but as he got more involved in Inkscape he took on more of the programming chores. As a designer and heavy user of graphic editors, Kirsanov admits his agenda for creating a new and free alternative to Adobe Illustrator looks much like his dream list of vector graphics editor features.

[ Enter to win a copy of The Book of Inkscape: The Definitive Guide to the Free Graphics Editor. Hurry! The drawing ends January 31. ]

Why the fork in the development process that led to Inkscape? Time to rewrite an editor in C++ and update an application type that had always been written in C. As a vector graphics program, Inkscape takes an entirely different approach than raster or bitmapped programs like Windows Paint or GIMP.

In Inkscape, everything on the drawing is its own object and can be moved, modified, or deleted separately from all other objects. This offers a new level of freedom for those used to working in raster programs.

Those who believe they can't draw realistic images will be surprised at their results with Inkscape. In a bitmapped drawing program, what you draw is set unless you undo it. In Inkscape, the vector graphic approach takes a collection of brushstrokes and allows you to tweak them as individuals or as a group. This flexibility makes it easier to rework your initial brushstrokes until you get them exactly as you want them.

Flexibility is the word for Inkscape. Any path you take can branch into new areas, and still retain the old path to return to if necessary. You can try different things on different objects and rework them as desired, or delete them without touching any other part of your image.

Kirsanov warns that people coming from bitmapped programs tend to overdo layers. In a program like GIMP, layers are the only way you can maintain separation between objects. Inkscape, however, automatically separates all objects from all others. Vector programs like Inkscape only need layers when dealing with complex drawings with thousands of objects. With hundreds of objects, just put them on the canvas and you can edit each separately.

Since Adobe Illustrator is the best known vector graphics editor, most Inkscape users will be familiar with the Adobe interface and menu system that overloads you with seemingly hundreds of tools littering toolbars everywhere. Inkscape offers fewer tools, but each tool provides far more versatility and a wider scope than those in Illustrator. When you think you can't find a tool to perform a function you're used to in Illustrator, explore options in the tools within Inkscape and you'll find a way to get your job done.

Kirsanov believes the market needs both vector and raster applications. At the pixel level, you want raster. Vector programs are a bit more abstract and conceptual.

Why the book when Kirsanov is helping write the online documentation? Because the documentation is a reference, and a book provides his ideas, philosophies of problem solving, and comments about the issues of drawing and design separate from the details of Inkscape itself. Drawing is a complicated subject, and guidelines help users more in some situations than tool explanations. And with this book, you get the thoughts of one of the program's primary developers, always interesting and useful.

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