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A first look at Inkscape

I’ve been playing with the Windows version of Inkscape, which bills itself as an open-source SVG editor. It doesn’t bill itself as an Illustrator/Corel Draw/Freehand killer, but as a simple vector drawing program, it works.

It takes getting used to. But I think I like it.I’ve talked before about free Windows graphics software but I didn’t mention Inkscape because the Windows port did not yet exist.

I don’t try to draw scaleable pictures of people. I draw objects, typically boxy objects. It works for that.

The ability to draw and finely position polygons and curves is there and obvious. The ability to do fills using patterns is there, though its use is a bit less obvious. (I did find an Inkscape pattern tutorial, but haven’t tried it yet.) The ability to group and ungroup objects is there and obvious. As is the ability to change an object’s dimensions using the keyboard, so you can get an object to be exactly 2.5 inches long if need be.

It also has the ability to simplify a shape you select. This is good if you have a shaky hand and couldn’t quite get something straight but came close. It can also bring an artsy feel to something, since simpler objects often appear more pleasing.

My biggest gripe is the grid. I don’t know what it’s measuring or where its origin is. It doesn’t line up with the ruler, so if I want something offset by a quarter-inch relative to another object, it’s difficult to do. I found myself drawing a lot of lines the length of the offset I wanted and using those to position objects, and just using the grid to get me in the right neighborhood.

But it’s a promising piece of software. I’ll use it because the price is right (free) versus the alternatives (hundreds of dollars). And if it’s anything like other pieces of open source software, it’ll steadily improve. It’s only on version 0.39 right now. Mozilla had some rough edges at version 0.3x too.

The key to drawing, which my art-teacher girlfriend told me and I’d never heard anywhere else, is not to look at the whole, but break the object you’re drawing into the simplest shapes you can. Draw and arrange those shapes, and you get a whole drawing.

If you can think like that, you can use Inkscape. If you can’t, it’ll frustrate you. (But most drawing programs probably will.)

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