Inkscape Evaluation

Jan 21 2005

I thought that if I have to do the icons in SVG ever again, I may as well revisit the river. Since I just upgraded to Ubuntu Hoary (Gnome 2.10 is slick!), I gave Inkscape a try again.

Since I’m an old Illustrator junkie, I knew it’s going to be tough getting used to especially since I’ve tried and failed before. I expected being disappointed, I was surprised in many areas though. Looks like a lot of good stuff happened while I wasn’t watching :) I’m actually confident that it’s usable to create less complex artwork.

So let’s start with the good things.

  • Nice shortcut overview. It could have been setup on a landscape A4 to get printed easily though.

  • A few introductory tutorials. Just what I needed. It’s actually better for me than a full featured documentation which is usually too boring to chew through ;). What’s even more fun is these tutorials are in fact SVG images, so it features examples you can try right on canvas while reading. Ingenious.

  • Easy numerical entry of object properties (toolbar) with advanced properties in a floating dialog.

  • Keyboard navigation not only for object and canvas movement, but rotation and scaling as well (now finally the Alt modifier starts making sense). Moving in pixel units with Alt of the current zoom level is a lot better than the absolute units in Adobe Illustrator. This absolutely rocks.

  • Layers with visibility toggle and layer locking! Oh man, I can’t stress enough how this is useful. Also individual objects can be locked, but unlocking them is hard, I could only do this with the XML editor.

  • F12 toggles the visible floating docks. Very handy in fullscreen (although the layout dock seems to be visible all the time).

  • While function keys are still mapped to tools, there’s also shortcuts that are easily memorizable – T for Text, S for Object select etc. # for grid toggle got me :).

  • Color Dropper. I prefer to call it picker instead since it’s not applying color on the clicked objects, it’s picking it up and applies on the selected objects. Unfortunately the tool isn’t as useful as it could be. It only takes the color property while it could be used to pick more properties such as stroke, fill (gradient, pattern, bitmap), effects, etc. (configurable as tool options just like in GIMP). Inkscape does provide this functionality with Edit>Paste Style, but doesn’t allow individual style properties to be selected (only fill, only stroke…).

  • Helpful status bar. It tells you what a modifier key will do. It doesn’t list all functionality, but mostly the important one. Absolutely cool for when you’re learning the tool. I found Alt+Click like that. It’s used to “select under” with the selection tool active and it’s very handy when I’m left without a nice layer stack overview.

  • Boolean Operations. Creating complex shapes out of primitives is a lot easier with these tools.

  • Cloning. Instead of duplicating, you can create an instance of an object. Gotta get used to the fact that even transformations are inherited.

  • The 0.40 aboutbox is sexy as hell :)

  • Metadata. Not oly cool for copyright info, but for icon accessibility too.

  • Object stamping. You drag an object around and where you press spacebar it creates a copy.

  • Text tool. I wish we had a mature text tool like this in GIMP. Letter spacing (Alt+<, Alt+>), kerning, (Alt+Left, Alt+Right), vertical text, shaped block of text (kinda hacky, but working).

  • Didn’t crash on me ;) While some of us take it for granted, some projects don’t consider stability a priority…


So as you can see, in many areas I’ve been very pleasantly surprised. You can see Inkscape developers did listen to their artists, err users. There’s some inconsistencies with the GIMP that I personally find confusing:

  • Path tool. I mean come on guys, the GIMP path tool rocks. The modifiers rock, you can work with both nodes and segments and it’s just unnice to have something out of this planet when users like me, that are used to GIMP could be making paths in Inkscape in a nano. /me makes a sad, sad face.

I’m used to tracing objects by creating a polygon first and then converting the particular nodes to curvy. I just found the trick is not to try to convert a node, but a segment to a curve. Maybe if I try hard enough, I can live with this. Also I’d love the handles to be controllable with a keyboard, not only the nodes alone.

  • Redo is Ctrl+Shift+Z while GIMP’s is Ctrl+Y.

  • Ctrl locks aspect while Shift centers the pivot point. GIMP’s exactly the other way around.

  • I miss the thumbnail navigator that GIMP has in the lower right corner. Also zoom-on-resize locking that’s in GIMP 2.2 (upper right corner) would be useful here too. Update: I’ve been pointed out that I’m just blind, it’s right there! ;)

  • The gradient editor is even worse than GIMP’s. When I’m bitching about it, I guess I should provide a spec. But more annoying than defining the gradient is not being able to specify direction and length on canvas.


Some minor nitpicks and suggestions.

  • Layer support is fairly primitive and unfinished. Apart from the spartan XML editor, I found no way to get a graphical representation of the layer stack. Moving objects across layers also seems only possible in XML editor which is very hard, since the stack is reversed and the layers aren’t easily identifiable (UI shows comments, while XML edito shows ids). Also I’m not sure about the behaviour of the root node.

  • While it may sound like a good idea to use vector icons in a vector editor, it doesn’t work in my opinion. The small resolution icons need detail and crispness the vectors cannot give. Having a nice gnomish icon set would surely help.

  • I miss tootips for the toobar icons.

  • Tool options are implemented as global preferences. While there is a shortcut to get to these by double-clicking on the toolbar, you’re presented with a horror of two rows of tabs. Yikes!

  • Some sort of library is required. Just like GIMP stores brushes and gradients, Inkscape should have some global repository of gradients and patterns.

  • There’s XY properties floating window depending on what type of object is selected. These should go into the object properties float. If the number of widgets would grow, solve either by using tabs or disclosure triangles.

  • Something completely subjective – I prefer the rubberband selection to work objects even partially selected, not only the ones completely enclosed in the selection rectangle.

  • Ctrl+A actually select all object within a layer not on the document as the tutorial suggests. Not saying it makes less sense, just that the docs are out of sync.

  • One cannot group objects from different layers. Especially painful when moving objects around layers manually is tough.

  • I coulnd’t figure out how to scale a pattern. In fact it should be possible to not scale pattern along with object. Similarly, it should be possible to scale an object but not scale the stroke width along.

  • Deleting objects with Backspace. While Del works, my powerbook doesn’t have the del key ;).

  • Cloning is cool, but it would be super cool to be able to create such object clones (links) within an external file. You could create mime type icons by linking the document template from an external file and have a quick way to alter the whole set.


And I few features I’m still missing an alternative for:

  • Object blending. Select two objects and pick how many inbetween states you want or optionally a path along which to do the morph. Essential time saviour when duplicating objects. Inkscape does have a mean that’s a bit less straight forward (subjective again). You can either use stamping and then distribute objects using the align dock or do the same with clones or duplicates (just need to pick one from the duplicated stack and reposition to the other extreme).

  • Converting stroke into objects. Sometimes you want to have more control about the dotted outline.

  • I may have just missed it, but there’s no outline draw mode. Sometimes it’s easier to find an object like that. Also perhaps when tweaking shapes with the node tool, the fill could go away to speed things up. The more complex the artwork is, the slower the thing gets. And sometimes way way slower than bearable.

  • Pixel preview. If we had the same renderer in GNOME & Inkscape, it would help tweaking the shapes pixel-precise, so it’s sharp (aligns to the render grid) at the 1:1 size.

  • Node edit only works within selected object. I like to rubber-band select nodes from a number of objects and move them to “stretch” an drawing in that particular area. Doing one by one is close to impossible and stretching the whole object is not what I want either.