Inkscape: OpenSource SVG Solution

excellent
key review info
application features
  • Flowed Text: Text objects that automatically re-flow to any shape (and not just a rectangle).
  • (11 more, see all...)

Inkscape is a Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) editor, much like Adobe Illustrator, Corel Draw, Macromedia FreeHand, OpenOffice.org Draw, and Xara X. Looking at that list, you may recognize some big names, so this program has a long hard road ahead in order to make a name for itself.

Fortunately, even if it's only in the early stages of development, it is very promising, and stands out through special attention paid to details, interface and stability.

First impressions
One thing that Inkscape tries to do is stand out of the crowd. While this is perfectly fine when it is done through features, the totally customized icons, keyboard shortcuts and terminology is bound to displease some users.

The icons are mostly intuitive and illustrative of their respective functions, despite being quite small and hard to "read" in a quick glance. Dedicated users of other programs might confuse them with the ones they are familiar with, and believe they serve the same functionality - this is not the case.

Something else that might seem awkward to some is the way the work flow is distributed over the mouse and keyboard. If you simply parse the menus you might be left with the impression that Inkscape is rather poor in functionality. Do not be fooled, selecting the Help> Keys and Mouse will open up a huge list of commands and shortcuts that you can use in order to get all the functionality out of it. Since this file is an Inkscape file, you can try all those commands while you are reading about them. This is simply great, and the same approach is taken with the tutorials. As you read the tutorial, you can try out everything it says right there on the tutorial page.

The only bad thing I can point out is that the Keys and Mouse file is nasty to print out, there should at least be a printer friendly version that you can keep close for reference.

Working with it
Once you get down to it, Inkscape is not immensely different from other similar applications. You have the standard rectangles, ellipses, stars/polygons and spirals to work with as base shapes. Squares are made from rectangles, and circles from ellipses, which you can then combine or cut using the Boolean tools.

When selected, each object has handles you can use to interact with it, but, unlike in other programs, re-clicking on the object will change the handles, giving you extra functionality without any mouse movements. In fact, most of the time you work you are looking at what you are doing instead of the menus or side toolbars.

One of the more interesting tools in Inkscape is the clone tool which creates a live instance of the object, meaning that any changes you make on one are reflected in the other. This serves to cover to some degree the lack of Object Styles and there is also a Paste Style command that is also similar but much less customizable.

Text is also pleasant to work with. Flowing text automatically adjusts to best fit the frame, self resizing to whatever lengths are necessary. Text can also be placed on any path you can draw, this also makes the letters editable through adjustment of the path nodes, and thus eliminates the need for the font to be installed on another computer.

The calligraphy tool works as advertised, mimicking the movement of a pen over paper by using a set of variables. "Thinning" occurs when you draw a stroke and is in essence the changing of the line's thickness, determined by the speed with which the pen moves. Similarly, the "angle" sets the angle at which a real pen would be held, while "drag" imitates the resistance of a paper surface to the pen. Since these variables are very precise, they are not subject to the general tool work flow of Inkscape and are fine tuned through a toolbar.

Layers are very well implemented, and they work pretty much like you would expect them to, with a few special niceties. You can hide, reorder and move layers easily and there are certain modifiers that let you select below a layer, letting you click through it.

The Good
Very well designed interface and work flow, once you get used to it. Has a rather steep learning curve but once you get acquainted everything works well together and you can focus on being creative without keeping an eye out for all the menus and buttons. The layers are simply great to work with and several commands and modifiers make these some of the best layers I have ever seen.

The Bad
Many features are still missing and many keyboard shortcuts are reversed with those of some of the other popular programs out there.

The Truth
Considering this program is coming along in leaps and bounds and it is still far from 1.0 status, I have to say it is pretty great so far. If the devs keep it up they will end up making one of the best SVG programs out there, that will fill a significant hole in the free/opensource software segment.

Here are some screenshots, click to enlarge:

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user interface 4
features 4
ease of use 4
pricing / value 5


final rating 5
Editor's review
excellent
 
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