With today’s selfie-obsessed and picture-minded internet users wanting fewer words and more art, drawing software has never been so important to the small business world. With a 30-year reputation, Adobe Illustrator has long been one of the highest ranking design tools amongst artists and graphic designers. Unfortunately, it doesn’t come cheap. For those who don’t want to pay monthly subscription fees, or for those who just want to try something different, Inkscape may be a comparable alternative for your illustration needs.
What Is Inkscape?
Inkscape is an open-source design platform that has been compared to Adobe Illustrator, Corel Draw, Freehand, and Xara X. Like these other programs, one of its major draws (ha-ha, get it?) is its use of vector graphics as opposed to bitmap graphics. While bitmap graphics express images through tiny squares of information (otherwise known as bits or pixels), vector graphics are expressed by shapes that can be broken down into mathematical equations. This offers a variety of benefits. It takes up less space, but what we’re really talking about is its impressive scalability. Because vector graphics aren’t dependent on resolution, they can be scaled upward without losing form or clarity.
The mathematical equations simply reconfigure themselves to accommodate a larger size. With that being said, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to tell the difference between a bitmap graphic and a vector graphic with the naked eye. Inkscape was forked from a program called Sodipodi in 2003. It’s since had multiple updates, with its most recent in spring of 2015. If you had been familiar with Inkscape before, but haven’t checked it out in the last six months, you might be pleasantly surprised. The update included a bunch of new features like a measurements tool, an improved text tool, an HTML5 export option, and a symbols library. It also included a number of bug fixes for a more reliable experience. To avoid another four-year gap, their next release is already under development. Inkscape won a Best of Open Source Software Award in summer of 2015.
Advantages to Using Inkscape
Huge Number of Features: Inkscape is particularly praised for its incredible number of features. In fact, it has so many features, and options within features, that some users have indicated that exploring them all would devour more time than Netflix ever could. Included are tons of filters, textures, overlays, shapes, text, fills and spirals. These tools are easily accessible in panels but are also collapsible for a clearer work space. Inkscape offers a list of available features here.
Somewhat User-Friendly: Unlike some other drawing programs, Inkscape is designed with more than just the professionals in mind. If you’ve already mastered programs like Adobe Illustrator, then you’ll be able to pick up Inkscape pretty quick. But if you just consider yourself a hobbyist or you’re new to drawing programs in general, Inkscape is designed in such a way that it won’t take long to learn the ins and outs.
Good Support Community: If you find yourself wondering how you can rotate an object, measure an angle, or change the color of markers, Inkscape has the answer on their FAQ page. You’ll also find a number of interactive tutorials, ranging from beginner to advanced. In addition to their official tutorials, they post community tutorials as well, one of which is called A Crash Course in Inkscape. There’s also helpful videos and a live chat room. For further information, the website offers links to where you can purchase books like “Inkscape, A Guide to A Vector Drawing Program, 4 Edition” by Tavmjong Bah. With the amount of support you can receive with this software, whether its instructional or trouble-shooting, users can take comfort in knowing someone, somewhere has their back.
It’s Free: If offering a crazy number of features is Inkscape’s leading advantage, the fact that it does so for free is probably it’s second best selling point. While some other open-source projects have free and paid versions, Inkscape offers you everything in its entirety without costing you a penny. It’s what makes this software popular amongst students, beginners, and recreational artists.
A Few Inkscape Drawbacks
Potential For Lagging: While users in general seem happy with what Inkscape has to offer, there are some who have reported what can be a very annoying problem – lagging. For those who have experienced this problem, it seems to be more prevalent towards the end of creating highly complex images where a lot of layers are involved.
Add-Ons Not Really A Thing: This could really be a pro or a con. If you’re someone who likes to customize their open-source software with inexpensive add-ons, or if you’re banking on using add-ons to fill in the core software’s gaps, then you may be disappointed to discover that Inkscape doesn’t currently offer a whole lot of options. This may be because Inkscape already has a huge number of features built in.
No Animation: Inkscape cannot be used to create animation; however, the developers are hoping that someday it might. Until then, Inkscape can be used to crease scalable vector graphics which can then be turned into animation using subsequent tools. Inkscape offers a list of those tools here.
A Few Missing Tools: While Inkscape comes fully stocked with cool features, there are some experienced Adoble Illustrator users who have pointed out that Inkscape lacks some of their most favorite tools. One of these is something comparable to a Gradient Mesh tool, which allows users to have fine control over color gradients, helping to produce more realistic images.
How to Get Inkscape
Inkscape has a lot of potential for professional and recreational design. If you’ve already wracked up experience in drawing programs, the sky is the limit when it comes to creating images on Inkscape. The organization’s site offers a gallery that showcases examples of what some of their users have created. Inkscape is compatible on both Windows and Mac OS X; however, Mac users may have to download X Quartz prior to installation. Inkscape can be downloaded directly from their website.