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a Quick Guide to Inkscape

This is a guide is for artists or hobbyist who are already familiar with one vector drawing application and are looking to try Inkscape. Even if this isn't you, you might still find this guide useful.

Red Monika

It will hopefully be a good quick reference to help users overcome the hurdle of getting to know a different application, reveal some of the differences with other vector drawing applications, and highlight just a few of Inkscape's lesser known or more attractive features.

Many simplistic and obvious features aren't described at all in this guide. For a thorough guide to all of Inkscape's features, visit http://tavmjong.free.fr/INKSCAPE/.

In most cases I only list keyboard shortcuts for functions, but many of these functions are also found easily in the menus or on palettes and toolbars.


  1. The Inkscape Window
  2. Illustrator-Inkscape Translation Dictionary
  3. Working with Paths
    1. Drawing a path
      1. Creating a path
      2. Finish a path
      3. Cancel a path
    2. Edit a path
      1. Add a node
      2. Delete a node
      3. Split / break a node
      4. Combine / join nodes
      5. Continue / append an open path
      6. Delete a segment
      7. Join nodes with a new segment
      8. Change node type
  4. Working with objects
    1. Selecting objects
    2. Selecting an obscured object
    3. Resizing & rotating an object
    4. Ordering objects
    5. Duplicating objects
    6. Cloning Objects
  5. Working with Groups
    1. Grouping & Ungrouping
    2. Selecting objects within a group
    3. Add objects to a group
  6. Working with Clips & Masks
    1. Defining a Clip or Mask
    2. Clip / Mask multiple objects
    3. Edit objects in a clip / mask
    4. Add objects to a clip / mask
    5. Edit the clipping / masking object
  7. Working with Layers
    1. Moving objects between layers
  8. Working with Gradients
    1. Creating a gradient
    2. Applying an already defined gradient
    3. Position / transform a gradient
    4. Reversing a gradient
    5. Repeating gradient
    6. Asymmetric radial gradient
  9. Conclusion and copyright

The Inkscape Window

Inkscape Window

Note that the Tool Control Bar will display icons specific to the tool you have selected.

Illustrator-Inkscape Translation Dictionary

For those already familiar with Adobe Illustrator, here's a brief translation of Illustrator terms and tool names to their Inkscape equivalent.

Illustrator Inkscape
Anchor Anchor Node (smooth) Node (smooth)
Handle Handle Handle Handle
Anchor (corner) Anchor (corner) Node (cusp) Node (cusp)
Slection Tool Selection Tool (V) Selector Tool Selector Tool (S)
Direct Selection Tool Direct Selection Tool (A) Node Tool Node Tool (N)
Pen Tool Pen Tool (P) Bezier Tool Bezier Tool (B)
Pencil Tool Pencil Tool (N) Freehand Tool Freehand Tool (P)
  Live Trace   Trace Bitmap

Working with paths

Drawing a path

Paths are drawn using either the Bezier tool Bezier Tool or the Freehand tool Freehand Tool. Unless you have a graphics tablet you will most likely always use the Bezier tool.

Creating a path
Tool: Bezier Tool
Drawing a path

Laying a path with the Bezier tool involves simply clicking each spot you want a node to appear. A single-click creates a sharp node whilst mouse-drag creates a smooth node.

As you draw Inkscape shows the segments of the line you've laid in green and the unfinished segment as red. To undo the previous segment, press Backspace or Delete.

Finish path:
Tool: Bezier Tool
Segment finished with double-click
Segment finished using double-click
Segment finished by pressing Enter
Segment finished using Enter or Right-clicking

Double-clicking will finish the path with the unfinished segment (red) whilst pressing Enter or Right-clicking will end the path and discard the unfinished segment. Clicking or mouse-dragging on the starting node will create a closed path.

Cancel path - Bezier Tool

Press Escape or Ctrl+Z to cancel the entire path.

Edit a path

Add a node:
Tool: Node Tool
Tool Control: Insert Node
Add Node

Double-click or Ctrl+Alt+Click on a segment to add a node in that spot.

Delete a node:
Tool: Node Tool
Tool Control: Node Delete
Delete Node
Delete attempts to preserve the shape by adjusting the adjacent node handles.
Ctrl Delete Node
Ctrl + Delete does not preserve the shape.

You can Ctrl+Alt+Click a node to delete it, or select the node and press Delete or Backspace. With either of these options Inkscape will modify the handles on the remaining nodes to try and preserve the shape of the path. If you don't want this to happen, press Ctrl+Delete or Ctrl+Backspace instead.

Split / break node:
Tool: Node Tool
Tool Control: Node Break
Split Node
It may not be obvious you've split a node until you move one.

Select the node and press Shift+B to split or break it into two nodes.

Combine / join nodes:
Tool: Node Tool
Tool Control: Node Join
Join Node

Select two end nodes and press Shift+J to combine them into one node.

Continue / append an open path: Bezier Tool
Tool: Bezier Tool
Continue Path

Select the path and start drawing from one of the end nodes with the Pen Tool.

Delete a segment:
Tool: Node Tool
Tool Control: Node Delete Segment
Delete Segment

Select the segment, or the two nodes at either end of the segment, and press the Node Delete Segment button to delete it.

Join nodes with a new segment:
Tool: Node Tool
Tool Control: Node Join Segment
Join Nodes with Segment

Select the two end nodes and press the Node Join Segment button to create a segment between them.

Change node type:
Tool: Node Tool
Tool Control: Node Cusp, Node Smooth, Node Symetric
Split Node
A smooth node is indicated by a square whilst a cusp node uses a diamond.

Press Shift+C to make a cusp node. Press Shift+S to make a smooth node. Press Ctrl+Delete to make a smooth node with symmetrical handle lengths. Alternatively you can Ctrl+Click the node to toggle through each node type.

Working with Objects

For clarification, an object is a general term to describe all shapes that make up a drawing. Text, shapes, paths, anything drawn, is an object. This includes groups of objects.

Selecting objects:
Tool: Selector Tool
Selected Object

Unlike applications like Adobe Illustrator and some other graphics applications, Inkscape does not provide a view of how all your objects are stacked in a drawing. You can only select objects from within the canvas area with the Selector tool.

Selecting an obscured object:
Tool: Selector Tool
Selected Obscured Object

Sometimes you can't select an object because another object is above it. You can cycle through the selection of objects by pressing Tab or you can Alt+Click to cycle through selecting just the objects below the mouse cursor.

Resizing & rotating an object:
Tool: Selector Tool
Selected Obscured Object

Select an object to show its transform handles. Click the object again to toggle rotation handles for the object.

Ordering Objects:
Tool: Selector Tool
Reorder Objects

To raise or lower an objects order press Page Up or Page Down respectively. To raise or lower an object to the very top or very bottom press Home or End respectively.

Duplicating Objects:
Tool: Selector Tool
Duplicate Objects

Press Ctrl + D to duplicate an object. This is similar to copying and pasting an object except it's position is the same as the original.

Cloning Objects:
Tool: Selector Tool
Clone Objects

To clone a object press Alt + D. Cloning is similar to duplicating except the clone maintains a link to the original so when you edit the original object the changes will be reflected in clone/s also. To select the original object whilst a clone is selected press Shift + D. You can unlink a clone from the original by pressing Shift + Alt + D whilst the clone is selected.

Working with Groups

Groups are a way of grouping multiple objects into a new object that can be treated the same as a regular object. Even after grouping, individual objects within the group can still be edited.

Grouping & Ungrouping:
Tool: Selector Tool
Group Objects

To group multiple objects press Ctrl + G and press Ctrl + U to ungroup.

Selecting objects within a group:
Tool: Selector Tool
Select objects in group

To select an object within a group Ctrl+Click. Use Ctrl+Alt+Click to select obscured objects in a group. This is true for clips and masks as well. Alternatively, you can enter a group by pressing Ctrl+Enter or double-clicking and then select the objects as normal. To break out of the group, press Ctrl+Backspace or select an object outside of the group.

Add objects to a group:
Tool: Selector Tool
Add objects to group

Press Ctrl + Enter or double-click to enter the group then draw or paste the new object to include.

Working with Clips & Masks

Clip and Mask

Clips and Masks are used to restrict what parts of an object are visible. The shape of the object used as a clip defines the area that is visible whilst the transparency or lightness of an object used as a mask determines the area that is visible.

Defining a Clip or Mask:
Tool: Selector Tool
Clip defined

Select two object and make sure the top most object is the object you want to use as the clip/mask. Select Set for either Clip or Mask under the Object menu.

Clip / Mask multiple objects:
Tool: Selector Tool
Clip Multiple Objects

If you select three objects and set a clip / mask where the top object is used as the clipping / masking object you'll end up with two separate clipped / masked objects. If you want to clip / mask multiple object, group the objects first.

Edit objects in a clip / mask:
Tool: Selector Tool
Edit oject within a clip

Double-click a clip / mask to enter it and you will then be able to select and edit the objects in it. If you are clipping / masking a group you will also be able to use Ctrl + Enter.

Add objects to a clip / mask:
Tool: Selector Tool
Add object to clip
You will only be able to add objects to a clip / mask if you are clipping / masking a group. Double-click or Ctrl + Enter to enter the clipped / masked group then draw or paste the new object to include.
Edit the clipping / masking object:
Tool: Selector Tool
Edit clip shape

To edit a clipping or masking object you will need to release the mask (Object > Clip or Mask > Release). The only way to edit a clipping / masking object without releasing it is if the clipping / masking object is a cloned object and you edit the original.


Working with Layers

Layers work much the same as layers on other applications and the can be re-ordered, visibility toggled and locked from editing using the Layers palette or the Layer Information in the Status Bar.

Moving objects between layers:
Tool: Selector Tool

To move an object to the layer above or below press Shift + Page Up or Shift + Page Down respectively.

Working with Gradients

Creating a gradient:
Tool: Gradient Tool

Defining a gradient is pretty straight forward. Simply select an object, use the Gradient Tool to lay a new gradient then click the Edit button on the Tool Control bar to open the Gradient Editor where you can edit the gradient.

Applying an already defined gradient:
Tool: Gradient Tool
Gradient selection

Inkscape encourages you to re-use the same gradient on multiple objects. To apply a gradient already used by another object, select the object then the Gradient Tool and select the gradient from the drop-down list on the Tool Control bar. Alternative, copy an object that uses the gradient (Ctrl + C) then paste the style on the target object (Ctrl + Shift + Z), but note this will copy all styles associated with the source object including the position of the gradient.

Note: When you edit a gradient the changes will be reflected in all objects that use it. You can duplicate a gradient to make subtle changes for a specific object.

Position / transform a gradient:
Tool: Gradient Tool or Node Tool
Transform gradient

Using either the Gradient Tool or the Node Tool you can easily position and transform a linear and radial gradient by grabbing its handles on the Inkscape canvas.

Reversing a gradient:
Tool: Gradient Tool
Reverse gradient

Press Shift + R to reverse a gradient. Note that if the gradient is used on other objects it will be duplicated so it doesn't affect those objects.

Repeating gradient:
Repeating gradient

On the Fill and Stroke palette, select the repeat mode (reflected or direct) for the gradient on the selected object from the drop-down list.

Asymmetric radial gradient:
Tool: Gradient Tool or Node Tool
Asymetric Radial Gradient

You can modify the centre position of a radial gradient to make it asymmetric by Shift + drag the centre handle.

Conclusion and Copyright

I hope you found this this guide useful.

Note that the images of the ladies were digitally inked and coloured by myself using Inkscape, based off pencils provided by King-Cheetah (http://king-cheetah.deviantart.com/) and renecordova (http://renecordova.deviantart.com/) respectively.

You can leave comments about this guide at InkscapeForum.com or at DeviantArt.