The Inkscape Team is pleased to deliver its newest version, 0.40. The development cycle has been particularly long and intense this time, but we feel it’s our best release yet.
The new layer functionality was tough to fully implement but we’re already seeing artists take up
this capability with glee. The text-on-path feature enables some very
elaborate text layout, that folks have been asking about for quite some
time. The new bitmap tracing support opens some very intriguing
capabilities that we’re quite interested to see put into use.
And we’ve closed a larger quantity of bug reports in this release than
in any other (by nearly a factor of two!). We’ll take a quick tour of
the major new features in this article.
If you’ve ever used a vector drawing tool before, you’ll probably find
the buttons and controls pretty obvious. If not, or if you want to
learn the tool in detail, Inkscape includes several handy tutorials
under the Help menu item. New tutorials for 0.40 include Shapes, Calligraphy,
The principal feature for this release is the layer
management. Technically, we implemented them as a special
type of SVG ‘group’.
The main use of this feature is to allow sets of shapes to be hidden
and/or locked (unselectable) so you can focus on one part or aspect
of your drawing and ignore others. Being in a layer also limits the default scope of
keyboard selection and search commands to the current layer, which is very
convenient when you have hundreds of objects in your drawing.
This should enable artists to create much more sophisticated artwork
than has been possible in previous
releases of Inkscape.
New layers can be created through the Layer menu. You can also move,
rename, and delete layers via this menu. Note the ‘quick layer selector’
in the statusbar at the bottom of the window; it provides instant visual feedback
(“what layer am I in?”) and is very handy for reviewing the layers in the document, switching
current layer, and toggling the hide and lock status of the current layer (using the two buttons).
It is worth noting that unlike most other vector editors, when you select something outside
the current layer, Inkscape switches to that object’s layer. This feature is somewhat experimental
(feedback welcome!) but it has been quite convenient in our testing so far. Most of the time, you
don’t even need to use the layer switcher, but navigate through layers by selecting objects in them. The new
“select under” mode (Alt+click) is also very useful in this regard.
Text On Path
Another long-requested feature is the ability to place text on arbitrary
paths. In other words, you can write text around a circle, or march it
along a sinusoidal curve.
Here’s how you do it. First, draw a line. Make it as
squiggly as you like. Next, make a text object and write a few
sentences. Now, select both the path and the text, and then in the menu
activate Text > Put on Path. Easy!
You can put text onto stars, spirals, and ellipses just fine.
You can’t put text onto text, but if you convert the base text
to a path, you can wrap another line of text around it! What’s really exciting, however, is that
both the path and the text remain fully editable. You can even put several texts to
one path and freely move or transform them without losing the link to the path.
A not-uncommon way to create a vector graphic is to cheat – trace it!
In the past, we’ve seen the excellent results
that artists achieve by importing a bitmap into Inkscape and manually tracing paths on
top of it.
Inkscape 0.40 makes it even easier to “cheat”, by incorporating an automatic
bitmap-to-vector tracing tool called potrace. It’s very easy to use: Import
a bitmap into Inkscape, select it, then choose Path > Trace Bitmap
from the menu. A dialog will pop up with options to
control the type of tracing to perform, threshholds, etc.
The ability to randomize the shapes of stars was another feature added
in this release, not due to request but just because we could. 🙂 It’s pure fun, but it will definitely have its uses in design and illustration. Rounded stars are especially nice to randomize.
To use this, click on the Star tool, set the Randomized value
to something other than 0 and draw, or select an existing star and Alt+drag one of its handles.
We’ve had the Calligraphy tool since Sodipodi days, but honestly it
never really worked well. With 0.40, we’ve exposed its internal
settings, and with a bit of tweaking it now is quite powerful.
After clicking on the Calligraphy Tool, look at the controls in the Tool Control Bar. Here’s what the most important controls do:
Width: This is the width of the stroke to draw. Think of it as the width of your pen’s nib.
Thinning: This controls how much the stroke narrows (or widens, if this value is less than 0) when you draw
the pen quickly. For a perfect calligraphy style, set it to 0.
Angle: This is the angle (in degrees) of the pen nib, 0 being
horizontal. Change this to emulate different ways of holding the pen.
Fixation: This controls whether the nib angle varies with the stroke
direction. Essentially, with a value of 1 it makes the nib behave like
a carefully held calligraphy pen, and with a value of 0 it works more
like a felt pen.
And Much More!
Beyond the major changes listed above are many smaller features, usability tweaks,
performance enhancements, and an exhaustive amount of bug fixes. All of them
are thoroughly documented in the Release Notes, but of course the most fun is to discover them in use! 😉
You’ll notice some changes in layout of a few dialogs, for instance. Copy and paste,
grid, gradients, style of new objects, the statusbar, XML editor, EPS export and so on
have all received some attention and show off new ideas that users and developers have
For example, a most convenient feature was added to the tool buttons – double clicking
on them brings up the preferences for that tool. Quite handy!
We’ve got a lot to look forward to in the future. Over the next several
releases we’re undertaking a mission to implement full support of the
SVG Tiny spec. This involves supporting SVG animation,
<switch> element, anchor hyperlinks, and SVG fonts. We’d also love to gain involvement from more people, so if
you’re interested in joining in, please do!
About the Author
Bryce Harrington is a founder of the Inkscape project, and a long time open source developer. Professionally, he’s a senior performance engineer at the Open Source Development Labs. Graphics were kindly provided by Andrew ‘Brisgeek’ Fitzsimon.
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