Inkscape Essentials for Web Designers

Inkscape is an open source 2D drawing tool that helps you create graphic designs, from simple buttons and logos to full blown posters and web page designs. Inkscape is similar to Adobe Illustrator or CorelDraw and gives you a vector based graphics tool that uses the W3C Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) format.

Inkscape is easy to use, although learning the tricks that make designing a web site look great are more involved. Here is a book review for a new book about Inkscape.

Overview of the book

The Inkscape 0.48 Essentails for Web designers is specifically focused on helping you to create your first web site designs and does a great job of getting you started. Most if not all the techniques covered are relevant to creating other graphic works too, so its useful as a general Inkscape tutorial.

I should say up front that If you are a web designer by trade you will know all the design aspects covered in the book, although the book will help you apply that knowledge in the latest version of Inkscape (version .048).

Don’t be concerned by the seemingly low version number, this is a fully working application that has been used for production work for a number of years.

For those wanting to get into graphic design or start creating their own works, the book is quite a useful starting point to learn about a few important design concerns. Also, if you are a developer who works with graphic designers, you will find interest in understanding how graphic designs are created. No technical skills are really required except the basics of using desktop software with a modern graphical user interface. With no prior design knowledge, I was able to use Inkscape to do some basic posters, using the book has helped me do more involved designs and uses the more advanced features of Inkscape.

Inkscape is open source software and is licensed under GNU General Public License (GPL) and there are many examples of works create with Inkscape under the creative commons licences - eg

While the focus on the book is Inkscape for web design, all the techniques are useful if you want to create advertising posters, desktop wallpapers, company logos, single page comics, etc. The only limitation to using Inkscape, apart from your creativity and imagination, is that it only does a single page graphic in each inkscape window, but each graphic can be saved as individual images and made into a document using Scribus or OpenOffice / LibreOffice as Inkscape can save your designs using standard image formats (png, jpeg, svg, etc.)

The book content is nice and clean, with content on pages nicely spaced out making the book really easy to read and follow, so no need to be daunted by the 316 page count.

As the book progresses it assumes you have read earlier chapters so does not repeat exact details, for example the exact steps to create drop shadows is shown only once, keeping the book nice and to the point. You will therefore get the most out of the book by following along with the exercises in Inkscape.

So the book covers simple design techniques useful for any graphic design, along with lots of good ideas on how to design and enhancing your website, from site layouts, templates to animations.

The book in more detail

An important starting point in the book is the overview of vector graphics and how they differ from raster graphics (eg. vector graphics scale uniformly and you dont get blur when scaling images). This concisely sets the scene as to why vector graphics are better for web design - flexibility, quality and small file sizes.

The Inkscape install guidance is nothing more than download and install but this is probably all you need. There are a few hints for Mac Users to help them out. There are packages available for Ubuntu and Debian based distributions in their respective distribution repositories. A Microsoft Windows installer is also available from the downloads section of the Inkscape website.

The tour of the Inkscape user interface is very detailed with a good indication of what you can do with all the controls that make up Inkscape. There are just about enough drawings provided as examples, although I would have liked a few more images to make the tour a little clearer. I recommend you read the Inkscape tour in dual page view if you are reading the ebook (pdf) version.

The design concepts in the book start with web site layouts in chapter 2, steadily building each of the design aspects onto the site layout (images, text, patterns, icons, buttons and logos, site maps). The book covers four basic design principles of Proximity, Alignment, Repetition, Contrast and suggests reading The Non-Designer’s Design Book: Design and Typographic Principles for the Visual Novice by Robin Williams for more detailed study.

You are walked through step by step construction of a basic web page design - including header, footer, sidebar, content, navigation. Using guides, grids and aligning techniques to manage your web page layout. Pulling all the design work together to create a store-front for a website. Its pretty hard to go wrong following these steps. The book use the same web design jargon you get in industry and any jargon used is explained well enough.

When you have created your web page design, you are shown how to slice up that design and export it as a series of image files (png) for use in the HTML code of the actual web page. This is the same basic process as used in industry.

Throughout the book there are specific chapters on working with images, styling text, creating logos and buttons, using patterns for background images and more details on creating flow diagrams such as for creating web site maps.

Each chapter again builds on the previous information to give you an easy to follow guide and provides examples of why the design techniques covered here are important along with approaches to create the most suitable designs for your clients.

There is nice coverage of how to use Inkscape and GIMP in collaboration to create your own animations for your website. The animations are relatively simple but effective, scrolling text and a sailing boat on the sea, showning you the technique in more than enough detail for any website design using animated GIF images.

Getting a little more technical at the end of the book, though still easy to follow, it covers the XML structures that Inkscape uses to hold your graphic designs. These XML structures let you tweak your designs using Inkscapes XML editor. There is also a reference section on the various plugins available for Inkscape, mentioning specifically Agave for colour palette management and Export to PDF CMYK for color separation for the CMYK standard. There is also a section on how to create your own custom page templates.

What I would have liked more of

I would have liked to see more information about filters that you can apply to your designs.  There are a nice range of filters you can use in Inkscape and some are simple enough to use, but there are some that give great effects but have quite a few options you can tweek.  There is plenty of scope for doing a whole chapter on using filters that would make the book more complete.

In Summary

Inkscape 0.48 essentials for Web Designers is a great book to get started with Inkscape, especially if you are designing your own site. For example, If you have installed wordpress and want to create some custom themes, then this book would be very helpful to make your site stand out from the crowd.

There is an Inkscape Illustrators Cookbook out in April 2011 that seems more general compared to web developers book but as mentioned before, all the concepts presented in the web developers book are relevant for creating other graphic designs.

The book never attempts to teach you all about design, that would require a much larger book. There is enough design information in here to get you started on a good path and give you a good steer in the right direction. The coverage of Inkscape is very detailed and will help you get the most out of the tool, whether you are using it for web development or other graphical design activities.

This book makes a nice addition to the online resources available for Inkscape and with its tutorial style is a good contrast to other Inkscape books available which may contain more reference material but are more general in nature.

Thank you.

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