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Tutorial 1 – Getting Acquainted with the Work Area

Sample art work

Learning the parts of the work area and how to navigate among them will help you make effective use of Inkscape. The work area includes the canvas, page, scratch area, and toolbars.


In this tutorial on the work area, you will learn:

You will be working on an art file in this tutorial.

  1. Double-click the Inkscape icon to launch Inkscape. The work area appears after several seconds of uploading Inkscape into your computer’s CPU. It might take up to a minute or more on a slow computer. Be patient! Inkscape will come up.

    Image of initial work area
  2. Click on the Tutorial01Image01.svg link in this tutorial and download the Tutorial01Image01.svg file to your computer.

    Art work

    The image is larger than will fit on the screen — its bottom is hidden behind the horizontal scroll bar. To resize the image so that it fits just right in the screen, click on the Zoom in or out (F3) icon Zoom in or out icon in the toolbox on the left of the screen, and then click on the Zoom to fit page in window (5) icon in the toolbar above the work area Zoom to fit page in window icon. The image now fits perfectly in the window. We’ll work more with the Zoom function later in this tutorial.

  3. Choose File > Save As..., name the file Music, and navigate to a folder where you would like to store the file using the Save in menu. In the Save as Type bar, leave the type of file format set to the Inkscape SVG (*.svg) default format, and click Save. Inkscape will automatically append the .svg (scalable vector graphics) extension to the filename.

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What’s in the Work Area

The Canvas: The canvas is all the space inside the Inkscape window available for you to draw on. It includes the area that houses the artwork you're working on and the area outside the page boundary.

The Page: The page, also called the artboard, is part of the canvas. It is bounded by solid lines and represents the region containing printable artwork. By default, the artboard is the same size as a 210 mm × 297 mm sheet of A4 paper, but you can enlarge it (for example, up to 11 in. × 17 in. and larger) or reduced to card-size.

The Scratch Area: The scratch area is all the area outside of the page boundaries. You can use this space for storing pieces of imagery that you can use later in your artwork, trying out experiments, doodling, and more.

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Viewing Your Artwork

When you first open a file, Inkscape displays it in Normal view mode. In this mode, you can see how the artwork will print. If you are working on an image that is really large or complex, you might prefer to view the work in Outline mode. You will see only the outlines of individual objects. Objects that are partially or totally hidden behind others will be visible as outlines, thus allowing you to manipulate them more easily. You also give Inkscape a break because it doesn't have to redraw the screen every time you make a change.

  1. Choose View > Display mode > Outline. You now see only the outlines of objects. Use this view mode to find objects that are not visible in Normal mode.

  2. Now choose View > Display mode > Normal. The image returns to its previous color version.

  3. Choose View > Color display mode > Grayscale. Colors are transformed to their grayscale equivalents. Use Grayscale as a way of previewing your work before printing it using a laserjet printer or displaying it using a non-color medium.

    Outline view
    Outline view

    Grayscale view
    Grayscale view

    Normal view
    Normal view

    Choose View > Color display mode > Normal to return to full color.

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Getting Acquainted with the Toolbox

The Inkscape toolbox contains selection tools, drawing, painting, and erasing tools, and more tools whose uses you’ll find more about as you go through these tutorials. You make a tool active by either clicking on it or using a shortcut key (also called a or Hot Key) combination as shown below.

Toolbar with Labels
Toolbar, Tool Hot Keys, and Hidden Tool Submenu.

The Mesh, Dropper, and Connector tools are available when you click on the double-arrow button Double-arrow button at the bottom of the
toolbar at the bottom of the toolbox.

  1. You select a tool by either clicking on its icon in the toolbox or by pressing the tool’s keyboard shortcut key combination (Hot Key combination). For example, you press F3 to select the Zoom in or out tool. Selected tools stay active until you choose a different tool.

  2. If you can't remember the shortcut key for a tool, you can position the cursor over that tool’s icon and a tooltip will appear showing you the tool’s name and shortcut key. The Inkscape manual also contains a list of all the shortcut keys. You’ll learn about the Inkscape manual later in this tutorial.

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Changing the View of Your Artwork

You can magnify or demagnify your artwork using a few different tools. Inkscape shows you the percentage of the image's actual size in the Zoom bar located in the lower right corner of the Inkscape screen:

Zoom bar location

When you use any of the viewing tools, only the screen display of your work is affected, not its actual size.

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View Commands

Magnify or demagnify the view of the artwork by doing the following:

Each time you use a Zoom In or Zoom Out command, the view of the artwork is resized to the next predefined zoom amount. You can see the percentage amount in the Zoom bar in the lower right corner of the screen.

You can also use the View menu to fit the artwork to your screen, or to view it at actual size.

  1. Choose View > Zoom > Page. A reduced view of the entire document is displayed in the window. The magnification is at 48%. Pressing the number 5 (shortcut key) produces the same result.

    Page view
    Page view.
  2. Now choose View > Zoom > Page Width. The artwork is magnified so that the artwork page width spans the width of the Inkscape screen. Pressing the number 6 (shortcut key) does the same thing. Note the percentage amount of zoom in the Zoom bar (153%).

    Page width view
    Page width view.
  3. Choose View > Zoom > Drawing. The screen now shows the Music.svg artwork in exactly the same way as you saw it using the View > Zoom > Page command. These two views are similar because the Music.svg artwork fits almost exactly on the drawing page. If the image was smaller, then it would be magnified to fit the screen. In the case above, the magnification is at 47% instead of 48%.

  4. Another useful viewing function allows you to select a specific item in your artwork with the Select tool and expand the view to focus on the object of interest.

    Try it out by:

    1. clicking on the Select tool (Selection Tool)(Note the Select and transform objects tooltip that appears when you hover over the tool icon):

      Click on the
          Selection tool
    2. then clicking on a spot in the artwork that you would like to get a closer look at:

      Selecting an object
    3. and then choosing View > Zoom > Selection. The object you selected now fills the screen awaiting your close examination. Note the bounding box surrounding the selected object that helps you distinguish the selected object from the others.

      Enlarged object
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The Zoom Tool

In addition to the View commands, you can use the Zoom tool Zoom In or Out tool in the toolbox to magnify and reduce the view of artwork. Use the View menu to select predefined magnification levels or to fit your artwork inside the document window.

  1. Click the Zoom tool Zoom In
    or Out tool in the toolbar to select the tool, and move the cursor into the document window. Notice that a plus sign appears at the center of the Zoom tool Zoom
    tool with plus sign.

  2. Position the Zoom tool over the topmost treble clef and click once. The artwork is now displayed at a higher magnification.

  3. Click two more times in the same spot. The view is increased again, and you'll notice that the area you click is magnified. The spot that you clicked on stays centered underneath the cursor. Next, you'll reduce the view of the artwork.

  4. With the Zoom tool Zoom In
    or Out tool still selected, position the pointer over the uppermost bass clef and hold down the <Shift> key. A minus sign appears at the center of the Zoom tool Demagnifier tool.

  5. With the <Shift> key still depressed, click in the artwork twice. The view of the artwork is reduced.

You can achieve a much more controlled and effective zoom by dragging a marquee to magnify a specific area of your artwork.

  1. With the Zoom tool Zoom In
    or Out tool still selected, hold the left mouse button down and drag over the area of the illustration you want to magnify; watch as a marquee appears around the area you are dragging, then release the mouse button. The area that was included in the marqueed area is now enlarged to fit the size of the document window.

    Magnifying marquee
    Area selected
    Magnified area
    Resulting view
  2. Repeat this technique to get to the end of the sequence of treble clefs or bass clefs in the artwork! You can do some serious magnifying! (Inkscape allows you to get up to a magnification of 25,600%! That's really high magnification!)

    Highly magnified area
    The end of the line.
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The Zoom Tool bar

When you click on the Zoom tool, the Zoom Toolbar appears just above the view screen. It contains icon versions of all the Zoom commands available to you in the View > Zoom menu. A tooltip appears when you hover over a tool icon.

Zoom toolbar
Zoom toolbar.
  1. Click on the Zoom to fit page in window icon Zoom to fit page in window icon to resize the Music.svg artwork.

  2. Click on the Zoom to 1:1 icon Zoom to 1:1 icon. The artwork is redrawn to 100% of the drawing size. At this scale, one Inkscape drawing pixel equals one screen pixel.

  3. Click on the Zoom to 1:2 icon Zoom to 1:2 icon. The artwork is redrawn to 50% of its drawing size.

  4. Click on the Zoom to 2:1 icon Zoom to 2:1 icon. The artwork is redrawn to twice (200%) its drawing size.

  5. Click slowly several times on the View Previous button Previous Zoom button to see the magnification history of your artwork.

  6. Now, go forward in history by clicking slowly the View Next button Next Zoom button to retrace your viewing history.

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The Quick View Tool

This tool is great for letting you quickly view single, and perhaps tiny, items in a complicated piece of artwork without having to select a specific magnification.

  1. With the Select tool Selection tool, select any of the individual clefs in the artwork. A really small clef is a good choice.

  2. With the clef selected (you'll see the selection bounding box), press the q key (capital Q works, also). The clef is magnified to fit the screen so you can easily see its details. Note that it is inside a bounding box to help you distinguish the clef as being selected.

  3. Release the q key. The original artwork appears.

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If Your Mouse Has a Wheel

  1. If your mouse has a wheel, press <Ctrl> and roll forward to magnify your artwork incrementally. Press <Ctrl> and roll the wheel backward to demagnify incrementally. Try it out on the Music.svg picture.

  2. Place the cursor at one or another particular spot in the artwork and <Ctrl>-roll forward the wheel. See how the spot where the cursor is located stays put.

  3. Now, place the cursor somewhere else and <Ctrl>-roll backward. The artwork is reduced in size with the cursor location staying in place.

  4. Recenter and resize the artwork by clicking on the Zoom to fit page in window icon Zoom to fit in the Zoom bar.

Moving Around the Canvas

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Using the Scroll Bars

You can move left, right, up, and down using the horizontal and vertical scroll bars.

  1. With the Music.svg artwork zoomed to fit the drawing page, move it around left and right, and up and down using the scroll bars to get an initial feel for doing this.

  2. Now, click on the Zoom tool Zoom In or Out tool and then click on the Zoom to 2:1 icon Zoom to 2:1 icon in the Zoom bar. Note that the scroll bars have shrunk in size. Move around the artwork and get a feel for how their sensitivity to movement has changed.

  3. Click on the Zoom to 1:2 icon Zoom to 1:2 icon. See how the scroll bars have increased in size, especially the horizontal scroll. Now move the artwork hither and thither, over and yonder. Feel the difference in movement sensitivity. You can move the drawing page only a limited amount horizontally, but you can move it out of sight vertically.

Play with different magnifications to get a good feel for how the scroll bars work.

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Using the Mouse Wheel

You can move left and right, up and down easily with the mouse wheel. Mouse wheel forward moves you upscreen, mouse wheel backward moves you downscreen. Pressing <Shift>-wheel forward moves you to the left of the screen, causing the view to move right. Pressing <Shift>-wheel backward moves you to the right of the screen, causing the view to move left. But don't just read these words! Do it!

  1. Center and resize the Music.svg artwork using the Zoom to fit page in window icon Zoom to fit in the Zoom bar.

  2. Roll the mouse wheel forward and see how fast the artwork drops down and disappears off the screen.

  3. Now roll the mouse wheel backward a bit more slowly and watch the artwork reappear. Center it on the screen.

  4. Now press the <Shift> key and roll the mouse wheel forward. The artwork moves to the right and off the screen as your view shifts to the left.

  5. Bring the picture back by <Shift>-backward rolling the wheel. Center the artwork.

  6. Increase the size of the picture using the Zoom to 1:2 icon Zoom to 1:2 icon.

  7. Using combinations of rolling the mouse wheel and <Shift>-rolling the mouse wheel, traverse the train of treble clefs from largest to smallest. Then, cross down to the smallest bass clefs and move through the train of bass clefs to the largest one.

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Removing the Scroll Bars

Both the horizontal and vertical scroll bars occupy space that you might need as you do your work. You can toggle them off and on by pressing <Ctrl>-b (<Ctrl>-B works, too).

  1. Press <Ctrl>-b. The scroll bars disappear. Move around using any technique you'd like. The view still moves as if the scroll bars were still there.

  2. Press <Ctrl>-b to turn the scroll bars back on. Now you are aware that a little bit of screen space is covered up by the bars.

Whether you need to see the scroll bars or not depends upon your artwork and your preference. If the bars hide important details around the edges, then turn them off. If they help guide you as you locate items in the work, turn or keep them on.

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Working with Dockable Dialogs

Dockable dialogs are dialog windows that can help to make modifying artwork easier by readily giving you access to many of Inkscape’s functions. By default, they appear on the right side of the screen. You can rearrange them, resize them (space permitting), stack them one ontop another, and turn them into icons for later use.

Below we see one dockable dialog for the Fill and Stroke function:

One dockable dialog visible

Clicking on the exit symbol Exit symbol in the upper right corner of the dialog window will remove the dialog from the screen.

However, clicking on the small arrow symbol Iconify symbol will reduce the dialog window to an icon which is placed as a strip along the right side of the screen.

Iconified dialog

If you have two or more dialogs up, you switch between them by clicking in one or the other. You can also iconify both to open up space and yet keep the dialogs available for immediate use.

Two dialogs up, one active
Two dialogs up and available.
Two dialogs iconified
The previous two dialogs iconified.

You can literally tear off a dialog from its position on the right side of the screen and make it a free-floating window. Left-click on the dialog’s title bar and drag it to the middle of the screen. This capability of moving dialogs to other places on the screen might be a boon to artists and designers who work well with a fluidly manageable work area.

Free-floating dialog

To complete the section on working with dockable dialogs, look up dockable dialogs using the Comprehensive Index. When you’re at the index, choose D > Dialogs > Floating.

Speaking of the Inkscape manual, that subject is coming up next.

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Using the Inkscape Manual

For complete information about using palettes and tools, you can use the Inkscape manual. The manual includes keyboard shortcuts and additional information, including full-color galleries of examples. All the illustrations in the Inkscape Manual are in color.

The Inkscape Manual is easy to use because you can look for topics in these ways:

Inkscape Manual Contents

The Inkscape Manual is a living document. As Inkscape continues to evolve, the manual is updated to incorporate any latest changes, such as new image manipulating techniques, additions to styles, and other add-ons.

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Looking Up A Tutorial

The manual contains a comprehensive list of tutorials on specific topics, such as how to create shapes, move and transform them, modify them, work with different effects, work with image files, and much, much more.

You are going to look up a particular topic of interest in the manual. You need your browser with Javascript active. In this example, you want to learn about how you can create shapes using Inkscape’s shape tools.

  1. To access the Inkscape Manual, choose Help > Tutorials > Inkscape: Shapes.

    The Inkscape tutorial on shapes comes up:

    Inkscape tutorial on shapes
  2. Scroll down and immerse yourself in all the capabilities that Inkscape offers you in creating shapes from basic simplicity to things that defy description. This is just a start. As you read and learn, play with the examples the tutorial provides to get a hands-on feel. When you are finished, you can save the tutorial with all the changes you made to the examples or exit it without saving your changes.

Below is an example of me goofing around:

Goofing around using the Inkscape tutorial on shapes
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Inkscape Keys and Mouse Reference

If you need a reference source for how Inkscape uses the keyboard and mouse, then

  1. choose Help > Keys and Mouse Reference. The top of the document is shown below. It is long and exhaustive.

    Inkscape Keys and Mouse Reference
  2. Scroll down to view how keys and the mouse work in the canvas environment:

    Keys and mouse reference for the canvas environment
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Using the Comprehensive Index

The comprehensive index gives you access to a well-detailed rich encyclopedia about Inkscape. Suppose you want to know about Inkscape’s Outline function.

  1. Choose Help > Inkscape Manual.

  2. Scroll down the page until you reach the bottom of the Table of Contents:

    Link to the Comprehensive Index
  3. Click on the Comprehensive Index link. The Comprehensive Index page comes up:

    Comprehensive Index top of page
  4. Click on O. You are taken to the O section of the manual. Scroll down until you reach Outline Mode:

    O section of the manual
  5. Click on the Outline Mode link. You are taken to the Outline Mode page:

    Outline Mode section of the Manual
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Index by Menu and Index by Tool

These two indexes are arranged according to Inkscape menus and tools, both in alphabetical order. The top part of both indexes are shown below:

Index by menu, top part of page
Page top of the Index by Menu.
Index by tool, top part of page
Page top of the Index by Tool.

Take or make some time to explore the Inkscape Manual. It is vast, comprehensive, and is always being updated to reflect latest developments.

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Review Quiz

  1. What are two ways to change the view of your artwork?
  2. How can you select tools in Inkscape?
  3. What are two ways to change how a dialog is displayed?
  4. Describe two ways to obtain more information about Inkscape.

Review Quiz Answers

  1. You can select commands from the View menu to zoom in or out of a document, or fit it to your screen; you can also use the Zoom tool in the toolbox, and click or drag over a document to enlarge or reduce the view. In addition, you can use keyboard shortcuts to magnify or reduce the display of artwork.

  2. To select a tool, you can either click the tool in the toolbox or press the tool’s keyboard shortcut. For example, you can press the F9 key to choose the Spiral tool from the keyboard. Selected tools remain active until you click a different tool.

  3. You can 1) iconify the dialog by clicking on the small arrow symbol Iconify symbol, 2) tear the dialog off from its moorings on the right side of the screen to make it a free-floating window, or 3) you can click on the exit symbol Exit symbol to "exit" the dialog away.

  4. The Inkscape Manual contains a vast amount of information on Inkscape features and functions. The Comprehensive Index (and Index of Menus and Index of Tools) also contains information arranged alphabetically and categorically. The Inkscape community is also a resource of knowledge and wisdom.

Link to Table of Contents
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