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  • Writer's pictureKate Eunson

Inkscape, the best free graphic design software. A2D2 reveals the secret.

And why you need to download it now.

A background of meshed circles with a bright gradient colour scheme of orange, blue and yellow. The A2D2 design logo is in the middle of the circles.

I’d like to reveal straight up that it is 100% possible to download free graphic design software that is highly functional and user friendly. Inkscape™ is the answer; providing artists, graphic designers, marketers, business owners and hobbyists with a powerful tool that won’t jeopardise their budget. As owner and solo designer of Attention 2 Detail & Design (A2D2), a brand new solopreneur endeavour, I have been able to create attractive, striking, professional-looking graphic designs using Inkscape. I’ll share with you my journey of discovery and provide all the information you need to know about this gem.

The Journey of Discovery

In my previous working life I was lucky enough to have access to the Adobe Creative Suite of programs as part of that employment. At that time I had no idea of the sheer value of this resource package. Unfortunately, nor did I actually have the need for the wealth of programs available within, apart from the PDF editing and document formatting capabilities of Acrobat.

Alas, when I embarked on my current pathway towards a more creative, freelancing design future, and had the need for a program for consistent and professional graphic design, I was stunned to (re)discover the cost of the Adobe software. Not to mention the newish fact that there is no longer a ‘buy the program outright’ option but an annual subscription platform instead! Not yet earning from this new venture I simply could not justify the cost. So off to Google I went, searching “free alternatives to Illustrator” or some such query. Let me tell you, a fair range of potential options was generated and I had some exploring to do. I prefer to research and read other people’s opinions and get the lowdown before choosing something to start to use and play with myself, so I was lucky that I wasn’t alone in wanting to avoid paying the exorbitant cost of Adobe Illustrator. I can’t quite recall how long it took me to come across the gift to the graphic design world that is Inkscape, but I did and it saved and inspired me!

Inkscape's Logo is the Mountain Graphic Logo. The tagline reads Draw Freely.
Official Inkscape logo (trademarked). Original author: Andrew Michael Fitzsimon.
A machine/robot making art with Inkscape. The logo and tagline are in the top right corner.
The current 'About Screen' for Inkscape. Designed by a user.

The Best Part

Inkscape isn’t just a cheaper professional option, like the new Affinity Designer now on the market. It’s completely free and open source, meaning that the source code is openly available online for potential modification and redistribution, far and wide. It really is a product created ‘by the people, for the people’. The open source nature of Inkscape means that it has many authors, who over time, have improved and updated it and there is a passionate and supportive community of users; programmers, artists and designers, who share their knowledge and expertise to make the program itself better and better and enable other users to learn, grow, achieve (and yes earn!) in their graphic design pursuits. The ultimate mission of Inkscape is right there in their tagline: Draw Freely

Not only had I found a robust alternative, I quickly stumbled across a professional designer who has packaged together a series of engaging and easy to follow video tutorials that taught me every tool and tip for effectively utilising the program! He demonstrated that Inkscape is a totally viable professional alternative that he himself has predominantly used for years in his logo design business. I did end up paying for access to this particular resource but it was a highly affordable and reasonable amount based on the sheer volume of resources unlocked and the knowledge and skills it put at my fingertips. In addition to the wealth of information and support available through the Inkscape website itself, there is a plethora of both written and video style tutorials to be found online to help new users learn how to manage Inkscape. Some take you through each of the various tools descriptively and others lead you through the process of creating certain designs so you can learn whilst doing. Multiple styles of learning are therefore catered for. My experience using Inkscape has been smooth and generally stress free, but I started with the comprehensive Inkscape Master Class I mentioned above and it taught me all I needed to get the creative juices flowing.

Graphic designs made with Inkscape - free graphic design software

The Technical Information

Inkscape is a vector graphics editor, using standard SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics) as the main file format. Vector graphics differ from raster formats in that they are not pixel dependent and therefore are infinitely scalable whilst retaining sharp, clean lines. This makes Inkscape perfect for a range of creative and professional applications such as logos and branding images, clip art, advertising materials, typography, illustrations, infographics, desktop wallpapers, art and comics... to name just a few!

Inkscape can be used to create images from a blank canvas and also to edit both vector and raster graphics. The program is capable of opening most standard file formats including JPG, GIF, PDF and PNG and a variety of free plugins are available to extend the functionality to include formats generated by other proprietary software. Inkscape can save and export in the most common and industry standard image file formats including SVG, PNG, PDF, EPS and others. Inkscape’s default background is transparent making it the perfect resource for creating graphics requiring a transparent background for widespread utilisation across various online (e.g. web design) and real life applications (e.g. T-shirt designs and brand product placement).

Inkscape glossy logo

The user interface inside Inkscape is not that far removed from what you will find in Adobe Illustrator and it functions in much the same way due to the common foundation philosophy around working with and creating vector graphics. It’s not rocket science, but it is vector science! There are all the usual menus, toolbars and palettes and it's set out in a logical and intuitive way. Inkscape features a range of built-in customisable options. You can design and integrate your own tool icons and set up templates for documents or formats you use regularly. The program also comes pre-set with a number of template options for specific purposes such as social media posts, icons and business documentation, all accessible right from an easy-start, pop up screen featuring gorgeous user generated artwork. You can also develop and save custom colour palettes which is a great little tip for those working across different brands and with specific varying colour schemes.

Another significant element making Inkscape such a viable free alternative to Adobe Illustrator is in the area of system requirements. Whilst Illustrator recommends 16 GB of RAM and a multicore processor, Inkscape functions quite nicely on a system that wouldn’t be considered anything fancy or super powerful. Generally as a minimum, a laptop that isn’t too outdated will get Inkscape up and functioning. It is also available for operation across all 3 operating systems; macOS, Windows and Linux (if you don’t know what this is then it’s probably safe to say you don’t need to!).

The History

Inkscape began in late 2003 when 4 developers from Sodipodi (an open-source vector graphics editor considered the predecessor to Inkscape and since discontinued) fulfilled their vision of essentially creating a robust but more user friendly SVG drawing tool through an open, community-driven approach. Since its inception, Inkscape has been continuously updated and improved and just keeps getting better. Version 1.1.2 is the current stable version available for download through the website but version 1.2 is currently in development and available for review and testing.

Whenever a new major version of Inkscape is released, a contest is held within the community of users to design a new 'About Screen'. From the website: "The About Screen demonstrates an artistic interpretation of what is possible to do with that version of the program." Some of my favourite entries for the new version are below. Voting has closed with the winner announced next week.

Amazing entries by Inkscape artists in the About Screen contest for Inkscape version 1.2

The Features

  • Draw objects, create shapes, insert and edit text, create repeating patterns and so much more!

  • Manipulate the fill and stroke properties of objects, shapes and text.

  • Work with and create paths - the most universal representation of vector graphics.

  • Freely edit any of the nodes of a path.

  • Apply creative and artistic pathway effects to create unique, abstract or realistic designs.

  • Navigate quickly and easily around the canvas one-handed with just the mouse.

  • Implement quick keyboard shortcuts to speed up your design process.

  • Easily apply and edit colour gradients for beautiful graphics.

  • Transform, group and align objects and work with layers.

  • Convert any shape, text object or stroke to a path for increased unique manipulation by editing nodes.

Graphic designs made with Inkscape - free graphic design software

The Warnings

  • Inkscape would not be the software option of choice for artists or designers working more with raster format images. An example of this would be for photo editing where software allowing editing at the pixel level would be more effective.

  • Inkscape can currently only produce documents in RGB format and it is not possible to export an image file with a CYMK colour profile. CYMK is the required profile for printing as these are the colours of the inks that are mixed during printing to make all the other resulting colours. This is an ongoing pitfall for Inkscape users who want to create designs for print. There do exist some work-around possibilities to be found with some focussed online searching.

  • It cannot be denied that Adobe Illustrator continues to be the industry standard in graphic design software and, more often than not, experience and skilled application of Illustrator is a strict requirement for employment as a graphic designer within certain companies and agencies. This fact is not likely to change anytime soon.

  • The technical support available from a software giant such as Adobe cannot really be compared with that of a community of volunteers who do it for the love of design and a passion for the philosophy of the open source model. Having said that, the sheer volume of help materials and contributors involved in The Inkscape Project means that you will almost definitely find support to help you with any issue you may have.

The Summary

The positive applications of Inkscape for graphic design at all levels are clear and abundant. From personal use by those who consider it a hobby, to amateur utilisation for random or occasional projects, to efficient and effective use by professional designers earning their income in this manner, Inkscape really is the best free graphic design software. For those of you in businesses or positions where you find yourself only requiring vector graphics occasionally, for purposes such as creating custom icons for your web designs, making images for social media posts or designing user interfaces within the app development field, Inkscape could be the cost saving program for you. Or if you are like me, a budding graphic designer setting out on the pathway towards a career in the industry, but without the income or budget (yet) to step directly into Adobe Illustrator, Inkscape is the ticket for you. And when that bottom line starts to look more attractive it might be time to fork out for the cost of Illustrator, merely so as to be conversant in the industry standard of graphic design software. Inkscape is just so good that you may never fully be able to give it up! I am sure that there are particular features and functions where Adobe Illustrator will outperform Inkscape, that as a non user, I am unaware of. And sure, if you already subscribe to the Adobe Creative Suite for the use of other programs included in that package, then by all means get your money’s worth and use Illustrator! Inkscape is however the perfectly productive, perfectly powerful and perfectly priced design tool for this graphic design freelancer.

All the graphics I have used on my website, in the design gallery and throughout my socials, have been created using Inkscape. I am very much still a fledgling designer who is learning and developing my knowledge, skills and design expertise, and I know I have a long way to go. In fact I already know I want to rework my own logo, that is barely 6 months old. That’s what happens when you create something with the skills you have at a point in time. Afterall, my mantra is progress over perfection (though I remain a perfectionist at heart!). I continue to work on these skills and deepen my knowledge. I’m nothing if not a lifelong learner!

The Call to Action

A2D2 logo with author's face in a circle.

  • Don’t forget to share this post if you think it will resonate with and be helpful to your community of followers.

Bold, bright 2022 made out of Lego pieces in red, blue, yellow and green.
Made with Inkscape - free graphic design software

This post has not been sponsored nor is the author affiliated with any program or platform.



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