In the same way that GIMP has secured the position of being the open source community’s answer to Adobe Photoshop, Inkscape is now widely regarded as the premier open source alternative to Adobe Illustrator.
Illustrator is regarded as the industry standard application for vector line illustration, though it faces competent competition from Corel Draw, which suffers from only being available for Windows.
Inkscape, however, can now offer a strong alternative to these two applications, largely through being an open source application that is available completely free to all users. It can be downloaded from the Inkscape Wiki site.
Inkscape in General
To Graphic Designers used to working with Illustrator, the user interface of Inkscape can seem a little alien and arguably unsophisticated, in a similar way that Scribus can seem like quite a departure from from Quark Xpress or Indesign.
This, however, belies the extensive feature set that Inkscape offers. Inkscape has equivalents for the main tools found in Illustrator meaning that only Illustrator power users will find the application lacking in features.
Once users get beyond the main tools they will start to find more significant differences, though in some cases this is more down to how the tools are presented within the interface rather than them being absent.
Inkscape’s Gradient tool is a good example in that it operates quite differently to the interface that is found in Illustrator and Inkscape cannot offer an equivalent for Illustrator’s Gradient Mesh tool which offers huge power to skilled users for producing near photo-realistic images.
Using Inkscape as a Primary Design Tool
Inkscape offers enough power to be used as a primary vector line illustration application by most Graphic Designers.
Users new to vector line packages will have a learning curve, but those moving from Illustrator or Corel Draw will generally only need time to familiarise themselves with the interface, as a lot of the tools will be familiar, though perhaps accessed or presented in a different way.
Those users may find some aspects of using Inkscape a little quirky at first, however just playing around with the different tools will quickly improve familiarity and for those less intuitive aspects, the Inkscape: Guide to a Vector Drawing Program is a free online user manual. A PDF version is also available for purchase and download.
Compatibility with Other Applications
Inkscape uses the SVG file format which is an open standard and as such files produced with Inkscape can be opened in most other notable vector line illustration applications. While there are a number of extensions available from Inkscape’s website that can be installed to allow the software to open a number of other file formats, as the list is limited, the best option will always be to have files supplied in the SVG format.
Graphic Designers looking for their first vector line illustration package would be well advised to make Inkscape their first choice and only if they find it lacking should they look into purchasing software from Adobe or Corel.
For current users of Illustrator or Corel Draw, Inkscape may still be worth checking out if there is a requirement to install a vector line drawing application on more machines than the proprietary software’s licence allows.