How to Use Inkscape: The Basics - Terms to Know

Created on:

February 11, 2022

Updated on:

February 26, 2024

Written by Kelsey Sergi

Here are some Basics for Inkscape and How to Use the Platform.

Inkscape can be overwhelming when you download it and do not feel like you need to be a graphic designer to master the basics - there is so much it has available to use but for my SVGs I use the bare bones in a sense. If you want to learn how to create your own free SVG files, let's start here with what this free program can do for you.

You can find my Inkscape basic tools video tutorial here, or mobile users turn your phone.

So let's begin - what is Inkscape?

Inkscape is a free open source vector graphics editor that anyone can download and use to create digital art. It's similar to Adobe Illustrator but with a few bugs and downgrades. BUT! The main thing is that it is FREE!!!!! Anyone in the Inkscape community can help mold this free software into what it has become and that's amazing. People are constantly adding more advanced tools and extras to help you create amazing graphics.

I want to restate, you do not need a masters degree in digital graphic design to start making your own SVG files for your cutting machines. I started with zero background and I am still learning how to use inkscape to its full potential since it is constantly being updated.

You truly can take basic shapes, a straight line, brush strokes, or even a traced image and create amazing things with it. Since diving into Inkscape basics, I have been able to create all my own files for my Cricut crafting and saved myself the payment of Cricut Access which means I can spend that extra $120 on craft supplies.

inkscape main page

Just some of the features Inkscape includes are:

  • Object creation with the shape tools - you can utilize the basic shapes in inkscape to create designs, mold their paths to make amazing layered images.
  • Object manipulation - you can warp images and shapes, change texture, and do all the basics like inset, offset, subtract!
  • Fill and stroke - this will help you create your layers for designs but also you can make beautiful advanced drawings with textures and depth.
  • Text and warping - I use this often in my designing, create beautiful text files for your crafts, business cards, or even logo design.
  • INKSCAPE FILE FORMATS!!! - This means you can save a project as .SVG for vector images to use with your Cricut or Silhouette cutting machines, .PNG for print and cut images or sublimation, .PDF and so much more!

Here is a full list of what inkscape can do! If you are just here for SVG files (or scalable vector graphics) then you are in the right place. I have been able to take the basic tutorials from Inkscape to make free SVG files for my crafts and so can you!

Where to start? You can download it for free HERE

Let's learn the basics of Inkscape first!

Here is an Inkscape guide to all the buttons I use the most:

diagram of what the main buttons on inkscape mean

You will see the toolbar along the side with so many options - if you are drawing your images from scratch you are going to lean heavily onto the bezier tool or the pencil tool. These will help you draw your lines. I tend to use the bezier more than the pencil as you can create smoother lines and the pencil is very point A to point B with a lot of breaks.

A great way to make images with layers is to use the bezier tool to outline your drawing (think a similar effect of a coloring page) and then use the break apart feature to create the color pockets. You would then use the fill and stroke panel (seen below) to change the pieces you broke apart within your "coloring page".

Many crafters have come to us the trace option with break apart with online coloring pages to create layered SVG files with ease!

Side project:

Copy and paste a coloring page from off of google. Go into Inkscape and paste it into the canvas. Find Trace Bitmap under object and apply, you might need to darken it a little bit first. Then delete the original image and you should have an image that is see through other than the outline. Then you will go to break apart and it will turn black. I start by grabbing the outside and turning it gray, send this to the back and you will see all the pieces from inside the coloring page. Then you can use that color bar at the bottom to start coloring the pieces is. Just like in Cricut Design space you can use union to "weld" or attach pieces together. Once you have it all coloring you can save as an SVG file and upload into your cutting machine software. This will show you all the colored layers on the side and be ready to cut after sizing. If you are a visual learner I have a YouTube tutorial for you to go step by step in Inkscape to do this!

When just getting started play around with vector shapes. To use these you click on the icon and drag out to create a shape like a rectangle or circle. Once you have it drawn out you can resize and color, add an outline or a stroke, and combine items. Start here and start adding shapes with your selected object you can create layers to create professional designs but the way I worked when creating vector art for the first time was to just start small.

Fill and Stroke:

fill and stroke panel on inkscape

This panel which is added on will help you with your color shading and transparency - to use this, draw a circle, change the color and then play with these gradients. This is how you can create some awesome print and cut images for Cricut! The easy way to add or change colors is by using the color control bar at the bottom of the screen but the panel shown here will give you a lot more options.

stroke lines on inkscape panel
stroke style on inkscape panel

This part of the tool controls bar changes your stroke type. You are able to do a lot with this part of the panel including making dashes or arrows. What is a stroke? Think of it like an outline and what you will see when using the bezier or pencil tool. It works with the objects fill but is an independent entity. You will have to work around with this, sometimes the stroke won't transfer properly with an SVG if you're using it for cutting purposes on your Cricut. The easiest way to work with stroke dialog for cutting machine purposes is to then turn it into a node by going to the top dropdown menu and going stroke to path. You want to be able to use the node tool before sending to Cricut design space because this is going to give you a cleaner end result by telling your machine where to cut. Jump down to the bottom of this post to read even more about what nodes are and how to use them.

Align and Distribute:

Last let's look at one of the most important things that I use regularly, especially for my mandalas! Align and Distribute - this will clean up your vector design and make sure your layers look put together. This is great for making very clean images and also will help you see your file project. It's really no different than the align panel in Cricut Design Space but has more ways to align!

align and distribute panel on inkscape
align and distribute nodes on inkscape panel

You will use this to align objects evenly by sides, in the middle, or distribute them evenly in your project! They also give you the ability to line things up on the edges which is helpful for my 3D designs. If you use the node version of this panel it will align your nodes which comes in handy when you want super symmetrical designs!

What are nodes????

Nodes are points on your objects - when I look at nodes I look at them as directions for your cutting machine like connecting the dots. Your blade hits each point and follows your path operations so you want to minimize nodes while keeping the shape.

You want to have enough nodes so that your shape looks correct and not all wobbly like noodles but you also don't want to over do it with nodes because then your cutting machine will go crazy! I always double check my images by going into the node mode and seeing if there are any unseen outliers within my image. Sometimes there is just one lonely node in the middle of my project and if its there, your cutting machine will cut it - it will go to the spot and make the tiniest little cut which seems harmless but can really become a pain when designing.

It's a lot of information if you have never used it, I know. Start with small designs and build. The best way to practice is to find a design you like and try to recreate it on your own, this way you have something to base off of. You learn with each new design and don't forget to find YouTube videos with step-by-step tutorials (like mine) and follow along in the program while they make designs. I promise if you can use Design Space, you can use inkscape!

If you're ready to try it out, follow me in this tutorial (mobile users turn your phone) to learn how to create a card in both design space and inkscape!

You can do this! I learned from trial and error and almost two years later, creation is all I do! Don't be afraid to test and test. Sometimes I come back to a design 5 to 10 times making changes and corrections. It's not about perfection but about learning how to grow in your art. Start with your basics in Inkscape and you will learn to master it in no time!

What will you make first?

Stay Crafty!

Kelsey Sergi - the owner and crafter at Dinosaur Mama.

Hi crafters! I'm Kelsey and I am here to bring you new original craft projects and free SVG files for your cutting machines every week!

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