Creating Paths

Paths can be created by the Pencil (Freehand), Bezier (Pen), and Calligraphy drawing tools. They can also be created by conversion from a regular shape or text object.

By default, paths created with the Pencil and Bezier tools have a black stroke with a width of one pixel while the Calligraphy tool will use the Current style. These behaviors can be changed in the corresponding sections of the Inkscape Preferences dialog. (Right Mouse Click on the Current style indicator in the Tool Controls to open the dialog.)

The Pencil Tool

The Pencil (or Freehand) Tool is perhaps the easiest tool with which to draw a path. Simply click on the icon icon (F6 or p) in the Tool Box and then click-drag the mouse over the canvas to draw a line. Holding down the Shift key while drawing temporary disables nodes snapping to the Grid or Guide Lines. It also, if a path is selected, add the new sub-path to the selected path.

Holding down the Alt key while drawing enables the Sketch mode. While in this mode, all strokes are averaged to create a final stroke, temporarily shown as a red path. Releasing the Alt key finalizes the path. This feature is considered experimental and does not give the expected result if one strokes a line back and forth. Instead, draw all your strokes in the same direction.

As long as a path is selected, you can extend the path by click-dragging from one of the path's ends. To prevent adding to a path, deselect the path with the Esc key.

To delete an unfinished path, use Esc or Ctrl+Z.

Paths drawn with the Pencil Tool tend to be composed of many Bezier curves leading to an erratic-looking path. One can smooth and simplify such curves by using the Path icon Simplify (Ctrl+L) command one or more times.

A path drawn with the Pencil Tool.
A path drawn with the Pencil Tool after zero, one, and multiple applications of the Path Simplify command (with nodes shown).

There are two possible modes for the simplify command. The default is to treat all of the selected paths as one object. The second mode is to treat each sub-path separately. To use the second mode, add an entry in the options section with simplifyindividualpaths set to 1 in the preferences.xml file.

A variety of options are available from the Tool Controls. These include selecting the drawing mode, the amount of smoothness, and a brush.

  • Mode:

    • icon : Create regular Bezier path.
    • icon : Create Spiro path. Probably not very useful, especially if Smoothing is set to a low value. Use the Bezier Tool instead.

  • Smoothing: range from 1 (minimum) to 100 (maximum).

    A path drawn with the Pencil Tool with various amounts of smoothing.
    From top to bottom: Paths drawn with smoothing of 5, 20, and 50.
  • Shape: Applies a shape to the path after it is drawn. This is equivalent to using the Pattern Along Path LPE in Single, stretched mode. The same option is available with the Bezier Tool; look there for an example of use. Using the Pencil Tool, a high Smoothness value is more useful. The width can be adjusted by varying the Width parameter in the Path Effect Editor dialog when the path is selected.

Single dots can be created by using Ctrl+Left Mouse Click. The size of the dot can be set in the Pencil section of the Inkscape Preferences dialog as a multiple of the current Stroke width. The dot is represented in SVG as a filled path. Adding the Shift key doubles the dot size (and prevents snapping) while adding the Alt creates a random-size dot. The Bezier Tool has the same options.

The Bezier (Pen) Tool

As mentioned previously, all paths are represented in Inkscape as a series of Bezier curves. The Bezier (or Pen) Tool allows you to more directly control the Bezier parameters as you draw a path. To select the tool, click on the icon icon (Shift+F6 or b) in the Tool Box.

[Tip]Tip

This is one place where paying attention to the Notification Region is especially useful. The region not only lists your options at each step but also gives the distance and angle the cursor is from the last node when placing a new node or dragging a handle.

To begin to draw a curve, click-drag on the canvas. The point where you click becomes the end point or node of the curve. As you drag the cursor, you'll see a gray line between the end point and the cursor. This line is a tangent to your curve at the end point. Release the mouse button to establish the first control point.

Start of drawing Bezier curve.
Start of drawing Bezier curve.

Move the cursor to the position of the next Bezier curve end point or node. A red line will show you the shape of the curve.

End point of Bezier curve.
Positioning of next Bezier curve end point (node).

Click-drag from the end point to draw out a handle that allows you to set the second control point. The pointer is actually pointing to the sister of the second control point, which is the initial control point of a second Bezier curve to be attached to the first. The two points are collinear with and the same distance from the Bezier curve end point or node.

Setting of second Bezier curve.
Setting of second Bezier curve control point.

Next, move the cursor to the end point of the second Bezier curve.

End point of second Bezier curve.
Positioning of end point (node) of second Bezier curve.

One can repeat the above steps to add as many Bezier curves to the path as required. To end the path, press Enter or do a Right Mouse Click after placing the last Bezier curve end point.

A two Bezier curve path.
The finished path, composed of two Bezier curves.

Other useful things to know while using the Bezier Tool:

  • To create a path of straight lines, click rather than click-drag at each node.

  • You can use the Arrow keys to move the last node created while drawing a path. Shift+Arrow moves the node by ten times the normal step, Alt+Arrow will move the node by a screen pixel.

  • To set the two control points of a node separately (and force the node to be a corner point), first set the control point for the end point of the previous Bezier curve, then without releasing the mouse button hold down the Shift key while setting the control point for the next Bezier curve.

  • To constrain a node to be at a multiple of the Rotation snap angle with respect to the previous node, hold down the Ctrl key while setting it.

  • To constrain a control point to be at a multiple of the of the Rotation snap angle with respect to a node, hold down the Ctrl key while setting it. (Can be used in conjunction with the Shift key.)

  • To delete the last node drawn, use the Backspace key or the Del key.

  • To delete an unfinished path, use Esc or Ctrl+Z.

  • To change an unfinished segment (the red line) from a curve to a line, use Shift+L. To change an unfinished segment from a line to a curve, use Shift+U.

  • To extend a previously drawn path, select the path, then click or click-drag on an end point.

  • To close a path, click on the first endpoint when placing the last endpoint.

Two options are available from the Tool Controls. They are selecting the drawing mode and selecting a brush.

  • Mode:

    • icon : Create regular Bezier path.
    • icon : Create Spiro path.
    • icon : Create a sequence of straight line segments.
    • icon : Create a sequence of paraxial line segments. (Line segments are created parallel to the coordinate axes.) Each line segment is normally drawn perpendicular to the previous segment. Holding the Shift key down allows drawing a segment collinear to the previous segment. A path is closed with an L-shaped section, the direction can be changed by holding down the Shift key.

  • Shape: Applies a shape to the path after it is drawn. This is equivalent to using the Pattern Along Path effect in Single, stretched mode.

    A path drawn with the Bezier Tool with various shapes.
    From top to bottom: Paths drawn with a Shape of: None, Triangle in, Triangle out, Ellipse, and From clipboard. In the last case, the diamond path was copied to the clipboard before the path was drawn.
    Drawing using Bezier Tool with ellipse.
    A drawing created with the Bezier Tool and the Ellipse shape.

Single dots can be created by using Ctrl+Left Mouse Click. This works only when in one of the straight line modes. The size of the dot can be set in the Pen section of the Inkscape Preferences dialog as a multiple of the current Stroke width. The dot is represented in SVG as a filled path. Adding the Shift key doubles the dot size (and prevents snapping) while adding the Alt creates a random-size dot. The Pencil Tool has the same options.

The Calligraphy Tool

As the name suggests, the Calligraphy Tool can be used to draw calligraphic lines. The resulting paths are different than those drawn with the Pencil and Bezier tools in that they are composed of two parallel (or almost parallel) sub-paths, allowing the resulting line to have a variable width. The path is not stroked, but the Fill is solid (see Chapter 10, Attributes).

A calligraphy path.
A path drawn with the Calligraphy Tool. The bottom path shows how the nodes are placed.

To begin drawing a Calligraphy path, select the tool by clicking on the icon icon (Ctrl+F6 or c) in the Tool Box and then click-drag the mouse over the canvas to draw a line. The line will have by default the Current style. You can choose to draw all lines with a fixed style by selecting the This tool's own style option under the Calligraphy section in the Inkscape Preferences dialog. If you turn off the Select new path option in the dialog, a newly drawn object will not remain selected; you can then choose a color from the Palette for the next calligraphic stroke without changing the color of the previously drawn stroke.

The Calligraphy Tutorial (Help Tutorials Inkscape: Calligraphy) has many ideas on how to use the Calligraphy Tool.

The Calligraphy Tool has many options, several accessible from the keyboard and the rest from the Tool Controls. It is best just to try changing the various option settings to get the feel for them. With so many options, it is desirable to be able to save the settings for future use. You can create and access Presets from the drop-down menu at the left side of the Tool Controls.

Options with keyboard:

  • To change the pen width while drawing: Left Arrow and Right Arrow. The Home key sets the width to the minimum while the End key sets the width to the maximum. Typing Alt+X will enable the Width entry box in the Tool Controls; enter a number and then hit Enter to set an exact width while drawing.

  • To change the pen angle while drawing: Up Arrow and Down Arrow.

  • To add to an existing (selected) path (form a union), hold the Shift down while drawing. Shapes are automatically converted to paths.

  • To subtract from an existing (selected) path, hold the Alt down while drawing. Shapes are automatically converted to paths.

  • To delete an unfinished path, use Esc or Ctrl+Z.

    Adding/subtracting a calligraphy path.
    Left: Adding calligraphic paths to a square. Right: Subtracting calligraphic paths from a square.

The Tool Controls contains too many options to all be shown at the default Inkscape window width. To access all the options, widen the Inkscape window or click on the v near the right of the bar, which will show a drop-down menu with the missing options.

The Calligraphy Tool Controls, split to fit.
The Calligraphy Tool-Tool Controls, split to fit page.
  • Predefined and custom presets: There are six predefined presets as shown in the figure below. You can add your own custom presets by selecting Save... in the Preset menu. A window will pop up where you can enter a name for your preset. The presets are stored in your preference file so they are available for future drawing sessions.

    Calligraphic presets.
    Paths drawn with Calligraphy Tool presets. From top to bottom: Dip pen, Marker, Brush, Wiggley, Splotchy, Tracing.
  • Pen width (1 to 100): number is tenths of percent of canvas width (i.e., 15 is 1.5% of canvas width). Note that if you change the zoom level, the effective pen width will change. To keep the pen width constant, check the Width is in absolute units box under the Tools-Calligraphy page in the Inkscape Preferences dialog. The pen width will then be in units of px.

  • icon : On/Off button: Use tablet pressure for width (requires tablet input device).

  • icon : Trace background: Vary the width of the pen as a function of the background. A dark background yields a wider pen.

  • Thinning (−100 to 100): How the width change depends on the speed of the drawing stroke:

    • > 0: Line width decreases with speed.

    • = 0: Line width independent of speed.

    • < 0: Line width increases with speed.

  • Angle (−90 to 90 degrees): Angle of pen relative to horizontal axis.

  • icon : On/Off button: Use tablet tilt for pen orientation (requires tablet input device).

  • Fixation (0 to 100): How the angle of the pen follows the direction of the pen.

    • 0: Angle follows pen direction (always perpendicular to motion).

    • 100: Angle fixed to angle defined in Angle entry.

  • Caps (0.0 to 5.0): How round is the end of the stroke. This can be used to produce round end-caps when the fixation is small (i.e., simulating a round brush). Note that the cap extends beyond where the stroke would normally end.

    • 0.0: Flat end.

    • 1.0: Approximately semicircular.

    • 5.0: Elliptical, approximately five times longer than wide.

  • Tremor (0 to 100): How much random shake should the stroke have. This parameter can be used to create a more realistic looking calligraphic stroke by adding some randomness to the thickness of the stroke. It works by adding randomness to the node handle orientations.

    • 0: Smooth

    • 100: Chaotic.

  • Wiggle (0 to 100): How resistant the pen is to movement. With a value of 100, the pen will wiggle all over the paper.

  • Mass (0 to 100): How the line follows pen movement. The more massive the pen, the smoother the stroke but the less responsive the pen will be. Try a value of 10 for a good compromise between smoothness and responsiveness.

Two options require the use a tablet (e.g., Wacom): using tablet pressure to control the width of a stroke and using tablet tilt to control the orientation of the pen's nib. This is discussed in the next section.

Using a Tablet

Updated for v0.48 and v0.48.1

Inkscape can make good use of a tablet for input. This is especially true with the Calligraphy Tool where stroke width and nib orientation can be controlled directly with a pen. Before using the special features of a tablet, the extended input devices must be configured and enabled with the Input Devices dialog (File icon Input Devices... ). The dialog received a major change between v0.47 and v0.48. and a minor update between v0.48 and v0.48.1.

For each device (or pseudo device) there are three possible modes:

  • Disabled: Special features of extended input device disabled. Treat as a regular mouse.
  • Screen: Special features of extended input device enabled. Note that device will work as regular mouse outside of Canvas region.
  • Window: Extended input device works only in Canvas region. Normally, this mode is not needed and has been eliminated in v0.48.1.

0.47 Dialog.  To enable pressure and tilt control, select the device to be used from the pull-down menu at the top left then set the mode using the drop-down menu on the top right.

The Axes tab allows you to swap input assignments; that is, the x-axis for the y-axis if you rotate the tablet by 90 degrees (although the axis are backward).

The Keys tab allows you to assign key combinations to the macro keys, if any, on the tablet.

Pressure and tilt do not work properly on OS X due to problems with the X11 implementation.

Input dialog.
Input Devices dialog in v0.47.

0.48 Dialog.  To enable pressure and tilt control, select the device to be used from the tree menu in the Configuration tab. In v0.48, click on the entry at the right (Disabled/Screen/Window) to open a pop-up menu to set the mode (you may have to hold the button down for a bit to open the menu). If you don't see the entries on the right, widen the dialog window. In v0.48.1, check box at the far left of each line to switch to Screen mode.

The Hardware tab allows you to test an input device. If a device has been set in Screen mode, then with the cursor in the test area, the little circles will change color in response to button events while the rectangles will change color in response to motion events (x position, y position, pressure, tilt left/right, tilt forward/back, wheel). An icon in the center of the test area shows the type of device in use (mouse, pen, eraser, pad). An addition, if the device you are testing is selected in the tree menu, the incoming data will be displayed numerically and graphically in the lower right.

Input dialog.
Input Devices dialog in v0.48.1 showing test data for a Wacom tablet eraser.
[Note]Panning via Mouse Wheel Bug

In v0.48, if you enable the Wacom cursor, you may lose the ability to pan the canvas by using the mouse wheel. As there are no special features (tilt, pressure, etc.) associated with the cursor, it is best to leave it disabled.

Kanji numbers.
An example of calligraphy using a Wacom tablet. The figures are the numbers 1 through 10 written (poorly) in the characters common to Chinese, Japanese, and Korean. The tablet pressure was used to control the stroke width.

Hatchings

The Calligraphy Tool has an option that allows parallel lines (hatchings), as found in engravings, to be easily drawn. To use this option, first select a guide path. Any path, Shape or text can be used as a guide. Then with the Ctrl key held down, drag the pointer along a line parallel to the guide path. The closest distance between the start of the drag and the guide path determines the distance the new line will be away from the guide. This is indicated by the gray circle around the pointer. As you begin to drag, the circle turns green. This indicates that the cursor is tracking the guide. When you finish drawing a line, don't release the Ctrl! Just start drawing (Left Mouse Drag) another line. As long as you hold the Ctrl key down, each new line will use the last drawn line as a guide and the spacing will remain the same.

If you deviate too far from the guide, the pointer will break free. This is indicated by a red circle. This is an intentional design decision to allow one to continue a line past the end of the guide. If you accidentally break free, you can delete the last path and start again; but you must reset the interline spacing. A slow steady hand works best. If the cursor is consistently closer or farther away from the guide path than the set spacing, the interline spacing will gradually decrease or increase. This is a subtle effect. Note: if the Mass value is zero, you may get small discontinuities in the path that disrupt the tracking.

Engraving 1.
The Calligraphy Tool cursor near a guide path when the Ctrl key is held down.
Engraving 2.
A series of engraved lines created with the Calligraphy Tool while holding down the Ctrl key. The red line is the guide path.

The Trace Background ( icon ) option can be used to generate hatchings with pen width reflecting the background darkness as shown below.

Engraving 3.
A tracing of the shadow on the left is shown on the right. The Tweak Tool was used to clean up the ends.

By default, each new line uses the previous line as its guide path. To use the original guide path for each line, turn off the option Select new path found under the Calligraphy Tool section in the Inkscape Preferences dialog. The author finds it easier to make hatchings with this option turned off.

[Tip]Tip

Use Touch selection to select the lines in the hatchings. It is often easier to keep hatchings in a separate Layer.

Paths from Other Objects

There are several ways to generate paths indirectly. One is to convert a regular shape or text object into a path. Another is to use Stroke to Path, which converts a path into a closed path with two parallel sub-paths. A third way to generate a path is to trace a bitmap image. This method is considered in Chapter 20, Tracing Bitmaps.

Object to Path

To convert a regular shape or text object to a path, use Path icon Object to Path (Shift+Ctrl+C). Once an object is converted, the object loses any special knowledge associated with its previous existence. For example, the text font cannot be changed. But once an object is converted to a path, it can be modified in any arbitrary way, as shown in the section called “A Hiking Club Logo—An Exercise in Paths”.

Converting text to path produces a Group of paths with one path for each glyph. This allows the resulting characters to be manipulated easier as well as preserves any custom attributes (i.e., color) that individual glyphs might have had.

Stroke to Path

A stroked path can be converted to a filled object consisting of two parallel sub-paths using Path icon Stroke to Path (Ctrl+Alt+C). The path should have a non-zero thickness. The before and after objects look the same but have different structure and behavior. See the difference in the nodes in the figures that follow.

A stroked path.
A stroked path consisting of three nodes.
A filled path made from a stroked path.
A filled path made from the stroked path by using the Stroke to Path command. It consists of ten nodes.

The Stroke to Path command can be used to make a sets of parallel lines. Simply draw the path you desire, setting the width to the desired gap plus the desired final stroke width. Convert the stroke to path, remove the fill, and add the stroke paint. The line segments at the ends can be removed if desired by selecting each pair of end nodes and using the Delete segment between two non-endpoint nodes icon command in the Node Tool-Tool Controls (see next section). The Path Offset commands (for closed paths) or Complex Strokes are alternative ways of creating parallel lines.

Parallel lines via the Stroke to Path command.
Creating parallel lines. From left to right: Single line, Filled path after Stroke to Path command, Fill removed — Stroke painted, Paths at ends removed.

The Stroke to Path command can also be used to make polygons with uniformly rounded corners, as shown below. The trick is to use a wide Stroke and set the Join style to Round.

A polygon with rounded corners.
From left to right: A simple triangle; the triangle with a wide Stroke (the opacity of the Stroke has been set to 50% to allow the triangle shape to be seen); the finished triangle with rounded corners after using the Stroke to Path command and after removing the inner triangle.