Editing Paths

Updated for v0.48.

The primary means for editing paths is to use the Node Tool to modify one or more path nodes. A few exceptions are covered at the end of this section (simplifying, reversing, and offsetting paths) and in Chapter 11, Tweak Tool.

Using the Node Tool

Paths are normally edited using the Node Tool. This flexible tool enables the addition, deletion, and movement of nodes. A Sculpting mode allows easy fine tuning of paths with many nodes. Auto-smooth nodes enable nodes to be moved while maintaining smooth curves.

Select the Node Tool by clicking on the icon icon (F2 or n) in the Tool Box. Then click on the path you wish to edit. All of the path's nodes will be shown. New in 0.48: Additional paths can be added (or removed) from the selection with Shift+Left Mouse Click.

When the Node Tool is over a path, the path's outline will briefly be displayed. The duration and color of this outline can be altered under the Node entry in the Inkscape Preferences dialog (double-click on the icon in the Tool Box or call up the Inkscape Preferences dialog via File icon Inkscape Preferences... (Shift+Ctrl+P)). New in v0.48: If you are editing a complex drawing, you can improve performance by disabling updating of the path outline while dragging nodes. You can also disable updating the path itself while dragging nodes.

[Note]Parallels in Node and Object Editing

Many of the things you can do with objects, you can do with nodes using the same methods. This is especially true for selecting and moving nodes. For example, the Arrow keys move selected objects by the Nudge factor when the Select Tool is active; they move selected nodes by the Nudge factor when the Node Tool is active. (The Nudge factor is a parameter that can be set in Inkscape Preferences dialog (File icon Inkscape Preferences... (Shift+Ctrl+P)) dialog under the Steps tab.) Knowing this should make learning to use the Node Tool quicker.

Selecting Nodes

Nodes must be selected before they can be edited (with one exception, click-dragging a path will move the path by adjusting the handles on the nearest nodes). Selected nodes are indicated by a change in color as well as a slight enlargement in size. New in v0.48: Nodes from different paths can be selected at the same time if the paths are selected.

By default, the handles of the selected nodes are shown, as are the handles for adjacent nodes. If the handles get in the way of selecting nodes, they can be toggled off by clicking on the Hide Handles icon icon in the Tool Controls. Clicking the icon a second time toggles the handles back on.

Nodes can be selected for editing a number of ways:

  • Left Mouse Click on a node to select that node. A node turns red when the pointer hovers over it and it can be selected (or deselected). Note that a node can be selected and moved in one step by click-dragging on the node.

  • Left Mouse Click on the path to select the nearest node on each side of the place where you clicked. The hand symbol is added to the pointer when hovering over a clickable path. Note that the path can be adjusted by click-dragging on the path. In this case, nearest nodes are not selected.

  • Left Mouse Drag will select all nodes within the rubber-band box. The drag must not begin on a path unless the Shift is used. Using the Shift key allows the drag to begin on a path except over a node (broken in v0.48).

Nodes can be added (or removed) from the selection by holding down the Shift key while using one of the previous methods.

Nodes can also be added to or removed from the selection by hovering the cursor over a node and using the Mouse Wheel, moving up to add nodes and down to remove nodes. The Page Up and Page Down keys can be used in place of the Mouse Wheel (broken on v0.48, fixed in v0.48.1). This selection technique is especially useful in conjunction with node sculpting.

Two modes are possible: The default mode adds nodes based on the spatial distance from the cursor. If the Ctrl key is held down, the nodes are selected based on the linear distance measured along the path (swapped in v0.48, fixed in v0.48.1). In this latter case, only nodes in the same sub-path can be selected.

Tab selects the next node in a path if one is already selected. This is usually the adjacent node in the direction the path was drawn. If no node is selected, it will select the first node. Shift+Tab will select the previous node in a path. Ctrl+A selects all nodes in a selected path. ! inverts the node selection for any sub-path with at least one node selected. Alt+! inverts the node selection for the entire path (or paths).

Editing Nodes with the Mouse

The mouse can be used to move nodes and handles by dragging them. It can also be used to alter the shape of a path between two nodes by dragging the path. And finally, nodes can be inserted anywhere along a path by double-clicking the path or by clicking the path while holding down the Ctrl+Alt keys.

Nodes

  • Left Mouse Drag: Move selected nodes: If the pointer starts over a selected node, all selected nodes will move. If the pointer starts over an unselected node, that node will be selected and moved.

  • Ctrl+Left Mouse Drag: Move selected nodes in either the horizontal or vertical direction.

  • Ctrl+Alt+Left Mouse Drag: Move selected nodes along a line collinear with a node handle or to its perpendicular (passing through the node). The handles used are those belonging to the node where the pointer begins the drag.

  • Shift+Left Mouse Drag: Temporarily disable snapping nodes to the Grid or to Guide Lines (if snapping of nodes enabled). Broken in v0.48, fixed in v0.48.1.

  • Left Mouse Drag+Space: While dragging, drop an unlinked copy of the nodes. The copy is of the entire path even if only a few nodes are selected. Broken on v0.48.

Handles

A handle becomes active when the mouse hovers over its control point. The control point will turn red. The Shift, Ctrl, and Alt keys can be used in combination for the options listed below.

  • Left Mouse Drag: Move handle.

  • Shift+Left Mouse Drag: Rotate both handles of a node together (useful for corner nodes).

  • Ctrl+Left Mouse Drag: Snap handle to either a multiple of the Rotation snap angle (15 degrees by default), a line collinear with or orthogonal to the original handle position, a line collinear with the opposite handle (if it exists), or a line collinear with the opposite straight line segment (if it exists).

  • Alt+Left Mouse Drag: Allow only angle and not length to change as handle is dragged.

Transforms

New in v0.48.

A group of selected nodes can be transformed exactly like an object. Clicking on the icon icon in the Node Tool-Tool Controls (or checking/unchecking Show Transform Handles from drop-down menu if icon not displayed) toggles on and off transformation handles that have the same functions as described in the section called “Transforms with the Mouse” in Chapter 5, Positioning and Transforming. Shift+H toggles between Scaling and Rotating/Skewing modes (this does not work with the Select Tool).

Editing Nodes with the Keyboard

This section covers using the keyboard to move nodes and to adjust their handles. The keyboard can also be used to add and delete nodes, change the type of node, and to join or break paths. For these latter uses, see the keyboard shortcuts in the following section on the Node Tool-Tool Controls.

In this section, Left- and Right- applied to the Ctrl and Alt modifying keys refers to the keys on the left and right side of the Space bar. Using a left modifying key causes the left handle of a node to be modified; using a right modifying key modifies the rightmost handle. The definition of which handle is left or right is not always completely obvious as when one handle is directly above the other or when the leftmost handle is moved to the right of the former rightmost handle.

[Note]Multinode Operations

The scaling and rotating operations described below are different if one node is selected as compared to two or more nodes. If two or more nodes are selected, the nodes act like an object and scale or rotate around the center of the selection, as described in the section called “Transforms with the Keyboard” in Chapter 5, Positioning and Transforming. If the mouse is over a node, then that node is used as the center of rotation. It is also possible to flip the nodes horizontally and vertically by using keyboard shortcuts.

Node editing.
An example of editing multiple nodes. The rectangles on the right are formed by one path. By selecting all the nodes on the right side of the path and using the normal transformation commands a perspective effect can be achieved. Use < to move the nodes closer together and the Arrow keys to move the nodes to the left and up.
Translations

Same as for translating objects.

  • Arrow: Move selected nodes by the Nudge factor (2 SVG pixels by default).

  • Shift+Arrow: Move selected nodes by ten times the Nudge factor.

  • Alt+Arrow: Move selected nodes one Screen pixel.

  • Alt+Shift+Arrow: Move selected nodes ten Screen pixels.

Scaling Handles

Scaling applies to the the node handles and is not directly mappable to scaling objects. These items only apply when one node is selected.

  • . or >: Expand handles on both sides of selected node by Scale step (2 SVG pixels by default).

  • , or <: Shorten handles on both sides of selected node by Scale step (2 SVG pixels by default).

  • Left-Ctrl+. , Left-Ctrl+> , Right-Ctrl+. , Right-Ctrl+> : Expand handle on one side of selected node by Scale step. Left-Ctrl selects the leftmost handle while Right-Ctrl selects the rightmost handle.

  • Left-Ctrl+, , Left-Ctrl+< , Right-Ctrl+, , Right-Ctrl+< : Shorten handles on one side of selected nodes by Scale step. See above for usage of Left versus Right Ctrl keys.

  • Left-Alt+. , Left-Alt+> , Right-Alt+. , Right-Alt+> : Expand handle on one side of selected node by one Screen pixel. See above for usage of Left versus Right Alt keys.

  • Left-Alt+, , Left-Alt+< , Right-Alt+, , Right-Alt+< : Shorten handle on one side of selected node by one Screen pixel. See above for usage of Left versus Right Alt keys.

Rotating Handles

Rotating applies to the the node handles and is not directly mappable to rotating objects. These items only apply when one node is selected.

  • [ : Rotate handles of selected node counterclockwise by the Rotation snap angle (15 degrees by default).

  • ] : Rotate handles of selected node clockwise by the Rotation snap angle (15 degrees by default).

  • Left-Ctrl+[, Right-Ctrl+[: Rotate handle on one side of selected node counterclockwise by the Rotation snap angle. Left-Ctrl selects the leftmost handle while Right-Ctrl selects the rightmost handle, as described earlier. Only works with corner nodes.

  • Left-Ctrl+], Right-Ctrl+]: Rotate handle on one side of selected node clockwise by the Rotation snap angle. See above for usage of Left versus Right Ctrl keys. Only works with corner nodes.

  • Left-Alt+[, Right-Alt+[: Rotate handle on one side of selected node counterclockwise by one Screen pixel. See above for usage of Left versus Right Alt keys. Only works with corner nodes.

  • Left-Alt+], Right-Alt+]: Rotate handle on one side of selected node clockwise by one Screen pixel. See above for usage of Left versus Right Alt keys. Only works with corner nodes.

Using the Node Tool-Tool Controls

The Node Tool-Tool Controls provides an easy way to access many of the methods of editing nodes.

  • icon (Insert): Insert new nodes into selected segments. (Note: Clicking on the path will select the nearest node on both sides of the point where the path was clicked. Double-clicking on the path or clicking the path once using the Ctrl+Alt keys will also insert a node, in this case under the pointer. Inkscape will try to add the node without changing the shape of the path by adjusting the handles of the nodes adjacent to the new node.)

  • icon (Backspace, Delete, or Ctrl+Alt+Left Mouse Click): Delete selected nodes. Inkscape will attempt to preserve the shape of the path when nodes are removed by adjusting the handles of adjacent nodes. If you wish to remove a node and not change the handles of adjacent nodes use Ctrl+Backspace or Ctrl+Delete.

  • icon (Shift+J): Join (merge) selected endnodes. Normally the merged node is placed at the midpoint between the end nodes. With the keyboard shortcut, hovering the mouse over one of the end nodes will result in the merged node being placed at the position of that end node. New in v0.48: If more than two end nodes are selected, pairs of end nodes will be merged, starting with the end nodes closest to each other until either zero or one end nodes are selected. If zero or one end node is selected at the start, then any adjacent stretches of selected nodes (including non-end nodes), will be merged into one node.

  • icon (Shift+B): Break path at selected nodes. Each selected node is converted into two end nodes.

  • icon : Join selected endnodes with a new segment. New in v0.48: If more than two end nodes are selected, pairs of end nodes will be joined with a segment, starting with the end nodes closest to each other until either zero or one end nodes are selected. If zero or one end node is selected at the start, then any adjacent stretches of selected nodes (including non-end nodes), will have their middle nodes removed, leaving one segment between outermost selected nodes.

  • icon : Delete segment between two non-endpoint nodes.

  • icon (Shift+C): Make selected nodes corner (or cusp). If the nodes are already cusp, both handles are retracted.

  • icon (Shift+S): Make selected nodes smooth. When the keyboard shortcut is used, placing the mouse over a handle will preserve the position of that handle, rotating the partner handle, if extended, to be collinear. If the partner handle is not extended, the partner handle will be extended so that it is collinear and of the same length as the preserved handle. If the node is next to one straight line segment (the other segment being curved) and the opposite handle is not collinear with the segment, the keyboard shortcut will rotate it to be collinear, extending the handle if necessary. A second application will extend out the second handle.

  • icon (Shift+Y): Make selected nodes symmetric (and smooth).

  • icon (Shift+A): Make selected nodes auto-smooth nodes.

  • icon (Shift+L): Make selected segments (straight) lines. One or more segments must be selected (by selecting nodes on both ends of the segment). Handles that are extended are retracted.

  • icon (Shift+U): Make selected segments curves. One or more segments must be selected. Segments remain straight lines but handles are extended that can be used to change the curvature.

  • icon (Shift+Ctrl+C): Convert selected object(s) to path(s).

  • icon (Ctrl+Alt+C): Convert selected object's stroke to paths.

  • Entry box for x coordinate of selected nodes.

  • Entry box for y coordinate of selected nodes.

  • Units for x and y coordinates.

  • icon Enable editing of a clip path. Path shown in green by default. New in v0.48: The clip path and object can be edited at the same time. (This only works if the clip path is an actual path and not a shape.) See the section called “Clipping” for more details.

  • icon Enable editing of a mask path. Path shown in blue by default. New in v0.48: The mask path and object can be edited at the same time. (This only works if the mask path is an actual path and not a shape.) See the section called “Masking” for more details.

  • icon : Toggle through parameter list for an LPE.

  • icon : Toggle on/off display of handles.

  • icon Show outline of path. Useful if part of the path is clipped or masked (green path by default), or if an LPE is applied to the path (red path by default).

Editing Nodes with the Align and Distribute Dialog

The Align and Distribute dialog (Object icon Align and Distribute... (Shift+Ctrl+A)) has special commands for editing nodes when the Node Tool is in use.

Align and Distribute dialog for nodes.
Align and Distribute dialog when Node Tool is active.

The commands will align or distribute selected nodes and can be useful to evenly place markers on a straight line (as shown in the figure below).

Node alignment.

A path composed of nodes connected by straight line segments as drawn (top), aligned and distributed (middle), and with scissor markers (bottom). (Markers can be added by using the Stroke style tab of the Fill and Stroke dialog (Object Node alignment. Fill and Stroke... (Shift+Ctrl+F)). See the section called “Markers” in Chapter 10, Attributes.

The commands available are:

  • icon Align selected nodes along a horizontal line.

  • icon Align selected nodes along a vertical line.

  • icon Distribute selected nodes horizontally.

  • icon Distribute selected nodes vertically.

Auto-Smooth Nodes

An auto-smooth node is a special node that will automatically adjust to maintain a smooth path when it or one of its neighboring nodes are moved. To create auto-smooth nodes, select the nodes and either use the keyboard shortcut Shift+A or click on the icon in the Tool Controls. Auto-smooth nodes revert to normal smooth nodes if their handles are explicitly adjusted or if the path is dragged on either side of the node.

Auto-smooth nodes.
A demonstration of using auto-smooth nodes. From left to right: A path with corner nodes. The path after converting the nodes to auto-smooth. The path after moving the two lower nodes.

Auto-smooth nodes work by adjustments to the length and direction of the node's handles. The length of the handles are kept about one-third of the distance to the neighboring nodes, and the change in direction is a function of the relative position of the neighboring nodes.

Sculpting Nodes

The Sculpting mode of the Node Tool allows one to easily manipulate a complex path, adjusting multiple nodes at the same time. The basic use is to select a group of nodes and then drag one of the selected nodes with the mouse while holding down the Alt key. Only the dragged node moves the full amount. The selected nodes at the end remain fixed, and all the other selected nodes will move a distance that is a function of how far they are from the dragged node. The function takes the form of a Bell Curve distribution. This is best illustrated by the following diagram.

Basic node sculpting.
Adjusting a group of nodes using the Sculpting mode. Top: A straight line with many nodes. Middle: The line after selecting all nodes and dragging the middlemost node with the mouse while holding down the Alt key. Bottom: The line after selecting only the leftmost nodes and dragging the center of the selected nodes down while holding down the Alt key.

As usual with the Node Tool, only paths may be sculpted. Any other objects must be converted to a path first. In the following illustration, a star has been converted to a path and then the innermost nodes were selected and one was dragged.

Star node sculpting.
Sculpting a star. Left: A star converted to a path. Right: After selecting the center nodes and dragging one node to the left while holding down the Alt key.

The uses of Sculpting are endless. One can easily manipulate text into interesting shapes. In the following example, the text is sculpted in two different ways.

Star node text.
Top: Regular text. Middle: Text converted to a path with additional nodes added. First the leftmost characters were selected and one of the middle nodes dragged upward. This was repeated twice for each three letter group on the right. Bottom: The same text as above, but this time the bottommost nodes of each letter were excluded from the selection.

With a tablet, pressure sensitivity can be used to control the extent to which neighbor points are dragged. Neighbor nodes will move farther if the pressure used is greater. The tablet input device must be enabled; see the Calligraphy Tool section. Broken in v0.48.

Sculpting with tablet.
Sculpting of a straight line using the pressure sensitivity of a tablet. Applied pressure increases from top to bottom.

A number of different profiles are available. As of now, it is not possible to switch between the profiles using the GUI. You can switch by editing the sculpting_profile parameter in the file preferences.xml in your Inkscape profile directory. Broken in v0.48.

Profiles for node sculpting.
Available profiles for Sculpting. Top to bottom: 0, 1 (default), 2.

Path Offset Commands

There are four commands grouped under this category, although one of them might be better thought of as a cloning tool. Each allows a path to be enlarged or reduced by moving each point perpendicular to a line tangent to the path at that point. A regular shape or text object is converted to a path automatically, except for the Linked offset command. The new paths are all closed, even if the original is open.

  • Path icon Inset (Ctrl+( ) Inset path: Moves path inward by the Inset/Outset step (default 2 px).

  • Path icon Outset (Ctrl+) ) Outset path: Moves path outward by the Inset/Outset step (default 2 px).

    A star with an inset and an outset.
    A star with an inset and an outset. The original star is red.
  • Path icon Dynamic Offset (Ctrl+J) Dynamic offset: Moves path inward or outward. A handle (viewable when Node Tool selected) controls the magnitude of the offset. The original path is stored so that further changes in the offset do not degrade the path. The original path is not editable after conversion. To edit, convert the dynamic offset path to a normal path with the Path icon Object to Path (Shift+Ctrl+C) command.

    A star with both a dynamic inset and a dynamic outset.
    A star with both a dynamic inset and a dynamic outset. The original star is red. Note that the shape of the outset star is different than in the simple outset example above.
  • Path icon Linked Offset (Ctrl+Alt+J) Linked offset: Makes a copy of a path that can then be enlarged or shrunk. A handle controls the magnitude of the offset. The original object is not converted to a path and remains editable, and the changes are reflected in linked copies. More than one link can be made.

    A star with both a linked inset and a linked outset.
    A star with both a linked inset and a linked outset. The original star (red) was modified after the creation of the linked paths.

Miscellaneous Path Commands

The commands have in common that they act on the entire path, and not on a subset of a path's nodes.

  • Path icon Combine (Ctrl+K) Combine paths: Combine selected paths into a compound path. This will work for any set of paths regardless of how the paths are arranged in Groups.

  • Path icon Break Apart (Shift+Ctrl+K) Break apart paths: Break selected compound path(s) into simple paths.

  • Path icon Reverse (Shift+R) (keyboard shortcut only works with Node Tool): Reverse path: Reversing the direction of a path will affect things like the order in which nodes are selected by Tab and in the direction of Markers (e.g., arrows). New in v0.48: It is possible to display harpoons indicating path direction by selecting Show path direction on outlines in the Inkscape Preferences dialog. The outline must be visible (toggle on either by selecting Always show outline in the dialog or clicking the icon icon in the Tool Controls).

  • Path icon Simplify (Ctrl+L) Simplify path: This command reduces the number of nodes in a path while keeping the shape of the path almost the same. The larger the selection, the more aggressive the simplification. The command may be repeated. If repeated within a set time period (0.5 seconds), the simplification also becomes more aggressive. The Simplification threshold can be changed under the Misc tab in the Inkscape Preferences dialog (File icon Inkscape Preferences... (Shift+Ctrl+P)).