Using Inkscape as a Creative Tool
Inkscape is a vector-based drawing tool that allows you to create scalable images. You can use these images in handouts, lecture notes, web pages, and just about anywhere else you can think of putting a diagram.
Inkscape is available for free at inkscape.org. It is an open-source version of Adobe Illustrator. Inkscape is primarily useful for diagrams rather than images. (For photograph-type images, it is better to use GIMP, an open-source Adobe Photoshop alternative.)
As a physics professor, I find Inkscape to be very useful. Sometimes textbooks do not have diagrams for things I’m teaching. Other times they have different variable systems than I prefer. Sometimes the images have distracting bits or are overly cartoonish.
Inkscape allows me to produce high quality images that I can then scale up for PowerPoint or scale down for use in lab handouts. Here are a few examples…
I like the fact that I can put different parts of the image into layers, then only produce the layers I want. For example, in the pendulum diagram, I start with an image that only has the pendulum, the path of motion, and the location of the angle. As I move forward through my lectures, I can add in the forces, then break the gravitational force into two components. This allows me to keep students focused without overwhelming them with an overly complicated diagram.
Once I create the images, I can keep them in the scalable vector graphic (.svg) format or export them as .png files. I usually save a version of each. The .png files sometimes become fuzzy when you make them larger. If I do need a larger .png file, I can open the .svg version and export a larger .png version.
What are Vector-Based Graphics?
Vector based graphics are images that are built from lines, curves, and basic shapes. If you have made a graphic in PowerPoint using the line and shape tools, you’ve used a simple vector-based graphic system. Inkscape is much more powerful than PowerPoint, though.
The tools on the left side of the screen allow you to add rectangles, circles, lines, and text. You can also fill areas with colors or color gradients. The tools on the right side allow you to group objects and modify the lines that make them up. If you have a touch-screen, you can also use a stylus for free-hand drawing.
The lines, curves, and shapes you make in Inkscape are coded as mathematical formulas, but you never really see those calculations. You simply pick out the tool and start drawing with it. There are lots of tools, and it is easy to be overwhelmed at first.
Learning to Use Inkscape
To help you learn how to use Inkscape, there is no better tool than a little bit of online learning. Nick Saporito has put together many online resources under the brand “Logos by Nick LLC”. Nick is a graphic designer specializing in logos. His website, logosbynick.com, has information on Adobe and Affinity products, but the most useful info is on open-source software like GIMP and Inkscape. I prefer to look up his short tutorial videos on YouTube.com. When I want to learn how to do something, I search for a related term and add “logos by nick” to the search string. You can find his whole catalog on his Logos by Nick YouTube Page.
Nick’s tutorials are so useful that I’m not going to try to duplicate them.
Other Uses for Inkscape
I got started in Inkscape because I wanted to make simple diagrams for my PowerPoint lectures. Every so often, I would change textbooks, and wanted to make sure that I could continue using my lecture notes without a major overhaul. I also started my own website, physicsthisweek.com, and did not want to be in violation of copyright by using someone else’s diagrams.
At one point, I realized that these diagrams could have an art-like quality to them. I then branched out and started a website called physicsposters.com.
During the pandemic, my wife bought a few stickers, and I realized that I could make my own stickers using Inkscape. I sell these stickers on the same website.
I haven’t had a lot of sales yet, but it has been fun being creative. At home, I create my own stickers using a Cricut Maker my wife and I purchased.