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Inkscape: Vector Graphics For Linux

Raster vs. Vector

February 22, 2005

Just about everybody has heard of The Gimp.

It's a raster based graphics editor that's available for Linux and Windows. Other raster editors include Microsoft Paint, Adobe Photoshop and Ulead PhotoImpact. A graphic produced by The Gimp is just a bunch of pixels on the screen. As a matter of fact, if you take a swipe across your screen with the eraser tool, you'll be erasing a swath of pixels, whether it's a shape, line, color or whatever. There are no properties, links or intelligence built into any particular graphical element. It's also known as a bitmap.

Inkscape is different. It's vector based.

Here's how it works. Suppose you insert a filled square onto the screen of a vector graphics editor and then decide you want to change the fill color. That's easy. Just highlight the square and then call up the fill properties panel. Choose a new color from the color wheel and poof, new color on the square. You adjust the properties of the graphical elements, instead of just shuffling around the individual pixels and their colors.

Virtually every 2- and 3-D CAD system are vector based.

Inkscape is also an open source vector graphics editor that uses the SVG (scalable vector graphics) file format. This is neat because SVG is an evolving standard based on XML that can be massaged via programs, scripts or a simple text editor.

In this story we'll do a quick primer on how you can get up to speed on Inkscape. Along the way, we'll explore situations where a vector based graphic would be better suited for a job than a raster based picture. In spite of not being an XML or web development expert I think SVG will be important in the future. Read on and you'll see why.