September 19, 2018

The Book of Inkscape: A Fine, Rare Pleasure

Tools, Projects, and Plain English

  • December 10, 2009
  • By Carla Schroder

The Book of Inkscape
"The Book of Inkscape" by Dmitry Kirsanov (No Starch Press) calls itself "the definitive guide to the free graphics editor." Inkscape is a professional-level vector graphics editor, and if you don't know what that means this book tells you right away, in nice understandable real-people English. The author gets right down to answering "what do you do with this thing?" in Chapter 1:

"Schemes, charts, diagrams. Plans and drafts. Scientific illustrations and data graphs. Icons, symbols, logos, and emblems. Heraldry, flags, road signs. Comics, cartoons, anime characters and scenes. Maps of lands both real and imaginary. Typography of all kinds. Banners, leaflets, posters. Web graphics. (Ads, too.) Book covers, holiday cards, headings, and vignettes. Kids' scribbles and stunning photorealistic art. Fantasy art, fan art, games art, and simply art of all flavors and varieties."

Then the author lists some tasks that Inkscape may not be the best tool for, and suggest other applications that are better-suited for them.

I am so used to looking things up via Google that when I review a book I shut down networking. Because I think a good software howto book should be self-sufficient in several ways, and not send the reader on a Web search to fill in the blanks. It should start with an introduction that explains clearly and concisely what the application is for in a way that is relevant to users of the software. Something like "Fooware12 is the supreme application for creating and designing your own iron-on tattoos, using ordinary inkjet printers and waxed paper!" Rather than something akin to the all too-common "Fooware12 is a free and open source debilitating rastervector, with improved error handling and inbred debugging traces."

The introduction should also give examples of some of the things the user can do with the application, and some common usage scenarios. "Fooware12 is great for four-color tattoos up to five inches by five inches; for anything larger or with more colors try Feeware7 or the popular FowareFum." It should say what operating systems it runs on, and realistic system requirements. It should say who the target audience is, whether you need a degree in something to even open the book, or if a knowledgeable noob would benefit from it.

The book should teach not only the software, but also the principles and terminology of the work it does. You can't use accounting and financial software without understanding the fundamentals of accounting and finance. You can't use audio production software without understanding audio terminology and hardware. Using an image editor without understanding the relevant terminology is the fast-track to frustration.

Then it should have lots of pictures, because a picture truly is worth a thousand words and it lets you know when you're on the right track, and it should break everything down into precise, detailed steps for specific tasks. I give extra credit for incorporating the "how" along with the "why".

I am pleased to say that "The Book of Inkscape" meets all of these criteria and then some. Of the many technical books that I read every year, this one is in my top ten. It is obvious that a tremendous amount of work went into this book, and the result is a polished, thorough work that is a pleasure to read.

There are two primary ways to write a howto book: one way is project-oriented, the other is task-oriented. "The Book of Inkscape" incorporates both. The reader learns about the different tasks that can be done in Inkscape such as gradients and patterns, text, arranging, styling, paths, gradients and patterns, and many more. Then it has a number of tutorials such as designing a business card, drawing a 3-D correct cartoon, creating an animation, technical drawing, and several more.

The author goes into detail on describing and teaching Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG). This is a text-based graphics language that describes images with vector shapes, text, and embedded raster graphics. He also explains raster graphics and other terminology.

Inkscape is very customizable, supporting keyboard shortcuts for nearly every procedure, and it comes with a full complement of CLI commands which are well covered in this book.

I started out as a complete novice to Inkscape and SVG. The book pulled me right in and in short order I was creating some pretty impressive drawings. Well, impressive as far as learning the techniques and what Inkscape can do; Inkscape unfortunately cannot bestow artistic talent. Mr. Kirsanov is one of the core Inkscape developers. Tim Daniels, the technical reviewer, is one of the founders of the Inkscape project. That's some potent talent to bring to a book like this, but having the greatest devs writing a howto for their own software doesn't always work out. Fortunately Mr. Kirsanov is also a talented and thorough writer. I give this book a big thumbs up.

The Book of Inkscape by Dmitry Kirsanov (No Starch Press)

Carla Schroder is the author of the Linux Cookbook and the Linux Networking Cookbook (O'Reilly Media), the upcoming "Building a Digital Sound Studio with Audacity" (NoStarch Press), a lifelong book lover, and the managing editor of LinuxPlanet and Linux Today.

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