2D Conception

First introduction

Learning the basic skills to use a program that draws in 2D is essential to be able to use laser cutters, vinyl cutters or other 2D conception tools. This module will guide you through the first steps to using Inkscape (version 1.0.1), a free 2D vector drawing program.

Practical relevance

– This is what you will need the knowledge and skills for

In this module you will learn to use Inkscape to draw and prepare a simple design for a laser or vinyl cutter.

Overview of learning objectives and competences

In this module you will learn to download the Inkscape program and the basics on how to use it to make your own design and prepare it to be cut out in a laser cutter or a vinyl cutter.

Required skills for this module

Basic computer skills.

What are Vector Graphics?

Vector graphics are computer graphics comprised of points, lines, curves and shapes that are based on mathematical formulas and can be scaled to any size without losing quality. Vector graphics are most commonly used for creating logos, illustrations and print layouts and work well with laser and vinyl cutters because the edges of the objects are smooth and clean.

Inkscape

Inkscape is a free professional quality vector graphics editor, available for Windows, Mac OS and Linux. Go to https://inkscape.org/ to download Inkscape. Click on Download Now, choose your operating system and follow the instructions. 

The logo for Inkscape looks like this.

Inkscape Display

The structure of the Inkscape window is like most other computer programs used today. On top of the window is the name of the program and the name of the document, New document if it has not been named yet. Below the name are the dropdown menus like File and Edit. Below that are command buttons and to the left is the Toolbox bar. A ruler guide is to the left and on top. At the bottom of the window is the Palette and Status bar. To adjust which toolbars are on display go to View → Show/Hide and check or uncheck the relevant toolbars.

Document Properties

Before starting to draw, it is good to adjust the Document Properties, it will help you to have a sense of the size of the drawing. Go to File → Document Properties. In the Display unit’s menu choose which unit to use and under Page Size choose a standard size of the page to use or customize the size in the Width and Height boxes. The size of the page does not limit the size of the drawing but can help you to estimate how much material you will need to cut out your form.

Inkscape: Drawing

Drawing Objects

In Inkscape it is possible to draw all kinds of simple forms that can then be adjusted and grouped together in many ways to make more complicated forms. On the Toolbox Bar, to the left of the window, are the drawing tools.

Start by clicking on the object to be drawn, e.g. a rectangle, Create rectangles and squares.

rec

Hold down the left mouse button and drag the mouse down and to the right to draw the object. Release the mouse button to finish drawing.

To resize the object, click the Select and transform objects button and then on the object to change. Arrows will appear around the object. Pull the arrows to enlarge or reduce the object at will. To keep the same proportions on the object, hold down the Ctrl key while pulling the corner arrows.

It is also possible to enter the exact width (W) and Height (H) of the object in the relevant boxes on the Tool Controls Bar.

Toolbox Bar

On the left side of the window is the Toolbox bar with these possibilities. After drawing a form, it can be fine-tuned with the buttons on the Tool Controls Bar. The options vary depending on the selected form.

Button Name Keyboard Shortcut Function

Select and transform objects
S
Selects the objects on screen to move or change them.

Edit paths by nodes
N
Enables nodes to change the appearance of the selected object.

Create rectangles and squares
R
Hold down the left mouse button to draw a rectangle. Hold down the Shift key and the left mouse button to draw a square.

Create circles, ellipses, and arcs
E
Hold down the left mouse button to draw an ellipse. Hold down the Shift key and the left mouse button to draw a circle.

Create stars and polygons
*
Hold down the left mouse button to draw a star. Change the number of spikes on the star or change the form to polygon and select number of corners on the Tool Controls Bar, visible when the star is selected .

Create 3D boxes
X
Hold down the left mouse button to draw a box in 3D.

Create spirals
I
Hold down the left mouse button to draw a spiral.

Draw Bezier curves and straight lines
B
Click with the left mouse button to draw a straight line, hold down the button to draw curves.

Draw freehand lines
P
Hold down the left mouse button to draw a freehand line.

Draw calligraphic or brush strokes
C
Hold down the left mouse button to draw calligraphic or brush strokes.

Create and edit text objects
T
Click on the document and start typing text.

Create and edit gradients
G
Hold down the left mouse button and draw a line in a form to create a gradient color blend.

Create and edit meshes
With the Meshes tool objects can be given a gradient color in different shapes.

Pick colors from image
D

Click on the tool and then anywhere on the screen to pick up the desired color.

Fill bounded areas
U

Click on a form to fill it with the selected color.

Tweak objects by sculpting or painting
W

With the Tweak Objects tool you can alter more than one object at a time. For example, move or rotate them.

Spray objects by sculpting or painting
A

Click on an object to select it then click on the Spray objects by sculpting or painting button. Now click or drag the left mouse button to make the selected object again and again.

Erase existing paths
Shift+E

Hold down the left mouse button to erase part of a drawing.

Create diagram connectors
O

Hold down the left mouse button to draw diagram connectors.

Zoom in or out
Z

Click on the left mouse button to zoom in and the right mouse button to zoom out.

Measurement tool
M

Hold down the left mouse button and draw a line between two points to measure.

The Select and transform objects tool

The Select and transform objects tool is probably the most used tool in Inkscape so it is good to know all of its uses.

Select or deselect an object

Click on the Select and transform objects tool and then on the object to select. When you see handles appear around the object you know it is selected. Clicking away from the selected object or objects will deselect them.

Select multiple objects

To select multiple objects, drag with the mouse around all the objects. Be sure all the parts of the objects to select are in the frame. Handles will appear around all the objects. It is also possible to click on an object to select it, hold down the Shift key and click on all the other objects to select.

Move objects

The Select and transform objects tool is also used to move objects, one or more at a time. Click an object and hold down the left mouse button and drag the object on the screen. Holding down the Ctrl key (Command for Apple) while dragging will keep the object on a straight vertical or horizontal axis. It is also possible to use the arrow keys on the keyboard to move selected objects.

Scale objects

Click and drag a handle on top or bottom of an object to adjust the height of the object. Click and drag a handle on the right or left of an object to adjust the width of the object. Click and drag a corner handle and adjust height and width at the same time. Holding down the Ctrl key and dragging a handle will resize objects in the same proportions. Holding down the Shift key and dragging a handle will resize objects from the same center point. Holding down both the Ctrl and Shift key at the same time and dragging a handle will resize an object in the same proportions from the middle point.

Rotate objects

Clicking again on an already selected object will change the handles and their uses. Click and drag a corner handle and rotate the object, holding down Ctrl while rotating will rotate the object by 15° increments. The object rotates around the little cross that appears in the middle. The cross can be moved to a new location and then the object will be rotated around the new location.  

Skew objects

Click and drag the handles in the middle to skew the object.

Tool Controls Bar

When the Select and transform objects tool is selected the commands on the Tool Controls Bar apply to it. The first three buttons are for selecting. 

Select all objects or all nodes will select all objects in the document. Select all objects in all visible and unlocked layers will select all objects that are in visible and unlocked layers and exclude those that are not. Deselect any selected objects or nodes will deselect all that is currently selected.

Rotate selection 90° counterclockwise and Rotate selection 90° clockwise will rotate the selected object or objects 90° either clockwise or counterclockwise on each click.

Flip selected objects horizontally and Flip selected objects vertically will flip the selected object or objects on a horizontal or vertical axis.

If objects are stacked on top of each other they can be lowered or raised one step at a time or straight to top or bottom with the Lower selection to bottom, Lower selection one step, Raise selection one step, Raise selection one step buttons.

The Horizontal coordinate of selection and Vertical coordinate of selection boxes display the exact horizontal (X) and vertical (Y) location of an object. The boxes can be written in for an exact placement of an object.

The Width of selection and Height of selection boxes display the width and height of the selected object. Writing in the boxes changes the size of the selected object. Clicking on the lock will lock the aspect ratio, so changing the size in one box will change the size in the other accordingly. There are several different units of measurement to choose from.

Click on the When scaling objects, scale the stroke width by the same proportion option if the stroke width of an object is supposed to scale with the size of the object. Turn this option off if the stroke width should stay the same when resizing an object.

Click on the When scaling rectangles, scale the radii of rounded corners option if the rounded corners of an object is supposed to scale with the size of the object. Turn this option off if the corners should stay the same when resizing an object.

Click on the Move gradients (in fill or stroke) along with the objects if the gradient fill of an object is to stay the same when it is moved. Turning this option off will change the gradient when the object is moved.

Click on the Move patterns (in fill or stroke) along with the objects if the pattern fill of an object is to stay the same when it is moved. Turning this option off will change the pattern when the object is moved.

Fill and Stroke

To adjust the outline of the objects and the fill, use the Fill and Stroke window. It opens on the right side of the screen when you click Object → Fill and Stroke or thebutton on the Commands Bar. The window is divided into three parts, Fill sets the fill color of the object, Stroke paint sets the color of the outline and Stroke style sets the outline style.

Align objects

Objects can be aligned using the Align and Distribute window. To open it, click on Object → Align and Distribute or on the button on the Commands Bar.

Select all the objects to align and then click on the appropriate button in the window. Hovering over the buttons in the window will display help text.

Group objects

Two or more objects can be grouped together in several different ways.

The Group command groups together two or more selected objects so they behave like one object. 

The Ungroup command ungroups the objects again into two or more objects.

These commands are in the Object drop-down list and on the Commands bar.

The Union command combines two or more objects and creates one. Path → Union.

The object cannot be disassembled again into original objects unless you undo the command with the undo button (Edit → Undo).

The Difference command cuts one object from the other. The object that lies on top is the one that will be cut away. Path → Difference. For best results only select two objects at a time. The object cannot be disassembled again into original objects unless you undo the command with the undo button (Edit → Undo).

The Intersection command cuts off both objects but leaves the part that they had in common. Path → Intersection. For best results only select two objects at a time. The object cannot be disassembled again into original objects unless you undo the command with the undo button (Edit → Undo).

The Exclusion command cuts off the part that the objects have in common. Path → Exclusion . For best results only select two objects at a time. The object cannot be disassembled again into original objects unless you undo the command with the undo button (Edit → Undo).

Inkscape: Text

Write text

Text can be written in Inkscape and edited in many ways.

Click the Create and edit text objects button.

Then click on the document where the text should be and start writing.

Click on the Select and transform objects button to move the text on the screen.

Edit text

The font and font size of text can be changed.

Before editing text, select it by holding down the left mouse button and dragging it over the letters. When the text has been selected the Tool Controls Bar will display text settings.

In the Select Font Family drop-down menu different fonts can be selected.

In the Font style drop-down menu different styles can be selected, like Italic or Bold.

In the Font size drop-down menu, the font size is selected. It is also possible to enlarge or reduce text in the same way as an object, by dragging the arrows that appear when the text box is selected.

Shape text to an object

Text can be shaped to many objects created by the object tool.

Write text.

Draw an object, e.g. a circle.

Select both the text and the object. Click the Select and transform objects button, click the text, hold down the Shift key on the keyboard, and click the object.

Now both the object and the text are selected.

Click on Text → Put on Path.

To get rid of the circle but keep the text, select the text and then Path → Object to Path. Then you can delete the circle but the text remains.

Inkscape: Preparing an Image

Preparing an image for the vinyl or laser cutter

It is possible to copy an image from the internet to cut out in the vinyl or laser cutter. It is most convenient to use a silhouette picture since there is a clear distinction between the two colors. Just copy and paste the picture in Inkscape. Then you need to adjust the image.

Make sure the image is selected. Click on Select and transform objects and then on the image. Arrows appear around the image.

Go to Path → Trace Bitmap. This will open the Trace Bitmap window. Click the Update button if the image does not appear in the window.  Usually you do not need to change any settings, just click the OK button and then close the window by clicking . If the image does not look good in the window try to raise the number in the Brightness threshold box and click Update again. Sometimes you will need to try a few times to get the best result.

There is now another image that lies on top of the original image. It has to be pulled aside to be seen. You can then delete the original image by selecting it and pressing the Delete key on the keyboard.

Now the outline of the picture is much clearer and the picture is ready for the vinyl or laser cutter.

The difference in the outline of the original and new image can be seen here to the right.

Working with nodes

In vector graphics nodes are used to draw the forms and change them. When a form is selected click on the Edit paths by nodes to see the nodes. If no nodes appear the form or image is not a vector. Use Path → Trace Bitmap option to convert a raster image to a vector image. If the nodes appear the selected form is an object or a path. When using the rectangle , circle , star , 3D box and spiral drawing tools on the Toolbox bar Inkscape draws an object with set nodes that can change the form in predetermined settings to easily reshape it. Looking at the nodes on the objects they can be different shapes and then do different things to an object.

Looking at the nodes on a rectangle there are both square and round nodes. The square ones can be dragged to make the rectangle bigger or smaller. But the round one will make the corners rounder.

The square nodes on a circle can also make it smaller or bigger. But the round node allows you to cut away part of the circle.

When drawing with the freehand or the calligraphy tool Inkscape creates a path. Paths have a lot of nodes that can be reshaped individually. Since freehand drawing is not for everyone, Inkscape allows you to change objects to paths to have more options to change the shape of a form. With an object selected go to Path → Object to Path. On a path, more nodes can easily be added or extra nodes deleted.

When the Edit paths by nodes option is selected the buttons on the Tool Controls Bar change to options to fine-tune the nodes.

Button Name Function

Insert new nodes into selected segments
Select two or more nodes and click this button to insert new nodes between the selected ones.

Delete selected nodes
Select one or more nodes and click this button to delete the selected nodes. It is also possible to use the Delete button on the keyboard.

Join selected nodes
Select two nodes and click this button to join them. The two nodes will become one.

Delete segment between two non-endpoint nodes
Select two or more nodes that are not endnodes and click this button to delete the path between.

Make selected nodes corner
Select one or more nodes and click this button to make the nodes a corner.

Make selected nodes smooth
Select one or more nodes and click this button to make the nodes smooth.

Make selected nodes symmetric
Select one or more nodes and click this button to make the nodes symmetric.

Make selected nodes auto-smooth
Select one or more nodes and click this button to make the nodes auto-smooth.

Make selected segments lines
Select one or more nodes and click this button to make the line between the nodes a straight line.

Make selected segments curves
Select one or more nodes and click this button to make the line between the nodes a curved line.

Convert selected object to path
Converts the selected object to a path.

Convert selected object’s stroke to path
Converts a selected stroke to a path.

X coordinate of selected node(s)
The placement of the node on the X axis.

Y coordinate of selected node(s)

The placement of the node on the Y axis.

Measurement unit.

Measurement unit.

Preparing an image in multiple colors for the vinyl cutter

Since a vinyl cutter can only cut out one color at a time making a multicolor image has to be done in as many steps as the number of colors. In module 5 you will learn how vinyl cutters work, for example how to change colors for multi-color images.

Select an image and copy or import it to Inkscape.

Select the image and click Path → Trace Bitmap to open the Trace Bitmap dialog window. Click the Update button to see how the setting will trace the image. If all the outlines are not visible try to lower the Brightness threshold and click the Update button again. Click OK when the image is as desired and close the window. Inkscape has now made a new vector image on top of the original image. Select the new image and drag it to the side of the original. The original image can be deleted or kept as a reference while finishing preparing the new one.

Use the nodes tool if the image needs to be trimmed, simplified or changed before coloring it again.

Use the Fill Bounded area to color the areas needed. Turn off the stroke paint, click x in the Stroke paint part of the Fill and stroke window, and the colored area is a little smaller than needed, see sample to the right. To avoid unfilled areas when pressing the vinyl to fabric it is good to make it a little larger than the space to fill, the black will cover the excess.

With the area to enlarge selected click Path → Dynamic Offset, then click the node at the top and drag it. Then click Path → Object to Path and select the Object with Select and transform objects tool. To send the object to the back Click the Lower selection to button.

When all objects of the same color have been adjusted select them all and click Path → Union to unite them. It is easier to place the objects correctly on the fabric when they are united. When united the objects can be selected and moved around the screen as one unit.

After doing the same thing with the eyes or any other part of the image it can be cut out of vinyl and pressed to fabric. Just make sure it is in the correct order.

Preparing an image with black outlines

If the image being prepared has black outlines the process is similar as before. Copy the image into Inkscape and use the trace bitmap function.

Color in the areas that will be in a different color using the Fill bounded area button and combine the ones of the same color, using the Path → Union command. It is not necessary to make the areas a little bigger since they will be pressed to the fabric on top of the black color. Move the colored areas to the side of the image, then only the outlines remain.

Then only the outlines remain. For best results the outlines should be filled in. Select image, then click Path → Break Apart, be careful not to deselect any part of the image and click Path → Union.

Preparing an image for the laser cutter

Most laser cutters look at the uploaded image to laser cut and group different objects of the same color on the image and want to assign the same commands to the same color. Whether it is to cut through the material, engrave, score or ignore. So, keep in mind the color of the objects when preparing an image for the laser cutter. Module 5 of this learning course will teach you how to adjust your laser cutter for different looks.

Save an Inkscape document

When saving an Inkscape document for the first time there are three things that have to be decided. Where on the computer the document is saved, what is the name of the document and what type of document. 

Click on File → Save as to open the Save window. At the top of the window in the Save in box the location of the document is chosen. To navigate drives and folders on the computer use the Go To Last Folder Visited button , Up One Level button or select one of the visible folders in the Window. It is also possible to click on the Create New Folder button to further organize the documents. After selecting where to save the file write the name of it in the File name box, choose a name that describes the content to easily find it again. The type of the document is selected in the Save as type list. The default type is SVG that stands for Scalable Vector Graphics.

Importing different file types in Inkscape

In Inkscape it is possible to import different types of files to work with. In the File menu click on the Import option to open the Select file to import window. Navigate to the correct folder and double click the file to import. In the Files of type list in the Select file to import window you can see a list of different file types to import. Depending on the type of file chosen there are different options to choose from, since the file types are so many it is not possible to show all options. 

If the file is a .png or a .jpeg it is possible to select two different Import Types, DPI and Rendering mode, in the image import window that opens next. After making the selection click OK to continue. The best way to know what to choose each time is to test the options.

If the chosen file type is a .pdf the PDF Import Settings window opens. If the .pdf file is more than one page the correct one has to be chosen. After making selections click OK to finish the import.

Export Inkscape drawing as PNG Image

If the drawing is to be used as an image Inkscape offers a way to export it as PNG (Portable Graphics Format). Click on the File menu and select Export PNG Image to open the Export PNG Image window. Which area of the file to export can be chosen next: the whole Page, just the Drawing, what is selected, Selection, or something else, Custom. Depending on the chosen area the x and y coordinates can be adjusted. Also, the number of pixels and Dots Per Inch (dpi). In the Filename field the name and location of the new image can be changed.

Summary

There are many 2D design programs available that do mostly the same thing. Inkscape is a free open source program that has endless possibilities and addons to help do a lot of fun and creative things whether by drawing them from the start or importing an image. Just make sure the image has the correct scaling before cutting it or printing it.

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