Shape Tools

Inkscape has a good selection of preformatted shape tools to satisfy the five-year old potato printer in you. These shape tools provide a useful way to start playing around with the possibilities of this application, and it's possible to achieve many different effects. You can manipulate the shapes via their nodes: small square ones for resizing, and round ones for reshaping. Drawn shapes are objects by default, rather than paths, but as usual you can convert them to paths with the Path > Object to Path menu item.

First is the Create Rectangles and Squares tool (see Figure 4-7), which has the icon of a light blue square in the Toolbox, and a cursor with a cross and a black rectangle. Click and hold down the mouse button while you drag to create the shape you want. It's filled with the current active color, which you can change by clicking a color swatch on the Palette bar at the bottom of the main Inkscape window. (If you can't see the swatches, enable the Palette bar by checking the box at View > Show/Hide > Palette.)

Figure 4-7. The Create Rectangles and Squares tool is the first of Inkscape's shape tools. All five have similar resizing and reshaping handles.

If none of the colors in the Palette are quite what you have in mind, drag the slider directly under the swatches to access more colors. You can also click the chevron to the immediate right of the Palette to select alternative preset color schemes, including a Topographic palette for drawing maps. To select a custom color, click the paintbrush icon on the Commands Bar at the top of the main Inkscape window. A dialog box opens with a variety of color-selection methods; it looks similar to the GIMP's color dialog (see Figure 4-8).

Figure 4-8. Inkscape's color-selection dialog is very similar to the GIMP's. In this screenshot, a gray stroke has been applied to the rectangular object beneath the text.

By default, the path fill color is set in this dialog; but if you click the "Stroke paint" tab, you can set the color drawn on the path itself, or the boundary in the case of an object. Fills and strokes don't have to be solid colors; they can also be gradients or patterns (see Figure 4-9). The "Stroke style" tab in this dialog enables you to set the width, joins, and end shapes of the stroke on the currently active path or object boundary.

Figure 4-9. The same gradient fill and gray stroke applied to both the text object and the rectangle object.

The next tool down in the Toolbox is a little odd, because it's meant for creating three-dimensional objects; as I mentioned earlier in this chapter, Inkscape is really a 2D graphics program. Nevertheless, if you select the Create 3D Boxes tool, the icon for which is a light blue cube, you can create box shapes by clicking, holding down the mouse button, and dragging (see Figure 4-10). For a box object that's already been created, you can use this tool to alter the dimensions of the faux-3D box by clicking and dragging the corner nodes. While you're doing this, a small X is visible in the middle of the box; you can click it and drag to change the object's perspective.

Figure 4-10. The Create 3D Boxes tool feels a little out of place in a 2D program like Inkscape, but it does speed up the creation of faux-3D objects.

A tool for creating 3D objects is much more useful when you can place other objects onto the boxes you make. To do this, you need to use the Layers dialog, which again is similar to the dialog of the same name in the GIMP. In Inkscape, you can view this dialog on the right side of the window by choosing Layer > Layers on the main menu, or by using the default keyboard shortcut Shift+Ctrl+L.

■ Note From these similarities with the GIMP, it's obvious that the authors of Free Software graphics programs are following each other's work, in order to provide an integrated experience for users—in other words, you and me. Developers of these programs meet up and present their latest ideas at an annual conference called the Libre Graphics Meeting, which is held in a different country each year.

To try this for yourself, use the plus-sign button in the Layers dialog to create a new layer, type in a name, select "Position: Below current," and click the Add button. Move your 3D box to this new layer by selecting it with the arrowhead tool, click the Layer main menu, and choose Move Selection to Layer Below. Any object on the current layer now appears to be floating above the 3D box. As with the GIMP's Layers dialog, you can adjust the opacity and blend of each layer here, too. Finally, you may need to adjust the shape of the object on the top layer to fit the perspective of the 3D object visible beneath it (see Figure 4-11).

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