Saturday, May 30, 2009

Inkscape and Keyboard shortcuts

I have some favorite keyboard shortcuts that I like to use with Inkscape. They make it so much easier to manipulate the objects and not have to use the mouse or menubar. In my "real life" as a computer teacher, I teach (and use!) these shortcuts all the time! Copy and paste (Ctrl+C and Ctrl+V) are indispensible in so many different applications!

The first thing I tell my students is to make yourself familiar with new programs. Start a new file, and start experimenting. Click the menubar (where File, Edit, etc is, under the titlebar) and look around at the different commands available. You may never use some of them and may not understand what they do but it's good just to get an idea of what you can do! You can even try some of the commands...It won't hurt anything and you can always just not save the file you made! Aim the mouse around the programs window and note what the icons are for. It will help you later, I promise! And if any of what you see makes you want to know more, Inkscape has a great built-in tutorial and there are lots of videos on the net about it.

Using the keyboard is so much faster for some of the most used commands. For instance, zooming in is accomplished by pressing the plus key and zoom out is the hyphen key, up by the number keys. You don't even have to use the shift key! Just press those keys until the object you're editing is as close as you wish to work with. It's great for those images that are simply too full of nodes! They seem to spread out if you zoom in close enough.

Having said all that, there's also a zoom percentage button on the lower right of the Inkscape window. Just click the up and down buttons to change the zoom, or type in the number you want. I think I prefer the plus key, though!

Probably the most used command is UNDO! Gotta love the guy who thought that one up. If only we could apply it to life! Anyway, undo is Ctrl and the letter Z. If you want to redo what you just undid, add shift to that combination. (That key usually reverses whatever command you just did. Like the backspace key on an IE web browser goes back a page, add shift and it goes forward a page.)

While I'm on the subject, when you're editing things and especially if you're having problems with a file, make sure to keep an eye on the information bar on the bottom of the window. It's the part of the window below the color bar. There's always useful information there that can even help you figure out what you're doing wrong if you're having a problem, or just give you info on how many nodes your drawing has. Just don't put that part of the window under the task bar, or you'll miss what could be vital info!

Btw, have you ever noticed? Bill Gates never passed a bar without adding it to Windows! We have a menu bar, a status bar, an info bar, a button bar, a tool never ends! Now if it just dispensed alcohol I might not be tempted to throw my computer against the wall so often! ;) Okay, back to business...

Most of the keyboard shortcuts I've mentioned can be found within the menubar itself, if you can't remember this list! It's the key combination to the right of the command. Click Edit in just about any program and you'll see the Copy and Paste commands and their shortcuts, for example. If you learn the ones you use the most, you'll find you don't even have to think about what key does what after a while, I promise! A lot of shortcuts are the same in many other programs, too. The shortcuts also appear in the tool tips, the text that pops up when you pause the mouse over one of the tools on the left side of the screen.

I was going to write about how to use the Alt key feature in Inkscape, but it seems that the Alt key is used in so many other ways in the program that they don't use Alt to access the menubar, as most programs do. This is another quick way (usually) to get around programs when you don't know the shortcut keys. You would press the Alt key and then type in the underlined letter of the menu command you wish to use, like F for File, then whatever letter is underlined on the command you want. That's a freebie, in case you want to try this in other programs, like Photoshop or Illustrator!

The F keys. The F keys are on the top row of your keyboard. F1 in most programs is Help. F3 is usually Find. In Inkscape, F1 selects the topmost tool on the toolbox located on the left side of the program. F2 is the second tool down, and one of the ones I use the most for cleaning up nodes and such.

Shift and F6 brings up the drawing tool, which helps you draw straight lines. I love this tool! It's great for tracing...something else I learned from Susan Blue Robot! The easiest way to use this tool: Pick a beginning point, point and click. Then follow the line to the next spot where theres an obvious "direction change" - a corner, if you were drawing a box, for instance. Continue in this manner until you reach your beginning point, then click in the tiny bounding box at that point and it will complete your shape. (TIP: if you want a straight line that doesn't end at your beginning point, you can press the enter key to end the stroke! This type of shape is NOT good for SCAL, however! More about this below...)

After your shape is outlined, then press the F2 key to bring up the "edit paths by nodes" tool. The straight lines you've created can be dragged into the correct shape at this time. If you find you need additional nodes to make the lines behave as you wish, simply double click at that point, then drag it or the handles where you want. A lesson on dealing with nodes will be another time!

Drag and Drop: I recently found out that you can use drag and drop to select colors in Inkscape...I had wondered how to change the stroke color without having to pull up the Path -> Fill and Stroke panel! Just drag the color you want to the object you want colored, choosing the fill or outline as required. Or, select the item to color by clicking on it and then click the color you want. I like the first way better, though.

Ctrl + D duplicates...wonderful to know! Thanks, Susan BlueRobot! Of all the fantastic things I've learned on her site, that one is a huge help! I wondered why copy copied the entire image...not exactly my intent most of the time! If it does copy the entire image, and you only want part, then copy and paste it, then break the item apart (Path->Break Apart or Shift-Ctrl-K) and move the parts you wanted to copy where you want them.

CTRL and the L key: This will simplify the selected object. Tip: I like to press F1 first - its a lot easier to see the changes that are made with this command if you don't have to look through all the nodes.

Tip: In SCAL, lines have to be connected or the item will not cut right. If you find a place in your traced file that is broken, an easy fix is to drag the line to its nearest neighbor, then click Path, Union, or press Ctrl and the + key.

Another tip: If you wish to move a point between two nodes, for instance a straight line, without using the mouse: click directly on the line (using the pen tool, F2), so both nodes surrounding it highlight. Now you can use the arrow keys on the keyboard to manipulate the line and it stays straight. Or you can drag it around with the mouse cursor. To rotate it, hold down Ctrl and use the L&R bracket keys to turn the selected section. You can also drag the cursor around several nodes and manipulate them all at the same time, with the same keys.

Also, don't overlook the options bar for each tool. It's located on the third row down, beneath the menu bar (File, Edit, View, etc) and the buttonbar(the New, Open, Save, Print, etc icons) and above the ruler. The icons change depending on which tool you have selected and adds to the capabilities of each tool. Unfortunately you cannot access these commands with the keyboard, but they are very accessible there instead of hidden in a menu.

Well, I hope that this post has enlightened you on some of the things Inkscape is capable of and makes it a little easier to work with. These are the commands I use the most, although I didn't even touch on layers and how they work, or the several different types of "Paste"!

Don't forget the built-in tutorials in the program and online, if you want to know more! has many great tutorials and videos.

And don't forget my earlier ink-saving tip if you want to print this out: Highlight the part to print, Click File, Print, then Selection (in IE) to just print the highlighted text. If you need further help or have an additional cool useful shortcut that I didn't mention, please add it in a comment below! Thanks and happy cutting!

UPDATE: Here's an extensive list of Inkscape shortcuts, thanks to Kay from Clever Someday. Thanks Kay! You know so much about this stuff!


Anonymous said...

Lots and lots of good info here. Thanks! F keys not Mac-friendly so I use the letter keys instead. s for selection tool, n for node tool, b for bezier tool, z for zoom. Also 3, 4 and 5 to jump to different views is very useful.
Thanks again!

Té la mà Maria - Reus said...

very good blog, congratulations
regard from Reus Catalonia
thank you

Karma said...

Hmm, my Mac has F keys! (It's a bit older desktop model.) I have never tried to use them, however, so maybe they're just for show? I LOVE my Mac but I mostly use it for video editing. I'm strictly PC with my Cricut! But thank you for the tips on using Inkscape with the Mac!!! Does the Mac have tool tips, too? (I have a hard time not having a scroll button or a right click on the Mac but I do know about the Apple key combos and use them often when editing!)

Hey, anyway, I'm really glad you liked my post and found it useful! Thanks to you both!