The mobile era has created a thriving renaissance in technology, and high time it did. Apps for the mobile platform show no end of growth – mobile app developer made #1 on CNN Money’s list of ‘Best Jobs in America’ with projected growth of 19% over the next decade. App development is a great opportunity with many developers jumping on the bandwagon.
But developers all run into one snag: Graphic design. Being a coder and a graphic artist are two different things. Since no app can get by without some kind of visual element, app developers need a fast, easy solution which can quickly and economically churn out the simple graphics that phones use. In particular, mobile apps have gravitated towards a style called “Flat 2.0,” which is easily done in SVG editors, exporting to PNG image file format.
Inkscape is one of the most remarkable programs to have emerged from the open source world. It’s an SVG editor capable of importing and exporting a number of graphic formats, including PNG. Its UI has changed very little since its launch and there’s little reason to change it, so you can learn it once and it’s yours for good. Its UI is also one of the easiest to master, being a very clear successor to programs like Corel Draw and Adobe Illustrator. But best of all, it can churn out modern, professional art that looks as cutting edge as anything you’ve seen come out this year.
Note: Even though there is an Inkscape port to Android mobile at least, we recommend you run it on the desktop or laptop. Inkscape can use some serious memory, and the version for Android comes bundled with Gimp, for some reason, with a 2.0 Gig space requirement just to download it. What anybody thought they’d do with Gimp on a tablet is anybody’s guess.
Three comprehensive resources are available for beginners. First, the ‘help’ menu in Inkscape itself comes with eight tutorial lessons. The tutorials themselves are in editable SVG format, so you can learn a new trick and try it out right in the document!
Second, there’s the ‘learn’ section of the Inkscape website, with links to various tutorials done by the open source community. Since Inkscape’s UI stays stable from one release to another, even a tutorial for previous versions should work in the current one.
However, the Inkscape beginner’s best resource is Tavmjong Bah’s guide. While it’s no longer maintained and is growing older by the year, it still stands as one of the most comprehensive manuals ever done for a program. The author is a graphic designer as well, and thoroughly explores everything the program could do at the time, which is a shocking amount.
Just a few tutorials we found on Inkscape, to show how it struts its stuff…
In particular, Nick Saporito’s YouTube channel is what most mobile app developers will want to follow for Inkscape lessons. He’s easy to follow and an expert on Flat style graphic design.
Inkscape Tricks to Explore
We don’t have the space to give you step by step instructions, but here’s some interesting tricks to explore later…
For those few times when you need text to be a little fancier.
Isometric graphics are easy once you turn on the ‘axonometric grid’ in document properties and have snap settings to snap to grid as tightly as possible. You can create simple shapes and then copy them to use like building blocks.
The L-System dialogue under the ‘extensions – render’ menu gives you a quick way to generate fractal paths. Useful for quickly generating organic shapes and patterns. The math geeks among you might check out the Wikipedia pages for Lindenmayer system and list of common fractals.
Also in the ‘extensions – render’ menu is the ‘random trees’ dialog, which is a quick, easy way to render a tree structure. The bottom number needs to be lower to get more branches.
You can play with Inkscape every day and keep discovering new tricks. The program is the best kind of tool, because it invites discovery and exploration. It gets even better after you learn the canonical hotkeys, which speed things up tremendously. And of course, it’s free to download and use. There’s nothing in modern mobile graphics you can’t do with it!