Inkscape: Line Art Basics

Line Art Basics


Create the outlines with the Bezier toolvsd_inkscape_beziertool.Follow the contours closely, but don't worry about imperfections. These are easily corrected afterwards with the Node toolvsd_inkscape_nodetool. Zoom in closely and move every node that is astray to its correct position.

Open Paths

You should have no open shapes in your vector drawings. If you want to create professional illustrations, you must check your work for open paths. Just line shapes are OK, but make sure that no fill is assigned then. Some vector stock sites will reject vector illustrations that contain open paths if there is a fill assigned.


The weight of a stroke determines the thickness of the line art. For dynamic looking artwork the outline is drawn with variations in weight. However, in this illustration I want clean lines and I use a standard stroke weight. There are 2 ways to do the outlines:

  1. draw a shape and give it both stroke and fill
  2. draw the shape, duplicate it (Ctrl + D), give one object just a fill, the other just a stroke and arrange them in the right order via menu Object > Raise | Lower | Raise to Top | Lower to Bottom (or use the following keys: Page Up | Page Down | Home | End).

It really depends on the type of illustration that you try to create which method is most suitable. The 2nd method allows to create a single outline at the top layer, by combining the seperate paths into one (menu Path > Combine). Please keep in mind that open paths should NOT have a fill. In this tutorial I will mix both methods, as I want different outline colours for my shapes.

There is another benefit of having the outline on a seperate layer, especially if the stroke has some weight: there is no reason to be very accurate with the fills, as the outline will hide any imperfections.

Boolan operations

There are a few ways to make your shapes exactly to fit. An example: the shading on the arms is not to go outside of the the arms. It would involve quite some work to redraw the shape to follow the contour of the arm exactly again. But this is exactly where we can use boolean operations:

  1. draw the shape for shading, no need to be accurate near the outline
  2. make a duplicate of the shape that will receive the shading (Ctrl+D)
  3. select both the duplicate and the shading. Select "Intersection" from the Path menu. The shading will be cut exactly to follow the outline of the shape.

An alternative is to use a top object as a clipping path. Use the same technique as described above to create a duplicate of the object that determines the resulting shape. Select all objects that need to be clipped, as well as the duplicated shape. Use Object > Clip > Set to clip to shape. Note: a clipping path is applied to the object, and this may cause unexpected results when further path operations are applied, but it is a very quick way to clip multiple objects to shape.

Organise your work in Layers

Organise your work in layers. In general, my coloured line art illustrations have a minimum of 3 layers: background, colour, lineart. But more layers may be added, depending on complexity of the work. Give your layers logical names. Check on which layer you are working, the active layer is displayed in the status bar at the bottom of the screen.


Move object across layers

Note if you have objects on different layers, you can arrange them across layers through the Layer menu:
- Move selection to Layer Above (Shift + Page Up)
- Move selection to Layer Below (Shift + Page Down)

Lock layers

You can prevent accidental move / selection of objects in layers by locking the layer. Just click the small lock that that is shown next to a layer's name in the layer manger to lock / unlock a layer.



0 # Thomas 2011-11-13 02:23
Didn't you mean the intersection option in the boolean example? :-)
Reply | Reply with quote | Quote
0 # syllie 2011-11-13 15:13
Hi Thomas - thanks for your feedback!

You are absolutely correct and I cannot believe that..
1. I used the wrong operation name
2. No one pointed it out to me earlier
Thank you and I have corrected the text already.. now only to find the corresponding image :)

Reply | Reply with quote | Quote
0 # dee 2012-06-19 14:35
nice tut, I hadn't seen this site before so wanted to check out, great job! It may not have a start button, but at least it has a pause button! It might be helpful if you explained what a open path is (in the section where you talk about open paths, just describe it first). thanks!
Reply | Reply with quote | Quote


We are very proud that the Spiro Swirls Tutorial for Inkscape has gained such popularity.

Today, 28 January 2012,  over 140,000 viewers have visited this page and our statistics show that it is still the most popular tutorial on this site. This tutorial is suitable for Inkscape version 0.47 and 0.48.

Thank you all for viewing and providing feedback. We do our best to make this site the best beginner resource site for Inkscape.