Inkscape Tutorial: Abstract Wallpaper

vsd_abstract_design_thumbVector editors are excellent for creating abstract designs for wallpapers, web site headers and sigs. Inkscape is extremely suitable for it, as it provides a nifty tool set to create abstract and hi-tech effects with minimum effort.

Through the Inkscape forums I received a request for a tutorial resulting in abstract / tech artwork. The elements that are typically used in these designs are simple geometrical shapes, line work, gradients and blurs. I decided to provide a few walk-throughs to create abstract artwork using this awesome vector editor.

This tutorial is the first of the series. Some knowledge of the Inkscape interface is assumed, but also the beginning Inkscape artist should be able to follow it.


Abstract Wallpaper: Part 1

A very simple design, where the dynamics come from an eye-catching shape that is evenly distributed on the canvas. As Australia day is upcoming, I decided it would make a nice theme for this design. Cool blues are chosen as it is part of the flag, reminds me of the surf and it looks professionally cool and hi-tech. Of course you can do a similar design with any shape you like.


Before we start

Inkscape remembers by default the last settings of a tool. Therefore objects you draw may differ from the screenshots in this tutorial. Help on how to correct the most common settings can be found on this page: Inkscape Beginner Tips (opens in a new window).


The Building Blocks

My first challenge was to find a suitable outline map of the country. Luckily the Ozzie government provided exactly what I needed, and under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Australia Licence. Two versions of Australia's outline are offered, a PDF that upon inspection appeared to be too detailed, and a much simpler gif. I used GIMP to fill the land mass with a black colour, and imported the bitmap in Inkscape. You can download the bitmap I created if you want to follow along.

  • Open Inkscape
  • Use File > Import Bitmap (Ctrl+I) to import vsd_australia_outline.gif from your download folder.



Although the shape in itself is directly usable for the design I had in mind, I decided to vectorize it. That way I can save it to my personal library of handy to have shapes for future use, and I also can simplify it a bit further for this design.

  • Use Path > Trace Bitmap (Shift+Alt+B) to open the Trace Bitmap dialog.
  • As the bitmap is just black and white, the default settings are OK for tracing. Click on Update to see a preview, and click on OK to apply. Then close the window.
  • The vector appears exactly on top of the imported bitmap.
  • Move it aside with the mouse.
  • As we no longer need the original bitmap, select it and press the Delete key.
  • The vector is a path with a large number of nodes. For an abstract design, it can be simplified further. Use Path > Simplify (Ctrl+L) from the menu.
vsd_tut_abstract_vectorized_country_outline < vectorizedvsd_tut_abstract_vectorized_simplified< simplified
  • The resulting shape can be saved to your library for future work. I saved the file, opened a new Inkscape document and imported it there.


Trace with shape

One of the coolest features in Inkscape is the option to create Cloned Tiles. But even cooler is that this feature can be used to trace an underlying picture with a self-defined shape. And this can be ANY shape. And the dialog allows to trace with colour, size, transparancies and more. It is a treasure option that should be fully explored and experimented with when you create abstract designs, patterns and so on. For this design I keep it simple, we trace the country using a simple star.

  • Inspect the size of the country vector. The tool bar shows that it fits within a 500px by 500 px rectangle.
  • Use the Rectangle Tool vsd_rectangle_tool to draw a square of 500 by 500px. The dimensions can be directly entered in the tool bar.
  • Set the fill for the rectangle to white: click with the left mouse button on white swatch in the color palette.
  • Set the stroke for the rectangle to black: hold down the Shift-key and click on the black swatch in the color palette.
  • Move the rectangle below the country shape by pressing the Page Down key (or send it all the way to the back by pressing the End-key). This changes the stacking order of shapes.
  • Select both the rectangle and the country vector: drag a selection window around both objects or select one shape, hold down shift and select the other.  
  • Open the Align dialog (Shift+Ctrl+A) vsd_align_distribute_dialog and align the shapes to center vsd_align_center and middle vsd_align_middle.
  • Your drawing should look like this:

Now it is time to determine a size for the tracing object, a star with a radius of about 12.5px would provide 20 stars to "describe" the object. That should be enough.

  • Use the Star Tool with the default settings to draw a 5 point star (see below). Keep an eye on the status bar at the bottom of the screen to check the size during drawing.
  • If you want to use an exact size for your base tile (the star), you can use the select tool vsd_select_tool and then directly input the dimensions for width and height. Click the lock to ensure uniform scaling. A value of 25 pixels can then be set for either W or H.


  • Select the star and add the rectangle to the selection: with the star selected, hold down shift and click on the rectangle. Selection order matters!
  • Use the Align Dialog (Shift+Ctrl+A) vsd_align_distribute_dialog, make sure that the drop down for "relative to" is set to "Last Selected". Then align the left vsd_allign_left and the top vsd_align_top of the star with the rectangle.
  • Select the rectangle only. Set the stroke to white as we do not want to appear it in our tracing (hold down shift and click on the white swatch in the color palette).
  • Select both the country shape and the rectangle and group them with Ctrl+G (or Object > Group from the menu). This makes it easier to move them aside after the trace.
Note: the star should NOT be part of the group!


Now the fun part - the actual trace.


  • Select the star.
  • Open Edit > Create Tiled Clones from the menu. Click the Reset button in the lower left corner to reset the dialog.
  • Select the "Trace" tab, and setup the dialog as follows:
    • Tick "Trace the drawing under the tiles"
    • Pick from drawing: color
    • Apply the value to the clones: size
    • Set the width and height of the area to be traced to 500px by 500px (as we determined before by drawing our rectangle)
    • The other options are not relevant.
  • See below example:
  • Click the Create button. This operation is CPU intensive, so it may take a bit for the result to appear. Close the Create Tiled Clones dialog.

The country vector is traced with the star object. As the background is white (the rectangle) it will be ignored. Where the area is black, the star will be drawn in full size. At the borders "gray" is detected which results in smaller stars.


  • Move the grouped rectangle / country shape out of the way to inspect your work. The grouped object can be deleted by pressing the Delete-key if you are happy with the result.
  • Select all stars by dragging a selection window around them.
  • Select Edit > Clone > Unlink Clone from the menu (Shift+Alt+D).
  • Select the original star in the upper left corner and delete it.
  • Select the remaining stars (the former clones) and choose Path > Object to Path (Shift+Ctrl+C) from the menu. This will convert all star objects to paths.
  • With the stars still selected: choose Path > Combine (Ctrl+K) to combine the individual paths into one. This allows us to do further path manipulations on this shape.
  • Now would be a good time to save your work.


Putting things in Perspective

Inkscape provides quite a few tools to manipulate paths. There are Live Path Effects as well as Modify Path options under Extensions. In this case we use perspective.

  • Draw a rectangle with the rectangle tool vsd_rectangle_tool.
  • Select Path > Object to Path (Shift+Ctrl+C) from the menu. This converts the rectangle to a path.
  • Select the node tool vsd_node_tool and move each node until your modified rectangle looks similar to this:
  • Select the star traced country object and rotate it 90 degrees counter-clockwise vsd_rotate_90_ccw.
The perspective extension maps the first node of the perspective rectangle to the lower left corner of the path that is put in perspective. As I used a rectangle and converted it to a path, the first node of the perspective rectangle is located at the upper left corner (default).  I need to rotate either the perspective rectangle or the path that is put in perspective, in such a way that the first nodes match in location, and that the orientation of the rectangle matches the orientation of the map when followed in clockwise direction. More about this in the Tav's Inkscape: Guide to a Vector Drawing Program in the section about the Perspective Extension.
  • Add the newly drawn rectangle to the selection (with the country shape selected, hold down shift, click on the rectangle). Selection order matters!
  • Now select Extension > Modify Path > Perspective from the menu. Again.. it is a bit CPU extensive as we use a complex path.
  • Check your result.
  • Select and delete the rectangle that was used to create the perspective effect. Your drawing should look like this:.
  • Save your work.


Warping a bit more

The shape looks quite funky already, but perhaps it can use a bit more swing.
I decide to use a live path effect (LPE) to apply a bend.

  • Select the country object.
  • Open the Path Effect editor with Path > Path Effect Editor from the menu (Ctrl+Shift+7).
  • Select "Bend" from the drop down box and click the "Add" button to add the effect to the path.
  • Select the icon "Edit-on-Canvas" vsd_edit_on_canvas in the dialog. A green line with 2 endnodes appears over the design.
  • Click with the cursor on the center of the line and drag it a bit upwards. This should warp the path a bit. If the response is slow you may need to repeat this a few times.
  • When you are happy with the result, choose Path > Object to Path from the menu again. This permanently applies the Live Path Effect to the path. Notice how the effects list becomes empty.
  • Save your work.


Most of these manipulations are CPU intensive. If you do not need to maintain the exact shapes for the objects that make up your path (stars in this case), you can simplify the path (Path > Simplify). Less complex paths are faster to manipulate - so consider simplification whenever possible. In this case I want to maintain the stars, so I accept that Inkscape runs a bit slow on my system.


At this point I am quite pleased with the modified country shape, so I better start working on a background that goes with it.
A typical starburst effect would be nice, and again tiled clones do the work.

We first need a triangle. There are several ways to create a triangle in Inkscape, pick any method you like - personally I use option 1 in general:

  1. Draw a rectangle, use Path > Object to Path from the menu and delete a corner node at the bottom. Move the remaining node so it looks centered. Accuracy is not needed.
  2. Use the Star Tool to draw a 3 point star (a triangle). Make it point downwards.
  3. Use the extension Render > Triangle. Rotate it if needed.

The triangle should be tall enough to cover the full artwork, drag the handles to resize if needed. You should end up with something like this:


  • Click on the triangle until the rotation handles appear. In the centre of the triangle a little crosshair is shown, this indicates the rotation point.
  • Use the mouse to drag this rotation point to the bottom node.
  • Give the triangle fill and stroke a nice blue colour.
Then the tiled clones can be used to clone the triangle around this new rotation point and create our starburst:
  • Open the Tiled Clones dialog from the menu: Edit > Clone > Create Tiled Clones
  • Click the reset button in the left bottom of the dialog.
  • The tiled clones dialog will be used to create random beams around a fixed centre point. Set up is as follows (see screenshots below):
  • Number of rows, columns: 1 x 10. This will create 10 clones.
    Shift tab: tick the box "Exclude tile" for the columns. This ensures rotation around a fixed point.
    Scale tab: set a value for X only for the columns. I used a negative one to make sure it made the beam thinner. I also set random to create different widths.
  • Rotation: only a small area needs to be covered, and it is not important where they end up. Randomize the rotation with 30%.
  • Blur and Opacity: set a small value for fade only for the columns, randomize 50%. This will create clones with different transparancies.
  • Color tab: set a small value for the lightness (L) only for the columns, randomize 50%. This will create clones with different, but matching shades of blue.
  • Click on the create button to create the tiled clones.


As all these effects are set to random, the outcome is kinda unpredictable. If you click the create button again and again, you will see that the result changes with each click.
Feel free to tweak any of the values to your likings. Experiment until you have a cool result. Then close the cloned tiles dialog.

Aim for a sunburst that covers a 1/4 of a page and has some different sizes, colours and transparencies. Orientation is not important as we can rotate the result later. Like this:


If you are happy with the sunburst:

  • Select all beams.
  • Unlink all the clones by selecting Edit > Clone > Unlink Clone from the menu.
  • Select all the beams and group them by using Object > Group from the menu (Ctrl+G).



  • Use the Rectangle Tool vsd_rectangle_tool to draw a simple rectangle on your screen. The rectangle should be large enough to easily fit your country shape and the starburst. The ratio for width and height should be suitable for your final design. See below note.
Note: We work in a vector tool, all objects can be scaled to any size without quality loss. That means that you do NOT have to draw life-size. Your drawing can be exported to any desired dimension. But if you do not use the proper ratio between width and height for the background rectangle, the output will be distorted.
Example: a drawing that has a width of 40 and a height of 30 (ratio 4:3) will export properly for any of the 4:3 monitor resolutions, a drawing with the dimensions 50x30 will not. I am just lazy and set the size of the rectangle to actually match my monitor resolution.
Typical wallpaper design aspect ratios
Aspect ratio Typical monitor resolutions
4:3 640x480
16:9 852x480
16:10 1440x900


  • As this design is for a wallpaper on my system, and I have a widescreen monitor with a 16:9 aspect ratio, I used a rectangle of 1600 px by 900 px.
  • Set the fill for the rectangle to a nice shade of blue, something that matches with the starburst.
  • With the rectangle still selected, open the Fill and Stroke dialog vsd_fill_stroke_dialog (Shift+Ctrl+F).
  • Make sure that the opacity slider in this dialog is set to 100%, as the background object should not have any transparency.
  • Create a radial gradient fill from blue to white by pressing this button vsd_fill_radial_gradient.

The gradient tool vsd_gradient_tool can be used to set colours, or to determine the location, radius and angle for gradients.

  • To reverse a gradient: select the gradient tool, click on the object with the gradient fill and then use the hotkey combination Shift+R.
  • The centre of the gradient is indicated with a square marker. The colour for the centre can be set by selecting the square marker and then clicking on a colour (white) in the color palette with the left mouse button.
  • Circle markers indicate the radius of the gradient and set the outside colour. The colour can be set by selecting the marker and then clicking on a colour (blue) in the color palette with the left mouse button.
  • To create multi-colour gradients, you can add new nodes to the gradient, and set the colour in a similar way (in this tutorial I only used 2 colours, white and blue).
  • Drag the centre point to the lower left corner. The background should look similar to this:


  • Save your work.


Final assembly of the Artwork

We now have all elements and can assemble the final design.


  • Select the country shape.
  • Give it a blue colour similar to the centre of the gradient fill in the background: with the country object selected, use the eyedropper to pick a color from the background and set the fill colour. Holding down shift will set the stroke colour.
  • Size the country object up so it covers the whole upper right corner of the background. Like this:


  • Your country shape will be behind the background rectangle as that is the object we created last. Use the Home-key to make the country shape the topmost object.
The stacking order (z-order) of the objects can be changed using the following keys:
  • Move the selection one step up: Page Up-key or vsd_raise_selection_one_step
  • Move the selection one step down: Page Down- key or vsd_lower_selection_one_step
  • Move the selection all the way down: End-key or vsd_lower_selection_to_bottom
  • Move the selection all the way up (make it the top-most object): Home-key or vsd_raise_selection_to_top


  • Move the sunburst into place, make it the topmost object (as explained before).
  • Stretch, skew, rotate using the transform handles until it covers the full design.
  • Look at the result and modify individual beams if needed. You can edit a single item in a group: open a group by double clicking it. In the statusbar a layer indication beginning with "#g" will be displayed. You now work in the group. Edit the item that needs brush up. For example: I lowered the transparancy of one beam.


  • Create a duplicate of the country shape (Ctrl+D). The duplicate will be exactly on top of the original.
  • Give the duplicate a very light blue colour - use the eyedropper again to select a colour from image.
  • Scale the duplicate down using the upper right scaling handle only. Hold down the Ctrl-key so that it scales uniformly.
  • Make sure that the design fits comfortly into the background rectangle. You want people to recognize the country even tho it is stylized. Move it if necessary, but keep the left side alligned with the bigger size country at top. Like this:


  • Lower the transparency so you can see some elements from the background show through. This is done by setting the opacity slider in the Fill and Stroke dialog vsd_fill_stroke_dialog (Shift+Ctrl+F) to 60 to 80% (to your liking).
  • Repeate the duplicating and scaling down another 2x.
  • Change the colour and opacity of each object slightly untill you are happy with the final look and feel.
  • The design should now resemble something like this:


Clipping the wings

Well.. not literally, but we want the design to fit in our correctly sized rectangle.

  • Select the rectangle and duplicate it with Ctrl+D. The duplicate appears on top.
  • Drag a selection window around all objects (everything is selected).
  • Use Object > Clip > Set from the menu to clip all objects to the size of the rectangle.
  • I added some text to make it clear to anyone else that this is about Australia. I used the free font TagDo for this.



  • Save your work and mission accomplished.


Some notes on exporting your work as vector:
This tutorial relies heavily on transparancies, gradients and clipping. If you want to create similar stock for selling at vector microstock sites, you'll need to make sure that your format is compatible with Illustrator8 type EPS export. This brings some limitations:

  • Transparancies are not supported. Where shapes do not overlap this is easily overcome by assigning a new color corrected for the opacity. However in designs like the one from this tutorial, it will be very time consuming as there are many gradations due to many overlapping objects.
  • Use of gradients is discouraged, as many vector editing programs produce gradients that are not compatible with the AI8 compatible gradients.
  • Clipping of objects is a generally accepted practice, however you should make clear that your final design is clipped.
Of course non of the above applies when you export as bitmap stock :)

That's all folks! I hope you liked this tutorial, feedback is appreciated.


Please do not claim this design as your own. Read our TOU.


The wallpaper can be downloaded in png format in diverse sizes here: Abstract Wallpaper - Australia




+4 # Guest 2010-02-03 23:49
This wasn't just good - it was great!

I've learned so much of Inkscape based on your tutorials and will rely more on it in the future for abstract design work. Fantastic stuff.
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0 # syllie 2010-02-04 05:36
Hi Chris,

I am glad you liked it. The next tutorial in this series will be published today and it will demonstrate path editing and line interpolations.

Thanks for leaving a comment.

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0 # Guest 2010-02-05 20:42
Nice! Thank you for your time preparing this
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+1 # Guest 2010-02-19 19:47
Absolutely amazing stuff!!!

Just started learning Inkscape and found your tutorial VERY helpful!
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+1 # Guest 2010-03-28 07:00
Amazing. Interesting idea and great use of Inkscape's tools. Thanks a lot! :-)
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0 # Guest 2010-04-03 03:55
Very Cool and Helpful Tutorial. It is helping teach me about Inkscape by doing. Much appreciated.
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+1 # Guest 2010-06-07 00:27
it's impossible to create tiled clones by using "trace" the
way it is explained in this tutorial
I just get stars everywhere, even out of the 500/500 rectangle

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0 # syllie 2010-06-24 21:24
Hi Rik,

I am sorry about the slow response. The technique in the tutorial is explained correctly and works. All the tutorials are tested by my mate Dakka who is (still) an Inkscape noob and very critical with his feedback.

Are you sure you have the right objects selected and ordered as described above?

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0 # Bartek 2010-12-22 23:43

I had almost the same problem with creating tiled clones, I get the same size stars in whole rectangle so I tried other options in "Create Tiled Clones" and for me working this:

"Pick from the drawing: Opacity"

Maybe these problems are because different versions of Inkscape?
I'm using 0.48

Thanks for great tutorial :)
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+2 # Guest 2010-08-05 15:07
like we said in France:
"putin gars tu déchire!!!!!!"
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+1 # McKay 2010-11-19 03:26
Wow! That was a great tutorial... I just created my own wallpaper before coming across this. Wish I had seen this first for some additional inspiration!

My wallpaper is here:
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0 # syllie 2010-11-19 22:40
Hi McKay,

I keep an eye out for any Inkscape tutorials that get published and I got a notification from the Inkscape Tutorial Blog when you referenced your tut there. I already had a peek and I like your tut. It is quite similar to one that I had planned (see this blog post). I did upload all the screenshots and even wrote the tutorial text outline, but never got to publishing it. As I try to publish content that is unique it may not happen ever now :)

Anyways - it is always good to have more people supporting open source software and donating a portion of their time to provide tutorials so that others can learn these great tools too.

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+3 # Casey 2010-12-26 09:28
This is one of the best Inkscape tutorials that I have seen. Easy to follow, great output, just a superb tutorial. Thank you very much.
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+2 # Martin 2011-05-16 15:28
Top quality tutorial!
Thank you very much for the time it must have taken writing and uploading one so long. :o
And nice to follow an inkscape tutorial that does what it says on the tin for a change. :lol:
Great work.
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0 # thebettertwin 2012-01-12 01:59
I have been using Inkscape for a while and had no idea about the clone feature :oops: . Can see myself using this lots.
Thanks for the great tut! Will be keeping an eye on your site to see if i can learn more new stuff.
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0 # sweetstuff 2012-06-03 07:54
Wow thank you for taking the time to make all these tutorials, they're excellent.
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0 # Carolyn Coughran 2012-07-04 11:55
Excellent tutorial. I can't wait to try this out.
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0 # voyage vietnam 2012-12-23 23:04
Nice tutorial, i'm waiting another tutorial of you.
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0 # Penulis Kaligrafi 2013-10-24 04:33
:eek: waw, amazing.... i'll have to try it
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0 # Julie Wagner 2013-11-25 12:34
:D Thank you! I was already trying to adjust some of this for stock, but I appreciate the notes at the end about exporting. I have learned a new trick or two from this.
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