Inkscape Tutorial: Urban Design

vsd_tut_urban_thumbUrban designs are trendy. Look around, everywhere you'll see typical urban elements applied in graphic designs. They make use of various circle designs, which is trendy in all ages. Other elements that are quite common are clouds, swirls and starbursts. Often designs are given a grunge look, by adding or deleting non-defined shapes from the orignal drawing. Also quick design wins as partial halftoning or overlay of a design element by a pattern are applied. And of course silhouettes. The ipod people are everywhere!

In this Inkscape tutorial I will provide a quick method of making a simple urban design by only applying a few elements: circles, clouds and swirls. I use Inkscape as it is freely available and is very suitable for this kind of work.



First we need circles. I have a few sets of fancy circles in my symbol libraries and you can grab one of my sets for free at the bottom of this article. But don't let that stop you to create your own set.

I never bother picking colors for base sets but keep it simple black and white.

  1. Just start drawing a circle using the circle tool, hold down the Ctrl-key to scale uniformly.
  2. Use Ctrl+D to duplicate a circle. The new circle will be directly on top of the original, and have the same centre point.
  3. Now scale the duplicate smaller or larger to your likings, hold down both the Ctrl-key and the Shift-key so scaling is uniformly and from the centre.
  4. Vary the stroke style and width to create different looks for each circle. Also make use of the toggle to either affect stroke scaling with the object scaling or not.
  5. Use a fill for the innermost circle in a few symbols.
  6. Typically 3-5 concentric circles are used in a symbol.
  7. When you complete a symbol, select all circles for that symbol and use Ctrl+G to group them.
  8. Save your designs in a seperate Inkscape file as part of your personal symbol library, ready for re-use in many designs.


Urban design

For our Urban design we start with a fresh Inkscape canvas: a new document. Import the cicle set into the current document: File > Import (or use Ctrl+I) and open the circle set from the first part of the tutorial. This allows us to use the circles in a design without damaging the original. Move the set such that it is not on top of the document. If you already have a basic idea and colour scheme for your design, you could color the set to match. In this tutorial I will create a square design, with the powerful colors of bright green, chocolate brown with dashes of white and orange. These are trendy colours, and you will see them in many contemporary designs. If you have troubles picking colour schemes that work, just hop over to Kuler and have a look at colour schemes that others have created, or create your own just by selecting a base colour you like and using Kuler's basic modes.



Circle composition

Anyways... like I said.. I decided to use a bright green. I recoloured the circles and then placed them on the canvas in a random order, randomly resizing and repositioning until I liked the composition. Hold down both Shift and Ctrl when resizing as it scales the elements uniformly and from centre. I started with the circles as they will be the focal point of the drawing, and if the composition is bad there, the drawing will not be too good when completed either.


In designs like these I make use of layers. There is no written law on how to segment any drawing in layers, and I just use layers by element type or colour groupings. It makes it easier to organise work and to hide and show elements is as easy as hiding or showing a layer. Open the layer manager, click the + symbol to create a new layer, name it circles and create it below the current one - which is Layer 1 by default and now holds our circle elements. Select the circle composition and use Shift + Page Down (or the move option in the Layer menu) to place it on the newly created layer.



Brown Cloud

Next step is creation of a layer to hold a a darker element which serves as a background against which the circles are displayed. This cloud will be created from the outlines of our circle composition, so it makes sense to use a duplicate of this layer.

  1. Select 'Create duplicate layer' from the Layer menu.
  2. Rename the layer by double clicking on the layer name. I named it brown cloud.
  3. Move the layer below the circles layer.
  4. Hide the circles layer so it is easier to see what needs to be done.
  5. Select all the circles in the 'brown cloud' layer.
  6. Ungroup by using Shift + Ctrl + G. Do this multiple times until the message in the status bar reads that there are no groups in the selection.
  7. With all circles still selected, choose any fill colour (tho brown is a good option already) and remove the stroke (hold shift down while clicking the X in the colour pallette).
  8. Next select 'Union' from the Path menu. This will merge all objects into one.
  9. vsd_tut_urban_basisforcloudsvsd_tut_urban_basisbrowncloud

  10. Now there are probably still a lot of large gaps. Use a few shapes (circles or rectangles) to fill these, and again use Union with all objects selected. This should result in a basic cloud with the same outline as the circle composition.
  11. Assign an appropriate colour to the element, I used brown.
  12. vsd_tut_urban_fillbrowncloudvsd_tut_urban_browncloud

  13. Make the layer with the circle composition visible and then scale the brown cloud a bit up so it forms a nice background.
  14. vsd_tut_urban_browncloudcircles

That was not too hard aye?



We are almost up to making the white clouds, but as our drawing background is white, they will disappear. Create a layer for the background below the brown clouds layer. Draw a simple rectangle that is large enough to be a background for your design. Hold down Ctrl to scale uniformly. Give it any fill you like, we'll tweak it later.



White Clouds

Then the white clouds. As you may have guessed, they are similar to the brown cloud, so select the brown cloud layer again. As before, make a duplicate layer of the brown cloud layer, move it down one step and name it white cloud. Hide the circles and brown cloud layer. Recolour the brown to a white, and flip the element both horizontally and vertically. Make the other layers visible again to check results. Resize and reposition the white cloud to your likings. That was easy!




Floral Swirls

Create a new layer just above the white cloud layer and call it floral swirls. Swirls are easy to create and give a design a bit of swoosh. I hide all other layers while I create the swirls. We use a spiro curve here. Check my Spiro Swirl tutorial if you have no idea how spiro works.

  1. Select the bezier curve, set the mode to Spiro Path, set the shape to 'Triangle in' and draw a curly curve.
  2. vsd_tut_urban_beziercurvevsd_tut_urban_beziertoolvsd_tut_urban_beziertoolsettings

  3. After completion, select "Object to path" from the Path menu. This applies the path effects permanently and allows us to resize and rotate the path without funny side effects.
  4. vsd_tut_urban_spiropathvsd_tut_urban_objecttopath

  5. Add a simple circle and use Union to combine both shapes.
  6. vsd_tut_urban_basicswirlvsd_tut_urban_union

  7. Create a few duplicates and resize / rotate / reposition them untill you have a nice branch, use Union again to make a single object.
  8. vsd_tut_urban_floralbranch

  9. To create a longer branch, just place 2 of the branches on top of each other and use Union to make them into a single shape. Use the node editor to correct bumps where needed.
  10. vsd_tut_urban_largefloralbranchvsd_tut_urban_nodetoolvsd_tut_urban_fixnodes_thumb


  11. Unhide the other layers.
  12. Colour the branches in the same colour as the brown cloud and place the branches randomly over the top half of the brown cloud. Duplicate, resize and rotate to your liking. Hide/unhide the other layers temporarily if they get in your way.


Final Tweakings


Now let's spice up the background a bit. I chose a bright green matching the circles, but to make it more interesting I applied a radial gradient. I used white in the center and a green at the edges. Select colours that match your design and change the gradient to your likings.

Circle composition

The circle design in all green is a bit plain, so I selected a few circles and changed the stroke to orange or white. I also filled the centre of some circles with orange. The circles are grouped, but you can select an individual element in a group by first double-clicking the group, and then selecting the element you want to edit.

Brown cloud dripping

The last step is to apply a filter to the brown cloud layer. Filter extensions are new in Inkscape. The filter editor has been around for a while, but now it is very easy to apply certain standard effects. Note that using filters in a design really slows down working in Inkscape, so it is a good thing to apply filters at the very last step. It also helps to zoom out quite a bit so not too much detail needs to be rendered. There are also some options to render lower quality on display, but high on export. Tweak these settings if Inkscape slows down too much to work with.  The filter applied to the layer is Protusions > Dripping.


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.



+5 # Guest 2010-05-12 00:11
This one was really helpfull! 8)
Reply | Reply with quote | Quote
+1 # Guest 2010-05-19 06:23
Thank you for this; great tips! The floral swirls and concentric circles ARE really popular right now...
Reply | Reply with quote | Quote
-1 # Guest 2010-07-08 10:11
Wow i couldn't figure out the circle so i used urs arigauto (thxs) this was so cool and helpful
Reply | Reply with quote | Quote
-4 # Guest 2010-08-16 07:08
thanks man you done it perfectly
i was looking for similar tutorial
because i see alot of tutorials using Photoshop, AI etc
until i find this fro using inkscape for that effect
thanks again ..
Reply | Reply with quote | Quote
-4 # tooman 2010-12-02 03:24
very cool, i like this tutorial :-)
Reply | Reply with quote | Quote
-4 # Serenblip 2011-02-26 00:50
It's nice to see this tutorial come around again on the Inkscape tutorials blog. I'm lazy so I downloaded the symbols svg. For those trying to recolour the symbols and like me, experienced some of the centre circles disappearing; ungroup everything and turn everything into a path. After that you can recolour everything in one easy step without weirdness.
Reply | Reply with quote | Quote
-3 # syllie 2011-02-26 10:14
Hi Serenblip,

The provided set is a set of circles (ellipse) - svg primitives, which still allow for the normal operations on these objects.

The weirdness you describe is basically due to using a combination of strokes and fills in this set (and yes one has to select what strokes and fills one wants to recolour).

Converting everthing to a path allows to "fill" everything in one go and is sure a way to work quick and easy if you only want to "stamp" with these objects. But it no longer allows for a quick change in stroke type to make a circle look quite different. So it is a good advise - but it limits the design to just using this predefined set.

Reply | Reply with quote | Quote
-6 # Serenblip 2011-02-27 18:50
Yeah. I know. But I thought it was worth saying.

I think I may not ever finish this tutorial completely since I've never been able to get the protrusions>dripping filter working.

Nice tutorial though. Thanks
Reply | Reply with quote | Quote
-6 # suma 2011-03-08 20:23
thanks! :lol:
Reply | Reply with quote | Quote
-4 # Suwondo 2011-03-10 21:23
Great Tutorial ,
I want write it for my design own, but in this technique. Because in my country, here many desaigner inkscape, but every written article or book about open source, i.e. InkScape, always written about basic and how to. Just about feature to feature, never ever about practical like this.
Can I write it for articles magazine ? Sure, I write in there that inspiration about technique is from this url web site.
Reply | Reply with quote | Quote
-4 # 1luckydog 2011-07-01 11:39
:lol: Thanks so much. First time I used the effects. For the color theme I use Adobe Kuler which is a free app and easy to use for color schemes.
Reply | Reply with quote | Quote
-3 # svart 2011-07-04 23:38
hey...thanks for the tutorial

how do i add your circles to my inkscape library so that i can use it?
Reply | Reply with quote | Quote
0 # syllie 2011-07-05 16:50
Hi Svart,

Thanks for your feedback. I used the word "library" in quite a broad sense.. it is just a folder on my hard disk that contains .svg files that I can use in multiple projects. That's my library.

The easiest way to use such files is simply to "import" them into the file you are currently working on via File > Import.

All the objects are then available within your project, whilst the original file remains untouched on your hard disk. It is a save way to reuse objects in different files.

I hope this explains it a bit better.

Reply | Reply with quote | Quote
-1 # danimi 2011-10-24 06:32
I loved it! Thank you so much for this :lol: I had a lot of fun doing it, here's my result
I hope you like it :D
Reply | Reply with quote | Quote
0 # syllie 2011-10-25 21:34
Hi danimi,
That looks awesome. I am glad you liked the tutorial!
Cheers, Syllie
Reply | Reply with quote | Quote
0 # ftheman 2011-10-26 20:40
So how did you create those wild looking circles?
Reply | Reply with quote | Quote
-4 # syllie 2011-10-27 18:59
Hi ftheman,
I am not sure I understand exactly what you're after?
The section "Circles" at the top of the tutorial explains all steps required to create the circle symbols. And the resulting file is attached to this article - download it for closer inspection if needed.

If you mean some other part in this tutorial - please be a bit more specific and I'll try to help further.

Reply | Reply with quote | Quote
-1 # Kadin 2011-12-15 16:24
Excellent tutorial,I love this!
Reply | Reply with quote | Quote
-5 # Kaiden 2011-12-29 16:51
Hi thx for the tutorial!
May I use some of the elegant circles u've created as partly of a design of T-shirt? It is just a team shirt, non-commercial
Reply | Reply with quote | Quote
-5 # syllie 2011-12-30 12:51
Hi Kaiden,
As per our TOU.. you can use our stuff for personal use any way you want. We are aware of some people using the results of this tutorial for commercial stuff (which we consider borderline behaviour hehe.. how hard is it to do something new and creative with the things we taught - but I guess some people just don't have that spark). Your intended use is perfectly fine. Thanks for asking tho!

Reply | Reply with quote | Quote
-3 # Tshepside 2012-01-12 22:39
Great tutorial :) I could get the dripping though.
Reply | Reply with quote | Quote
-6 # Samuel 2012-02-08 02:04
Muy buen tutorial!! Muchas gracias...
Reply | Reply with quote | Quote
-3 # Jan 2012-04-07 03:32
Thank you for this great tutorial. I made the circle wrong in the first steps, but the than I explored the strokes ;-)
Reply | Reply with quote | Quote
-6 # Alex 2012-04-27 21:38
I can't open the zip file? Corrupt?
Reply | Reply with quote | Quote
-6 # syllie 2012-04-30 17:18
Hi Alex,

I just tested the zip that contains the eps files and all works fine. Please try and download it again? If the error persists I can send you a copy by email.

Reply | Reply with quote | Quote
-4 # Phil 2012-07-01 01:44
This tutorial is great! I guess some elements are not as hyped up as they were two years ago, but the knowledge of how to work on inkscape still remains! I could do most of it with ease. Only thing I didn't like was the drippings filter... the program runs too slow and the result is not what I expected, so I replaced it for rectangles with rounded corners. Kinda reminded me of something from that cartoon, Pucca.
Anyway, thaks for the great tutorial!
Reply | Reply with quote | Quote
-5 # Anita 2012-07-16 11:43
I'm following the directions and I've done this twice already. I make the circles, group them and save/export.
When I try to pick a color it doesn't work. It doesn't ungroup either. How does it seem to work for everyone else?
Reply | Reply with quote | Quote
-4 # syllie 2012-07-17 15:18
Hi Anita,

I think you may have misunderstood how to 're-use' Inkscape elements. Inkscape elements can be re-used in any other Inkscape document (or document that can import SVG elements).

For this:
1. Create a document that contains the elements that you want to use as your library (in this case the circles). Simply save it as .svg (inkscape) file.

2. Open a new drawing (or the drawing in which you want to reuse the elements).

3. From the menu select File > Import and find your library file (the circles).

4. All good to go.. you can now ungroup, recolour etc.

I hope this helps. You can test this procedure by downloading the circles.svg that is attached to this article. Note that some circles consist of strokes and circles, so recolouring may sometimes result in some funny combinations.

Reply | Reply with quote | Quote
-1 # Mike 2012-07-25 22:56
Hi Sylvia,
I found this tutorial difficult to follow;
maybe it was not a step by step demo. anyway i managed to follow it. i prefer video tutors.
Keep up the good work :)
Reply | Reply with quote | Quote
-2 # syllie 2012-08-06 16:05
Hi Mike,

I'm glad you worked it out.

Indeed this tutorial is not intended for the 'absolute' beginner level. This is one of the earlier tutorials I wrote and since then I added a 'classification' to the tuts.

Some people like video tuts, I prefer written tuts with a lot of screenies myself. The poll results show almost 60% of the visitors of this site prefer written tuts and as they are easier for me to prepare I continu with those (which will not exclude video tuts - but I think there are others that can do those better.. like those that are available on

Reply | Reply with quote | Quote
-4 # guest 2012-10-10 11:08
Nice tutorial.. it is really cool and is hot right now as noted previously. I'm cool with the screen shots and text. I use video, now, to learn with too, but I cut my teeth on these types of tutorials long before youtube. Thanks!
Reply | Reply with quote | Quote
-6 # goat 2013-03-20 07:30
Reply | Reply with quote | Quote
-3 # eLiZaBeTh 2014-02-14 08:50
Gracias por compartir los círculos, me van a ser de mucha utilidad al igual que la explicación paso a paso. Saludos. :-)
Reply | Reply with quote | Quote
-1 # Ginner 2014-03-12 02:28
Wow! this is the first time i see a place where almost every comment is voted as negative :P. thank you so much! it was so helpful! hoping to see you sharing more of your knowledge with us soon. Greetings from Venezuela
Reply | Reply with quote | Quote
-1 # ?????? 2014-05-08 22:27
Brilliant tutorial! It looks cool. I don't get the swirly part though. i have everything on the right setting but it still does not work :sad:
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.