Inkscape Vector Graphics Editor

The ability to create and edit vector graphics requires a different tool than Photoshop and its ilk; those are for bitmap (aka raster) images. Here’s the difference in layman’s terms:

Bitmap images are made up of fixed pixels (dots or “bits,” hence bitmaps). If you have a bitmap image of a circle that has a 25 pixel diameter, enlarging that image is like bringing a sheet of paper closer to your face—there will still be a 25 pixel diameter, only larger. Which also means that the enlarged image will also now likely look wonky, particularly around the circle’s edges. Instead of smooth curves, you’ll probably see enlarged pixels and jagged edges, which simulated curves and looked fine when the image was visually tiny, but now that the image is up close to your face, not so much. (This is why simply enlarging a very small photograph on your screen usually gives you crappy results.)

Vectors, on the other hand, are basically like computer programs. They don’t care about pixels. Instead of telling the computer, “show a circle right here with a 25 pixel diameter,” it instructs, “put a circle there, and figure out and use however many pixels you need to make it look like a damn circle, whatever the size.”

Neat, but you can’t really use vectors for photographs (think about it). They are, however, perfect for things like illustrations and other similar graphics, particularly those that you will likely often use at different sizes, like logos. You don’t have to look too far for an example: the text characters on your screen are likely vector fonts, with the computer automatically drawing and displaying “the letter a using Times Roman” at whatever size you specify. As opposed to the old school DOS screen text at fixed sizes, with each character rendered from a matrix of pre-specified dots (bitmaps, in other words).

Long story short, Adobe Photoshop doesn’t work with vectors. You need different software, like the industry standard Adobe Illustrator (Ai). But if you want good and free, screw Adobe and Ai and check out Inkscape.

Inkscape is an app you download and use on your computer, but it has versions for Windows, MacOS X, and GNU/Linux. It uses Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) as its native file format, but you sure can import/export Ai files if you need to.

What can it do? Pretty much everything. Check out its features and blow your mind with what you can do for free.

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