As a longtime Adobe Illustrator user, the toughest part of transitioning to Inkscape was opening the program and seeing an all-white canvas staring back at me.

Adobe Illustrator vs Inkscape Artboard and Canvas

Perhaps this is simply because I was used to Illustrator’s artboard set-up (shown in the top portion of the photo), which included a dark gray background for all of the areas that weren’t on the artboard, and a white background for areas that were on the artboard. Additionally, the border that outlined the artboard always displayed on top of any portions of my designs that spilled off the artboard.

Illustrator Artboard Boundary vs Inkscape

In Inkscape, however, both the active and inactive parts of my canvas are white by default (shown in the bottom portion of the first photo), and the border disappears whenever an object is drawn on top of it (in other words, the object obstructs the border – shown in the photo above, denoted by the red arrow). This makes it hard to tell precisely when you are drawing on the canvas and when you have gone off of it.

Luckily it is pretty easy to make a few tweaks to Inkscape and have your canvas look exactly like Adobe Illustrator’s artboard. Here’s how.

Step 1: Change Your Document Background

File Document Properties Inkscape Canvas tutorial

To start this process, I’ll go to File>Document Properties.

Edit Document Properties in Inkscape 2019

This will bring up my Document Properties dialogue box, which contains some customization options for our document and canvas. Under the first tab labeled “Page,” (denoted by the red arrow in the photo above) there are a few sections that allow us to tweak our canvas settings.

If you prefer, you can set your document and canvas background to be transparent, which is represented by a gray checkerboard. To do this, go to the “Background” section and click the “Checkerboard Background” option (denoted by the green arrow above).

However, I prefer to have my background be the same dark gray color as found in illustrator. To set the background to a specific color, I can click the “Background Color” right below the Checkerboard Background checkbox under the Background section (denoted by the blue arrow in the photo above).

Setting the RGBA Value in Inkscape

This will bring up the “Background Color” dialogue box. Here, you can either manually set a color in a variety of color modes (RGB, HSL, CMYK, etc. – I stayed with RGB, which is the default option) and the color sliders, or you can type in an HTML value for a specific color under the “RGBA” section (denoted by the red arrow). In our case, we want to set this RGBA color value to the color used in Illustrator – which has the HTML notation #606060. So, I’ll erase the old value, and will paste “606060” here instead. In Inkscape, you also need to specify the Alpha channel value (RGBA stands for Red, Green, Blue, and Alpha), or the transparency/opacity of the background color. Since I want the background color to be totally opaque, I’ll set the Alpha value to 100 by typing “ff” at the end of our HTML value. So, the final value will be “606060ff”.

Once your background color is set, you can close out the Background Color dialogue box by hitting the “X” in the top right corner.

Step 2: Adjust Your Canvas Border

Change Border Document Properties Inkscape Tutorial

To the right of the Background section is a section titled “Border” (denoted by the red arrow above). You first want to make sure that the “Show Page Border” option is checked. Below that, there is an option to show the “Border on top of drawing.” Check this option as it will ensure that any objects that overlap the page border will not obstruct that border. Rather, the border will display on top of the object(s) – like it does in Illustrator.

Underneath this option is the option to “Show border shadow.” I am not a big fan of the border shadow, and thus I unchecked this option.

Right now, it is a little hard to see the border around our document because it is a similar color to our new background color. To change it, click the “Border Color” option (denoted by the green arrow).

Change Page border Color in Inkscape

If you look at the RGBA value, the border color is currently set to “666666ff.” I will change this color to pure black by setting the RGBA value to “000000ff” (denoted by the red arrow). Close out both the “Page border color” dialogue box and “Document Properties” dialogue box to apply the changes.

Step 3: Create a White Background Layer

For the last step, I want to make my actual document white so that it is easier to distinguish from the inactive areas of the canvas. To start, I’ll click the “View Layers” icon (denoted by the red arrow) to bring up the “Layers” Dialogue” (green arrow). I’ll double click on the “Layer 1” name and will rename this layer “Background” (blue arrow).

Snap to Page Border Icon Inkscape

I’ll click on the “Snap to page border” icon (red arrow) to ensure that, for our next step, any objects I draw will snap to the boundary of my page.

Draw a Rectangle in Inkscape

Next, while on the Background layer, I will grab my Rectangle Tool (red arrow) and will draw a rectangle that goes from the top left corner to the bottom right corner of my entire document, as denoted by the green arrows (you should see a message pop up at your mouse tip that says “Handle to page border,” which means your object will be drawn exactly at the corner of the page border).

Inkscape Rectangle Dimensions

You should now have a shape that takes up the entire space of the document – and therefor should be the exact same size of your document. My document was 210 mm by 297 mm, which is the default document size when you first open illustrator. You will see that the Width and Height for my shape match these dimensions (outlined in green in the photo above).

Change Shape Foreground Color Using Inkscape Swatches

I now need to change the color of my rectangle. To do this, I’ll just click on the white color in my Swatches at the bottom of the canvas (red arrow). To ensure the rectangle does not have a stroke, I’ll shift-click on the “X” color in my Swatches (green arrow).

Check Aligned Corners on Inkscape Canvas

I can hold ctrl and use my mouse wheel to zoom in on the corners of my composition and make sure that my shape does not go outside the lines of my page border.

Add a New Layer Dialogue in Inkscape

I’ll then click the lock icon next to my Background layer in the Layers dialogue (red arrow) to lock this layer and ensure I don’t accidentally move it or draw on it.

Finally, I’ll click the “Create a new layer” icon (green arrow) to bring up my Add Layer dialogue (outlined in blue above), will name my new layer “Layer 1,” and will set the Position to “Above current.” I’ll click “Add” to create the new layer, and will make this my active layer. Anything I create will now be on Layer 1, allowing me to hide the Background layer at any time should I want to export a composition without a background or draw a white object.

Step 4: Save Document As Your Default Template

The final step is to override the existing default document template found in Inkscape so that from now on, this document we just created will be our default document and we won’t have to re-do the customizations each time.

Save a Default Document Template in Inkscape

To do this, go to File>Save.

Save a Default Document Template SVG in Inkscape

Next, search your computer for the Inkscape folder (it’s usually on your C: drive or D: drive, depending on where you installed it). Then, go to the folders Share>Templates (red arrow), and click on the file named “default.svg.” Make sure the “Save As” type is set to “Inkscape SVG” (green arrow). Click the Save button.

Replace Default SVG Template File in Inkscape Tutorial

You will get a message that says something to the tune of “A file named ‘default.svg’ already exists. Do you want to replace it?” Click “Replace” to override the file.

Final Inkscape Canvas Adobe Illustrator Artboard

Now, when we go to File>New, our new document takes on all of the custom properties we set, making it look like an Adobe Illustrator artboard. Keep in mind that, unless you hide your background layer before you export your compositions, you will have a white background on all of your designs to start!

That’s it for this tutorial! If you enjoyed it, you can check out any of my other Inkscape Help Articles, watch an Inkscape Video Tutorial, or check out any of my GIMP tutorials.