As a content creator on YouTube focusing primarily on desktop creative software, I’ve seen tons of user interfaces over the years.
There are certainly plenty of creators, developers, users, etc. that have experienced or tested many more software interfaces than I. However, I’ve tested out and worked with a respectable cornucopia of software over various stages of their development for both research and content creation purposes.
I’ve used the likes of GIMP, Premiere Pro, Photoshop, After Effects, Illustrator, Affinity Photo, Affinity Designer, Affinity Publisher, InDesign, Scribus, LibreOffice, Blender, darktable, RawTherapee, OBS, Krita, DaVinci Resolve, Final Cut, Olive, and more. These programs span various categories of creative software, and they all have things I like about them and things I don’t like – to varying degrees.
The UI (which stands for “user interface“) in each of these programs can vary greatly as this list spans various creative categories and includes both free and paid software.
However, there is one program that has recently made itself a stand out from the software mentioned above – free and paid – thanks to a recent major release version that introduced major updates to its UI. This program is Inkscape.
Recently, Inkscape released a Beta version for their upcoming 1.2 stable release. If you’re not familiar with Inkscape, it is a free and open source vector graphics editor. It is most comparable to Illustrator – though it’s probably better to think of it in terms of a Dr. Strange multiverse where Illustrator exists in one universe and Inkscape in the other.
Inkscape 1.2: A Very Brief History
Inkscape, in my opinion, has always had a ton of potential, but has also been quirky. To call it “quirky” is putting it nicely – perhaps “buggy” is a better term. Suffice it to say it’s been known to crash a lot and have plenty of limitations.
This is especially true since Inkscape 1.0 was released in 2020 – which took the program to a whole new level in terms of features and functionality, but made the program much more unstable. Inkscape 1.0 also showed us that the program was heading in a better direction in terms of UI design, but wasn’t anything special compared to other modern creative software.
In the Spring of 2021, the Inkscape team released Inkscape 1.1, and it became apparent that the community of volunteer Inkscape developers were starting to shift focus towards improving the user experience through a better UI.
With this release, Inkscape introduced a “Welcome Screen,” which is pretty standard in paid software, but sparsely found in free and open source software. Other notable UI additions or changes introduced in Inkscape 1.1 include a “command palette” to help users easily search for and apply things like filters or actions, dockable dialogues (meaning dialogues can be moved to new positions around the canvas), and improved exporting features and support for exporting to new file formats.
These UI improvements in Inkscape 1.0 and Inskcape 1.1 are great and have helped Inkscape make incremental progress towards becoming better software. As helpful and exciting as these features are, they merely set the foundation for what was to come.
In May of 2022, Inkscape 1.2 Beta was released and, in my opinion, raised the bar for UI design.
The bar was raised because Inkscape 1.2’s UI not only looks good, it also let’s you customize it more than any other program (that I’ve personally experienced). And the way it looks and the way it can be customized was the result of users providing feedback, developers acknowledging and discussing the feedback, developers implementing the most optimal manifestations of that feedback, and users testing out the implementations and starting the feedback loop over.
It’s software development, democratized. It’s a wonderful case study in why free and open source software exists, and how awesome things can be achieved through community development.
Why the Inkscape 1.2 UI Stands Out
So, what specifically do I love about Inkscape 1.2’s new UI?
The Welcome Screen Updates
Right off the bat, the Welcome screen (which, again, was first introduced in Inkscape 1.1) allows the user to customize the UI with the “Quick Setup” tab (outlined in green in the image above). Here, the user can:
- choose their canvas configuration,
- set keyboard shortcuts,
- set icon styles and colors (in the Appearance dropdown), and
- toggle the UI colors to choose from light or dark mode
The Welcome Screen is responsive, so the icons you select will automatically update the icon preview located near the bottom of the window (yellow arrow in the image above). Additionally, the color of the Welcome Screen will change when toggling between light and dark modes (red arrow).
You can then navigate over to the “Time to Draw” tab (outlined in green in the image above) and either open a recent document, select a template from any of the template categories (outlined in light blue), or load a new document from your computer (via the “Load” button that will display when in the “Existing Files” tab – outlined in red in the image above). The last option was introduced in Inkscape 1.2 – which helped round out the feature set for document creation in the Welcome Screen.
I’ll open a 1920×1080 px page by clicking on the corresponding template file (red arrow) under the “Screen” tab.
The New Canvas
Upon opening a new document in Inkscape, users of previous versions of Inkscape will notice a revamped and cleaner-looking canvas area. For Inkscape 1.2, developers have updated the border around the page, changed the color of the “desk” (or the gray boundary around the page – red arrow in the above image), and improved the look of the drop shadow underneath the page (green arrow). These subtle yet important changes help Inkscape feel more comfortable and familiar (especially when switching from Illustrator).
The Brand New Page Tool (Multi-Page Compositions)
Oh, and speaking of the canvas area – Inkscape 1.2 now supports multi-page documents.
For those of you coming from Illustrator, let me translate: Inkscape now supports multiple artboards.
This feature is controlled using the “Page Tool” (red arrow in the image above), which is essentially the same thing as Illustrator’s “Artboard Tool.” With this new tool, you can either quickly freehand draw new pages, or use the Controls Bar (outlined in green) to more precisely create new pages based on document presets.
You can also select and resize any page, relocate the page by clicking and dragging, or fit the page size to any selection or artwork on the page. Finally, you can export your multiple pages as a multi-page PDF.
This multi-page feature with an accompanying Page Tool is a long awaited feature that should help designers take on more complex, professional projects.
Insane Levels of Customization
If you’re not happy with the way the overall UI looks based on the choices you made from the Welcome Screen, you can make changes to the colors and sizes of all the on-screen elements by going to Edit>Preferences>Interface>Theming (red arrow in the image above).
Under the “Theme” heading (outlined in green in the above image), you can scroll through the GTK themes under “Change GTK Theme” and see live previews of the different theme styles as you click on each option. You can also use sliders to adjust the UI font size, or the amount of contrast between the UI background color and the text and icons (green arrow). Where else have you seen a contrast slider??
Under the “Icons” heading (outlined in yellow in the above image), you can select from any of four icon themes using the “Change Icon Theme” dropdown. If you select either the “multi-color” or “hi color” option, you’ll get additional options such as selecting the “symbolic” version of the icons (yellow arrow), or selecting the colors used for the symbolic icons (light blue arrow) – including the “Icon color base” and three “Icon color highlights.” These colors can be whatever you want and can be selected from a color wheel, from the sliders for your chosen color mode, or by using a HEX code.
If I navigate over to Interface>Toolbars (red arrow in the image above) while still inside the Preferences dialogue, you’ll see customization for the toolbar and icons used throughout the user interface. All the tools displayed here under the “Toolbars” section (outlined in yellow) are toggled on by default, and thus display in the toolbar. Clicking on any of the icons (light blue arrow) will toggle that tool “off” and hide it from the Toolbar.
Below the toolbar icons are a pair of sliders. The top slider (red arrow in the photo above) allows you to adjust the size of the toolbar icons (outlined in red), and the bottom slider (light blur arrow) allows you to adjust the size of the control bar icons (outlined in light blue). You’ll notice that both start at 100% and go up to 300%. This means you can increase the icon sizes up to triple their original size. The increments in between these values are pretty small as well (somewhere around 5% increments), which demonstrates an unprecedented level of granularity for making adjustments to the UI icons.
This is just one of many examples of high levels of control over the program’s appearance that you’ll see throughout this new release. Let’s exit out of the preferences dialogue to showcase some other amazing UI features in Inkscape 1.2.
Updated Color Palette for More Control, Customization
Below the canvas area is the Color Palette – the area where you select colors for things like objects and text (outlined in green in the above photo). In previous versions, this palette used its own dedicated scroll bar and the color tiles were a fixed size.
The color palette’s scroll bar was problematic because the canvas also uses a scroll bar (red arrows in the image above) to navigate horizontally on the page. In other words, there were two scroll bars within the same vicinity, making it confusing for new users to discern one bar from the other. More confusing to new users was that the scroll bar for the color palette would only appear on hover – so it could easily be missed if you didn’t know it was there.
In Inkscape 1.2, the scroll bar has been replaced with up and down arrows on the right-hand side of the color palette (denoted by the red arrow and outlined in red in the image above) to help users search or scroll through the various available colors.
Just to the right of the up and down arrows is the menu to view and select other available color palettes (red arrow in the image). This feature has been updated to now include small color previews of the various swatches available in each color palette (area highlighted in green – you can see the little swatch previews under the name of each color palette).
Plus, at the very bottom of this menu is a “Configure” link (light blue arrow).
Here, the user can now make adjustments to the color palette’s appearance. Adjustments can be made to the size of the color tiles with the “Tile Size” slider (red arrow), the aspect ratio (green arrow – ratio of the width to the height, with 0 on the slider being a square) of the color tiles, the border size around each tile (light blue arrow), and the number of rows of swatches displayed in the color bar (yellow arrow). You can see in the photo that I’ve made several adjustments, including making the tile sizes larger, squishing the tiles by increasing the aspect ratio, add a thicker border around each tile, and increasing the number of tile rows displayed to 3.
Again, these granular settings give users the ultimate control over the look and feel of the color palette and Inkscape 1.2 UI. This is especially true given that the sizes and styling of the elements are controlled by user-friendly sliders rather than clunkier alternatives, and the sliders have a wide range of values.
Let’s demonstrate how incredible this is through a comparison.
The “Tile Size” slider shown in this Configure dialogue for the color palette (red arrow in the above image) holds values from 4 to 32, in increments of 1 (meaning there are 19 values total, including both 4 and 32). Alternatively, Adobe Illustrator’s “Swatches” panel only provides 3 values for tile sizes – “small,” “medium,” and “large.” There is much less control or customizability in Illustrator, a paid software, than the new Inkscape 1.2 – which is totally free.
Simplified Snapping & Smart Guides
One last example I’ll cover for this article demonstrating Inkscape’s amazing new UI is the new reworked “Snap Controls Bar.” In previous versions of Inkscape, this bar was located along the entire right-hand side of the canvas and displayed all snap controls icons simultaneously. This understandably inundated new users with choices and made using these controls confusing and challenging.
In Inkscape 1.2, the Snap Controls bar has been reduced to a single icon and a twirl menu, or “popover menu” as Inkscape likes to call it (outlined in red and denoted by the arrow in the image). Clicking the icon enables snap controls, while clicking it again will disable snapping. If a user wants more control, they can click on the popover menu (the icon with the triangle) where they’ll see a checkbox, which simply informs you of whether or not snapping is currently turned on, and three new icons.
The first two icons are pretty standard: snap to bounding boxes (red arrow) and enable snapping for nodes (green arrow). The third icon is a very exciting and much-anticipated feature: on-canvas alignment, also known to users as “smart guides” (light blue arrow).
When enabled (it’s usually disabled by default, so click the icon to enable it), users now see guides directly on their canvas as they move objects around (red arrow in the image). Like in other software, including Adobe Illustrator or Affinity Designer, these guides help users align objects to the center of their pages, align to the center of other objects, evenly space objects apart, or even quickly create grids of evenly spaced objects.
Finally, coming back to the “popover menu,” there’s a link at the bottom of the window labeled “Advanced mode.”
This link will take you to additional snapping controls that allow you to enable or disable individual snapping features. These are all the snapping controls that used to display along the entire right-hand side of the Inkscape canvas window in previous versions. They are now neatly tucked away in this menu. To return back to the simpler setup, click “Reset to simple snapping mode” (red arrow in the image).
Inkscape, the free vector graphics editor, has seriously stepped up its UI game with this impressive Inkscape 1.2 release. It not only provides granular (word of the day) control over UI settings on multiple levels, it also simplifies many controls to improve the user experience while still making those controls available in easily accessible menus for more advanced users.
For more information on what’s new in Inkscape 1.2, check out my video tutorial covering ALL the latest features with this mega-release version (coming soon!). And, as always, you can download the latest version of Inkscape for FREE from Inkscape.org.