Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Review: Inkscape Beginner's Guide

Packt Publishing has published a book called Inkscape Beginner's Guide. I've had the chance to read this book and here I will share my thoughts about this book. I don't really belong to the people this book it targeted to – Inkscape beginners – but I have tried to look at this book as if I was not fluent Inkscape user already.

In brief, this book explores a wide variety of features available in Inkscape 0.48 in a straightforward and easy-to-follow way. Copious amounts of screen shots are used so that it is easy to see what kind of results one should expect when trying out the features described in the book. Naturally, the flip side of this is that none of the features are discussed in depth – the book would become huge if they were.

The book starts from the very beginnings, such as what are vector graphics, SVG and Inkscape and how to install Inkscape. In fact, it is not until chapter 4 that the reader is shown how to draw something. If I was writing a beginner's guide I probably would get into the drawing part earlier on, but how this book is written has its merits too: the basics are explained before the things that build upon them.

The target audience of the book seems to be aspiring print or web designers. Before drawing their first shape, the reader is shown how to define the page size and how to set up the different margins used in print design. Many of the examples show web page design tasks and there are several mentions of things "your programming team" can do, such as programmatically modifying the SVG file you have created.

Unfortunately the book has a slight unfinished feeling to it. Nothing big, for example the first chapter tells SVG is based on XML on multiple occasions, but never really tells what is XML. An other part of book shows how to change the page background opacity by changing the hexadecimal colour code from ffffff00 to ffffffff without telling what those codes mean and when the alpha slider is clearly visible in the provided screen shot. One chapter declares it will show how to use spiros, but shows spirals instead. Small things and a beginner would not even notice most, just multiple things that feel slightly odd.

One big thing I would change is the way how the Bezier tool is presented in the book, though this is really mostly a personal preference. Anyhow, it is a tool that I use often and make heavy use of its short cuts, but the book only shows how to draw straight lines with sharp corners and how they can be turned into round lines and corners afterwards. If I was doing my drawing the way it is shown in this book, it would take a lot more time. This is a general trend in the book elsewhere, too: it shows things you can do with Inkscape, but often not how to do them efficiently.

Not so much about the book contents, but I do like how the e-book is made. I got myself the PDF version and it looks well made and does come with full index. If I want to jump to, say, chapter 9 which explains filter effects, I can just select it from the side bar in Evince (or other PDF reader). Only issue I have with it is that my name appears on every page of the PDF – obviously it is there to combat piracy, but it also causes a mental highlight fairly often when you spot your own name on the document.

So, to recap: this book gives a wide overview of how to use Inkscape, but somewhat lacks in depth. I would believe this book can be useful for beginners – just as its title says – but not so much for anyone who already knows his way around Inkscape.