What is it?
Inkscape is “professional quality vector graphics software which runs on Windows, Mac OS X and GNU/Linux.” It can be used to create “a wide variety of graphics such as illustrations, icons, logos, diagrams, maps and web graphics.” Vector graphics are special in that they scale without losing quality; so Inkscape is an excellent choice where scalability is a primary concern. Inkscape is particularly notable in this regard because it makes use of Scalable Vector Graphics; “a widely-deployed royalty-free graphics format developed and maintained by the W3C SVG Working Group.” And according to W3C, “SVG is supported by all modern browsers for desktops and mobiles.” This makes Inkscape a very relevant software.
Why use it?
Mouse over the example to the left to reveal what commercial software Inkscape can replace!
Ryan Irelan cautions, however, “SVG images aren’t perfect for everything, however. Ideally, you’d use SVGs for icons, simple line graphics, and, if possible, logos. SVGs are ideal for imagery that are used multiple times on a page (like interface icons).” Inkscape supports many other file formats , including PNG, so users should take time to learn about the appropriate application of these other formats as well.
Inkscape: The Case For Library Use
In the academic library space, particularly: bibliometrics are “measures of an author's influence or impact. Citation analysis is an area of bibliometrics research in which citations in scholarly articles are used to establish relationships between authors or articles.” This is a way to understand how an author’s work is connected to other works, and this can be useful to visualize in order to measure the impact of research, analyze areas of research strength, find high impact performers in a subject area, and/or recruit collaborators. According to Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory LibGuides, “Two commonly used bibliometrics are impact factor and h-index.” And the NIH cites Inkscape as a recommended tool to visualize these metrics.
Beyond the academic application of bibliometrics, Inkscape is a tool used for general data visualization projects. Public libraries can use this to produce their own, locally relevant content; perhaps producing a poster or an image for their website that displays a surprising correlation! However, beyond producing their own content, public libraries can host workshops that teach their community members how to access this powerful way of displaying data ( or creating custom designs that be produced in their makerspaces, as the Independence Public Library has ). Patrick Toohey has created an excellent step-by-step playlist that explores how Inkscape can be used to design a poster with Inkscape and R. This type of project would empower community members in a very relevant way: making them able to communicate visually as well as understand how to visualize using computer software.
Inkscape began in 2003 , “by four Sodipodi developers: Bryce Harrington, MenTaLguY, Nathan Hurst, and Ted Gould.” Since then, although there is not an exact metric available, users have estimated that "we can confidently say that there are hundreds of thousands of people who run inkscape at least once a month, and a million is still realistic." Further, on Inkscape’s GitLab details page, we can see that there are roughly 30,500 commits (or "revisions") which signals that the software is being revised and improved frequently; from August 14-March 28 of this year, there were 2000 commits by 120 authors.
Inkscape’s primary selling point is, naturally, price. As free software, Inkscape is highly accessible, and this accessibility is amplified by its ability to run on Windows, Mac OS X and GNU/Linux; so, it is not locked for users of certain operating systems. Further, Inkscape was designed with user-friendliness in mind (GNOME Human Interface Guidelines (HIG) compliance), so it is a delight to look at as well as intuitively designed. As the NIH explains : “Inkscape's native format is Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG), but it can also open most types of image files, including PDF, JPG, GIF, and PNG. With the addition of free, downloadable extensions, Inkscape can also open PostScript, Sketch, CorelDRAW, and other proprietary image formats. Inkscape can save as SVG, SVGZ, PDF, Postscript/EPS/EPSi, LaTeX (*.tex), POVRay (*.pov), HPGL, and others.” And this makes it very powerful for different uses in different library settings.
Inkscape does not currently support CMYK color profiles ; which means printed material will not match exactly to the RGB files created. This is largely a forgivable problem for non-professional use (such as small pamphlets, etc.) and there are workarounds. However, printing from RGB files is not acceptable in professional settings, so Inkscape users should be very mindful to this disadvantage if their files will be printed professionally. The CMYK conversion is Inkscape’s largest, specific drawback – but it suffers from the same issues many other open source softwares do; it can load slowly, it can be affected by malicious contributors much more easily, and it has less specialized features (such as animation support in Inkscape’s case).
In More Detail: Open Source Software
In the example to the right, please mouse-over to see that the open source software, Inkscape, still has a professional level of vector graphic output potential.
Put simply, open source software is “software with source code that anyone can inspect, modify, and enhance.” However, the Open Source Initiative expands this definition to include these criteria: Free Redistribution, Source Code, Derived Works, Integrity of The Author's Source Code, No Discrimination Against Persons or Groups, No Discrimination Against Fields of Endeavor, Distribution of License, License Must Not Be Specific to a Product, License Must Not Restrict Other Software, and License Must Be Technology-Neutral. You can read more about these criteria at their website. However, in most cases, if someone is speaking generally about open source software they are referring to software with source code that can be changed by anyone.
When discussing open source software, it is important to note that it can be equally powerful (if not more so in some cases) to commercial software. Further, open source software is not necessarily limited in its scope to individual users; open source software can be appropriate as an enterprise solution in many cases.
Open source software’s advantages are numerous, but the three most powerful advantages are the “price,” accessibility, and the communities built around them. With no price tag, open source software is an easy sell to an accounting department. With budgets being a primary source of frustration for public librarians in particular, having a workaround for budget approval is invaluable. The accessibility of the software and the source code is also an advantage; open source software is built with accessibility in mind and having public source code ensures a certain level of quality. Without a pay-wall or IP clause to hide behind, open source software is highly scrutinized. Adding to this, members of the contributor community are responsive to user comments and questions beyond a desire for compensation: this means that answers may take longer, but that they will inevitably be more thoughtful.
The primary disadvantage of open source software is a steeper learning curve. Users with limited computer experience can find this especially frustrating. As in the case of Inkscape’s lacking CMYK color profiles; open source software often lacks some of the “luxury” options in commercial software, often requiring manual workarounds that general users may not find intuitive. Another drawback, as Susanne Moog explains, is that “While the open source community is good at responding to issues quickly, no one is legally obliged to do so.” Further, the effect of “orphaning” (abandonment of the project) in open source software is more prevalent. In both of these cases however, the same can be said of shady or bankrupted commercial software. In most cases, the advantages will weigh out the disadvantages in the long run.