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Data Visualization: Humanistic Visualization

Inkscape Tutorial

Setting Up a Project

I. Install Inkscape

  1. Download **Inkscape** ([download link here](, please do so now. **Note: If you already use another vector image-editing software, like **Adobe Illustrator**, that you can do most of the same things.

II. Getting Started

  1. Open Inkscape
  2. Save (File --> Save as --> [save with the name and in the location of your choosing])

III. Setup Canvas

  1. File-->Document Properties:
    1. Change display units to inches (if you prefer)
    2. Under Custom Size: choose the size of your canvas / page. If you plan on your image filling a page in a 6"and 9" book, you may want to create an image that is 5"and 8". If you plan to create a poster, then choose a conventional poster size. And, finally, if you wish to just post this image online, consider at what (maximum) resolution it will be viewed at.
    3. Under the "Grids" tab: select "New" to create a new rectangular grid
      1. One option: choose X and Y spacing of 0.25" and set major grid lines at every 4 to create 1/4" and 1" minor and major gridlines, respectively.
  2. Zoom:
    1. View --> Zoom-->Page
    2. Or zoom in manually by changing the value for "Z:" at the bottom right of the screen
    3. Inkscape Zoom Box

IV. Create a New Layer and Add a Title

  1. Add a Layer to place your title in
    1. From Layer window (on right side of screen, if not visible press Shift+Ctrl+L or select Layer --> Layers) press "+"to create a new layer
    2. Name the Layer "Title" or something like that
  2. With your new title layer highlighted, select the "Create and Edit Text" tool.
    1. Create Text Tool
  3. Place the cursor where you would like to add your title. Type in your title (or just type in "Title Placeholder" if you haven't decided on a title for your project yet). Then highlight the text you just wrote and use the toolbar at the top of the screen to edit the font, font style, and font size.
  4. Return to the Layers window on the right side of the screen. You may toggle the title layer on and off using the eye icon. Then, press the lock icon to lock this layer and prevent us from accidentally modifying later (we may always unlock it when we are ready to edit it again).

V. Thinking about Layers

The use of layers in image-editing software, from vector to raster graphics as well as GIS and CAD programs, are essential to creating rich and complex graphics. They allow us to overlay different types of information for comparison. We may turn on and off layers to see or publish different image arrangements. We may also create layers not meant for anyone to see but you, the creator. For example, you may want to create a rough outline of a sketch or image that you will then trace and replace with a layer above it.

Given the importance of layers, it is useful to consider what layers you will create and how you will arrange them. For example, if your visualization will include four separate objects, each of which will include an image, title, and annotations you could arrange your layers this way:

  • Object 1
    • Image
    • Title
    • Annots
  • Object 2... 3... 4...

or this way:

  • Images
    • Object 1
    • Object 2... 3... 4
  • Titles
    • Object 1.
    • Object 2... 3... 4
  • Annotations
    • Object 1
    • Object 2... 3... 4

Thinking about what types of information you want to be able to quickly show, hide, or modify will help make this decision (but this may always be changed later).



Working with Existing Images

How can you modify, annotate, and zoom in on an existing images?

For this demonstration, we will work with a map from Dartmouth Library's Digital Map Collection. To follow along, download this 1890 Hanover Map (which for some reason is dated to 1879 in the metadata, but the map itself clearly states it was created in 1890).

Note: If you plan to work more extensively with maps and to link and overlay different forms of spatial data, you will want to work with a GIS program like ArcGIS or the free QGIS. But, if you simply want to work with one image of map, modifying it and annotating it, then using image editing software like Inkscape makes sense. In my own work, I do all of my spatial analysis and initial mapping in QGIS and then export images I want to publish, import them into Inkscape, and then add additional, more artistic, detail (annotations, labels, symbols with blurred edges, dashed lines, or partial transparency) using Inkscape.


I. Import and Resize the Image

  1. Create a new layer (see Step IV in Setting Up a Project). Name it "Basemap" or something like that. Click on this layer before importing your image (so that it will be automatically imported into your Basemap layer. You can also just move it into the layer later by right-clicking on the image and selecting "Move to Layer")
  2. File-->Import [find the Hanover map or whatever image you want to use and import it].
    1. Keep the default settings in the jpeg image import box
  3. Since this map is to scale we don't want to stretch it unproportionally. To ensure we keep its proportions:
    1. Select the map with your mouse so that it is highlighted
    2. Select the lock symbol on the toolbar above to lock its proportions
    3. Proportion Lock
  4. Now you have three choices to enlargen the image:
    1. manually select and stretch its corners
    2. Enter the desire width or height in the toolbar at the top (the same toolbar you used to lock its proportions). Note: if you correctly locked the maps proportions, then changing the value of one will mean the other will be automatically resized as well.
    3. Open the Transform window from the toolbar on the left. Open the Scale tab, select the "Scale Proportionally" box and resize the image by adjusting the width or height.
  5. When you have completed editing the Basemap image itself, lock the Basemap layer by selecting the lock icon within the Layer Window on the right.

II. Create an Inset Map

Often, it helps to create an inset map in order to zoom in on detail from one particular part of a map (or other type of image). To do so, we will 1) create a box around the portion of the map we wish to zoom in on, 2) export that portion of the map, 3) re-import the image into Inkscape, 4) enlarge it, and 5) link this new, enlarged inset map to its location on the full map.

  1. Create a new layer and give it a name (like "extract_Inset").
  2. With that name selected, select the "Create Rectangles" tool from the lefthand toolbar. Create a box around the portion of the map you wish to extract.
  3. The resulting rectangle may look something like this:
  4. extract Inset Box
  5. However, we want to remove the fill of the rectangle. We can do that using the Fill/Stroke window found on the righthand toolbar.
  6. With our rectangle selected, open the Fill and Stroke window and select the "X" in the fill tab (to indicate no fill color).
  7. You may adjust the stroke (outline) paint and style as you wish. In this case, I prefer a rectangle with a thin, solid black line. In the Stroke paint tab, I can easily select Black using the RGB tab by setting the R, G, and B levels to 0 (zero). The A (Alpha) sets the transparency of the stroke line alone. I will leave that at 100. Finally, using the Stroke Style tab, we may adjust the stroke width and type of line. My end result looks like this:
  8. rect no fill
  9. We will now export only this rectangle and what is found inside it. (It is also possible to crop the larger map using this rectangle and the "Set Clip" function, however, for reasons I don't have space to get into, it is easier to export and re-import).
    1. Select the rectangle
    2. Open the Export PNG Image window on the right.
    3. Select "Selection"
    4. Set the dpi to 300 to ensure this image is exported at a high resolution.
    5. Select the Export As button to give your exported image a name and location in your filedirectory.
    6. Select Export.
  10. Import the Image you just created (File-->Import Image)
  11. Resize the image (see Part I above) to make it significantly larger than the original map.
  12. You may place the new inset map inside or outside the larger map, depending on your purpose and preferences.
  13. Create lines using the "Draw Bezier curves and straight lines" tool found on the toolbar on the left side. Draw two straight black lines connecting the inset map from its location on the large map. To connect existing objects it helps to have the "Enable Snapping" feature, found on the right-side toolbar, selected:
  14. enable snapping
  15. For extra effect, you may play around with the tools found in the Filters and Extensions tabs found on the top menu. For example, I used the "Dark and Glow" filter from the Shadows and Glows heading to create the following effect:

Map + Inset


III. It's All Burned Down: Creating Points


IV. The Mob Approaches: Creating Lines


V. Buildings & Cemeteries: Create Polygons


VI. The Periphery: Creating Semi-Opaque Overlays