Shapes are the building blocks of any graphical design, but basic shapes can only do so much. Fortunately, you can build up any shape by combining a few basic ones. However, a good shape builder tool can help you create presets of your most reused custom shapes.
Unfortunately, Inkscape does not include a shape builder. As such, you must use a few basic shapes to manually create any design. However, there are a few workarounds that mimic the effect of a shape builder.
Also, the Inkscape developers are working on a shape builder for future versions of the vector graphics editor. By reading further, you will learn how you can get a test copy of this tool, and a few plugin alternatives you can use now.
Building Shapes in Inkscape
Like any other graphics editor, Inkscape offers a versatile set of shape tools for creating and editing different types of shapes. Each shape functions as its object or layer, letting you modify its size, angle, corners, and so forth without affecting the rest of your image. These tools include:
You create these shapes simply by dragging the appropriate tool over the canvas. You can then modify them by adjusting their white diamond handles after you select them. To help you out, Inscape will even display tooltips in the status bar when you hover your mouse over the handles. You can find other configurable parameters in the Tools Controls bar above the canvas.
Inkscape Has No Shape Builder Tool
Despite these great shape tools, Inkscape does not have a Shape Builder tool. Shape builder is a feature of Adobe Illustrator that lets you create custom shapes and set them as presets you can use later. This tool allows you to reuse complex designs without having to manually recreate them each time you need them. You just click and drop the preset.
Because Inkscape does not have an equivalent feature, you must do everything manually by combining and overlapping the four included shape tools and their configurations. This situation will restrict the complexity of your designs to simple strokes without color fill. You could use a combination of Boolean operations as well, but not much more than that.
Luckily, you can speed up the process and some complexity to your work through the liberal use of Inkscape’s shortcuts. You should decide which operations and shortcuts work best for you, but the most commonly used ones include:
- F4 – Toggle Rectangle Tool
- Ctrl+A – Select All
- F1 – Toggle Select and Transform Objects Tool
- Crtl++ – Union
- Ctrl+K – Combine
- End – Lower to bottom
The Future Inkscape Shape Builder Tool and Current Alternatives
While Inkscape does not have a shape builder now, it will have one in the future. In June 2021, Martin Owens, Inkscape’s lead developer, announced that his team was working on a Shape Builder tool and its associated guides via a Patreon post. The toll will work similarly to Shape Builder found in Illustrator and other graphics editors, bringing the much-demanded feature to Inkscape.
The new tool will let you create unique shapes by overlapping and merging simpler ones. The new shape would then function like any other shape you could make with the built-in tools.
Use an Inkscape Beta Build
No definitive launch date for the tool was ever provided, but you can play with the new Shape Builder tool through some of the more recent beta versions of the graphics editor. You can find copies on numerous Inkscape user forums and chat rooms, but your mileage will vary on the quality of the downloadable. If you want a more reliable copy, your best bet would be to join the Inkscape development team as a beta tester.
Use a Third-Party Plugin
The beauty of Shape Builder is that it works right on the main canvas. You get to see how your modification will work with the rest of your design. However, you can get must of functionality through “Boolean operation” plugins, including the simple one built into Inkscape itself. These solutions are not as intuitive or useful as a native, on-canvas shape builder, but they will do the job.
Use a Third-Party App
If you do not want to play with plugins that might become obsolete in a few months, you can use third-party apps such as Placeit to create your preset shapes. You can design one from scratch or modify an existing design from one of the many stock images available. You can then import your design back into Inkscape to continue where you left off.
Inkscape is a wonderful open-source alternative to Adobe Illustrator. However, it is missing some popular features such as a Shape Builder. Fortunately, the graphics editor will have one soo, and numerous great alternatives offer similar functionality.