Right now work has me creating some maps to put on the web based of scanned drawings from the contractor behind a bunch of on-campus construction. In the past I would use Adobe Illustrator to do this by importing the maps and then tracing over it with vector lines. This process is relatively quick and easy. I can use grids to control the initial lines and keep them straight. I can then go in and manipulate points (or add more as needed) along the lines to fine tune things.
Well I don’t have Illustrator installed and the only version the office has is old and, from my experience, not very responsive. So I set out to find a free alternative. Enter Inkscape. Inkscape is a free, open source vector graphics program that you can use on Windows, Mac, and Linux platforms (and is probably portable to others should you be into that sort of thing).
I’ve been using it for just the day and I’m already in love. The controls are intuitive. There’s a ton of power in just the mouse commands. I hardly need to touch the keyboard for anything (hiding and unhiding the guides I’ve created). Working with layers may feel a bit odd; it’s nothing like Photoshop or Gimp in terms of the UI. But after a few hours I find myself right at home.
It’s native format is SVG, which open standards people will love. But if that’s not your thing you can save is most major vector graphic formats (eps, pdf, etc). You can also export the work as a bitmap and tweak it as needed in your favorite graphics editor.
This is a great application. I suggest you give it a try if you’re ever in the market for a vector graphics format.