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The Inkscape default window is laid out with four bars at the top, two on the left, two on the right and two at the bottom. The sub Menu option View ‣ Show/Hide allows on and off display of various bars of the user interface. The Menu bar is the only bar that cannot be hidden. The window layout of an application is also referred to as the Graphical User Interface (GUI).

Inkscape v0.91 Graphical User Interface

To open the interface properties dialog, use either Edit, ‣‣Preferences... + Interface or Ctrl+⇧ Shift+P. In the Interface menu there are many settings to improve it to one's preference. You can change the icon sizes from Large, Small and Smaller. There are three sub-items under Interface; Windows, Grids and Keyboard Shortcuts. Under the Window sub-menu there is a setting for:
Dialog behavior (requires restart)

  • Dockable
  • Floating

The Dockable setting will place dialog (example, Fill and Stroke Dialog) windows against (docked) the Snap bar on the right side of the Interface. The Floating setting will place the dialog window onto the top right part of the Canvas.

Menu bar[edit]

The very top bar is the Menu bar, the Menu contains the basic File, Edit and Help functions of like many programs. The remainder of the Menu bar's features are related to working with graphic design.

Inkscape v0.91 GUI Menu Bar

Commands bar[edit]

The Commands bar has buttons of frequently used edits such as file options, zoom levels, undo, copy, group, etc.

Inkscape version 0.91 GUI Command Bar

Toolbox and Tool Controls bars[edit]

Inkscape v0.91, Tool Controls Bar
Inkscape v0.91 Toolbox Bar

The third bar down is the Tool Controls bar, which changes depending upon the currently enabled tool in the Toolbox bar. In the example graphic the Tool Controls bar is set to the Selector Tool. The image also reflects the pop-up message when hovering/mouse-over on the Selector's Tool Controls bar open lock icon.

The tools can be enabled from the Toolbox bar, on the left or by using the shortcut key assigned to the specific tool. To find out what edit each tool provides, simply hover/mouse-over a Toolbox bar icon and a pop-up message will provide the tools title and its assigned shortcut key in parenthesis. This mouse-over technique applies to nearly all of the icons and value entry fields of the user interface.

To set a tool's properties simply Dbl-Click (Double-Click) the Toolbox icon and the tools properties menu will open.

The Selector Tool is the most used tool in Inkscape. So to improve the ease of use for this tool it has three shortcuts, and is the only tool that has a 'toggle' feature. One of the three Selector Tool shortcuts is the spacebar, which toggles the activation of the Selector Tool. When using any other tool, press the spacebar to switch to the Selector Tool, then perform the Selector Tool based edit. Once the Selector Tool edit(s) are completed press the spacebar again to return (toggle) to the previously enabled tool.

Rulers bar[edit]

The fourth bar down is the Rulers bar, this bar is two-sided as it also displays on the left side, both of the rulers border the canvas. The top bar is "horizontal" or X axis and the left bar is "vertical" or Y axis. The rulers represent distances, the expressed units can be set in the following menu command, File ‣ Document Properties ‣ Page ‣ Default units. You can toggle displaying of the Ruler bars with Ctrl+R or via the Menu bar View ‣ Show/Hide ‣ Ruler bars.

Snap controls bar[edit]

The bar to the right is the Snap Controls bar that enables setting of an objects snapping methods. In general snapping is a method for accurate placement of objects onto the canvas.

Palette bar[edit]

At the bottom of the user interface are the Palette and Status bars. Select a shape, and click one of the palette's color boxes. The shape's color will be replaced by the palette color. The top half of the palette bar displays color boxes, to the right of the last displayed color is a small left arrow. Click the arrow for a menu with options to change the display properties of the pallete bar and to change the bars color themes.

Status bar[edit]

The Status bar is very helpful for beginners, as it changes the tool-tip message (bottom center) based on what tool you are actively editing with on the canvas. As an example select the Square and Rectangle tool, then draw a shape on the canvas. While you are actively drawing (editing) the Status bar message will change and provide vector information along with command key (Ctrl, ⇧ Shift and Alt) edit tip messages.

All these bars, except the Menu Bar, can be "torn off" and moved around. To move either of the top two bars (Commands or Tool Controls), click and drag from the left end. The Command bar will turn into an arrow icon, which can be clicked for a dropdown menu. To tear off the Tool bar, click and drag the top edge. To re-dock any of these, simply drag them back to their home positions.

Go into Inkscape, and try out different shape tools by clicking their icons in the toolbar, or by pressing their keyboard shortcuts. Then, click and drag with the mouse to try making shapes. The shape tools are Rectangles/Squares, 3D Box, Ellipse/Circles, Star/Polygon, and Spiral. The other tools are slightly more complex, and will be explained in the chapters on Path Editing and Other Tools.


You can pan the canvas with Ctrl+++Arrows, or by clicking and dragging with your middle mouse button. Of course, scrolling with a scroll-wheel works as well. You can toggle displaying of the scrollbars with Ctrl+B.

To cycle between multiple Inkscape windows, use the shortcut Ctrl+Tab ↹. To cycle backwards, use  Ctrl+⇧ Shift+Tab ↹ .

Introduction · Shape Tools