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Book Reviews

Book Review: Inkscape 0.48 Essentials for Web Designers 91

JR0cket writes"Inkscape is an open source 2D drawing tool that helps you create graphic designs, from simple buttons and logos to full blown posters and web page designs. Inkscape is similar to Adobe Illustrator or CorelDraw and gives you a vector based graphics tool that uses the W3C Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) format. Inkscape is easy to use, although learning the tricks that make designing a web site look great are more involved. The Inkscape 0.48 Essentials for Web designers is specifically focused on helping you to create your first web site designs and does a great job of getting you started. Most if not all the techniques covered are relevant to creating other graphic works too, so its useful as a general Inkscape tutorial." Read on for the rest of John's review.
Inkscape 0.48 Essentials For Web Designers
author Bethany Hiitola
pages 316
publisher Packt Publishing
rating 9
reviewer John Stevenson
ISBN 978-1-84951-268-8
summary A tutorial to start web site design using Inkscape
I should say up front that If you are a web designer by trade you will know all the design aspects covered in the book, although the book will help you apply that knowledge in the latest version of Inkscape (version .048).

For those wanting to get into graphic design or start creating their own works, the book is quite a useful starting point to learn about a few important design concerns. Also, if you are a developer who works with graphic designers, you will find interest in understanding how graphic designs are created. No technical skills are really required except the basics of using desktop software with a modern graphical user interface. With no prior design knowledge, I was able to use Inkscape to do some basic posters, using the book has helped me do more involved designs and uses the more advanced features of Inkscape.

Inkscape is open source software and is licensed under GNU General Public License (GPL) and there are many examples of works create with Inkscape under the creative commons licenses — eg

While the focus on the book is Inkscape for web design, all the techniques are useful if you want to create advertising posters, desktop wallpapers, company logos, single page comics, etc. The only limitation to using Inkscape, apart from your creativity and imagination, is that it only does a single page graphic in each inkscape window, but each graphic can be saved as individual images and made into a document using Scribus or OpenOffice / LibreOffice as Inkscape can save your designs using standard image formats (png, jpeg, svg, etc.)

The book content is nice and clean, with content on pages nicely spaced out making the book really easy to read and follow, so no need to be daunted by the 316 page count.

As the book progresses it assumes you have read earlier chapters so does not repeat exact details, for example the exact steps to create drop shadows is shown only once, keeping the book nice and to the point. You will therefore get the most out of the book by following along with the exercises in Inkscape.

So the book covers simple design techniques useful for any graphic design, along with lots of good ideas on how to design and enhancing your website, from site layouts, templates to animations.

An important starting point in the book is the overview of vector graphics and how they differ from raster graphics (eg. vector graphics scale uniformly and you don't get blur when scaling images). This concisely sets the scene as to why vector graphics are better for web design — flexibility, quality and small file sizes.

The Inkscape install guidance is nothing more than download and install but this is probably all you need. There are a few hints for Mac Users to help them out. There are packages available for Ubuntu and Debian based distributions in their respective distribution repositories. A Microsoft Windows installer is also available from the downloads section of the Inkscape website

The tour of the Inkscape user interface is very detailed with a good indication of what you can do with all the controls that make up Inkscape. There are just about enough drawings provided as examples, although I would have liked a few more images to make the tour a little clearer. I recommend you read the Inkscape tour in dual page view if you are reading the ebook (pdf) version.

The design concepts in the book start with web site layouts in chapter 2, steadily building each of the design aspects onto the site layout (images, text, patterns, icons, buttons and logos, site maps). The book covers four basic design principles of Proximity, Alignment, Repetition, Contrast and suggests reading The Non-Designer's Design Book: Design and Typographic Principles for the Visual Novice by Robin Williams for more detailed study.

You are walked through step by step construction of a basic web page design — including header, footer, sidebar, content, navigation. Using guides, grids and aligning techniques to manage your web page layout. Pulling all the design work together to create a store-front for a website. Its pretty hard to go wrong following these steps. The book use the same web design jargon you get in industry and any jargon used is explained well enough.

When you have created your web page design, you are shown how to slice up that design and export it as a series of image files (png) for use in the HTML code of the actual web page. This is the same basic process as used in industry.

Throughout the book there are specific chapters on working with images, styling text, creating logos and buttons, using patterns for background images and more details on creating flow diagrams such as for creating web site maps.

Each chapter again builds on the previous information to give you an easy to follow guide and provides examples of why the design techniques covered here are important along with approaches to create the most suitable designs for your clients.

There is nice coverage of how to use Inkscape and GIMP in collaboration to create your own animations for your website. The animations are relatively simple but effective, scrolling text and a sailing boat on the sea, showing you the technique in more than enough detail for any website design using animated GIF images.

Getting a little more technical at the end of the book, though still easy to follow, it covers the XML structures that Inkscape uses to hold your graphic designs. These XML structures let you tweak your designs using Inkscapes XML editor. There is also a reference section on the various plugins available for Inkscape, mentioning specifically Agave for color palette management and Export to PDF CMYK for color separation for the CMYK standard. There is also a section on how to create your own custom page templates.

I would have liked to see more information about filters that you can apply to your designs. There are a nice range of filters you can use in Inkscape and some are simple enough to use, but there are some that give great effects but have quite a few options you can tweek. There is plenty of scope for doing a whole chapter on using filters that would make the book more complete.

Inkscape 0.48 essentials for Web Designers is a great book to get started with Inkscape, especially if you are designing your own site. For example, If you have installed wordpress and want to create some custom themes, then this book would be very helpful to make your site stand out from the crowd.

There is an Inkscape Illustrators Cookbook by Packt Publishing out in April 2011 that seems more general compared to web developers book but as mentioned before, all the concepts presented in the web developers book are relevant for creating other graphic designs.

The book never attempts to teach you all about design, that would require a much larger book. There is enough design information in here to get you started on a good path and give you a good steer in the right direction. The coverage of Inkscape is very detailed and will help you get the most out of the tool, whether you are using it for web development or other graphical design activities.

This book makes a nice addition to the online resources available for Inkscape and with its tutorial style is a good contrast to other Inkscape books available which may contain more reference material but are more general in nature.

John coaches Lean Agile practices, organizes London technical communities and is an OSS advocate (since running Debian in 1995). @JR0cket

You can purchase Inkscape 0.48 Essentials for Web Designers from Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.


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Book Review: Inkscape 0.48 Essentials for Web Designers

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  • It sounds like the application is only halfway done, shouldn't they wait until the first version is finished before writing a book about it?

    Although, since it's taken them 7 years to move from 0.37 to 0.48, maybe that would take a while.

    • Re:Version 0.48? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by JohnnyBGod ( 1088549 ) on Monday February 28, 2011 @04:10PM (#35340792)

      Just go use the app and see if it's useful or complete enough for you and stop worrying about version numbers.

    • Gmail Beta sounds like the application is only partly done, shouldn't they wait until it is out of beta before using it?

      Version numbers are arbitrary. It's a tool, and you can use this free tool right now.

    • It sounds like the application is only halfway done, shouldn't they wait until the first version is finished before writing a book about it?

      Yes, you should wait until 1.0 to try it. Your competitors will thank you.

      Although, since it's taken them 7 years to move from 0.37 to 0.48, maybe that would take a while.

      Yes, that's 11 releases in 7 years. In another 36 years you'll be golden.

    • Re:Version 0.48? (Score:5, Informative)

      by JucaBlues ( 990708 ) on Monday February 28, 2011 @05:33PM (#35341594)
      The version number 0.48 does not mean 48% done. Inkscape developers have chosen a version numbering scheme based on the following simple rule: We'll release Inkscape 1.0 whenever Inkscape fully supports the SVG standard. Until then we'll keep increasing the secondary number on each new release. When I joined the development team, Inkscape 0.45 did not support SVG Fonts and SVG Filters. SVG Fonts are partially implemented now and SVG Filters are fully supported (except for some minor issues). And off course there is all the work done by all the other developers too.
      • Seems like a really long time to implement SVG. Apparently Inkscape started in 2003 as a fork of another project which started in 1999 (which itself was based on yet another project). So they have been working on implementing SVG for 8 years, at a minimum? Assuming the forked project also had some support for SVG, we're looking at an SVG implementation that has been in the works for 12 years now.

        In 1999, IE became the most-used web browser, IE5 was released and bundled with Win98 SE, the Mozilla Organiza

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by JucaBlues ( 990708 )
          If you think it is easy, remember that you can always help us do it faster (and better). Also, no browser currently support the full SVG spec as you can see at []
          • I'm going to simultaneously gloat that my browser of choice has the highest rating, and also point out that IE9 has gone from 28% to 58% in 5 months, and Firefox went from 61% to 78% in 7 months. IE in general went from 0 to 58%, more than half of the spec, in 17 months and SVG isn't even the main purpose of the application.

            I can sympathize with independent developers, but 8-12 years is quite a while to implement this.

            • First, there's a huge difference between a display app and an authoring app.

              Second, the native file format of most authoring apps is not the same as the output format of those apps. For example PDF is not normally considered an editable document, and things like OpenOffice can output to PDF, but don't read it very well.

              InkScape has grabbed the bull by the horns. Not only is it an authoring app (as opposed to a mere display app), but its native file format is exactly the same as its output format.

              • So you're basically saying that SVG is a spec that is expected to take roughly 10 years to implement.

                Chrome is up over 90%. Heck, according to this report, in 2008 BitFlash had only 5 partials and 3 fails:


                I understand that BitFlash isn't writing SVG, but it's a text-based format, it can't be incredibly difficult to write the markup out.

                • What is the purpose of your comments? Is it to state that there is something wrong in the development process of Inkscape? If so, then what would you suggest us to change?
                  • Is it to state that there is something wrong in the development process of Inkscape?

                    Either the development process or the spec.

                    what would you suggest us to change

                    I don't know enough about the Inkscape development process to suggest the reasons why it has been in development for over a decade.

                  • I also might just have a small pet peeve about applications starting their versioning at anything other than 1, seeing as how the number 1 represents "the first".

                    • So now you've just learned that some people do it differently.
                    • I also might just have a small pet peeve about applications starting their versioning at anything other than 1, seeing as how the number 1 represents "the first".

                      0. The version number 1 is usually reserved for a huge milestone such as Works as Intended -- All initially proposed features are now supported.

                      1. Version numbers are arbitrary because of such different "milestone" meanings that major/minor/patch numbers hold.

                      2. Programmers start counting at 0.

                      int * buffer = new int[100];
                      for ( int count = 0; count++ < 100; ) buffer[count] = count;

                      Note: The first buffer array element is buffer[0], buffer[1] is the second... In the above code the buffer array

                    • I understand, I'm a C-trained programmer as well, it just makes sense that "the first version" is version 1. This is human speech I'm talking about, not a memory offset.

                    • This is not true from any field or culture I am familiar with. Where do you derive this belief from?

                      This is generally true in human cultures, here on the planet Earth. For example, this is at the top of the page on the Wikipedia definition for "first":

                      First or Josh may refer to:
                      The ordinal form of the number one

                      You can also see on the page for one that the ordinal form of the number is, in fact, "first".

                      Just like "second" is the ordinal form of the number two, "first" is the ordinal form of the number one. Therefore, "the first version" is version 1, by definition. The ordinal form of the number zero is "zeroth" or "noughth", and I don't see a lot of fields or c

                • > but it's a text-based format, it can't be incredibly difficult
                  Here, have some OOXML.

        • Re:Version 0.48? (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Draek ( 916851 ) on Monday February 28, 2011 @07:28PM (#35342704)

          Which should be hardly surprising, considering they're making a tool meant for *authoring* content, not merely display it.

          Compare and contrast with HTML authoring tools, the best of which (Dreamweaver) has also been in the works for 12 years, a good portion of which was financed by a corporation as large, wealthy and experienced as Adobe, and yet allows you to use only a tiny subset of the current HTML+CSS standards using its 'visual' tools.

          So really, once you get a bit of perspective into the matter, the devs behind Inkscape have done a pretty damn job all things considered.

          • Compare and contrast with HTML authoring tools, the best of which (Dreamweaver) has also been in the works for 12 years, a good portion of which was financed by a corporation as large, wealthy and experienced as Adobe, and yet allows you to use only a tiny subset of the current HTML+CSS standards using its 'visual' tools.

            Bah. I've been forced to work with Flash, my opinion of Adobe's developers has been decreasing for years and years. Maybe if they fix the bugs in Flash that have been there since version 5 I'll change my tune.

        • In other words, this group of developers has been attempting to implement SVG since the W3C started developing it, and hasn't succeeded yet.

          Actually, our SVG implementation is almost complete, only lacking a few things. I believe that the most important and substantial thing that we still do not support are the animation tags. As Inkscape is nowadays a drawing application (not an animation app yet), then I think it is not reasonable to say that we haven't succeeded in SVG implementation yet. We have solid support for the subset of SVG features that are needed for a drawing app. And this subset is substantially large.

          You can expect to see an

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I just completed a project with 45,000 elements - 42,000 polygons, text labels and points. Thats about a 34mb svg file. Inkscape performed like a champ. (see "New Baghdad Map" on Ebay)

  • by TheModelEskimo ( 968202 ) on Monday February 28, 2011 @04:11PM (#35340806)
    I've used Inkscape for web design work as well as general design/illustration tasks. I use it alongside other tools like Photoshop and Illustrator, though I end up using Inkscape more often when I'm working in Linux; it's a bit of a pain to start up a Virtualbox instance of Windows just to use Illustrator.

    The first site I used it for turned out pretty well [], but after that I decided it'd be best to combine it with GIMP, doing a sort of "detailed mockup" in Inkscape and finishing up in GIMP for slicing up imagery and more advanced/controllable texture effects. I got funny looks from my Photoshop students when I told them which website I made in Inkscape/GIMP [] but I explained that my workflow varies from project to project and it's not wise to thoughtlessly rivet yourself to someone else's technology before embarking on a career in design. They got the point.

    So Inkscape is great! I appreciate the review, as I've been known to buy up books on FOSS just for the novelty factor, but I am curious about working more with its XML output. Getting at whatever maths are involved is fascinating, as I've learned with 3D graphics [] (and GIMP's procedural tools as well).

    Can't wait for the upcoming book for illustrators.
  • Anybody who remembers the unix tool "xfig" will certainly agree that Inkscape goes a long way.
    However, illustrator is still a lot more powerful. Here's a list of what I think are major shortcomings of inkscape:

    - basic path transformations like "round corners" are missing
    - calligraphic pens, and converting the outlines of those pens to paths
    - some path transformations, like offset do not always give proper results
    - automatic tracing
    - pixel preview mode (indispensible for creating icons)

    • by Anonymous Coward

      If by automatic tracing you mean vectorization, it's right there: Path->Trace bitmap.
      Don't know about the others, but you may want to take another look at inkscape, it's improving nicely.

    • IIRC there is an icon preview panel which means you can remove the last element from your list.
    • And here's how you do those things:

      - Select some nodes, click "make selected nodes smooth" (or other node type, depending on preference)
      - Use the calligraphy tool (fountain pen icon)
      - I'll admit I don't know about this this one, but only because I don't know what you mean.
      - Path > Trace bitmap
      - View > Icon preview

      So, what objections do you have to Inkscape now?

    • by theLime ( 4908 )

      O - "Round Corners": Inkscape has a lot of ways to achieve this, but they should be easier and more automatic, so I'll agree with you here.
      X - There is a Calligraphic Pen tool in the main toolbox. The default behavior is path outline.
      X - Path offsets are excellent and consistent using the Dynamic Offset tool
      X - Auto-trace is in Path -> Trace Bitmap
      X - Pixel Preview mode is in View -> Icon Preview

      You aren't expected to be up-to-date on software you don't use, but please get the facts straight before

      • by StripedCow ( 776465 ) on Monday February 28, 2011 @05:17PM (#35341412)

        You aren't expected to be up-to-date on software you don't use, but please get the facts straight before posting :)

        True, I didn't download the latest inkscape before posting, and the last time I tried to use those features is like more than a month ago.
        So let me try them again...

        O - Calligraphic pen: indeed it is there, but I cannot draw a path with that pen. I can only draw in freehand mode. This is not the same thing. In practical situations, you'll always want to create a path, adjust it, and only then convert it to a calligraphic stroke. Plus, the capping of the line is really weird in inkscape. A calligraphic pen should imho just be a rotated oval (ellipse), that you drag along the page.
        X - Indeed, the dynamic offset thing works. But note, it is not possible to numerically set the offset. So reproducing the same effect multiple times may be difficult.
        X - Okay thanks a lot.
        O - Not exactly the same thing. I want to zoom in on the pixels, so that I can see if the resulting image is exactly symmetric, for example.

        Anyway, Inkscape goes a long way, kudos to the developers, but at least for me it is still not a replacement for illustrator in all situations. But the future seems bright.

        • by tyrione ( 134248 )
          Agreed and I'll add the long awaited and now it seems punted Technical Drafting features in Inkscape make it far less exciting of a Vector Tool than it could become. The Lathe Tool, the dimensioning features to provide technical drawing specs and more are nice wish list features that were slated for 0.48 that never materialized.
        • by theLime ( 4908 )

          Good points.

          Couple of tips for working with 'pixels' in inkscape:
          I usually zoom in quite deep and add a grid (Grids tab in Document Properties); the gridlines mark pixel borders.
          You can quickly toggle snap-to-grid with % (shift-5).
          The Icon Preview gives you a 1:1 for work<=64x64, or you can hit '1' to jump to 100% zoom.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          I'm not completely sure what you're saying for that first one, but I think what you're looking for is Inkscape "Live Path Effects" function. You can basically paste any form onto a path. Now, LPEs are a pain to use, so that's where the "Shapes" option comes in. To demonstrate:
          - Draw a circle and copy it.
          - Switch to the Path tool (or Pencil tool) and select Shape: From Clipboard.
          - Draw your path now. The object previously selected is automatically mapped onto the path, and you can adjust the "skeleton" path

    • To add to your list.

      * Blend tool

      It's one of my favorites for creating complex highlights and shadows. Inkscape's solution to that seems to be blurs, but those are rasterization effects and bloat the size of any PDFs I export. I prefer all-vector solutions when using a vector graphics package. Admittedly, there's a bundled plugin to blend paths, but it's always been very crash-prone for me. Worse, I can't easily just tweak the result just by modifying the key paths like I can in Illustrator.

      * Layer windo

  • by cjcela ( 1539859 ) on Monday February 28, 2011 @04:14PM (#35340830)
    My experience is that if you know how to use Inkscape/Gimp you can do 90%+ of what you can do with the Adobe tools with no problem and for free. But most people are settled on their tools and would not even try. So be it. If you want to use free tools you need to start by giving them a chance. For most users, they will be able to do whatever they do normally with either. Just my $0.02.
    • Someone's going to argue CMYK just because you said GIMP now...

    • If you know C++ you can probably do 100% of what you can do with Photoshop... it's just a bunch of pixels at the end, is it not?

      The question is whether you can do it efficiently, that's to say with the least amount of effort and/or in the least amount of time. I would argue that GIMP just doesn't support the kind of complex workflows that professionals are accustomed to. It's not necessarily that a lot of thought has gone in designing Photoshop's UI (although that's certainly the case to a point), but the

      • by cjcela ( 1539859 )
        That is true - however, most users are casual users, not professionals. And even for professionals, most of their work does not require complex workflows. You are talking *maybe* to 3% of the users, which really need professional tools. For the rest of us it is an expensive overkill. I've seen countless people through college and grad school pirating Adobe tools for work that does not require anything more complex than combining two plots into one. Even many of my friends (photographers, graphics designer
    • Inkscape is actually quite good -- vastly better for vector graphics than GIMP is for raster graphics -- though I wouldn't say it does 90% of what Illustrator or CorelDraw can do. On the other hand, it can do some really neat things that the commercial tools can't.

      Personally, I wouldn't want to be stuck using only one tool. I use CorelDraw, Illustrator, Inkscape, and sometimes Xara for vector graphics. All of them have their respective strengths and weaknesses, and all of them have some useful features that

      • by cjcela ( 1539859 )
        Well, I agree and congratulate you. But know you are the exception to the rule. My experience is that most people learns to use one tool and try to use it for everything. And then you have the ones that only see value in things that sell for an expensive price, or just blindly follow a brand and recommend everybody else to do the same...
  • To echo the lame comments please let me just say that IMHO Inkscape is one of the best open source tool out there.

    Thank you to the Inkscape devs (and thank you for this book review for spreading info about it).
    • I'll sneak this comment under yours as I don't really have anything to add, but wanted to echo your echo - Inkscape is really great software. I have no design or artistic talent - but Inkscape is intuitive, usable, and capable enough that I can eke together a drawing. It's the perfect choice if you're a programmer who wants to mock up (or even finish) a logo, printable item, or design element.

      I say this about very few programs: I agree with pretty much all their UI decisions. Good job, Inkscape devs!

    • I couldn't agree more. Like many great open source tools, it does a good, if not 100% perfect, job of replicating the slick functionality of commercial tools, but once you know what you're doing it gives you the openness and flexibility to get under the good and really make it work for you. Frinstance, Inkscape lets you drop into the SVG source, tweak it (eg changing the path of an included bitmap) and have the results appear in the canvas.
      Book or no book, give it a go.

    • And yet another reply along the same lines - Inkscape is wonderful.

      I work with design artists who produce artwork using Illustrator and it's clear there are things they can do that I can't with Inkscape. But it is astonishingly powerful and frequently easier to use than Illustrator. We've developed a quite productive workflow where they export in SVG which I can then load into Inkscape so I can do small adjustments without the need to round trip through them. Inkscape allows you to only purchase expensi

    • It's like an echo chamber in here today.

      This past week I've been making a presentation for my coworkers, and I couldn't find any consistent images on the web that I could use. I downloaded Inkscape (Linux), and despite having absolutely zero graphical design experience, I was able to make some professional looking diagrams (at least I think they are), in just a few hours.

      Most of my work required me to make small changes on one master SVG. The object "grouping" feature in Inkscape (probably from the SVG stan

  • Isn't too bad either. The interface feels a little slicker than Inkscape to me as well. Actually when pulling up their site they mention, "Is very fast, very slick to use." How did they do that???
  • I had to come up with a T-shirt logo for our cub scout pack. I'm not a graphic designer by trade and not enough of a hobbyist to justify purchasing an overpriced piece of software from Adobe. InkScape and GIMP are more than enough for my needs and probably meet the needs of the majority of folks out there.

    Just like Microsoft Word hasn't added any must-have features in years, I'm sure that the additional functionality present in the Adobe products caters to the niche markets that are willing to pay a premi

  • I had to download it before making a comment on here and I'm actually really impressed with this and quite frankly, I find this far superior to GIMP (speaking as a professional graphic artists and avid photoshop,etc. user). It does a fantastic job of working in vector as well as tracing bitmaps. Even has a fine set of effects (that I'd probably never use, but still awesome to see). At first glance, this is a great graphics app for anyone on Linux who has the avid hatred of GIMP.
  • by smellsofbikes ( 890263 ) on Monday February 28, 2011 @04:50PM (#35341158) Journal

    Something the review doesn't mention, that I particularly love about Inkscape, is the inkscape gcodetools plugin [], which turns an inkscape drawing into g-code suitable for sending to a CNC milling machine directly from an inkscape menu. It still has some issues with complicated shapes, but as long as you review the toolpath, it's generally pretty good.

    • Why would the review mention it? It's specifically about using Inkscape for WEB DESIGN. (As is the book, natch.)

      You managed to get a +5 Interesting from a completely off-topic post, though. Kudos?

    • Yeah, that plugin was quite useful to me. I designed a set of wooden train tracks à la Brio, etc. and used this plugin to make the g-code so I could cut them out. It worked great.
  • Years ago I used to use Coreldraw quite heavily for artwork for 4-color offset printing. But then I stumbled upon Inkscape and tried it out (both in Windows and Linux), but found it quite unsatisfactory. I never went back to it. Maybe things have changed since then.
  • Thank you very much for your time and effort towards a product that is quite useful to a lot of us.

    I care nothing about the version numbers associated to products anymore, its the functionality
    that is most important... something that several commercial products fail to achieve!

  • The built-in tutorials are very impressive, too. (Help ... Tutorials)
  • I don't much like the 'crapsoftware' tag. Inkscape has a few rough edges but it's been a life saver many a time. Well, not literally a life saver but I have used it to do many bits of vector art and it's a lot more portable and less fuss than Adobe's software (i.e. if I'm in a fix and not at my machine yet need to do some desktop publishing, I can install it in 5 minutes and it does the job). It's also more pleasant to use than GIMP or Blender, although they're also great when I can get hold of my preferred

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