I have used Inkscape a lot in the past few months since learning how to use it for our wedding invitations. It’s a really versatile illustrating program that uses SVG (scalable vector graphic) format, which means you can resize images without losing resolution. Best of all, it’s open source so you can download it for free!
To get more experience using Inkscape, I volunteered to make the invitations for my nephew’s 1st birthday party. They featured a photo of him being adorable, a drawing of his favourite lion stuffed animal, and a fun paw-print design.
I thought I would share the steps I used to make them, because I know I was overwhelmed when I first started playing around with the program. With a few tools in your graphic design arsenal and a bit of patience, you can make something really cute in no time! The steps below are fairly basic and you can use them to make just about anything, not just invitations. I’ve also made posters and games for baby showers, not to mention all the stationary for my wedding!
Using Inkscape to Make Postcard-Style Invitations
Disclaimer: I am by no means an expert and there are probably shortcuts to some of the steps below, but this is how I learned/taught myself. I have emphasized the important steps with pink circles so you can easily follow along.
1) First I looked at lots of different layouts and examples of invitations on Etsy, Pinterest, and Google images to decide on a layout. I wanted it to print as a 4×6 photo so I kept that in mind. My sister wanted a lion theme and wanted to include a photo of my nephew on the invitation as well, so we worked from there. When I was ready to start, I opened up Inkscape and adjusted the size of the page. To do this, choose Document Properties under the File menu and set the width/height to whatever you want. I adjusted the size of the page to 4 inches high and 6 inches wide.
2) Next I added some layers to work with. If you’ve never worked with layers, don’t be scared. Think of layers like a pizza- the dough is the background, the sauce and cheese form the basic layout, and the toppings are what make the design! You can name the layers whatever you like so that you can easily keep track of them. To add layers, under the Layer menu select Add Layer. You can always add layers as you go, and move images between layers by using the Shift+Page Up/Down keys. You’ll know which layer you’re currently working in by looking at the bottom of the screen (don’t pay attention to my layers in these images because I didn’t follow my own advice). You can move around between layers by clicking on the dropdown menu to the right.
3) In the bottom/background layer, I added a rectangle to form the background of my design. Using the rectangle tool, make a rectangle the same size as your page. Once you have your rectangle, switch to the select tool (the one at the top that looks like a mouse cursor), and under the Object menu, choose Align & Distribute. Centre the rectangle on the page horizontally and vertically. If you want a white background like I did, this step isn’t really necessary. But it’s handy to do in case you change your mind later, then you can easily select the background and change the colour (I’ll show you how to change the colour of an object later).
4) Once I had the background, I started forming the basic layout in the layer above. This included a photo of my nephew as well as a text background to break up the invitation into defined areas. First we’ll look at how to insert a photo: under the File menu choose Import. Browse to find the location of the photo you want (note that first you should have cropped and adjusted the photo in another program). When prompted, choose Embed. Your photo will look gigantic but we will take care of that next!
5) Once I had the photo embedded, I resized it so that it would cover the top left area of the invitation. Select it using the select tool and make sure you have the aspect ratio locked so it doesn’t distort. Select inches as the units (or cm or whatever you want) and then change the size so that it fits nicely on your layout. You could also drag the arrows around the image once it’s selected to change the size, just make sure you have the aspect ratio locked first!
6) The next element of the layout that I put in was a background for the invitation text. You can use any of the shape tools to make a square, rectangle, circle, ellipse, etc. I wanted an irregular shape so I used the Bezier curve/straight line tool to form it out of line segments. Using your cursor, click and drag to draw a line segment and click again to finish it. Keep going until you have a closed shape, making sure to connect the first and last nodes (the end of each segment). You can hold down the Control key while you do this to maintain more control over the angles. If you don’t get it exactly the size/shape you want, use the same steps you used above to resize the photo. You may want to unlock the aspect ratio if you want to increase the width or height only.
7) Next I changed the colour of the text background. To change the colour of any object, select it with the select tool and click on any of the colours on the bottom of the screen to set the “fill” colour. Holding down shift and clicking will change the “stroke” or the outline colour of the shape. You can choose no stroke, the same colour as the fill, or a different colour as the fill. Note that you can also modify the style of the stroke, to increase the thickness or make it a dashed line, etc. If you want to choose a custom colour, choose “Fill & Stroke” under the Object menu, and set the fill/stroke to whatever you want. I decided to use the eye dropper tool to choose a shade of blue from the photo, so that it would be complementary. To do this, just click on the eye dropper tool and then click on any image that has the colour you want. The colour will be taken from whatever area is under the eye dropper.
8) Once I had formed the basic layout, I moved to the next layer to add the text and other designs. To add text, use the text tool and choose the font and size. I used 2 different fonts for mine, one cartoon-y font for emphasis and a plain serif font for the rest. Note that you should be adding text one line at a time, ie. each line of text I have here is a separate object. This is important because it will allow you to change the spacing and alignment of the text as a whole.
9) After forming the text, I played around with the layout using the Align & Distribute function. Select the background and all of the text with the select tool. Now you can align the text however you want, making sure that you have “Relative to” set to the rectangle so that the text moves and not the rectangle (I have “Relative to” set to the first object selected, so I selected the rectangle first and then the text). I then centered the text both horizontally and vertically on the rectangle. You’ll notice that I also have the first two lines of text grouped together because I wanted them to act like one object. To “group” text (or any object), just select the lines of text you want to keep together and then hit Control+G. You can reverse this by selecting Shift+Control+G.
10) Once all the important information was there, I could start dressing the invitation up. To add a fun text element like I did, first use the text tool to add your desired text. Switch back to the select tool and adjust the fill/stroke of the text to whatever colour you want. To rotate it, under the Object menu, choose Transform. Under the Rotate tab, adjust the angle.
11) To further enhance the text and make it look like it was popping off the page, I played with the font size. Switch back to the text tool and click anywhere on the text. Selecting one or two letters at a time, increase the font size moving from right to left. Don’t worry about getting the font size exactly right- move back to the select tool, select the text, then drag the edges of the box to make it the size you want.
12) Next I added a shadow in a complimentary colour to the text for emphasis. Select the text, then copy & paste it. Select the copied text and choose whatever colour you like. Move it to the layer below by selecting it and holding down Shift+Page Down, and adjust the position until it looks right.
13) Remember that I said we wanted a lion theme? See any lions yet? Well, it’s time to make one! I couldn’t find an image of one that I liked so I took matters into my own hands. It really wasn’t hard at all, and I am not skilled at drawing. I formed it by combining different shapes and layering them. Use the circle/ellipse tool to make circles and ovals of various shapes for the body, arms, legs, face, eyes, etc. Then use the freehand lines tool to make the mane (making sure you close the ends of the shape) and the whiskers/mouth/tail. Use the Align & Distribute function and group, move, rotate, and modify the shapes until it looks right. Move the shapes between layers as necessary by using Shift+Page Up/Down.
14) To finish the invitation off, I added some a paw-prints to fill in some of the white space. I could have drawn a paw-print freehand but I cheated and used the “Trace Bitmap” feature, which is really handy. To do this I found a paw-print clipart image online, then I imported it using the same steps as importing the photo above. Once your image is embedded, select it and under the Path menu, choose Trace Bitmap. Play with the settings until you get it right… you will have to adjust the values and options depending on how complex your image is. If it’s just a simple black shape like mine, you can use the same settings. Once it’s “traced”, the traced image will be right over top of the old one, so drag it to the side so you can see both. Then delete the original.
15) Next I copied, pasted, rotated, and increased/decreased the size to make a fun pattern! If you want a regular repeating pattern, you could play with the Clone feature under the Edit menu to create tiled clones. I also changed the opacity of the paw-prints so that it wouldn’t be too overwhelming- the brown colour was originally the same as the lion’s mane, but decreasing the opacity lightened it. You can set the opacity in the Fill & Stroke menu, or just choose a lighter colour.
16) Now all you need to do is export your invitation and print it! Select the entire design- you can do this by drawing a big rectangle around the page with the select tool. Group everything by clicking Control+G. Under the File menu, choose Export Bitmap. This will export the file as a .png image. You can then convert it to a .jpg or another image format in a different program, like Paint.NET. I saved mine as a .jpg because I wanted to print it on photo paper- if you want to print it on paper or cardstock, then skip the export step and just save the file as a .pdf. Then print away!
Yay! I hope this tutorial helps someone else. Making your own designs is fun and gives you complete control over the colours and layout- the best part is, once you invest a bit of time to make a basic design, it’s easy to modify for different purposes. I’d love to hear from you if you use this tutorial and have any suggestions to improve it or clarify anything!