Sparkling gems and new releases from the world of Free and Open Source Software


Article from Issue 276/2023

Graham looks at Graphite, retrogram~rtlsdr, Piano Forte, OneTrick SIMIAN, The Command Line Murders, and more!

Vector image editor


Open source art and design tools have transformed what is possible for anyone needing digital illustration. It wasn't so long ago that costly applications such as Photoshop or Illustrator were the only ways to produce professional output, but that has changed. Tools such as Inkscape and Krita can do just as well, and even the humble Gimp is great for multilayer bitmap editing – no subscriptions required. The new software idea in design and illustration tools is non-destructive node graph editing, and outside of Blender, open source options are currently few and far between. Graphite, however, is one such option, and while it's only early in the developmental phase, and currently only available within a web browser, it's an entirely open source vector graphics editor that promises a native Linux desktop client soon.

With non-destructive node graph editing, each distinctive tool or process you use adds a "node" to a graph, with each node linked to both the previous edit and the subsequent edit. A final session will consequently look like a row of various nodes all linked together. Graphite shows this graph beneath the editing canvas, and it's the only part of the UI that comes from other graphics applications. There's a large tool palette on the left, individual properties for tools on the right, and the canvas itself in the center. The palette includes tools for freehand drawing, a path generator, various shapes to draw, advanced typesetting, and flood-fill with lots of gradients. It's all beautifully designed and rendered. Every element is drawn perfectly at the native resolution of your display. Even in a web browser, it's fast to use. It may not be ideal, but it does also mean you can collaborate on an illustration, and it will even work on a smartphone or Android tablet. You can import images and use both raster and vector images as your sources and output, and HDR and WCG are supported for color rendering. The back-end render engine is "resolution-agnostic," which means your designs are kept as algorithms until they're finally exported at whatever size or resolution you need, as either a PNG, JPEG, or SVG file. Even raster images become infinitely scalable, with no pixelation, thanks to Graphite's own scaling algorithms.

The properties for the path generator allow for transformations, solid fills, and gradient fills, with different types of strokes for the lines. It's these properties, and the properties of the other tools, that you can revisit at any time by clicking on the node for the edit in the graph. And it's exactly this kind of nonlinear editing that makes Graphite so powerful. It means you can busy yourself with the important parts of a design or illustration, such as its layout and arrangement, without worrying about the exact details such as widths or colors because these can always be adjusted later. If you're doing work for a client, it means you can always go back to earlier steps in the design process to change properties without affecting later edits or values. This approach could also be potentially automated, and Graphite hopes to incorporate this parametric editing into studio production environments.


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