Setting a true dark mode for Inkscape

Sat, Aug 29, 2020
4 min read

TL;DR: See the section “Dark theme” below, to get to the how-to.

The self-published author’s life, ep. 2: an app or two for creating covers

I have started using Inkscape to design my ebook covers. Using a vector drawing app for that job is nothing new, since I was already using, and still uses, Affinity Designer (Affinity’s alternative to Adobe Illustrator) under Windows and macOS.

Next to Inkscape, I use Gimp to edit the stock photos I need for illustrating each cover. Exactly like I would use Affinity Photo (the alternative to Adobe Photoshop), under macOS and Windows.

I love Affinity’s apps a lot, and I’d gladly have purchased a Linux license next to the Windows, Mac, and iOS licenses I already own: the apps are great, and they’re so cheap with their onetime purchase perpetual license, compared to Adobe’s subscription racket. Alas, there is no Affinity for Linux, and and they plan none.

So, it’s only for the lack of a better choice that I gave Inkscape a shot. After a somewhat painful first contact — changing habits, what a pain — I quickly realised Inkscape was quite good, indeed. Even more so, since its latest 1.whatever release: I was enjoying so much using it while doing some test designs that I stopped testing it to actually use it.

Sure, Inkscape has shortcomings and bugs, and it lacks some tools. So does Affinity Designer (or Adobe Illustrator), they’re just not the same bugs, or lacks. And it lacks the polish of Affinity’s apps, but I can live with that.

Another strength of Inkscape is that it uses SVG as its native file format. SVG is a standard format that other vector apps, like Affinity Designer (but also Affinity Photo), can easily read and export to. Depending the complexity of your design, there can be some glitches here and there, though. But for my relatively simple designs, I have had zero issue so far. And knowing I can open and edit my files on any app, using any computer, is liberating. It truly feels like it is the way apps should always have been working.

The only real problem I had with Inkscape was my poor eyesight. I needed the app to use a dark theme not only for its UI but also for the canvas itself (the background around the picture): any light-colored background is just blinding to me. Great news: once you know where to look it’s easy to configure, in two steps and a half.

Inkscape in full dark mode Not an actual cover :P

Dark theme

If you have installed a recent version (1.x) on Linux, it should already use a dark theme if your desktop is using one. If not, or if you’re on Windows or a Mac, go to File→Edit→Preferences (Ctrl+Shift+p), click Interface→Theme.

In the right panel, in Changes Gtk Themes, select a dark theme you like (I like Adwaita-dark, I find it more readable since it’s slightly less dark and contrasted). If that doesn’t do it for you, you can select Use system theme and make sure the option just below it, Use dark theme, is checked (btw, that should do it for Windows and Mac too). Don’t close this window yet.

An Image

Make icons more readable

You will probably also need to change the icon’s theme to make them suit the dark theme. I find using the hicolor and checking Use symbolic icons make for the most readable buttons.

You can do it in the same Preferences→Interface→Theme window, in the Display Icons section (see previous screenshot).

Make Inkscape’s canvas dark

I could not find how to make it the default, so it’s something we need to do for each new file. At least, we need to do it one time only, since Inkscape will remember it the next time it opens the file.

Open your file and go to File→Document Properties (Shift+Ctrl+d) and, in the bottom of this window, change the Background color to something dark. It’s faster to use the HSL tab, to select a grey:

HSL background color selection

Maybe you can change the Border color too, for something that will make it more visible over a dark background. To make it even more readable, uncheck the Show border shadow to remove the useless noise it creates around the page, and check Border on top of drawing (and change its color to according to your cover’s background color so those lines are always visible).

File Properties window

Is it perfect? Nope. But the only real remaining issue I have regarding accessibility in Inkscape (beside some naughty bugs with window size and docking) is something not related to Inkscape but to all Xfce windows: I often struggle to grab a window’s border because it’s just too damn thin. That’s a constant pain in-the-you-know-where and I see no good reason, ui-wise, for borders to be this thin: they have a purpose (delimi a window), as a designer shouldn’t you make it so we don’t have to fight them to use them? But who am I to say so? I can’t code a UI ;)