1. Design & Illustration
  2. Tools & Tips

Quick Tip: Using Layers and Blend Modes in Inkscape

Read Time:4 minsLanguages:

Once you start creating more elaborate designs in Inkscape, you'll probably find yourself struggling to click certain things without selecting something else. This is where Layers come in. Let's go over this simple menu and how to use it (along with a couple tricks).

1. The Basics of Layers

Step 1

Let's start with the actual Layers menu box by going up to Layer > Layers.

Here it is in all of it's glory! You'll notice that a standard Inkscape document only has one layer to start with. What this menu box does is help us add, visualize, and manage any layers in our document.

inkscape layers menu boxinkscape layers menu boxinkscape layers menu box

Step 2

On the bottom of this box, you'll notice six very nifty buttons to manage layers. From left to right, we have: Add layer, Raise layer to top, Raise layer one level, Lower layer one level, Lower layer to bottom, Delete layer.

layers buttonslayers buttonslayers buttons

Step 3

Once you've become comfortable with these buttons, let's just add a few Layers for fun. Click that Add layer button to get a Add Layer dialog box to pop up. As you can see, you simply assign a name to your new layer and then tell Inkscape where it should position it. The position is relative to your currently selected layer.

A sublayer is just a layer positioned within another layer which can then be grouped and treated as a single layer if desired.

add new layeradd new layeradd new layer

2. Designing on Layers

Step 1

To actually use and draw on layers, select a layer from the Layers window to activate it. From this point, simply begin designing on the canvas. Everything you draw will stay on that selected layer unless you either select an object from another layer, or you activate a different layer from the menu.

drawing on layersdrawing on layersdrawing on layers

Step 2

You might have noticed a couple of icons next to each layer. The eye icon can be clicked to either hide or display that layer. As you can see below, I have my Green Apples layer hidden.

That next icon is locking or unlocking that layer. Below, I have my Pears layer locked, so that means I can no longer select or edit anything on that layer.

hiding and lockinghiding and lockinghiding and locking

Step 3

As far as adjusting any sort of depth at this point, you must use the layer positioning. For example, I wanted my pears on top of everything, so I'll have to click the Raise layer one level button.

move layer upmove layer upmove layer up

3. Blend Modes

Blends modes are pretty fun. Let's create a new layer and put it in first position. Draw some sort of shape over your main design as this will be the shape we use for the blend modes. On the Layers window, you'll see that Blend mode drop-down menu which, as you can see, is set to Normal here.

I'll show you what this exact same design looks with the other four different blend modes.

inkscape blend modesinkscape blend modesinkscape blend modes


This one takes the blend layer color and multiplies it by color in the layer below it. Then, it divides them by 255 which always results in a darker color.

blend mode multiplyblend mode multiplyblend mode multiply


While Multiply always results in a darker color, Screen is the exact opposite. You'll always have a lighter blend when you use Screen.

blend mode screenblend mode screenblend mode screen


This one simply takes the base and blend colors to produce a darker image.

blend mode darkenblend mode darkenblend mode darken


Again, this is the opposite of Darken. Lighten will compare the base and blend colors and produce a lighter image as a result.

blend mode lightenblend mode lightenblend mode lighten

4. A Fun Design

Step 1

Messing around with the blend modes, I came up with a pretty funny idea... retro 3D glasses! Thankfully, I had an old design of some sunglasses laying around, so I just changed the lens colors to the famous red and blue. As you can see below, I have these glasses on my Blend Shape layer with a Blend mode of Multiply.

3d glasses3d glasses3d glasses

Step 2

Then I simply moved my glasses over a subject and there we go! That crazy retro 3D glasses effect. Also note that I made anything I didn't want blended solid black, just because multiplying black is just more black and won't show up.

3d glasses vector3d glasses vector3d glasses vector

Let's Wrap This Up!

Layers are pretty simple, but can be a great help with keeping your designs organized. We went over the very basics as well as using blend modes and layers in a cool design. So have fun and stay organized!

One subscription.
Unlimited Downloads.
Get unlimited downloads