Draw Unique Snowflakes! (Part 1)

Submitted By: brynn Date: November 30, 2014, 10:37:18 AM Views: 16873

Draw Unique Snowflakes!
Part 1

This tutorial is for Inkscape beginners.  Several features, tools, and techniques will be covered.  I know it looks like a lot of text, but this is a case where it takes much longer to explain, than to actually do the steps.  So after you work through the tutorial once, you'll be on your own and ready to turn out as many unique snowflakes as you like.  This should be ideal for teachers (whether just to decorate the classroom, or teach students how to use Inkscape!), scrapbookers, or anyone using digital cutting technology (whether paper, vinyl, acrylic, etc.).

  1.  Set up a grid.  View menu > Grid

  2.  Set up snapping as shown below.  It should be exactly like that.  (Note that's 2 places to set up -- Document Properties and the Snap control bar on the right side of the Inkscape window.)

  3.  Using the Pen/Bezier tool  :pen:  draw a tall, skinny triangle.  But leave the bottom open - don't close the path.  The grid can be hidden for now.  (View menu > Grid)

  4.  Switch to the Node tool  :node:  and select all 3 nodes (hold Shift key while clicking each node once; drag selection box around all 3 using Node tool; or Ctrl A).

  5.  Click the "Insert new nodes" button  :an:  on the Node tool control bar 3 to 5 times, depending on how large and/or intricate your snowflake will be.

  6.  Switch back to the Selection tool  :sel:  and click the triangle path one more time, to reveal the rotation handles and rotation center.  The handles are 2-headed arrows which curve around the corners of the dotted line (known as the bounding box).  The rotation center is the plus sign in the center of the object (indicated in this screenshot by the red arrow).

  7.  Turn the grid back on.  Grab the plus sign with your mouse, and drag it downwards, below the bottom of the triangle.  It needs to be placed around 3/4 the width of the triangle, or less, below the bottom of the triangle.1  By using the grid lines as a guide, be sure to place it on the vertical center line, which is the same vertical line that the top point of the triangle is on (this maintains the all-important symmetry).  Since snapping is still enabled, the rotation center will easily snap to any grid intersection.  Note that it may be hard to discern it, when it's snapped to a gridline intersection.  But zooming will make it easier to see if necessary (as well as easier to count gridlines).  It's circled in red, in the screenshot.

If, for some reason, you don't want it snapped to a grid intersection, you can disable snapping.  However, that will make it imperative that you hold the Ctrl key while dragging the rotation center.  That will restrict it to moving precisely vertically, so it stays on that vertical centerline (which maintains the symmetry). 

After the rotation center is placed, the grid can be turned off.

  8.  With the triangle still selected, click the Clone button  :cl:  on the command bar.  With the rotation handles and center showing (click the triangle again, if necessary), grab either the top left or top right handle, and while holding the Ctrl key, rotate the triangle around by 12 steps.  If you've played with rotation before, you may notice that the Ctrl key forces the object to be rotated in steps, and by a precise amount (15 degrees, unless you purposely changed it), rather than smoothly and without control or precision.

  9.  Repeat step 8, except this time, rotate only 8 steps.  Repeat again, and rotate 8 steps in the other direction.  Note that it's important to select the same original triangle path at the top, and clone it, each time.  The practice of cloning a cloned clone, etc., can cause files to become corrupt at worse, or slow and hard to work with, at least.

10.  Repeat step 8 again, except this time, rotate only 4 steps.  And repeat for the other directioin, as before. 

Note that there's an easier way to go about this, without cloning and rotating one at a time.2  However, it uses what I consider to be an advanced tool.  And since this is written for new Inkscape users, I didn't want to use it, because it would entail explaining more advanced issues to beginners, which would take a long time and a lot more text.  However, at the end of this tutorial, I'll include the steps to take, so you can use them and save some time.  But I won't be explaining any whys or wherefores ;)

So that completes all the spikes.  Although note that not all snowflakes are spikey.  On the lower, middle part of this page, is a small collection of photos of snowflakes, showing the variability that's possible.  And if that's not inspiring enough, now I can say that we just got to the most fun part of this process!

11.  Select the original triangle path, with the Node tool  :node: , revealing the nodes.  As you start to build your crystal, remember this:  Whatever you do to a node or nodes on one side, do the opposite to the same nodes on the other side.  And you may find that you want to add more nodes, or remove nodes, as you go.  Just always add and remove them in pairs.

Here's my first...."sub-spike"? "sub-division"? in 2 steps.  In the screenshot on the left, you can see that I selected 2 nodes on the right, at once, instead of 1.  Using the arrow keys, I moved them 3 steps right and 2 steps up.  Notice how all the clone spikes were edited at once, by editing only the original!  And the screenshot on the right shows how I selected the same 2 nodes on the left side, and likewise, using the arrow keys, I moved them 3 steps left and 2 steps up.  It makes a nice little symmetric flair there.

Next I'm going to take the top node of those 2 nodes, and try to spike it outward.  This time I did Shift + right arrow key and Shift + up arrow key, to the right side.  Hhmm, looks bit odd with only 1 side done.  But then I took the same node on the left side, and moved it Shift + left arrow and Shift + up arrow.  Ooohh, and I like how that looks -- good start!

Note that the arrow keys move the selected nodes by 2 px, each time you press one.  Shift + arrow moves it 10 times that.  And Alt + arrow moves it something less than 2 px.  (I've never understood exactly how much, but Alt + arrow key is a way to move things by very small increments.  The more you zoom in, the smaller the increments get.)  Or another way to make sure you move the nodes by exactly the same amount, is to snap them to the grid.  It's just that the grid snapping provides far fewer opportunities for shaping the spikes, than using the arrow keys.


Ok, let's fast forward, so I can show you how to finally finish up the snowflake.  Here's mine, almost fnished.

The next thing we need to address are the 2 bottom ends of the original triangle path, which are still loose and overlapping.  There are 2 ways to approach it.  The first needs to be done now, and creates a sort of hole in the middle of the snowflake.

12.  If you want to do this step, select the 2 bottom nodes, then click the "Join selected nodes" button :jsn: which is the 3rd from the left on the  Node tool control bar.  Here's what mine looks like, with this step.  And I rather like that look on this snowflake, so I'll leave it like that.  If you don't like it, just Undo, and we'll deal with it later.

13.  Switch to the Selection tool, and while holding the Shift key, click once on each of the other 5 spikes (so that all 6 pieces are selected).

14.  Duplicate, which is this button  :dup:  on the command bar, and move the duplicate to the side.

15.  While the duplicate is still selected, click this button  :ucl:  on the command bar, which "unclones" everything, and makes them normal paths.  (The name of the button is "Cut the selected clone's link to the original.....")  Note that any changes you make in the original triangle path will no longer affect this snowflake.

16.  Path menu > Union.  If you didn't connect the bottom 2 nodes of the original triangle path, in step 12, this will get rid of the overlap, and make everything all one object (technically a single closed path).  If you did connect those nodes in step 12, then this step just makes them all one object (technically a compound path consisting of 6 closed sub-paths).  Either way, Union makes it much easier to deal with the snowflake, once it's completely finished.

If you're happy with your snowflake, you're done.  Be sure to use the unioned snowflake in your project.  It can be copied from this file, and pasted into other files.  And the orignal snowflake can be saved in this file, and be used to make different snowflakes.  To see how, and also to learn some ways to make the snowflake fancier, please see "Draw Unique Snowflakes, Part 2".


1 Here's what I mean by "....around 3/4 the width of the triangle, or less, below the bottom of the triangle."


2 Here's how to use the Tiled Clones dialog, to quickly place the 5 cloned spikes.

    1 -- Complete this tutorial down to and including step 5.
    2 -- Layer menu > Add Layer, name the new layer, click Add.
    3 -- Select the triangle path and do Shift + PgUp, which moves the triangle to the new layer. 
    4 -- Confirm it moved by looking at the Layer Indicator at the bottom of the Inkscape window.
    5 -- Open Edit menu > Clones > Create Tiled Clones
    6 -- Set up Shift tab as in this screenshot 

    7 -- Set up Rotation tab as in this screenshot   

    8 -- When it's finished, Be Sure to delete the top clone.  The original triangle path will be Under the top clone.  You won't be able to edit the top clone, that's why you have to delete it, and edit the original.
    9 -- You should be able to pick up the tutorial from here, with step 11.

Ok, that should be it; this is the end of Part 1.  If you see any typos, or mistakes with the tutorial, please feel free to post in the Comments below.  If you need help with the tutorial, please post a new topic on this board:

Part 2 is in the works, and should be ready in the next few days.  If you're planning to move on to Part 2, be sure to save your original snowflake file, so you can use it there  :D


December 2014

Rating: ***** by 1 members.