As the name suggests, this is the drawing component of LibreOffice, and it has a lot in common with the drawing and formatting components of the other LibreOffice applications, particularly Impress. Like Impress it uses a layered structure, with each layer representing a page. The user designs each page by creating or importing graphics. Imported graphics can be bitmaps or vectors, but graphics created in Draw are all vector-based; that is, they are stored in the PC as formulas representing lines and curves. Images produced in Draw can be copied and pasted into other LibreOffice programs and exported in a range of formats including both vector and bitmap options.
The heart of Draw is the Drawing toolbar, which normally appears at the bottom of the screen. Here the user can click a button to select what type of object they want to draw. Double-clicking the button locks it down so they can draw multiple objects of the same kind. Some buttons pop up with a range of different shapes to choose from. As well as many regular shapes, you can draw both straight and curved lines, freehand shapes and ‘connectors’ – lines that snap on to ‘glue points’ on the shapes, and move with them.
Lines and shapes can be selected with the first button in the toolbar – a white arrow – and moved around, resizes and reshaped. Double-clicking on a shape allows the user to write text in it, and right-clicking brings up a local menu which allows the shape to be formatted in various ways. Options for colours include solid colours, gradients and ‘patterns’ – predefined bitmaps. Shapes can be made partially or completely transparent.
Draw also includes ‘smart’ shapes with extra buttons that change them in some way – for instance, the smiley face can be made into a frowney face.
Even more control over shapes can be achieved by converting them to a curve via the Modify menu, and selecting Points view from the Drawing toolbar or by pressing F8. This allows you to select each corner or curve in the shape and work with it individually. Corners can be made into curves and curves into corners. Extra glue points can be added for more connectors.
Figure 23: LibreOffice Draw
To select multiple shapes, click on the first then Shift-click on the others, or drag out a selection rectangle around them. Make sure that all four corners of each shape (or both ends of a line) are in the selection rectangle for it to be selected. Most of the right-click formatting commands that work with single shapes will work with multiple shapes too. There are many other options, most of which can be found under the Modify menu.
- Modify/Arrange – Allows you to move overlapping shapes in front of or behind each other.
- Modify/Alignment – Lines up shapes along their centres or sides, horizontally or vertically.
- Modify/Distribution – Allows you to space out shapes at regular intervals along a horizontal row or vertical column.
- Modify/Group and Ungroup – A Grouped set of objects ‘stick together’ and behave like one object. Normally any formatting, resizing, or moving commands will be applied to the group, but you can choose to go ‘into’ the group temporarily to change the individual objects. Grouped objects can themselves be added to larger groups to create a hierarchy of objects.
- Modify/Shapes/Merge Subtract Intersect – If you imagine that your two shapes are cookie-cutters, Merge will combine the two cut shapes, Subtract will cut away one shape from another – e.g. you can make a star-shaped hole in a triangle – and intersect produces the shape remaining when the two cutters are used in sequence.
Gradients and Transparency
In addition to solid colours, shapes in Draw can be given a ‘gradient’ fill, where one colour changes smoothly to another. This can be linear, from one side to the other, or radial, where one colour is in the centre and the other around the edges. To set a gradient, right-click on the object, go to ‘Area/Gradients’ and select the predefined gradient most like the one you want. You can then modify this and save it under another name if you plan to use it again.
Draw also supports ‘transparency’. Shapes can be made partially translucent, like cellophane, so other shapes and objects can be seen underneath them. Transparency is measured in percentage terms, from zero (fully opaque) to 100% (fully see-through). A single value for transparency for an object can be set by right-clicking on it and selecting ‘Area/Transparency’. Transparency can also be given a gradient – e.g. from a fully transparent top-left corner to a fully opaque bottom-left corner. The same gradient options are available for transparency as for colours.
As in the other LibreOffice applications, the Format Paintbrush button can be used to copy formats from one shape to others. Double-click to lock it down when applying formats to several different shapes.
The Fontwork Gallery
Following on from the Points and Glue Points buttons we have a button for the Fontwork Gallery. This is a module similar to Microsoft’s WordArt which allows you to render text into fancy shapes and colours for headings or logos.
Click the button and select a formatting option and the word ‘Fontwork’ will appear on your page, in your choice of shapes and styles. Some of these involve three-dimensional effects (see below) and others have various types of colour and outline that can be modified via the right-click menu.
Depending on the type of shape, one. or more yellow handles may appear, allowing you to adjust the properties of the graphic. To change the text, double-click on the object, highlight ‘Fontwork’ and type your own text in its place.
The Fontwork Gallery also comes with its own toolbar which pops up when the shape is selected. This includes buttons for character height, character spacing and alignment, and changing the basic shape. To alter the colour or outline of a Fontwork shape, right-click on it and choose the appropriate formatting option from the local menu that appears.
Most of the other important features in Draw can be accessed via the buttons in the Mode Toolbar. Select View/Toolbars Mode to open this, and click on a shape to select it. The following Mode options should be available:
- Rotate – Displays red circular handles at each corner by which you can pivot the shape around. By default rotation takes place around the centre of the shape, but you can move the centre of rotation elsewhere if you want to. To make a rotated copy, hold down Ctrl while you drag.
- Flip – Mirrors the shape around an axis. To use Flip, position the axis of reflection where you want, then grab a corner and drag the shape from one side of it to the other. To make a symmetrical copy, hold down Ctrl while you drag.
- In 3D Rotation Object – Creates an image of the 3D object that would appear if the drawn object was rotated around an axis in space. As with Rotate and Flip, the user must specify the axis of rotation, then drag the object to the other side of it to effect the transformation. Double-click on the rotated object to tilt and pivot it. Right-click and select ‘3D Effects’ for more options.
- Set in Circle/Set to Circle/Distort – These represent ways in which a 2D shape can be distorted into a ‘warped’, more organic shape. Use the corner handles to manipulate the shape.
- Transparency – allows you to set or modify a transparency gradient. The object must already have a transparency gradient set for this to work.
- Gradient – allows you to modify a colour gradient. The object must already have a colour gradient set for this to work.
I have described above how to make a 3D shape by rotating a flat object around in space. Another method for making 3D objects in Draw is to ‘extrude’ a flat object backwards as if it were sticking back out of the page. This is done through the last button on the Drawing Toolbar, which creates a default extrusion and opens a 3D Toolbar for working with the object. This can be used to rotate the object in the third dimension, to increase or decrease its depth, and to alter the virtual lighting effects used to give it its 3D appearance.
Although Draw is not a specialised 3D modelling program, it can be used to produce some striking 3D effects, particularly when gradients and transparency are used in conjunction with extrusion and rotation.