Inkscape Experiments: How to Enable Saving to XCF in Inkscape


Saving to XCF
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Article updated 4/12/2014

Why Does Saving to XCF matter?

Just in case you didn’t know, I’m a big fan and devout user of PhotoShop. Any good program that I use has the ability to save to PSD. (PhotoShop’s native file format.) That means whatever I create in “Program X”, I can save to PSD, with layers intact, and edit my work directly within PhotoShop. I very much enjoy this luxury.

As much as I love Inkscape, it currently lacks the ability to save to PSD. I can speculate why this is the case, but I honestly don’t have a clue as to what the priorities are of the developers or what hurdles they have to face to enable saving to PSD in Inkscape. The next best thing is saving to XCF, Gimp’s native file format. Fortunately Gimp can save to PSD. For us PhotoShop lovers, Gimp will have to be our middle-man.

But Inkscape Can’t Export to XCF on Its Own.

That’s correct. As I’ve note in “A Crash Course in Inkscape”, to save anything to XCF in Inkscape, you do need Gimp installed. This has to be done on Linux, Mac, and Windows. If you’re running Linux, you have it easy. All you need to do is install or compile Gimp in your terminal, and the option to save to XCF appears without any extra effort. (I confirmed this in my copy of Fedora Linux.)

Getting it Right on the Mac

In Mac OS X, things are a little more complicated. Currently Inkscape doesn’t run natively in OS X, and can only be used within Apple’s X11 Environment. (You’ll either have to use X11 or the XQuarts application.) Once you install or compile (from either Fink, MacPorts, or on your own using source code) both Inkscape and Gimp, Inkscape will be able to freely save to XCF without any further tweaking.

As a warning, there is a natively compiled version of Gimp for the Mac. This isn’t a bad thing, but Inkscape within X11 won’t be able to find your native copy of Gimp, and will still lack the resources to save your artwork to a XCF file. You will still need to compile a copy of Gimp from either Fink or MacPorts.


Gimp head splatted with inkFreakin’ Windows!

Okay, I’m not as much of a hater as I was a few years ago. But as much as I like Windows 7, Microsoft still has a habit of making you work to do things that take just a few minutes in OS X. Simply installing Gimp does not enable Inkscape to save to XCF. Inkscape in Windows is unable to automatically find Gimp upon launch. So if you happen to be one of those poor saps that use only Windows, I will stretch out my hand in “friendship” and other “warm ‘n’ fuzzy” stuff, and will provide you with a step by step path to enabling saving to XCF in Windows. (I only have Windows 7, so you might have to tweak some of the steps if you use XP, Vista, 98, or 8. I have an article on how to enable save to XCF for Windows 8 users here.)

How to Enable XCF in Inkscape on Windows

It’s Windows. You’ll have to put in a little extra effort. (Windows 8 users view this article instead.) Let’s walk through the steps:

1.) Install Gimp. If you haven’t installed Gimp yet on your Windows PC, you can download a copy off Gimp’s website.

2.) Find your copy of the Gimp application (It’ll be a .exe file.) on you local hard drive. It’s usually located within C:/Program Files/GIMP/.

3.) Rename both your Gimp application and Gimp folder to just plain “Gimp”. (Or “Gimp.exe” for the application. Windows 7 has a habit of hiding extensions for certain files.) This may seem like a silly thing to do. But I go with whatever works. On this Inkscape bug-page, one of the posters suggested to just rename the application to just “Gimp.exe”. That didn’t work for me in Windows 7. I named my Gimp application to both “Gimp” and “Gimp.exe”, and it didn’t work. Only when I changed the name of the folder from “Gimp 2” to “Gimp”, did the option to save to XCF appear.

4.) Right-click on the Gimp application and select Properties.

Right-click on your Gimp application and select Properties.
Click to enlarge.

5.) In the General tab, highlight and copy the location. On my machine it’s C:\Program Files\GIMP\bin.

Copy the location from Gimp's property window.

6.) Find your path variable. In Windows 7, I have to open up my Control Panel, and within the Search field, I entered “Advanced”  for Advanced system settings. Or you can click System and SecuritySystem > Advanced system  settings.

How to find Advanced system settings in Windows 7

7.) This will open your System Properties window. Click the Advanced tab. Within the Advanced tab, click the Environment Variables… button.

System properties window. Click on Environment variables button.

8.) Inside the Environment Variables window, under System variables, look for the Path variable. When you find it, select the Path variable and click the Edit… button.

Find the Path variable and click edit.

9.) In the Edit System Variable window within the Variable value text field, at the end of the line that exists, you will create a new variable path.  Type a ; (that’s a semicolon) at the end of the string, and then paste the location to the Gimp application that you copied.

Paste Gimp's location in your System Variable window.

10.) Click OK on all three of the windows to set things in stone.

11.) Open your copy of Inkscape. Click in Inkscape’s File menu and select Save As… You now will be able to save to XCF in Inkscape.

Now you can finally save to XCF on Windows!
Now you can finally save to XCF on Windows!


As far as I know, this is the only page on the internet that shows users how to enable saving XCF. (So I’m kind of proud of myself.) Not that you couldn’t have figured it out on your own. You’re probably busy like me and want to get things done. Regardless, enjoy Inkscape’s new-found ability, and freely export your art with layers still intact.




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