The requirement for a new brochure last week got me tackling one of those periodic (and in my case instantly forgettable) gotchas - how to do I import EPS images into Inkscape?

I’ve been using Ubuntu Linux for years but there is one application that I just can’t give up - Adobe’s InDesign. I use it on a Mac. Yes, it’s expensive and proprietary but when it comes to desktop publishing there really is no substitute. Currently it’s hard to find a commercial printer that doesn’t balk at the idea of non Adobe-generated Postscript. That’s a shame because tools like Scribus are excellent.

At Sirius we make extensive use of image libraries like istockphoto.com. Very few designers who operate from such royalty-free libraries produce their vector scalable graphics in anything other than EPS. That’s okay if the graphic doesn’t need manual editing, you just import it straight into Adobe InDesign. But if you want to do a little tweaking you need a drawing program. On Linux, that means Inkscape.

And yet, here’s the thing - Inkscape doesn’t support the EPS format yet. It currently builds its vector images using SVG, an open standard. Unsurprisingly Adobe InDesign doesn’t support SVG. So what’s one to do? Buy Adobe Illustrator? I don’t see the point particularly when Inkscape is so capable.

Searching Google produced lots of desperate pleas from users who have experienced the same problem and lots of sub-optimal solutions. Some suggest importing your EPS into Scribus and exporting it as a SVG. Others suggest doing something similar with OpenOffice Draw. In my experience neither work satisfactorily. The former strips out large swaths of the original image and the latter ‘flattens’ the graphic so it becomes uneditable.

So to the command line.

During my investigations the leading contender was initially ‘pstoedit’. In theory this script should have processed the original EPS into a SVG file using the Ghostscript libraries:

pstodit -f plot-svg illustration.eps illustration.svg

The idea was then to edit the SVG and export it as an InDesign-friendly PDF. In practice, however, the resulting SVG was seriously degraded and unusable.

What about ‘epstopdf’, a little script that lives in the package ‘texlive-extra-utils’:

epstopdf illustration.eps

In theory this simple command should have produced what I was after. And yet attempting this on Ubuntu Jaunty threw the error:

sh: epstopdf: not found
Error: Problems running epstopdf. Check your TeX installation

This slightly odd-looking error is a known problem in Jaunty which can be caused by an inconsistent set of TeX packages and versions.

Short of spending hours in TeX related forums I discovered there is a quicker solution - upgrade to Ubuntu’s latest release, Karmic Koala.

Much to my relief ‘epstopdf’ now processes the original EPS file perfectly and delivers a PDF that Inkscape has no problem editing.