Pencil: A Flexible Drawing Extension for Firefox

If you’re a Firefox user, you undoubtedly already know that one of the huge advantages of the browser is the big galaxy of useful extensions you can use with it. Last year, we mentioned a drawing tool extension called Pencil that went on to get an award from Mozilla for being one of the most creative of all extensions. It’s been updated since we last covered it, with more built-in tools, and I’ve been using it lately.

Many web workers will want to get to know this extension. Here’s what it does.

Pencil is, at first glance, a drawing tool that presents you with a document to work within, and tools, shapes and widgets to work with. Below, on the left, you’ll see a list (it’s scrollable, and long)  of tools and widgets, and a blank document on the right:

This extension is for much more than just drawing, though. Here are some of the features under the hood:

* Built-in stencils for diagramming and prototyping
* Multipage documents with background pages
* On-screen text editing with rich-text supports
* PNG rasterizing
* Undo/redo support
* Installation for user-defined stencils
* Drawing operations: aligning, z-ordering, scaling, rotating

Among other things, you can use Pencil for prototyping graphical user interfaces. Below, I have dragged a radio button and other widgets from a palette on the left to a document on the right, where I can begin to move these elements around to mock up a simple GUI:

You would want to reach for a more powerful prototyping tool to arrive at a final version of a user interface you have in mind, but Pencil is great for on-the-fly sketching and prototyping. When I first used it, I used only the drawing features and associated shapes, but it comes with a large set of widgets and prototyping tools, worth getting to know.

Pencil installs very quickly, and all you have to do is restart Firefox to get going. You’ll find a menu choice for it under the Tools menu in Firefox. Give it a try.

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