3D Layered Paper Cutout Effect Underwater Illustration in Inkscape

In this Inkscape tutorial, you will learn how to create a layered paper cutout effect by creating an underwater illustration. I show how to achieve this effect using drop shadows in the filter menu. I make things simple by showing how to trace using reference images for the fish, shark, and diver.

I also show how to use tool tricks to get corral and seaweed designs easily. Finally, I show how to create a classic boat anchor using only simple shapes. Perfect for beginners, one tool used in this tutorial is the bezier pen to draw the fish, shark, diver, and coral. I also use the calligraphy pen with special settings to achieve a seaweed look.

These techniques translate to any other vector graphic platform like Adobe Illustrator and Affinity Designer.

Download the Vector file HERE

Links to the reference images used are listed below:



Two Fish


Clown Fish



Step 1 – Create and Duplicate Background Rectangles add color

Using the Squares and Rectangles tool( R ) draw out a rectangle shape. In the top menu bar change the W value to 800 and the H value to 500. Set the measurement to ‘px’.

Switch to the Color Picker Tool ( D ) and pick the first square for the rectangles fill color. Hit ( Ctrl D ) on the keyboard to duplicate the rectangle then move over to the next color box and select that color. Continue this process until you have created the white rectangle.

Step 2 – Cut out the Shapes for each Level

Using the Bezier Pen tool( B ) draw out the shape that you want. No need to create curves, just click and create straight lines like the photo above. Once you have finished drawing the shape with to the Edit Paths by Nodes tool( N ) and click and drag over all the nodes. In the top menu with all the node operations select Make Selected Nodes Auto-Smooth.

With the created path still selected hold down ( Ctrl ) and click on the background rectangle. Press ( Ctrl – ) on the keyboard to cut the shape out of the rectangle.

Repeat this process of drawing the path with the Bezier Pen tool( B ), auto-smoothing the nodes, and then cutting out the shape with Path Difference.

Step 3 – Draw in the Underwater Plantlife

In this step, I have designed two different types of underwater plants/algae using two kind

Step 4 – Import Reference Photos

Using Unsplash for reference images since they are royalty-free and high quality download the following images:

To import the images into Inkscape just drag them into your open document. Just accept the default options from the menu that pops up.

The images will be very big so I recommend shrinking them down in size by clicking them, holding ( Crtl ), and dragging the corner handle to scale down uniformly.

Step 5 – Trace the Fish, Shark, and Diver from Photos

The process will be the same for all the reference photos and that’s using the Bezier Pen tool( B ) to trace over the subject in the image. Dropping the image opacity down to about 50% is helpful in seeing your path line more clearly.

When finished with the scuba driver image use the

Step 6 – Draw a Boat Anchor

Follow these steps to draw a marine anchor using simple shapes

I will show how to design a classic marine anchor using only simple shapes.

Step 7 – Add the Drawn Elements to the Background


Step 9 – Add a Drop Shadow to the Backgrounds

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