The symbolic attributes appearing in an Ipe document are translated to absolute values for rendering by a stylesheet that is attached to the document. Documents can have multiple cascaded stylesheets, the sheets form a stack, and symbols are looked up from top to bottom. At the bottom of any stylesheet cascade is always the minimal standard style sheet, which is built into Ipe.

When you create a new empty document, it automatically gets a copy of this standard style sheet (which does little more than define the normal attribute for each kind of attribute). In addition, Ipe inserts a predefined list of stylesheets. The list of these stylesheets can be customized using an ipelet, using Ipe’s command line options, or an environment variable. By default, a new document gets the stylesheet basic that comes with Ipe.

The stylesheet dialog (in Edit ‣ Stylesheets) allows you to inspect the cascade of stylesheets associated with your document, to add and remove stylesheets, and to change their order. You can also save individual stylesheets.

The stylesheets of your document also determine the symbolic choices you have in the Ipe user interface. If you feel that Ipe does not offer you the right choice of colors, pen widths, etc., you are ready to make your own style sheet!

Make your own stylesheet!

So you are ready to roll your own stylesheet, to have the colors and pen widths you’ve always wanted? Here you go:

First, decide on a name for your stylesheet. In this section, let’s pick the name personal.

Open an Ipe document (or make a new one and save it in a file), then start up your favorite text editor and create the file personal.isy. The file must be in the same folder as your Ipe document!

Enter the following contents into the file, and save it:

<ipestyle name="personal">
<color name="yellowgreen" value="0.604 0.804 0.196"/>

(The name attribute in the first line must match the filename, without the extension .isy.)

In Ipe, use Edit ‣ Style sheets to bring up the stylesheet dialog. Press the Add button, and select your file personal.isy. You’ll see personal appear at the top of the list of stylesheets. Click Ok to confirm adding the stylesheet.

You will notice that a new color named yellowgreen is now available in the dropdown for stroke and fill color. Congratulations—you made your first stylesheet!

You can now add colors, pen widths, and sizes for symbols (markers), arrows, and the grids, by imitating the following examples:

<pen name="light" value="0.7"/>
<symbolsize name="giant" value="20"/>
<arrowsize name="small" value="6"/>
<gridsize name="10 pts" value="10"/>
<anglesize name="20 deg" value="20"/>

Each line contains the symbolic name, and an absolute numeric value in value. The name must start with a letter (grid size and angle size are exceptions).

To add a definition, update the file personal.isy in your text editor, then use Edit ‣ Update style sheets. This will cause Ipe to read the file again, and to replace the copy of the stylesheet inside your document with this newest version.

This way, you can quickly test out new definitions by editing the stylesheet in your text editor, and pressing Ctrl+Shift+U in Ipe to try out the new definitions.

You may wonder how to get your favorite colors right, so here is a little trick: draw a small box in Ipe, then press the absolute stroke color button (the top-left button in the Properties panel). It will allow you to select a color using a graphical user interface. Once you have found the right color, apply it to the box (by selecting <absolute> in the stroke color selector), then right-click on the box and select Edit as XML. A dialog will appear showing the current definition of the box in Ipe’s internal XML format, like this:

<path stroke="0.561 0.349 0.008" pen="ultrafat">
64 816 m
64 800 l
80 800 l
80 816 l

You can now copy the color definition (in this case "0.561 0.349 0.008", a nice shade of brown) to your stylesheet.

You can find inspiration for more colors in the colors.isy stylesheet in Ipe’s styles folder. It defines all the colors of the X11 color database—you could make a selection of these for your own use.

There is much more you can do with stylesheets. Have a look in the stylesheets that come with Ipe for some inspiration, or keep reading this chapter and the next. The ultimate reference is, of course, the description of the stylesheet file format.

Stylesheet theory

When a stylesheet is “added” to an Ipe document, the contents of the stylesheet file is copied into the Ipe document. Subsequent modification of the stylesheet file has no effect on the Ipe document. The right way to modify your stylesheet is to either “add” it again, and then to delete the old copy from your stylesheet cascade (the one further down in the list), or to use the Update stylesheets function in the Edit menu. This function assumes that the stylesheet file is in the same directory as the document and that the filename coincides with the name of the stylesheet (plus the extension .isy).

Removing or replacing a stylesheet can cause some of the symbolic attributes in your document to become undefined. This is not a disaster—Ipe will simply use some default value for any undefined symbolic attribute. To allow you to diagnose the problem, Ipe will show a warning listing all undefined symbolic attributes.

We discuss a few stylesheet topics in this chapter. Other stylesheet definitions that are (mostly) meant for PDF presentations are discussed in the next chapter.


Style sheets can also contain symbols, such as marks and arrows, background patterns, or logos. These are named Ipe objects that can be referenced by the document. If your document’s stylesheets define a symbol named Background, it will be displayed automatically on all pages. (If a layer named BACKGROUND is present on a page, it suppresses the Background symbol for that page. It does not matter if the layer itself is visible or not.) You can create and use symbols using the Symbols ipelet. Here is a (silly) example of a style sheet that defines such a background:

<ipestyle name="background">
<symbol name="Background" xform="yes">
<text pos="10 10" stroke="black" size="LARGE">
Background text

Note the use of the xform attribute—it ensures that the background is embedded only once into PDF document. This can make a huge difference if your background is a complicated object.

Symbols can be parameterized with a stroke color, fill color, pen size, and symbol size. This means that the actual value of these attributes is only set when the symbol is used in the document (not in the symbol definition). The name of a parameterized symbol must end with a pair of parentheses containing some of the letters s (stroke), f (fill), p (pen), x (symbol size), in this order. The symbol definition can then use the special attribute values sym-stroke, sym-fill, and sym-pen. A resizable symbol is automatically magnified by the symbol size set in the symbol reference.

A symbol can define several snap positions for the symbol object. These positions are then active in vertex snap mode. Symbols with snap positions are also presented differently in the current selection (the entire symbol is outlined, like a group, rather than just showing a cross at the symbol location), and you can select such symbols by clicking near any of the snap positions.

You can also use a stylesheet to define additional mark shapes, arrow shapes, or tiling patterns.


A decoration is a symbol that can be used to decorate a group object. Its name must start with the string decoration/, and it should contain either a path object or a group of path objects.

Ipe resizes these path objects so that they fit nicely around the bounding box of the group object being decorated. For this to work correctly, the decoration object must be drawn such that it decorates the rectangle with corners at $(100, 100)$ and $(300, 200)$.

To make a decoration symbol, follow these steps:

  1. Draw a rectangle. Select Edit as XML from its context menu, and change the coordinates to look as follows:

    <path stroke="black" fill="lightblue">
    100 100 m
    300 100 l
    300 200 l
    100 200 l
  2. Draw your decoration so that it fits this rectangle. You should draw only path objects.

  3. Delete the rectangle from the first step.

  4. If the decoration consists of more than one object, group them all together.

  5. Save this object as a symbol whose name starts with decoration/ (including the slash). You can do this either using create new symbol in the symbols ipelet, or by selecting Edit as XML from the object’s context menu and copying the code into a stylesheet open in your text editor.

For inspiration, have a look at the decoration symbols in the stylesheet decorations.isy that comes with Ipe.

More about stylesheets

Paper size

The style sheet is also responsible for determining the paper and frame size. Ipe’s default paper size is the ISO standard A4. If you wish to use letter size paper instead, include this style sheet:

<ipestyle name="letterpaper">
  <layout paper="612 792" origin="0 0" frame="612 792"/>

Latex preamble.

Stylesheets can also define a piece of LaTeX-preamble for your document. When your text objects are processed by LaTeX, the preamble used consists of the pieces on the style sheet cascade, from bottom to top, followed by the preamble set for the document itself.

Note that when putting LaTeX code in your style sheet, you have to escape the characters that are special in XML. For instance, for < you would have to write &lt;.