QGIS layouts rewrite – progress report #1

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Following our recent successful QGIS Layout and Reporting Engine crowdfunding campaign, we’ve been hard at working ripping up the internals of the QGIS 2.x print composer and rebuilding a brand new, shiny QGIS layouts engine. This is exciting work – it’s very satisfying to be able to cleanup a lot of the old composer code in QGIS and take opportunities along the way to fix long standing bugs and add new features.

While it’s not ready for daily use yet, there’s already been a lot of interesting changes which have landed in the layouts work as a result of this campaign. Let’s take a look at what’s been implemented so far…

  • We’ve added support for different measurements units all throughout layouts. While this means it’s now possible to set page sizes using centimeters, inches, pixels, points, etc, it goes much deeper than just that. In layouts, everything which has a size or position can take advantage of this unit support. So you can have page sizes in centimeters, but a map item with a size set in points, and positioned in millimeters! Having pixels as a unit type makes creation of screen-based layouts much easier – even right down to pixel perfect positioning and sizing of items…
  • Page handling has been totally reworked. Instead of the single “number of pages” control available in QGIS 2.x, layouts have complete flexibility in page setup. It’s now possible to have a layout with mixed page sizes and orientations (including data defined page size for different pages in the layout!). 
  • A revised status bar, with improved layout interaction widgets. We’ve also taken the opportunity to add some new features like a zoom level slider and option to zoom to layout width:
  • Layout interaction tools (such as pan/zoom/insert item/etc) have been reworked. There’s now a much more flexible framework for creation of layout tools (based off the main QGIS map canvas approach), which even allows for plugins to implement their own layout interaction tools! As part of this we’ve addressed a long standing annoyance which meant that creating new items always drew the “preview” shape of the new item as a rectangle – even for non-rectangular items. Now you get a real shape showing exactly how the created item will be sized and positioned:
  • On the topic of plugins – the layout branch has full support for plugin-provided item types. This means that QGIS plugins can create new classes of items which can be added to a layout. This opens the door for plugins allowing charts and visualisations which take advantage of all the mature Python and JS charting libraries! This is a really exciting change – in 2.x there was no way for plugins to extend or interact with composer, so we’re really keen to see where the community takes this when 3.0 is released.
  • We’ve ported another feature commonly found in illustration/DTP applications. Now, when you’re creating a new item and just click in your layout (instead of click-and-drag), you get a handy dialog allowing you to specify the exact position and dimensions for the created item. You can again see in this dialog how layouts have full support for units for both the position and size:
  • Another oft-requested feature which we’ve finally been able to add (thanks to the refactored and cleaned code) is a context menu for layouts! It’s currently quite empty, but will be expanded as this work progresses…
  • Snapping to guides and grids has been reworked. We’ve added a new snapping marker to show exactly were items will be snapped to:
  • Snapping to guides now occurs when creating new layout items (this didn’t happen in Composer in 2.x – only snapping to grids occurred when drawing new items).
  • The snapped cursor position is shown in status bar whenever a snapped point will be used, instead of the unsnapped position.
  • Unlike in Composers in QGIS 2.x, Layouts in 3.0 adopt the standard UX of dragging out rulers to create guide lines (instead of clicking on a ruler position to create a new guide). Creation of a horizontal guide is now done by grabbing the top ruler and dragging it down, and a vertical guide is created by grabbing the left ruler and dragging it out to the layout.
  • Better feedback is given in the ruler when a guide can be dragged. We now show guide positions in the rulers, and give an indication (via mouse cursor change) when these guides can be repositioned by click-and-drag.
  • Another very exciting change is the addition of a new “Guide Manager”. The guide manager allows numeric modification of existing guides and creation of new guides. Finally it’s possible to position guides at exact locations! Again, you can see the full support for layout units in place here – guides can be positioned using any available unit.
  • There’s also a handy new shortcut in the Guide Manager to allow applying the guides from the current page to all other pages in your layout.
  • We’ve refined the snapping logic. In Composer in QGIS 2.x,  grids would always take precedence whenever both a grid and guide were within tolerance of a point. Now, guides will always take precedence – since they have been manually set by users we make the assumption that they have been explicitly placed at highly desirable snapping locations, and should be selected over the general background grid. Additionally, grid snapping was previously only done if BOTH the x and y of the point could be snapped to the grid. We now snap to the nearest grid line for x/y separately. This means if a point is close to a vertical grid line but not a horizontal one it will still snap to that nearby vertical grid line.
  • Lastly, we’ve added a handy context menu to the rulers:

This is just a taster of the great new functionality coming in QGIS 3.0. This is all a direct result of the forward-thinking investments and generosity of the backers in our QGIS Layout and Reporting Engine crowdfunding campaign. Without their contributions, none of this would be possible – so our thanks go out to those organisations and individuals once again!

Stay tuned for more updates as the work continues…



3 thoughts on “QGIS layouts rewrite – progress report #1

  1. Great work so far! Really looking forward to getting to use these new tools. Thanks again to you and all those who supported the crowdfunding campaign.

  2. Hello Nyall, I’m a big fan of QGIS and your work! I just had a question about the composer though. The current composer allows to use expressions for position and size which is very cool to prepare report sheets. However the Page attribute of position and size does not allow expressions which means I can’t move an item to a next page using expressions. Will this feature be included in your revamp of the composer?

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