Inkscape began in 2003 as a code fork of the Sodipodi project. Sodipodi, developed since 1999, was itself based on Raph Levien's Gill (GNOME Illustration Application).
The Inkscape FAQ interprets the word Inkscape as a compound of ink and scape.
Four former Sodipodi developers (Ted Gould, Bryce Harrington, Nathan Hurst, and MenTaLguY) led the fork; they identified differences over project objectives, openness to third-party contributions, and technical disagreements as their reasons for forking. With Inkscape, they said they would focus development on implementing the complete SVG standard, whereas Sodipodi development emphasized developing a general-purpose vector graphics editor, possibly at the expense of SVG.
Following the fork, Inkscape's developers changed it greatly: they changed the programming language from C to C++; adopted the GTK+ (formerly GIMP Toolkit) toolkit C++ bindings (gtkmm); redesigned its user interface, and added a number of new features. Notably, Inkscape's implementation of the SVG standard, although incomplete, has shown gradual improvement.
Since 2005 Inkscape has participated in the Google Summer of Code program.
Up until the end of November 2007, Inkscape's source code repository was hosted by SourceForge. Thereafter it moved to Launchpad. In June 2017 it moved to GitLab.