The Cairo Drawing Model

The basic concept of drawing in Cairo involves defining 'invisible' paths and then stroking or filling them to make them visible.

To do any drawing in gtkmm with Cairo, you must first create a Cairo::Context object. This class holds all of the graphics state parameters that describe how drawing is to be done. This includes information such as line width, color, the surface to draw to, and many other things. This allows the actual drawing functions to take fewer arguments to simplify the interface. In gtkmm, a Cairo::Context is created by calling the Gdk::Window::create_cairo_context() function. Since Cairo contexts are reference-counted objects, this function returns a Cairo::RefPtr<Cairo::Context> object.

The following example shows how to set up a Cairo context with a foreground color of red and a width of 2. Any drawing functions that use this context will use these settings.

Gtk::DrawingArea myArea;
Cairo::RefPtr<Cairo::Context> myContext = myArea.get_window()->create_cairo_context();
myContext->set_source_rgb(1.0, 0.0, 0.0);

Each Cairo::Context is associated with a particular Gdk::Window, so the first line of the above example creates a Gtk::DrawingArea widget and the second line uses its associated Gdk::Window to create a Cairo::Context object. The final two lines change the graphics state of the context.

There are a number of graphics state variables that can be set for a Cairo context. The most common context attributes are color (using set_source_rgb() or set_source_rgba() for translucent colors), line width (using set_line_width()), line dash pattern (using set_dash()), line cap style (using set_line_cap()), and line join style (using set_line_join()), and font styles (using set_font_size(), set_font_face() and others). There are many other settings as well, such as transformation matrices, fill rules, whether to perform antialiasing, and others. For further information, see the cairomm API documentation.

The current state of a Cairo::Context can be saved to an internal stack of saved states and later be restored to the state it was in when you saved it. To do this, use the save() method and the restore() method. This can be useful if you need to temporarily change the line width and color (or any other graphics setting) in order to draw something and then return to the previous settings. In this situation, you could call Cairo::Context::save(), change the graphics settings, draw the lines, and then call Cairo::Context::restore() to restore the original graphics state. Multiple calls to save() and restore() can be nested; each call to restore() restores the state from the matching paired save().

It is good practice to put all modifications to the graphics state between save()/restore() function calls. For example, if you have a function that takes a Cairo::Context reference as an argument, you might implement it as follows:

void doSomething(const Cairo::RefPtr<Cairo::Context>& context, int x)
    // change graphics state
    // perform drawing operations

The virtual on_draw() method provides a Cairo context that you shall use for drawing in the Gtk::DrawingArea widget. It is not necessary to save and restore this Cairo context in on_draw().