All-over-controlled vortex method is an effective tool to inversely design the 3D impeller of a centrifugal compressor. In this method, swirl distribution is treated as a significant input parameter to control the blade shape, impeller flow field, and compressor performance. It is acknowledged that swirl distribution is prescribed by designers mostly relying on the personal experience at the beginning of design. So how to specify the swirl distribution is still a big challenge for impeller designers. Of the most interest in this paper is to provide a theoretical technique that can be readily applied to specify swirl distribution and reduce the dependence on the designers experience. A judgement criterion rCθ – ωr2 is proposed to design the swirl distribution. Based on the streamline curvature method, a 3D centrifugal impeller design program is developed to design centrifugal impeller. The scale and uniformity of rCθ – ωr2 along flow direction are discussed theoretically to conduct the specifying of swirl distribution. The theoretical analysis is verified by a specific centrifugal compressor case. Then commercial CFD software is used to predict the flow field and the performance of the impeller. The results demonstrate that the scale and distribution uniformity of rCθ – ωr2 have a significant effect on the blade shape and the flow field within the impeller, and possible loss can be reduced. For the new designer, it is possible to preliminarily recognize and eliminate the infeasible swirl distribution, and adjust the unsatisfactory swirl distribution using rCθ – ωr2. Proper blade shape and good impeller performance can be achieved with the help of the judgement criterion rCθ – ωr2.