in Icon design

Can Sketch or Affinity designer replace Adobe Illustrator?

Should you stick to the tried and true or give one of the newcomers a shot? In this article we will take a look at how well two contenders, Affinity Designer and Sketch stand up from an icon designer’s perspective. Is Adobe Illustrator finally ready for retirement?

illustratorAdobe Illustrator

Initially released in 1988, the software has gone through more than two-dozen generations spanning 26 years. Needless to say, Adobe has had a long time to gather information about what users want and need. The tools and user interface are mature and familiar. Illustrator is the de facto standard by which all vector software is measured.

affinitydesignerAffinity Designer

Affinity Designer, by Serif Labs, is the newcomer on the block and is the Editor’s Choice winner on the Apple App Store at the time of this writing. Affinity Designer incorporates some familiar aspects of Illustrator’s user interface while adding its own touches and approach to vector design.

sketchSketch

Sketch, by Bohemian Coding, is a two-time Apple Design Award Winner in 2009 and 2012. Sketch already has a lot of traction among icon designers, including Jon Hicks of Hicks Design. Sketch is quickly becoming the tool of choice for many app and web designers.

The Comparison Criteria

How we do our work is influenced as much by our tools as by the work to be done. I wanted to try to avoid making this article about my own process so I conducted an informal survey of a few friends who also design icons and are all Adobe Illustrator users. The panel included Hemmo De Jonge (Dutch Icon), Tom Nulens (Sodafish), Vincent le Moign (Webalys), and Ion Popa (Popcic). The question was simple: What tools do you currently use to design icons that you cannot live without? The responses were nearly unanimous and the tasks fall into two categories: drawing tools and workflow tools. The aggregate list is shown below.

  1. Custom Grids
  2. Shape tools
  3. Pen tool
  4. Join Points
  5. Pathfinder
  6. Snap-to-point, snap-to-grid
  7. Pixel & vector preview
  8. Multiple Artboards
  9. Importing Various File Formats
  10. Export as SVG and PNG
  11. Scriptability/Actions

Custom Grids

The ability to create custom grids is a mainstay for creating icons for different size requirements such as 16 x 16, 32 x 32, 64 x 64, and so forth. Both Illustrator and Sketch give users the ability to create custom grid sizes. Affinity, unfortunately, does not currently support user-defined grids (but is on their roadmap).

Shape Tools

All three products have tools that give designers the ability to create basic geometric shapes such as rectangles, triangles, and ovals. Affinity Designer goes a few steps further and includes tools for creating about 20 different shapes.

tools

Pen Tool

Most icon designs start with basic geometric shapes, but the pen tool is the flat-head screw driver of the icon designers toolbox. I admit to being biased by years of use, but drawing with Illustrator’s pen tool feels like using a mechanical pen, while using the pen tool in Sketch and Affinity feels more like drawing with chalk.

In the case of Sketch, vector points are represented by a circle that is several pixels wide with a 2-pixel wide outline. Affinity’s default setting represents points with a thick, colored dot. You can, however, adjust the pen size in Affinity Designer by going to Preferences > User Interface > Tool UI Size. Affinity Designer’s default pen tool options are comparable to Astute Graphics’s InkScribe plugin for Adobe Illustrator.

It should be said, that Illustrator’s drawing tools, in fact, aren’t always precise, and Affinity’s and Sketch’s tools are just as precise. Whether or not you like the way each feels is subjective, so take it with a grain of salt and try them for yourself.

Join Line Segments

I can’t imagine not being able to split shapes and join corners and segments. I’m so used to the way Illustrator does this, I can’t tell if I’ve just been trained to work this way or if I really need these exact tools. I couldn’t find this capability in Sketch (but it may very well be there). In Affinity Designer, you can join two points by selecting both end-points with the Node Tool, then clicking the Join Nodes button in the Actions section of the Node tool bar.

Pathfinder

Remember when you had to manually slice-and-dice to join shapes in Illustrator? Then remember your ecstasy when Adobe introduced Pathfinder? The union feature in Affinity works similarly to that of Illustrator, however, if you hold down the option key while clicking any of the union tools, the individual objects are preserved. Sketch also visually joins, diffs, or excludes shapes, but maintains the objects as separate layers by default. Sketch’s and Affinity’s approach allow you to treat joined objects as a single object in some instances such as styling and scaling, while maintaining the ability to edit the original objects independently and flattening later.

Snap-to-Point & Snap-to-Grid

As icon designers, we are obsessed with pixel-perfection, yet as humans we aren’t especially good at pin-point precision, especially using a stylus or mouse to draw. Snapping to the rescue. Illustrator’s snapping feels like the cursor is physically snapping to a point or grid. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Sketch’s snapping is equal to, if not better than Illustrator’s, which is as often frustrating as it is useful. On many occasions, the Illustrator page will jump up or down while I’m trying to snap an object to a particular guide or grid line. This appears to be caused by having Smart Guides and Snap-to-Point or Snap-to-Grid enabled at the same time while zoomed (and standing on one foot, facing West).

I found Affinity’s snapping to be far less intuitive and far more complex than either of Illustrator’s or Sketch’s. Snapping in Affinity has its own menu with eleven (11) configuration options with even more refinements below each of those. This isn’t a reflection on Affinity Designer but on my limited time, and I admittedly did not spend figuring out what each setting does. The main ones you expect are there, however, with snap-to-point, snap-to-grid, and snap-to-guide.

Pixel Preview

How else will we pixel-perfection obsessed icon designers verify the precision of our work before it is released? While all three products provide the ability to preview vectors in pixel mode, Affinity excels in this area by also providing the ability to preview vectors for retina display. I suspect this will become the default standard for Illustrator and Sketch in the future.

Multiple Artboards

I can’t even remember what my life was like before Adobe added multiple Artboards to Illustrator. Combined with the ability to name artboards and export them to files in various formats, using the artboard label as the filename saves us icon designers from hours of brain cell killing tedium. Adobe Illustrator and Sketch give you the ability to add multiple artboards to your file, although Illustrator arbitrarily limits you to 100 artboards per document. Unfortunately, Affinity Designer does not support multiple artboards at this time (though it’s on their roadmap).

File Exports

Illustrator and Affinity, quite frankly, have nothing on Sketch when it comes to exporting your artboards to various file formats. Illustrator allows you to save files to different formats and when combined with Actions or custom Scripts, artboards can be used to export to SVG, PNG, EPS, etc. What Sketch does exceptionally well, however, is allow you to export different artboards and slices to different formats. So, for instance, if you want to export your 512 x 512 icon to PNG but your 32 x 32 to SVG, no problem. It is powerful while at the same time remaining simple and intuitive. Affinity also allows you to export to PNG, JPEG, GIF, SVG, EPS, PSD, and TIFF via a very attractive and intuitive export dialog.

File Imports

Adobe Illustrator is the clear winner when it comes to importing different vector file formats. Illustrator supports a wide range of file formats including PDF, EPS, SVG, and many more (30 file types in all according to helpx.adobe.com). Affinity has no trouble importing SVG, EPS, PDF, and even Ai files. One drawback is that Affinity Designer does not appear to preserve grouped objects in imported Illustrator files. Sketch, on the other hand, falls short in this area. Sketch has no support for Ai files, and has limited support for SVG, EPS, and PDF. According to Sketch’s documentation, “SVG (and EPS, PDF) include concepts that are not supported in Sketch and will not be displayed”.

To be fair, Illustrator cannot open .sketch or .afdesign files, but I don’t see this as a major issue because those file types are not yet ubiquitous and a typical designer will rarely encounter those file types. However, a typical designer is likely to encounter .ai files frequently so there is a greater need to be able to open them. That said, SVG is the safest bet for transferring vector files for just about any need.

Actions & Custom Scripts

I really despise performing tedious, repetitive tasks and since I spend my days punching code at my day job as a programmer, I’m a big fan of Illustrator’s custom scripts support. I use Matthew Ericson’s MultiExport script regularly and I have written a few scripts of my own to speed up my workflow:

Illustrator enables you to not only script tasks inside of your document but you can build powerful plugins using the plugin API (Application Programming Interface). Sketch supports custom plugins in Cocoascript, a JavaScript interface for calling Cocoa code. Affinity does not currently support custom scripts or plugins, but according to one moderator in their support forums, they currently use macros to do regression testing and may expose that architecture to users in the future. The same moderator also said Affinity may enable support for AppleScript, the proprietary scripting language used to automate many applications on Mac OS.

Miscellaneous

In addition to design and workflow tasks, there are little tasks like document navigation that we perform dozens, hundreds, or more times during a work session. When these actions are intuitive and unobtrusive, we hardly have to think about them but when they’re not we are forced to notice them and figure out how to get to where we’re going.

Among these features that should be second nature are zooming, selecting, and moving around within a document. Again, I admit to being biased, but Adobe has been training most of us for 26 years how these features should work. Moving within a document? Press the spacebar and click anywhere in the document. Selecting an object? Click on the object, or drag a marquee around an area of the document. Zooming in on an area? Space + Cmd to zoom in, or Space + Cmd + Option to zoom out.

Affinity uses the same zoom keyboard shortcuts that Illustrator does but Sketch uses the Cmd + Plus and Cmd + Minus to zoom in-and-out.

Sketch and Illustrator allow you to drag a marquee over any piece of an object to select the object by default. If you are using the direct selection tool, you can drag a marquee over an object to select any points or segments inside the marquee, or hold down the option key to select the entire object. Affinity also has the marquee-select feature but it must be enabled in Preferences > User Interface > Marquee Select on Touch.

Feature Comparison Matrix

Task / Feature Adobe Illustrator Sketch Affinity Designer
License Model Subscription-only Perpetual (1-time) Perpetual (1-time)
Price $19.99 per month $99.99 $49.99
Custom Grids Yes Yes No
Shape tools Yes Yes Yes (on steroids)
Drawing Excellent Fair Good
Join Points & Segments Yes No Yes
Pathfinder Yes Yes Yes
Snap-to-Point, Snap-to-Grid Yes Yes Yes (on steroids)
Multiple Artboards Yes Yes No (on roadmap)
Pixel  Preview Yes Yes Yes
Pixel Preview (Retina) No No Yes
Export to SVG, PNG, etc. Yes Yes Yes
Batch save Yes Yes (on steroids) No
Pixel-perfection Yes Yes Yes
Miscellaneous:
Object selection Yes Yes Yes
Direct selection Yes Yes Yes
Area selection by marquee Yes Yes Yes
User Interface Dark Native Dark
Intuitive/Familiar Yes No Yes
Customizable (can rearrange) Yes No Yes
Scripts & Actions Yes Yes No
Scriptable Yes (JavaScript) Yes (CocoaScript) No (on roadmap)
Platforms Mac & Windows Mac-only Mac-only

Summary

Unfortunately, there isn’t time enough in the day to review every available product in the vector space (though there may be more reviews forthcoming). Which software is right for you is largely a matter of preference, but also a matter of considering your unique needs and what compromises you’re willing to make, like relearning some things. For a young designer, especially a freelancer, just starting out, the lower price points of Sketch and Affinity Designer are worth considering as you start and grow your business. For enterprise customers, it’s going to be hard to move away from Adobe – for now.

Each product has its strengths and weaknesses. Personally, I’m married to Adobe Illustrator for the time being because of my own needs and preferences. I think Affinity Designer is a strong contender, especially considering it is first generation software.

There used to be a maxim in software development that no product was truly stable until version 4. It is exciting to see some really good competitors in the market making a splash even on version 1. That said, it’s not really a fair fight, or perhaps no fight at all. The market is huge and no single product needs to truly do it all to thrive. I hope that the goal of any new products is to bring the behemoth down-to-size rather than just become the next tyrant.

I’ll end by enumerating the pros and cons of each product, as I see them. I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Adobe Illustrator

Pros: 

  • Maturity – which has allowed Adobe to work out a lot of kinks and collect a lot of user data
  • More extensive feature list
  • Longevity – Illustrator will still be around in 10 years
  • Ubiquity – Nearly anyone can work with .ai files
  • Interoperability with Photo and Desktop publishing tools
Cons: 

  • Subscription license not very popular
  • Greater Total Cost of ownership
  • 100 artboard limit is arbitrary
  • Can’t customize grid on each artboard

Sketch

Pros: 

  • Only $100
  • Predefined Icon artboard templates
  • Simultaneous export to mulitple locations, multiple sizes, and multiple formats
Cons: 

  • Mac OS only
  • Drawing tools feel clunky and imprecise
  • Tools are somewhat lacking (join points, direct selection, etc)
  • Conspicuous lack of some UI norms such as Command+space zoom

Affinity Designer

Pros: 

  • Only $50
  • Pretty nice selection of tools. Not as extensive as Ai but has most of what you expect
  • UI is familiar-ish since it mimics Ai in many ways
  • 1,000,000% zoom, yes One Million percent zoom!
  • Strong incentive to disrupt the vector software space
Cons: 

  • Mac OS only
  • Drawing takes some getting used to
  • Lack of artboards is very limiting
  • Lack of scriptability and/or actions
  • Lack of batch export to different formats
  • No custom grids

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137 Comments

    • John, you are absolutely right. If you only want Illustrator and choose an annual subscription, you only have to pay $19.99 per month. $49.99 is if you also want Photoshop and more. I will update the post.

  1. Hi guys, there are a few inaccuracies I spotted in the Affinity comments, is there a way I can perhaps mail you? Am not looking to magically change how you feel, just fix a few wrongs. Thanks.

      • Thanks for the amendment Scott. Can I take this opportunity to highlight more that Affinity Designer can already do, contrary to mentions in the article, matrix, and cons list?

        • Size of curve nodes and handles: configurable in Preferences so can be tiny for accuracy or larger for simplicity.

        • Clunky Pen tool: that’s contrary to how most users feel, it’s slick, similar to Illustrator with Astute Graphics plugins.

        • Snapping: there’s a list of presets for popular design tasks so toggling through 11 options is not required to make it work the way you might prefer. A snapping preset for UI Design was added today.

        • Selection: partial area selection, marquees that select objects without having to fully enclose them, it’s there, it’s a Preference.

        A lot of what you found missing is actually there as a preference or wasn’t obvious on your first pass. The rest including art boards, scripting, and custom grids are on the roadmap and devs are engaging with users on the Affinity forum to evolve things all the time so I hope you’ll see those next time round. Thanks for the review covering so many aspects of these tools, best wishes.

  2. As a designer / developer, I dream of a vector drawing software natively handling .svg files without deleting any custom tags or code when opening / exporting the file. For now, only Inkscape can do it, but the interface is not so friendly.

    Also, I was wondering if iDraw (http://www.indeeo.com/idraw/) compete in the same category as the ones you reviewed here?

      • I too would love to see Inkscape included in the reviews. I really love Inkscape (I felt it was a more intuitive replacement for Freehand, RIP) but do bump into it’s limitations more than I’d like to. But I do applaud it’s native SVG support.

        Thanks for the overall review. Very thorough. I stumbled upon it looking into Affinity Designer. I’m going to have to try it. Any competition for Adobe is a good thing!

        • I have an article coming up that includes Inkscape. It’s not a review along the order of this one. I had a huge batch of 15,000 SVG files to convert to PDF and PNG. Inkscape is the only vector design, of which I’m aware, that has a command line interface. One of the solutions I experimented with was using Inkscape and bash to automate the conversion of the files. In total I created about 75,000 images. Sadly, Inkscape wasn’t the best option because the rasterization of the SVGs wasn’t as smooth as Illustrator. I also tried the convert, rsvg-convert, and mogrify commands in ImageMagick, but they also had some issues with rasterization.

          • Hello Scott, sorry for bringing an old article but I’m a Inkscape’s full time user under linux and I know how much it lost in OSX and in Windows.
            I don’t know which version of Inkscape you tried but by the time I worked on OSX the version from Macports was way superior than the .dmg offered in Inkscape’s official website.
            I know that even better compiled it isn’t a rival to commercial apps but I love that uggly duck anyway.

            Sorry for the bad english, I’m not a native speaker and thanks for the excellent article.

          • I know this is two years old but for future info cf Image Magick : I’ve had much better luck with Graphics Magick. The main guy is very interested in reports such as yours and jumps right in to fixes and improvements. If you tried the same sequence in GM, then mailed him, I am pretty sure you’d come out of the experience with a good-working command line solution.

  3. Huge fan of Affinity Designer already. They’re doing a lot of things right. Listening to users is one of them. Not only that, but I like their style, and Adobe’s app engines seem to be showing their age.

    • Same here. I’ve been using it for illustration, icon, and UI work. We’ve been using their beta in studio work, and new batch export to SVG/custom grid features work pretty smashingly. Artboards are on the horizon.

  4. Old Freehand user who’s been hanging on for a suitable replacement for 10 years – still use it daily, or did until I’ve started using Affinity.

    It’s still buggy with a few missing features, still not 100% print capable etc BUT here’s the big difference.
    They’re actively engaging with their users to develop what should be an outstanding piece of software. Adobe on the other hand… their strategy has been to buy out the competition, close them down and plod on with the same old package.
    Illustrator is almost 30 years old – it should be light years ahead of any competing software but it’s not and never was, never will be.

    I can’t recommend Affinity enough – if they hold their nerve by V3.0 they’ll be ahead of the game.

    • I used FreeHand a bit back in the day but that was so long ago I don’t really remember much about it. That was Aldus, right? Adobe bought them out to acquire PageMaker, which evolved into InDesign.

      I, too, have a few complaints about Illustrator but mostly over bugs in the software (I mention one of them in the article).

      Unlike a lot of users, I not only don’t mind the subscription model Adobe moved to, but I prefer it. At the end of the day, it’s just cheaper for me because I need access to the latest versions of 6-7 of their products.

      Another thing worth pointing out is that Adobe is the de facto standard and as such, they define what “vector design software” even is. Whether they got to that position by hook-or-crook is another matter. But they are in that position and all competitors are only (attempting at) improving on the paradigms Illustrator has created, for the most part. I’m not really seeing anything disruptive in terms of redefining how vector graphics are created. Honestly, I don’t even know what that would look like but it would make for a very interesting discussion.

      • That’s an incredibly cynical, Hobbesian view of the vector design tools market.

        In my own case, as a former Freehand user, like many others, I tried and tried to use AI but it never clicked, and for those who don’t know Freehand (like most designers now) I will mention it has an imperfect but wonderful UI that really encourages creative flow – an ethos Affinity seems to have absorbed.

        Ultimately the business of trying to run Freehand on alternative older machines or VMs just got too hard and I quite literally despaired of designing, refocused on front end development.

        However, because (I will venture) Affinity’s developers have been driven by creativity and the desire to make a great product, and have not only listed to but acted on designers concerns, rather than simply maintaining a monopoly, a great alternative now exists and I’m re-inspired to shift the balance of my site building / design work back towards design.

        But the last 10 years have been a lost decade for many designers, while Adobe exercised a mean-minded and ultimately counter-productive monopoly. We can applaud it’s oncoming demise, but the monopolistic practices that they exercised, buying up the competition and then destroying their products, (Fireworks is another case in point) have been if anything worse than Microsoft’s own over that period. And as MS has been humbled, so will Adobe be.

        You might want to suggest that this is the market’s invisible hand eventually putting things to rights, but just as Piketty’s Capital has emphatically proved, the market will do a shitload of damage before it finds equilibrium, with unacceptable social costs, the last decade is one we should as a community, learn from and never allow to repeat.

        And now, I’m off to do some designing. Thanks to everyone at Affinity (and Staedtler) who have made that possible again today.

        • Hi Tim,

          Thanks for your reply. I’m not sure I understand how my view is either cynical or Hobbesian but that’s fair enough, I guess. I wasn’t making a value judgment about Adobe’s position in the market, only an observation. I don’t really see Adobe or any other software company as either malicious or benevolent.

          When I started doing icon design I was inking my icons on illustration board with Rapid-o-graph pens and cutting rubylith to mask them, and filming them on a line (stat) camera. Adobe, Aldus, and Corel changed that by creating software to do with much greater precision and efficiency what used to be an incredibly tedious, error-prone, and time-consuming job. I’m not up-to-speed on the history of how Adobe won out in the market but I suspect the winners and losers in that game were determined more by business acumen and manipulation of customer perception (a.k.a., marketing) than by the quality of the software. But the quality of the software is subjective anyway and I’m not sure it’s even possible to objectively measure something like “total quality” of any product.

          My point is not that I think Adobe Illustrator is the “best” product available, only that it is the one I know and I don’t have any major problems with it. Far from ruining design for me, Adobe’s products have made my job easier than it was when I started out 26 years ago and have made it possible for me to make a good career for myself as a graphic designer and web developer.

          But as I stated in the article, how we do our work is, at the very least, significantly influenced by the nature of our tools. Had Aldus or Corel won out in the market and the “how” followed different paradigms that I had been using for the past 20 years, I would no doubt say the same things about those products that I do about Illustrator.

          Whether or not Affinity Designer is disruptive remains to be seen but I don’t see anything to suggest that it is yet. A disruption to a market isn’t simply creating a competitive product, it is redefining the model by which an industry works like the way p2p and streaming services changed how we buy music and the iPod changed the way we listen to music. The iPod wasn’t the first or even the best(?) mp3 player available, it was just the best marketed.

          Serif Labs has created a good product, perhaps even great, that may or may not compete with Adobe Illustrator in the way that InDesign came along to compete with QuarkXPress. They have a long, long way to go before that happens. Even then they can’t rightly be called disruptive, only competitive. Like I said before, I don’t even know what a disruption to this niche market would look like. If I did, I’d probably not be designing icons and building websites, I’d be disrupting the vector software market.

          I don’t think any of this is cynicism, I think it’s pragmatism.

          • Although, I wouldn’t use the words like cynicism, I feel exactly the same as Tim. There is no doubt that after Apple, Aldus/Macromedia has been the best thing that ever happened to the design community. Anybody who has ever used Aldus/Macromedia products over a decade ago is still waiting for the replacements and the only thing that might finally make us let go of our resentment towards Adobe is Affinity. Adobe and Microsoft have never been kind to their users and they never provide anything better, until threatened by something or someone.

            Thanks Scott! for the post
            Thanks Tim! for saying everything I would want to.

          • I am definitely in the same camp as Absar and Tim… Back in the day, when I enrolled at my design faculty, I transitioned from CorelDRAW (because it was frowned-up by teachers and colleagues alike, and with good reason; their print support was paltry, and their commitment to the Mac was a one-time fling in 2003 with their Corel Graphics Suite 11) to FreeHand and, just as I was getting a hold of it, Adobe buys Macromedia because, supposedly, of Flash (and we all saw how that went) and Dreamweaver and outright kills FreeHand, without even offering a decent and perpetual .FHxx file converter or taking some of its IP and improving AIs clunky tools (either out of laziness or fear of angering AI users; I don’t really care either way, and their belated multiple artboard feature is, to this day, much worse than FreeHand’s).

            Do you reckon that is a company that respects its users and the market at large? Nope. It’s a greedy monopolist, period. It’s really not comparable to, say, Apple’s acquisition of Beats, or HP’s acquisition of Compaq or whatever. Adobe just choked the life out of the *cross-platform* creative market. They just effectively killed competition, and regulators stood by and let them get away with it.

            Since I didn’t have as much time invested in FreeHand, I immediately switched to Illustrator and did master it quite quickly, but I met quite a few of those disgruntled FH users and I knew first-hand just how sub-par and unintuitive AI’s toolset was by comparison. I never really liked Flash anyway, way before Steve Jobs’ “Thoughts on Flash” open letter, so I always felt that Adobe was, through and through, on the wrong side of history.

            Fast forward to 2011, and I bought a legit copy of CS5 Design Standard for Education, thinking of buying a full, professional CS7 update whenever it came to pass; guess what, the paltry CS5.5 counted as a full version, which would restrict my upgrade path to CS6. And you know what? Coming from a country and faculty of software pirates, I didn’t consider myself a bad customer *at all*, even if Adobe sees people like me that way. Finally and totally in that vein, for me, CC was the final nail in the coffin. There was Adobe, considering that skipping versions (for any reason whatsoever; including people who may wish do stop upgrading because they have an older computer or older peripherals or whatever) was somehow unacceptable, and artificially obsoleting their own already very much obsolete code.

            So, immediately after the infamous CC announcement in May 2013, I started searching for alternatives and actively reaching out to developers… including Serif. I wrote a lengthy missive detailing just how pissed I was at Adobe and why, and how they actually stood a very good chance of taking the market by storm because I knew I wasn’t alone. Little did I know that they were already testing early alpha builds of Affinity on iOS, and the rest is, as they say, history…

            The key to writing great reviews that leave no stone unturned, Scott, and I totally respect and admire that you do in fact focus mostly on your creative work and thus don’t have enough time to know it deeply, is actually reading a lot, going to a lot of forums, testing a lot of different alternatives… I went through them all; Corel, iDraw (now Autodesk Draw), Inkscape, Scribus, Serif’s Plus suite, the works… And I signed all petitions against Creative Cloud. And I always lurked and posted on a number of Mac-centric forums, along with many designer colleagues. I now strongly believe that this current wave of subscription apps, while definitely not a fad, will also not become the end-all be-all for software licensing the big companies make it out to be; it can’t be, lest the currently competitive landscape becomes a barren wasteland of stale apps. This licensing/financing model *IS* untenable for consumers and will make developers complacent. Heck, it already turned the much heralded, “constantly updated” CC into “CC 2014”, “CC 2015”, etc., with only a few updates each year, much like the hypothetical CS7 and CS8 would’ve gotten (heck, I even think that all its iconography was originally developed for CS7, and later repurposed for CC 2014 and recycled for CC 2015). For me, Adobe management is but a bunch of greedy hypocrites, and it shows.

            Meanwhile, Serif has updated their suite at a much faster pace than Adobe ever did theirs (it’s true that, at only 5 years old, they are mostly making up for lost time and adding much-needed and basic missing features), and I couldn’t be happier with my purchases… In fact, I’ve recently been using it more and more for professional work and the apps already paid for themselves.

            Oh, and by the way, it’s interesting that Absar posted his reply on October 2015. He forgot to point out a few interesting tidbits and updates on Affinity, so I will instead: multiple artboards, PANTONE palletes and much more then-missing functionality is already available on Designer and Photo, Designer was awarded an Apple Design Award in WWDC’15 and Photo took Designer’s near-title as Mac App of the Year 2015 (Designer was, for the record, only runner-up). If Serif were to make an IPO, you can bet I’ll be buying their stock.

        • FreeHand was actually developed by Altsys, then released under license by Aldus. When Adobe merged with Aldus, legal wrangling by Altsys & anti-trust concerns caused Adobe to give FreeHand back to Altsys who were then acquired by Macromedia.

    • Freehand was far superior….I’ve never liked any version of Illustrator…I just got Affinity…and I’m a pretty damn happy camper…some additions I’d like to see but wow right out of the gate

  5. What about adding Gravit (gravit.io) to your comparison?
    Seems to be free / open source, works on multiple platforms and feels like freehand/ fireworks

  6. Adobe have been stepping up their updates recently, bringing more much needed features to help out with development which is fantastic. I guess part of that would be thanks to Sketch & Affinity.

    But the fact still remains that Illustrator is the only cross-platform program here, so it’s still the top choice.

    • I know I’m going to take a beating for this comment, but I really doubt that Sketch or Affinity register as much more than small blips on Adobe’s radar, if at all. AD is version 1 and has only been out for a couple of weeks. It is extremely premature to start reading Illustrator’s eulogy at this point. It is an exciting product, to be sure. They may pick off a sizable number of customers, but I would wager it won’t be a large enough number to really damage Adobe’s bottom line. If it comes to that point, you can bet that Adobe’s response will be to try to buy Serif Labs and kill the product.

    • I would also say that not only is Illustrator still the top choice, it’s still the best choice for most designers and illustrators. We could spend hours discussing why that is the case but the short answer is that Adobe has invested a lot of time and a lot of money into understanding the problem space and how the users actually use the product. Adobe has defined what vector graphics software even is. Sketch, Affinity Designer, and any other vector software are all, at some level, emulating illustrator. That’s not exactly how you supplant an incumbent product. To truly disrupt a market, you have to bring something new to the table. I haven’t seen that something new yet, but it’s certainly possible.

      Other scenarios where a competitor displaces Adobe in the vector space include:

      1. Adobe falling on hard financial times, which is exceedingly unlikely
      2. Adobe alienating a sizable percentage of their users (a prerequisite for item #1)
      3. A competitor bringing something entirely new to the space
      4. A competitor beats Adobe in the marketing of their products. This is actually the primary reason Adobe won’t be ousted any time soon. Not very many companies have the pockets deep enough to do this.

      At the end of the day, the choice is not “Hey, designer. As you are surveying the options for vector software, choose from this list of equally viable options”. The choice is really, “Hey designer, we know you are accustomed to Illustrator and have built your career around it, but give that up and use this instead”. That is a much, much harder proposition to sell. Most people don’t like change and they don’t like risk. Giving up Illustrator to use something else involves both change and risk. The trick for competitors is to successfully assuage and convincingly minimize users’ innate fear of both of those things.

      But I digress. This is really a discussion about business realities and not about the quality of the products being compared.

      • I read this reply with great interest. Scott, you are right that the future of any vector graphics software is not to emulate the existing “king” but to venture out with a uniqueness or to fill a void that inherently exists in the “king” and cannot be resolved. Because Illustrator has built itself upon a code established 25 years ago, it is married to it today. They have to work around that code because changing it would be a disaster. I refer to the basic drawing and selection tools. The workarounds have meant palette glut, tool glut, and much confusion for newcomers and anyone coming from other draw apps.

        Personally, I come from a FreeHand background and the approach to drawing and selection tools are fundamentally different from AI. I have had to learn the OPPOSITE of using FreeHand tools to be anywhere effective with Illustrator CC. The frustrations other FH users have had with moving to AI is exactly this same problem. Some have made the transition by forgetting their FH-skills while others are looking for another vector app that lets their experience continue. While I applaud the Illustrator team for including more FreeHand-like features in AI recently, it is still the basics that trip me up and my needing a “how to” book next to me.

        This is where Affinity Designer, Gravit, and others come in to fill the void. I have tried AD and it is clearly the closest to the FreeHand experience I have yet seen. The basic function of the tools and selection methods are instantly familiar. The interface is clean. There are still a number of features missing before it is primetime but I see that those are on the development docket. Plus these guys are actually listening to requests and implementing them fast.

        I’ll purposely misquote you with a slight alteration, “Hey designer, we know you are accustomed to FREEHAND and have built your career around it, but give that up and use this instead” That is a statement that I can actually foresee happening. Like you said, Iong-time Illustrator users changing to Designer is a hard proposition and I totally agree. But disenfranchised users or users coming from other draw applications just might be Affinity’s target audience. I suspect any die-hard Illustrator users switching would only be icing on the cake.

  7. Affinity designer DOES do Boolean stuff in a non destructive way – option-click the op buttons or use the Compound menu item. It’s about 300 times faster at it then the other apps you review as well. Looking at the corrections you’ve already added, I think you should actually use Affinity Des. a bit more :/

    And why no iDraw in this comparison?

    • >> And why no iDraw in this comparison?

      The purpose of this piece was to review Affinity Designer because it is currently the Editor’s Choice in the Apple App Store. I was curious about it. I added Sketch because I know that it already has some devoted users in the icon design field and I was curious about it as well. I may do another review at some point in the future and I’ll take a look at the numerous suggestions made by readers. These reviews take quite a bit of time and each product reviewed adds significantly to the amount of time required. 3 products at a time is about all I can handle.

      Thanks for the suggestion.

    • For the record, I never said AD doesn’t do boolean stuff in a non-destructive way. I only pointed it out in Sketch because that is the default behavior. Whereas in AD it is an option, in Sketch flattening is an option, not the default. It wasn’t a factual inaccuracy, only an unclear statement. This was written in the midst of a 90-hour work week and blogging is not my job, BTW. This is done on top of my work week, which averages 60-70 hours. The mistakes were all honest mistakes, maybe cut me a little slack?

  8. Another vote here for Affinity Designer.

    It wasn’t exactly a balanced fight with Affinity being a v1 product. I imagine a lot of its missing features are in the pipeline.

    However, considering Affinity is version one software, it is extraordinarily good! I’m sure it would obliterate Sketch v1!

    The reason Affinity is so good, and the reason it will become great, is the guys behind it – i.e. Serif – have been in the game for a very long time. In fact they date back to 1987 and have a very solid a widely used stable of design products.

    Sketch paved the way but, I suspect Affinity will soon steamroll it, and then cause Adobe more than a few sleepless nights.

  9. Very interesting article, thank you for sharing your research and findings.

    Affinity looks interesting indeed, however having a subscription to CC (largely because I use most of their major apps in my day to day) I am not so willing to jump ship for icon or vector design. I like Illustrator and don’t have any issues with it for any of the use cases… that being said I can see areas where it can be improved, but that is the same with any software. I will say however, that I would probably never use Sketch for vector graphic production (icon design included) for many of the same reasons outlined in the article (clunky tools, joins etc.).

    Though I do design Icons, I am an web interface designer by trade and I realize it is not the aim of the article to compare for interface design but I have to say that I have made a switch to Sketch from my beloved Adobe products in this arena.

  10. Unfortunately you didn’t mention vector rendering quality among programs. Many graphics are still in PNG/JPG on the internet and also these formats are used to client demonstration purposes. So it’s quite important.

    Illustrator is loosing this game like Corel did many years ago. Sketch is quite good. What about last one from your review

  11. This article was updated on 10/24/2014 to correct some factual inaccuracies about Affinity Designer (and 1 about Illustrator). I apologize for the mistakes but they were just that, honest mistakes, and there was no intent to mislead anyone or disparage anyone’s product.

    There are a lot of omissions with regards to features and other products. There just isn’t time or space to include everything. Feel free to add your own thoughts to the comments. There will very likely be more software reviews in the future so keep coming back.

    Regards,
    Scott

  12. I see in the Pros/Cons you’ve mentioned that Illustrators’ memory management is better than Affinity and Sketch? Do you have any data to support that assertion?

    Speaking as one of the Affinity developers, I know that we put a lot of thought into our memory and asset management. That combined with our unique file architecture that was designed from the ground up to perform well on slower hardware gives us some noteworthy performance.

    We tested some pretty huge files and made a lot of timings, including both vector and raster content. For example, for a large sample of PSD files we noted faster times when importing the initial PSD file compared to other apps, then when reopening the file once saved in our own format load times were even faster again.

  13. My background?

    I have been using FreeHand for more than 20 years. I have spend lots of hours making logos, drawings, designs, brochures, flyers, posters and so on.

    My opinion about Affinity Design is that has right now one of the best written code inside. Is fast, super accurate, powerful and has a very clean UI.

    Opens .fh10 and .fh11 formats in a very efficient way. So, for me is right now one of the best tools for vector an design art.

    Waiting for the roadmap to be paved. There are webinars of AD. 30.000+ purchases. Serious alternative.

  14. Great article, thank you. I’m a big fan of Sketch (and Pixelmator, which also has a vector mode that most don’t know about – hit cmd+shift+v) but am regularly frustrated with the fact that Sketch can’t properly open EPS or AI files that I source online for design projects. Just downloaded a trial of Affinity Designer and was pleasantly surprised with its speed and ability to import lots of file types. That copy of AI that I’ve been keeping on the iMac as an emergency go-to? Deleted.

    • Hi Justin. Thanks for your comments. I have a copy of Pixelmator but didn’t know about the vector mode. Great tip. All of these apps show tremendous promise and I’m a big fan of competition so it’s nice to see some good alternatives out there. There are things I like quite a bit about all of the products being discussed. Each has their strengths. I especially like Sketch’s templates and ability to save to multiple sizes and formats with ease.

  15. Great review(s) Scott, thanks so much for taking the time to write it up. I am currently looking at Sketch and Affinity to replace Adobe Fireworks.

    Some parts of Sketch i love (adjustable (web) grids, multiple pages) but Affinity feels more solid. Also Affinity seems to be active all over their forums helping and looking out for feature requests. Sketch i sent one email querying an issue i was having and i think there was a language barrier as the response was not too helpful.

    I am gong to try to do an end to end interface design in Affinity to see how i get on

    • Hey Hairby, thanks for the kind words and input on the discussion. I just read yesterday that Pixelmator has a vector app that is either out or coming out soon. I read it in passing so I don’t have the full details but it might be worth checking out. I’ve used Pixelmator a bit in the past and it seems pretty solid from the little interaction I had with it. But yeah, Affinity Designer is pretty solid and their forums are very active. The AD team is very passionate about their product – a fact I learned first-hand ;-)

  16. I find it amazing that Adobe has slipped so badly. Most of what I’m hearing of late from most designers is “Sketch 3′, “use Sketch 3″, “have you tried Sketch 3 yet?” – Now we are migrating our entire production studio to Sketch 3.

    I was an Adobe drone for a while, but now the writing really is on the wall for Adobe. Using Photoshop, Illustrator to produce web and mobile designs and graphics just does not cut it. Adobe had a really good vector based product in Fireworks that did everything really well…… but for some bizarre reason they’ve all but abandoned it now through complete neglect and ignorance of vector based web and mobile production in the year 2014.

    It would have to be the biggest f***-up in Adobe’s long history and now it seems they are back pedalling madly. Seems the rumour mill is true and there is something in the works coming from Adobe to fill this space. HA HA HA HA HA….

    Might be all too late however. Adding some Fireworks-esq features into Photoshop which is already seriously bloated and quite clunky does not fix the fundamental issue…… it just feels really crap for design and banging out app screens.

    Hope someone from Adobe reads this, probably won’t though as they don’t actually ask their customers what they want and make decisions on a whim while looking at the financial spreadsheet. Idiots.

    Interesting tip, did you know the splash screens created for all Adobe’s products before CC 2014 were made in Fireworks!!!

    https://medium.com/@ahow/fireworks-refugees-welcome-to-the-open-arms-of-sketch-3-3241b7f972af

    • Totally agree with that, plus their pricing policy is beyond a joke. No cross platform option or ability tochange language, no real updates unless you pay for the new version. They’re aggressive in their approach to the market. It was a sad day when they bought Macromedia and they regained total market domination.
      I also find it funny hearing people who have grown up on Illustrator finding it hard to use other software. I find Illustrator a nightmare to use, it’s pen functions are not logical, that’s why long time users find it hard to make the switch. Plus the interface is clunky and confusing.
      Fireworks is great, I still use it, but have started with Affinity as of this week. Personally iDraw and Pixelmator are missing a few essential options which make them unusable for me anyway. They’re good, but unfortunately it’s in the details. Please note that 99% of my work is web so this may be why.

      • You can actually install Creative Cloud on different platforms and multiple computers. That’s what I love about it, tbh. I hated that if anything happened to my Mac, I was unable to work while it was getting repaired.

        “I also find it funny hearing people who have grown up on Illustrator finding it hard to use other software. I find Illustrator a nightmare to use, it’s pen functions are not logical, that’s why long time users find it hard to make the switch.”

        I don’t get this comment? What exactly do you expect people to switch to? Until I start seeing job listings saying that they want designers who work with Affinity Designer, I don’t see why anyone needs to switch over. I’ve used and loved illustrator for years, btw, and I’ve always felt that using Illustrator, if anything, helps you get good at using Vector pens in any program. Adobe has done some weird things to the Pen tool over the years, including in CC, I’ll give you that. But Illustrator has always been a polarizing program: it has it’s devotees and it’s detractors who don’t get the charm and mainly stick to Photoshop. For me, few programs give me the charm and ease of Vectors use for print that I wouldn’t usually find outside of 3D programs. Although looking at the work people have done with Affinity, it’s starting to look very attractive.

        I second the Fireworks love, though. It’s probably the best way to make gifs (The only way I’m willing to make them, as I don’t really like using Photoshop).

    • I’ve never heard of anyone mention Sketch 3. It’s 100 bucks in comparison to Creative Cloud which is more cost effective in the long run, so I don’t get you rambling about how it’s going to replace Adobe, as Adobe is more than one product. In comparison to Sketch, if Adobe offers their own alternative for designers, everyone’s still going to run hand over fists to Adobe just because they rather pay 50 bucks a month than drop 100 dollars on a standalone app. I do agree that Adobe bloats their programs with features that may or may not take hold, but the key selling point behind Adobe products is familiarity. They’ve established a market because the idea behind their products is that their features make your work process “faster”. Their products are still going to be the defacto program for years to come because even if people adapt to different programs, they don’t necessarily abandon ship so quickly. And it’s going to be very hard to undo Photoshop’s legacy.

      • You are living under an Adobe-chiseled rock if you are a designer and haven’t heard of Sketch. $100 for an app like Sketch is nothing. Photoshop used to cost $800 by itself, and Illustrator something like $600. $50 per month is a lot when you add it up compared to a one-shot $100 purchase, even if it’s for all the CC apps. On top of that, Sketch updates their software regularly, loves user feedback and has a fast-growing community that provides resources. Here is just one site: http://www.sketchappsources.com/

        Even if Adobe’s products are the defacto standard, their time of complete dominance is waning.

        • Whether one is a loyal Adobe user or not, I hope you’re right about Adobe’s complete market dominance waning. Competition is always good and making Adobe work harder will be great for their consumers. Clearly Sketch and Serif are doing some great things. I expect Affinity Designer to really be a standout in this field. It’s pretty amazing what they’ve accomplished with the first version of their software. In the software development industry, there is an adage that no product is mature until it reaches version 4. I’m really excited to see what Affinity Designer looks like when it has gone through 4 full versions.

          Sketch seems to have carved out a nice of loyal following among UI and web designers, which is great. Personally, I am not a fan of Sketch but I can see the value of the tools they have provided. I /am/ a big fan of their export feature. It just rocks.

  17. I love Sketch and I got used to it very, very quickly.

    It is very important to mention that it is only for screen (web) work. It is set at 72 DPI and RGB. There are no options to adjust that. The work around to get it to 300 dpi was to increase the pixel size so when you export to another app and adjust the pixels it shrinks back to the size you originally intended. Then you convert to CMYK. After that was done I had a grainy looking image that was not good enough for print work.

    Solution: Install Affinity (trial), import the .svg Sketch file, and tweak it all over again. Affinity allows you to adjust DPI and has CMYK settings.

    I have yet to try iDraw. I’m leaning towards Affinity because although you can easily handle basic pixel editing, they plan to release a suite of tools including a dedicated pixel editor.

  18. Another vote for Sketch. With a few caveats. It is buggy. They need to spend time squashing bugs.

    Has anyone else selected an object, tried to nudge the object up/down/left/right and found that it doesn’t move? I sometimes have to zoom in/out to get it to nudge the object.

    Just bought affinity designer as its reduced presently (20% off) – but it needs to get multiple art boards in the feature-set for me to look at it for everyday use.

  19. I just wanted to let you know that Adobe is listening and fully committed designers. You should check our CC Libraries in Ai CC 2014 as well as all the enhancements made to almost all of the core drawing tools in Ai like liveshapes, live corners, pen tool, the all-new pencil tool as well as the brand new Curvature tool. Additionally, checkout Market assets as well as typekit fonts that also come with your CC membership. Composite shape support has been in Ai for a long time and available via the pathfinder panel’s flyout menu.

    We are committed to delivering the best solution for designers and hope to delight you with the upcoming releases. Illustrator is one of the oldest software products in the world and I believe that that is a good thing. Like all software teams should, we are also always modernizing the product. The app was re-gutted for 64-bit support and given a brand new UI in CS6 and is now being re-gutted to support GPU rendering. A glimpse here:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VHR0-qR927A

    Export has been an problem for us and we are excited to see the response to generator in Photoshop as well as CC Extract
    Generator: http://blogs.adobe.com/photoshopdotcom/2013/09/introducing-adobe-generator-for-photoshop-cc.html
    Extract: http://www.adobe.com/creativecloud/extract.html

    I expect some of this tech to end up in Ai as well. And the team is busy as ever.

    I’m happy to discuss our road map with anyone here solicit your feedback. I also want everyone to know that we have an active advisory board and user community that keeps us challenged and honest. We often lurk and sometimes post.

    Great article Scott.

    –Anubhav
    Anubhav Rohatgi
    Group Product Manager, Design

    • Hi Anubhav,

      Thanks for joining the discussion and for the insight into the Adobe Illustrator road map. I look forward to seeing what is in store.

      Thanks for the compliment, too. Always appreciated.

      Regards,
      Scott

    • I have been an Adobe user since Photoshop 3. But… that might well end after CS 6 becomes obsolete. Two reasons: lack of real innovation and licensing scheme.
      After only one hour of testing with Affinity I find it easier to use than Illustrator, an application I have experience for over a decade with. Affinity for sure doesn’t cover all of the functionality of Illustrator at this time, but it outperforms it on almost any feature they do cover.
      I love the way my Wacom tablet interacts with Affinity, the strokes seem more beautiful and adjusting a brush suddenly is a very easy thing. I love to edit a gradient in the object itself. It feels native OSX, seems to take advantage of my gpu, it is super fluent while I am working in 16 bit. Compared with this both Photoshop and Illustrator are ultimately a bad compromise between Win and OSX.
      Affinity achieved this in a very short period of time, taking full advantage of the core image and other libraries in OSX. When Photoshop was developed initially is was a mayor effort. But now all the heavy lifting for a graphical application can be doen by the core libraries in OSX.
      That should bother Adobe. What has Adobe been doing??
      The times that software needs to cost so much is behind us. I can buy the mayor Apple professional applications (Final Cut X, Logic X) for about 240 euros each. Extras go for 50 euros. Full licenses. For me this is going to be the new price anchor.
      And besides of the money: many paying customers of Adobe just-don’t-eat the subscription model. Nevertheless, it is a welcome step by Adobe, as it triggers now a lot of development for alternative solutions, which is good for competition and choice.

    • Hi Anubhav,

      It’s nice to hear that GPU rendering is in the pipeline, because as a new owner of a retina iMac I can tell you the graphic performance is painful. I have the best GPU and maxed out memory, and scrolling/zooming is choppy with lots of lag. No other application exhibits this behavior. Affinity is much better in this regard.

      When can we expect the GPU rendering update? Fingers crossed it’s not too far off.

    • Mr Anubhav – unfortunately, I didn’t just arrive at this the party.

      “I just wanted to let you know that Adobe is listening and fully committed designers.”

      Right. Like you listened to those of us depending on Display Postscript. And listened to those of us running Framemaker. Like you crapped on Sun and SGI and IBM and were so extravagantly greedy that Apple and Mickeysoft even teamed up to create a new font format.

      There’s an old saying — “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” I would trust Al Capone before I ever believe a word out of your mouth again.

  20. Thanks for the side-by-side comparison. I haven’t tried AD yet, but the most important difference is that unlike AI, Sketch was designed with UI in mind. It’ll never be able to match AI free illustration capabilities. In fact, in the area of flat UI design, it’s a replacement for Photoshop, not AI. Another of your assessments is totally wrong: “intuitive/familiar” – no. I’ve been using AI since ’89. Of course first time Sketch was “unfamiliar”, but it’s one of the most intuitive design tools I’ve seen in my life. Took me 2-3 days to get to the same speed as in photoshop.

    • Hi Nighternet,

      Yes, I understand it’s not an exact one-to-one comparison. Originally this was going to be a review of Affinity Designer only after I stumbled upon it on the App Store. I read a review of Sketch and AD by another icon designer and wanted to do my own evaluation from an icon designer’s perspective. Keep in mind, this blog is exclusively about icon design and icon-related issues so I was examining all three programs from that very narrow use case.

      As far as whether or not Sketch’s UI is intuitive, it’s really a subjective issue. To me it wasn’t at all intuitive. To you it was intuitive. One cannot really say that either or us is right or either of us is wrong. Since this is an opinion piece I can only write from my own perspective. As I said several times in the article, readers should take my opinions with a grain of salt and try the programs themselves. I was just trying to offer a useful starting point.

      Thanks for adding your perspective to the discussion. I think the entire discussion is far more useful to readers than the review by itself. It is worth noting that as a result of this article, we at Iconfinder had meetings with Astute Graphics and the Adobe Illustrator product manager, so this discussion is even more relevant. It seems vendors are listening and responding.

      Cheers,
      Scott

  21. Scott, thank you for doing a review that is methodical, thorough, objective, easy to follow and well written. This is unfortunately rare so I applaud you.

    • Hi LisatheNewbie. Thanks for your kind words. That was what we had hoped to do. Everyone will always disagree about opinions, and that’s fine, but we were trying to be as fair and objective as possible. My hope is that every reader of this article (or any other that I write) will use the article as a jumping off point to go do their own research and decide for themselves.

      Kind regards,
      Scott

  22. Greetings to all,

    I’m not a designer. Except a few simple websites (joomla and wordpress templates), I never designed anything. I couldn’t design an icon if you put a gun in my head. Well, until I found Sketch :)

    Pretty intuitive. As a non-designer I’ve come to lear Sketch between one and two weeks. Simply amazing. I wanted to learn it coz I need it for my mobile app designs.

    Sketch is awesome at that. Actually, Illustrator can’t compete with sketch here. Coz I can finally make great designs (to me at least;) ) that I couldn’t do in Illustrator and Photoshop combined.

    But no only that, with a help of few awesome plugins (just to mention content generator) I can make a mockup of complex app in a matter of hours. Something not so easily done with adobe products.

    Now, Sketch is not unkown. As someone mentioned, Sketch is for screen designs. And in that mark it outshines Illustrator. IMHO of course. Just to mention, look at google material design. Look at apple designs. All made by sketch believe it or not. You can even download google designs in sketch format. Actually, only in that format when it was introduced.

    Guy that designed Sparrow email client is now a big shot in google. He introduced Sketch to them, and now they are using it instead of adobe.

    P.S.
    I have a purchased copy of AD. But haven’t really spend any time with it to comment on it. But will give it a shot as well, since the team is really trying. I love it when developers are active part of the community. I consider myself such a developer, and one of the most important things is being part of the community of your own product.

    • Hi Marin,

      Awesome comments. Thanks for contributing to the conversation. Based on your comments and those of other commenters here, as well as what I’ve read on other blogs, it sounds like Sketch really excels in the area of interface and app design.

      As you gleaned from the article, I was really only looking at the three software packages from a very specific use case: icon design. But the other use cases a lot or commenters have mentioned are all very informative and useful as well, especially since a lot of icon designers may also work in other disciplines as well.

      Cheers, and thanks for joining the conversation.

  23. Thanks Scott, that was exactly the question I was wondering with my friends designer about Affinity and Illustrator. Anyway, Affinity is still pretty young, and it’s refreshing to see some new comer shaking the industry.

    • Hi Chou,

      Thanks for joining the conversation and for the feedback. Yes, exactly. Affinity Designer /is/ young and it’s an unfair comparison from the start of it but I think they can take it. The most promising vector software package bar none that I’ve seen – ever. Also, they are the first product that I think has a real chance of challenging Illustrator. Let’s hope that’s exactly what happens. Competition is always a good thing.

  24. Illustrator’s pen tool has come a long way, but it still sucks compared to Macromedia FreeHand, which has now been canceled by Adobe.
    Affinity is closest in terms of speed and use to FreeHand, but even that falls short. FreeHands ability to edit points on the fly is unrivaled from any vector program I’ve used so far.

    • Oh, I would also add that Affinity Designer will open Macromedia FreeHand files BETTER than Illustrator does. That, couple with 1,000,000x zoom made it an instant purchase for me.

  25. Thank you for this in-depth article. I have been using Adobe Illustrator since the mid-90′s (version 5) and spent 15 years in the professional design world. I have an older copy at home and use it regularly for pro-bono work. I’m no longer a professional designer, but still love using Illustrator. But their new subscription model has (in my opinion) alienated the little guy who does not make his bread and butter using their software. It’s just not worth $20 a month when I’m no longer making money as a designer. So I came across this article looking for a cheaper alternative. I’m so used to using Illustrator that I have kept my old laptop (even though I recently purchased a new one) and my older version of Illustrator. I’m wondering if I should make the switch to Affinity Designer (and learn a new interface) or just keep my old laptop until Adobe gives us small-change guys an alternative to the subscription model (perhaps wishful thinking). Thoughts?

    • Hi Jeremy,

      Thanks for joining the discussion and for the kind words. I think you are the perfect candidate for Affinity Designer. I wouldn’t let learning a new UI stop you. That’s just a matter of spending enough time in the software to get accustomed. And don’t let my criticisms of AD turn you off. It’s a very solid piece of software and my criticisms are only because it’s the new kid on the block and will have to make its bones (but I have no doubt it will). And I’m (just barely) humble enough to admit when I’m wrong – and I was wrong in my initial impression of Affinity Designer (a fact of which numerous people made sure I was aware).

      I’d highly recommend checking out Affinity Designer. There is a trial version so you really can’t go wrong. Nothing to lose.

      Cheers,
      Scott

      • Thank you. I downloaded the Beta for Affinity’s new photo program and am waiting for my next project (down to one or two projects a month) before I start my trial of Affinity Designer. I’m just wondering if an old dog can learn new tricks with the limited time I have? Thanks for the help.

        • It’s my pleasure to help. Oh, I’m sure you can learn the new tricks. I’m no spring chicken and I do just fine. From what the developers at Affinity Tell me, their pen tool is really feature-packed and capable. It’s probably best to focus on that tool first. The folks at Serif are super customer-focused so you can always reach out to them via their forum and chat with some folks. They can, I’m sure, point you in the direction of some good tutorials.

  26. These comparisons are really helpful, but there’s another important element that needs to be considered/compared and that’s how each program handles typography. I’m trying to use Sketch more and more, but its type handling is pretty terrible, when compared to Illustrator.

    • Hi Josh,

      Yes, I agree. Typography is a bid issue and an important comparison. I was only looking at the three programs from the very narrow perspective of icon designers so typography isn’t as important from that point-of-view. It has been a long time since I had to deal with typography in anything more than a cursory way so I would not be a good reviewer for that use case.

      If you have some particular issues you want to point out, feel free to add them here. This has been a lively discussion and I appreciate everyone’s feedback, even the ones who think I’ve drank the “Adobe Kool-aid” or just plain off my rocker ;-)

      Cheers,
      Scott

  27. Hi Scott, thanks so much for this comparison review! You took a lot of time to compare these packages. Kudos for keeping your cool in the face of some pretty, um, passionate (negative), comments. You’re doing a lot of designers a huge service here!

    I didn’t know there were so many fellow Freehand lovers out there! I was forced by Adobe to abandon Freehand and switch to AI when I got Intel Macs. I love what I can do with AI, the UI is still grating to me, and the subscription model is simply untenable for someone who doesn’t make a living designing. I do in-house ads, logos, forms, etc., and volunteer design work for my church using AI, PS, ID mainly, and I do NOT get paid to do it. So $360 a year? No way.

    I know Adobe’s running a business, and it sounds like you’re comfortable with being locked into their subscription model, but they’re completely anticompetitive: they bought and killed AI’s only competitor, Freehand; faithful users weren’t paying for upgrades often enough, so they switched to a subscription model to FORCE upgrades on apps that stop working if you don’t pay the renewal even if you’ve spent thousands! I am happy that Affinity appears poised to give us options for apps I can purchase at a reasonable price and update as I see fit, not because I’m held hostage by the developer.

    Will a few thousand hobbyists switching out bring Adobe to its knees? Probably not. But I’m not trying to kill Adobe, I’m just doing what’s right for me: buying tools that do what I need at a price I can justify.

    • Hi David,

      Great comment. Thanks for joining the discussion. I completely understand about $360 being a lot to spend each year when you aren’t making money from the product to absorb the cost.

      I can understand why the subscription model doesn’t work for a lot of people. Everybody’s circumstances are different and for me it’s not a huge expense and I like being able to predict my overhead as well as being able to spread it out. When I used to freelance full-time (for 8 years) every time the MacOS changed enough or Illustrator, Photoshop, or QuarkXPress (before I switched to InDesign) changed enough to force me to upgrade, dropping $1,000 at a time was really painful. Yes, I could have (and should have) planned ahead but as a freelancer that is always pretty tough to do.

      That said, I think Affinity Designer will have much greater appeal than just to hobbyists. It’s a pretty serious professional tool. There are a lot of reasons, not covered in this article, why Affinity Designer will have a tough time breaking into the enterprise market and in that market, Adobe is quite safe. But that is a topic for a whole other article. Suffice it to say that Adobe’s reach and offering are much wider and deeper than just providing “vector software” or “imaging software”. The integration of their full suite of products, well beyond just their design products, is really impressive.

      Cheers.

  28. Hi my friend!
    How can I open my .AI files with convert the text to curves?
    I can’t do it… my text is always converted.
    Thank you!

    • Hi Carlo,

      This isn’t really the right forum for your question, but I will answer if I can (or maybe someone else can help). You’ll need to clarify your question though. What do you mean “convert the text to curves”? What program are you trying to open the .AI files in? Illustrator? And the text is being converted to outlines rather than being preserved as editable text?

      Thanks.

  29. One thing you don’t mention is a flaw that, in my opinion and those of some others on the Adobe forums, makes Illustrator nearly unusable: It has no way to select only items fully enclosed by the selection marquee. This is Designer’s default mode (thankfully).

    In Illustrator, everything you touch gets selected, which means you have to deselect unwanted objects one at a time; a huge pain in the ass. There’s no practical workaround for this, not even scripting. Corel Draw, Inkscape, and others offer a sensible selection mode. Adobe has ignored years of complaints and continued to ship a hobbled product, simply because there was no real competition on the Mac.

    • Hi David. Thanks for joining the discussion.

      Actually, I did mention this feature but in the exact opposite spirit. I found this behavior of Affinity Designer to be frustrating. This is the paragraph in question:

      “Sketch and Illustrator allow you to drag a marquee over any piece of an object to select the object by default. If you are using the direct selection tool, you can drag a marquee over an object to select any points or segments inside the marquee, or hold down the option key to select the entire object. Affinity also has the marquee-select feature but it must be enabled in Preferences > User Interface > Marquee Select on Touch.”

      I even corresponded with the folks at Serif concerning this feature and they informed me of the setting in preferences. I also think the preference is confusingly named. “Marquee Select on Touch”?

      But take all of this with a grain of salt. What one prefers is largely a matter of how one learned. This article is just my opinion of the three products and meant to introduce Sketch and Affinity Designer to folks who may not have heard of them before. My hope is that folks will try out Sketch and Affinity Designer and draw their own conclusions.

  30. Thanks for this Scott.

    I won a copy of Macromedia Freehand way back (I think I answered a survey) and had a ball learning to use it on my Mac SE despite all the floppy disk swapping (at least I think I did on the SE, who can remember?) I DO remember all the sliding stacks of plastic ,colored 800K disks the clunk when they set and creaky door sound when they ejected! Anyway when I finally upgraded to a Mac with a color screen the world opened up yet again :)

    Big changes since but not as big as I’ve yearned. We seem still to not have the computing horsepower or coding chops to significantly automatic the translation of ideas from internal to external. As a non artist sometimes needing to get ideas on paper I get excited by tools that allow me to continue to draw poorly but have the ability to turn my blobs into what I intend. I see some small signs of maybe a trend to continue aiding my feeble efforts just sticking it frail leaves above the soil and I’m planning to be around along enough to see it to fruition.

    I take AI out for a spin every few years and while satisfyingly precise, end up tumbling down its steep uphill learning curve.

    Thanks for scratching the endless itch to keep tabs on our progress towards freeing our ideas and bring beauty and full self expression into the world (and make a few bucks along the way ;) Your efforts inspire are much appreciated.

    • Hi Bern,

      Personally I’m glad we can automated the creation of ideas. I’d be out of a job if that were possible :-)

      I do recall the SE and the stacks of floppy disks. In fact, I still remember the days of DOS and 5-1/4″ floppies. You had your program disk and your file disk. Insert the program disk to load the program in memory. Then load your storage disk to access your files. It’s amazing how far we’ve come in just the past 30 years.

      Scott

  31. I’d be very interested in knowing handling Illustrator’s gradient mesh in Affinity and Sketch, if available, and if Illustrator imports as full vectors EPS exported by Affinity and Sketch, mainly when using non transparent gradients.

    • Hi Mike,

      I didn’t look into more advanced features like gradient mesh. I don’t know about the folks at Sketch but the folks at Serif Labs who make Affinity Designer are really responsive and engaging with users. I’m sure they’d be happy to talk with you on their forum.

      Scott

  32. Hi Scott, thanks for your (now 6 month old!) review. I’m an old hand at all this, been using AI since the Illu 88 days and PS since version 1.0.7 no less. Tried just about everything that has been around in the last 25 years, Freehand, which I never quite got the hang of, Corel Draw, a package that has managed to absolutely never deliver on its potential, Deneba Canvas, etc etc. I’ve tried all of the recent Mac vector apps, AD, Sketch, iDraw etc, and while AD is by far the most promising in terms of usability, functionality and innovation, I always find myself drifting back to AI.

    I think the muscle memory effects of using AI for so long are what causes it. I’m pretty sure that given time and some small effort, I could do most of what I want to with AD instead of AI.

  33. As someone in the market for art and graphic design software, I really enjoyed the informative article. Since I will be new as a computer artist I am more interested in Affinity’s low price. I can spend more for Corel or Adobe later. Also, I own a Mac and have good computer skills though not in design or art. I do have an old fashion (60′s) degree in fine art.
    Thanks Scott. This will help me make a decision.

    • Hi Jon,

      Thanks for joining the conversation. I’m glad you found the article helpful. I agree 100%. Affinity Designer is a great option for someone just starting out or who is not already entrenched with Adobe’s products. Don’t get me wrong, I seem to be one of the few people who really loves Adobe but I also see a lot of value in the other packages and, depending on one’s needs, they are worthy competitors and alternatives.

      Scott

      • Hi Scott,
        I am currently enrolled in design school (a little late in the game). I found this blog due to a persuasive essay I am writing for an English class. Originally for the comparison of Illustrator vs Sketchbook. I think I will be changing to vs Sketch based on this article. In my classes we are using the entire Adobe Master Series 6. I love it! I have never worked with any design program. I’m majoring in motion graphics and 3D animation. Thank you for your insight. Designers are definitely passionate about their work and programs. Thanks again. Great read.
        Regards,
        Kacy

  34. Thanks for the comparison Scott. Nice to see a fellow developer involved in graphics work. I’m a 28 year veteran myself. Graphic design is what I want to do in my senior years. (I know that its slanted to towards younger folks but hey, if people like your stuff then you are in business.)

  35. Frankly, for me, the biggest problem with Illustrator is that the learning curve is really steep. Took me ages to figure out the basics, even though I have been working with Photoshop for years and I thought the UIs would be similar/tools would behave similar. In terms of simplicity – the new ones seem more fit for new users. It’s similar to the whole Avid vs FCP discussion – former being used way more in Hollywood and latter is still powerful, just not as complicated or perhaps extensible.

  36. You can get ADOBE Illustrator CS6 and much more as part of Adobe CS6 Master Collection. It also has Photoshop CS6 Extended, Indesign CS6, Acrobat, Dreamweaver CS6 and more for 152. Call {3O5} 76I76I7

  37. When I first did some vector stuff about 15 years ago it was in Corel Draw. Which was incredibly easy for someone who had just started using computers. And until today I do not at all understand why it is so terribly complicated to edit curves in Illustrator. You have to switch between tools for every bloody little step. You wish for a looking glass to find these awfully small points and handles with your mouse. In Sketch all that is super-easy. Double click a shape to edit its curve. Then just click to add and remove points. Change your points from Straight to Mirrored, to Disconnected, to Asymmetric by using the intuitive icon buttons. And even place a point’s handles to an exact x/y spot in your document/art board. What is really bad in Sketch at the moment is what it makes of the shapes in exported EPS. You can see that when you import such EPS to Illustrator or Affinity Designer.

    I do miss the Sketch simplicity in editing curves in Affinity Designer. But also this program is much easier to use than Illustrator. And I’m actually very enthusiastic about Serif to “attack” Adobe.

    Of course there is still quite some functionality in Illustrator that is missing in the other programs. But I am most confident this will change. Adobe programs still seem to be first choice for professionals when it comes to functionality. But for a Mac user it has always been a terrible UI with badly rendered text (remember: these are the first choice programs for graphic designers!) and with basically everything working differently to OSX’s native UI especially if you are a keyboard nerd such as me.

    • I agree with the missing functions. While it is true, there are some things in Illustrator that may not be necessary, it has tools that I utterly depend on that I have yet to find in AD.

      One such tool is selection by various attributes. And I also have not seen a LINE PROFILE tool. . . nor my beloved SMOOTH TOOL. Maybe they are somewhere. . .dunno. I also find that keyboard shortcut ability is very limited, forcing one to manually have to go to a menu bar, which wastes time and is not streamlined.

      I do simple, but detailed patterns for a vinyl cutter, and just find it hard to draw with AD. To be fair, perhaps that is just because I have learned to do things a certain way that work very well for me in ILLUSTRATOR and AD would require me to learn a new/different set of tricks to accomplish the same thing. In all honesty, I feel about the same way with FlexiSign (which does have a few cool tools, though)

      Hands down, I personally vote for ILLUSTRATOR for my personal needs, but it is so nice to see a new challenger on the block as well. This way, things are less likely to get as stale.

      Now if ADOBE could only make their nodes a little nicer to play with . . . . but I sometimes like that they are so unobtrusive as well, so it’s a toss-up even there.

  38. I’ve used Illustrator, and taken a view courses. As a 40 something accounting professional who’s recently discovered his artistic side, Illustrator is a little “too pro”, packed with so much, for me it’s overwhelming and seems it has way more than I will every need. I took the plunge and bought Affinity Designer and I am having a blast with it. It seems far more elegant for me to explore and have fun with my ideas. There’s also a certain style and philosophy with the Serif team that resonates with me. Adobe seems cold, large, and sanitized with the software having a mechanical feel. This is of course how I feel, and as such has no truth / false value. I am fine with cold and mechanical, after all I am an accounting professional. However, when I come home and want to relax and dabble in the arts, Affinity lets me do that, with the Serif philosophy as an inspiration, and their tools don’t seem to get in the way.

  39. I’m suggesting creately diagramming and collaboration software to create sketches and designs. I think it should be included and to this review as well. It works with vector (SVG) as well!

  40. Disagree with “clunky” pen for Affinity. Some clear Adobe bias here. “Maturity” is an ironic pro. They have had 26 years to work out kinks and make improvements but have been painfully slow in both AI and PS in doing so. Their complacency is a huge con. As witnessed by their CC only price model – they don’t listen to their customers at all. Flat out speed with big files is Affinity’s number one pro and slowness should top the AI con list. Configurable nodes is also a huge Affinity pro and and the lack there of should be on the others con list.

  41. adobe illustrator. I learned how to use in in 1990. It’s funny how 3.0 runs faster than the latest version. They bloated this software with stupid features and never really innovated the process of making curves and shapes… Even the color picker stinks! why cant you use an eyedropper tool inside the color picker window? You can in After effects. You mean after 20+ years no ever mentioned that it sucks that these tools basic functions cant be idenitical….UGH!!! Why does the type tool STINK? Why doesnt it work like indesign? ADOBE is so greedy they make each program fall short when its functions mimics another tools in their software set!!! I am so glad someone one came along and blew their shorts off…TRUE INNOVATIVE DRAWING PROGRAM thats not a legacy of crap from the 90s! Its just fresh in 2015 using 2015 tech!!!!

  42. I´m STILL using OS X 10.6.8 on my MacBook Pro. The ONLY reason is the GREAT drawing program FREEHAND! Unfortunately this is the latest Apple OSX to supporting FREEHAND. Nice to see at last the first alternative to this great drawing program. So welcome to Affinity Designer, I hope I will get time soon to try out this new program.

  43. Great article! Thankfully it’s a bit dated now.

    Affinity has some of the best multiple artboard support now (anything can be an artboard, you can have a ton of them and the app is still very performant).

    Affinity also has a wonderful custom grid tool.

    There is now an “Export Persona” in Affinity which makes exporting multiple arboards in many formats a breeze. It supports having different output formats for different artboards, so it is does have feature parity with Sketch. And you can be way more detailed with the export options.

    Even cooler, Affinity as something called Continuous Export. If you enable this for an artboard or a slice, then it will be exported every time you save your Affinity document. This is great for iterating on a design that might be previewed in a dev environment. For example, when I am working on an SVG icon for a web application, I can have the application running and using the SVG asset to which Affinity automatically exports every time I save. This makes iterating on the design /in context/ a breeze.

    I hope you revisit this review, it’s exciting how far these tools have come!

  44. I think this may be in the hands of the Serif shareholders if the software really takes off. But let’s face it Adobe is looking bit long in the tooth these days so good luck to Affinity.

    ” They may pick off a sizable number of customers, but I would wager it won’t be a large enough number to really damage Adobe’s bottom line. If it comes to that point, you can bet that Adobe’s response will be to try to buy Serif Labs and kill the product.” Scott Lewis

  45. You didn’t mention anything about the “Image Trace” feature in illustrator. Is there anything comparable to this in Sketch or Affinity?

  46. Sketch just switched to a $99/year price model (which they claim is very different from subscriptions, because people don’t like subscriptions …)

  47. Image trace is on the roadmap! Thank goodness, because I’ve now ended my relationship with Adobe, and am using Inkscapes trace tool, until Affinity has introduced theirs.

  48. Time to update this review with the release of the PC beta of Affinity Designer :)

    A lot of the items in your comparison chart have been updated :)
    You’ll have to use “on steroids’ a lot more :)

  49. Sketch doesn’t do print work well at all and doesn’t seem to intend to. Doesn’t offer measurements other than pixels (picas, inches, etc) and doesn’t offer CMYK or Pantone. I don’t do much print but I need to collaborate with those who do.

    I love Sketch but am really comfortable with Illustrator as a creature of habit.

    • I just read above that Sketch changed licensing to 1yr terms. That was not the case 6 months ago when I made my purchase. :(
      Also, when I made my purchase, they pulled a switcheroo by moving from unlimited devices by the same user, to two devices. Although their website had not been updated to reflect that, they would not honor their statement.

      I still do like working with Sketch but feel like an orphan at times. Oh well.

  50. Time to update this review with the release of the PC beta of Affinity Designer :)

    A lot of the items in your comparison chart have been updated :)
    You’ll have to use “on steroids’ a lot more :)

  51. i thought affinity was going to be easy to u. all there videos do not explain where the tools are proper you have to zoom in to see waste of money refund please very disapointed

  52. I tried a demo of Affinity Designer 6 months ago and was very disappointed with the lack of AI pathfinder like tools. Even the FREE Inkscape can do more with manipulating vector shapes ( division, intersection, cut path etc) and has some great node commands. Affinity seems to have amazing potential. But they have to look at what AI does and try emulate it’s many flagship tools and stop trying to weld on Photoshop pixel editing features until they have provided the best vector tools for anyone switching over from expensive rip-off adobe. I refuse to ever submit to Adobe’s new cloud model, paying monthly / annually. I don’t like renting software.

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