Two years after our in-depth comparison of Adobe Illustrator, Affinity Designer, and Sketch, it appears that Adobe has taken notice of its two major challengers and has incorporated some key features previously only seen in Sketch and Affinity Designer. By the same token, it appears that Sketch and Affinity Designer have been influenced by some of the stronger points and, in Sketch’s case the subscription model, of Adobe Illustrator.
Given the changes to all three applications over the past two years, it is worth revisiting the comparison and ask the question again, “Can Sketch and Affinity Designer Replace Illustrator”?
Articles in this Series
- Introduction & Overview
- Adobe Illustrator Review
- Affinity Designer 1.5 Beta Review
- Sketch Review 2016
Feedback, Criticism, and Responses from the Vendors
This review should not be seen as a one-way conversation. We encourage you to follow this 5-part series and to join the discussion in the comments. The makers of each of these applications are listening, and our original review generated a lot of debate, some heated criticism (some deserved and some not), and some very positive responses and direct engagement with users from Serif Labs, who makes Affinity Designer, and Adobe. Now is the time to have your say, directly to the makers of each software product.
After our original review, we were contacted by the Adobe Illustrator team and asked to collect feature suggestions and criticisms from several icon designers. The main changes that icon designers wanted to see to Adobe Illustrator were the ability to export in multiple sizes and formats at the same time, similar to the same feature in Sketch. Another major change that was requested was the removal of the arbitrary 100-artboard limit. And finally, icon designers requested improvements to the Align to Pixel Grid feature.
The Export for Screens feature was added to Adobe Illustrator CC 2015.3. The Illustrator team also currently has other features in beta that will significantly affect the icon designer’s workflow. Additionally, Illustrator has added a 10-fold increase to the zoom feature from 6,400% to 64,000%. Not quite as fine-grained as Affinity Designer’s 1,000,000% zoom but an improvement nonetheless.
Serif Labs, who makes Affinity Designer, already has a great reputation for interaction between their entire team and users via their user forums, as well as the best reputation among the three vendors for their responsiveness to users’ requests. The major updates to Affinity Designer over the past 2 years have focused on improved performance, Export Personas, and some really great features such as Continuous Export and automatic export in @3X size. Serif Labs has also added improved import and export for a wide variety of common formats including PSD, PDF, AI, EPS, SVG, and Freehand.
Bohemian Coding has also introduced numerous improvements since our last review. Among the most notable for icon designers are enhancements to performance and rendering. A common issue encountered by icon designers using Sketch are related to SVG exports. In our review of Sketch later in this series we will take an in-depth look at the more than 10 improvements reported by Bohemian Coding to the SVG exports in versions 3.4, 3.6, and 3.7.
Just the Facts (as much as possible)
As any software developer or UX designer knows, software use is not a hard science. What one user considers easy, another user might find somewhat more difficult. Every user of any software brings with them their own experiences, paradigms, and assumptions, which influence how they interact with the software. However, in order to make the review as objective and unbiased as possible, we have outlined the following parameters for the reviews:
We will have two reviewers.
We have agreed upon the review criteria ahead of time, but each of us will work independently and come to our own conclusions without input from the other. The reviewers are Scott Lewis a.k.a Iconify, who is the Head of Content for Iconfinder, and Gašper Vidovič a.k.a, Picons. Both are professional icon designers. The reviewers will offer opinions but those opinions are their own, not those of Iconfinder as a company, and opinions will be clearly formatted as such.
Each vendor will have an opportunity to fact-check our statements.
Vendors will be allowed to offer suggestions about how to best complete the evaluation tasks using their respective products. They will be able to offer factual corrections and suggestions prior to publication, but our opinions are our own and will not be influenced by any of the vendors.
Iconfinder is not being compensated by the vendors.
Iconfinder has no financial or other material interest in any of the three products we are reviewing. We have been given beta access to Adobe Illustrator but we pay full price for our Creative Cloud subscriptions. Gašper, who is a professional icon designer and paid consultant, has been given a free license key to Affinity Designer by Serif Labs for purposes of this review and to provide feedback to Serif Labs.
5-part Review Series
The review will consist of five parts including this introduction, a separate review of each application, and a follow-up article to summarize our conclusions as well as provide statements from each of the software vendors.
- Introduction & Overview
- Adobe Illustrator Review
- Affinity Designer Review
- Sketch3 Review
Users Chose the Review Order
We will review Adobe Illustrator first, not out of preference, but because they are the incumbent in the vector software market and have the largest user base. The order of the reviews was selected to provide the most timely and helpful insight to the readers. The order was also based on the clear preferences of readers as expressed in the comments on the original review.
These Are Not The Only Options
There are certainly other options for working with vectors that we have omitted including Inkscape and CorelDRAW, among others. We have chosen not to review these applications for three main reasons: demand, space and time limitations, and cross-platform compatibility. Inkscape is cross-platform (Mac, Linux, and Windows) but does not have nearly as large a user base as the three we are reviewing. CorelDRAW has a very loyal following but is no longer supported for Mac, which greatly limits its appeal to professional designers and illustrators whom tend to be Mac users. We have provided links to many other options at the end of this introduction.
Make Up Your Own Minds
These reviews should be seen as a starting point only. It is not our objective to tell you which product is “best” or which one to use. You should download the trial version of each product and try it yourself. We are reviewing the software in question from a very specific use case – Icon design – in order to help inform our designers and site users about the three major vector design products. To quote the Oracle from the movie The Matrix Revolutions, “[We] expect what [we’ve] always expected, for you to make up your own damn mind”.
Review Criteria and Scope
The purpose of this review is to provide useful information to our site users, who are primarily graphic designers and app developers, and our designers who sell icons on our marketplace. The scope of our review is limited to a specific use case: icon design.
All three of the applications being evaluated are far too complex and have far too many features to do a full point-by-point comparison. Such a comparison would also be impossible since each application isn’t really identical in its core competencies. In order to do a comparison that is useful, we must limit our scope to something that is manageable in the space we have.
The scope of our comparison will be limited to the design process, workflow, and export preparation of the typical icon designer. Even the phrase, the typical icon designer, is somewhat ambiguous, but we have chosen review criteria that most designers are likely to use when authoring the kinds of icons that are popular at the time of this writing: Glyph (solid) icons, line icons, color-filled line icons, and flat icons as depicted from left-to-right in the image below.
We have identified the following criteria for a meaningful comparison. There is no doubt that some readers will believe that we have omitted some criteria, even self-evident criteria. But it should be noted that the purpose is not to be exhaustive, only to cover enough of the criteria to be useful. As with any purchasing decision, the user should take responsibility for their own needs, download and evaluate the respective products, and draw their own conclusions. This article is only to help you get started, not to do the work for you.
The Review Criteria
- Setting up custom grids
- Working with paths (The Pen Tool)
- Positioning points
- Manipulating Curves
- Joining line points and line segments
- Closing paths
- Removing unwanted points
- Working with strokes (size, end caps, etc.)
- Aligning to guides, grids, paths, anchors, and pixels
- Shape operations like unite, exclude, trimming
- Precision control and navigating within a document including zoom
- Pixel preview mode
- Batch export functionality
- Responsiveness to Customer feedback
The first review, Adobe Illustrator, will be published on Wednesday August 17, 2016. Subsequent reviews will be posted each following Wednesday.
As always, feel free to make suggestions, criticisms, or any other feedback in the comments below.