Affinity Designer, Sketch and Illustrator

Do you fancy trying a new OS X Vector Illustration app? An upstart called Affinity Designer is out and even though it’s a first version beta, it already looks like a good competitor to Adobe Illustrator. From when you first launch Affinity Designer and create a new document you can tell that they’re going after Adobe Creative Cloud with their trio of apps aimed replacing Illustrator, Photoshop (Affinity Photo) and InDesign (Affinity Publisher).

Therein, for me, lies the conflict. Sometimes Affinity goes so far in following Illustrator’s path that I can’t help feel its missing an opportunity to take a fresh approach like Bohemian Coding did with Sketch. The Sketch interface is native, bright and yet neutral, whereas Affinity goes for the more contrasting ‘Dark UI’ of Adobe and Apple Pro apps. The advantage with Affinity’s approach though is that there is less to relearn, and you can start ‘feeling at home’ early on. As someone who has spent a long time getting used to Sketch, I would say its well worth the learning curve.

A new document in Sketch – no messing about

Opening a new Sketch document is a breath of fresh air. It doesn’t constrict you into choosing a document size, or output resolution, its just an infinite blank canvas. You can start working straight away without any confines. If you’re designing a website, the document size dialog restricts your thinking before you’ve even started.

A new document dialog in Affinity, choose before entering…

As I do a lot of icon work, one of my first tests in any vector app is whether I can keep all the icon set in one file, and output each one to SVG easily with exactly the filename I desire. Its not ideal to work on icons in isolation, when they’re together you judge balance and consistency at a glance.

Illustrator performs very poorly at this test – it removed the ability to output slices to SVG in CS5.5, leaving only the option to export artboards to SVG. Trouble is, it only allows 100 artboards, a limit that can be easily reached with iconsets like Spotify with three different sizes per icon. Therefore iconsets have to split over several documents. Exporting SVG from artboards also adds the main document name to the filename, when all I want is the artboard name. I’m currently testing a new version of Tom Byrne’s Multi Exporter script, (coming out soon) which makes this process a lot better, and allows layers to output to SVG with exactly the filename you want. If only Adobe hadn’t removed the slice to SVG functionality. Weirdos.

Affinity Designer only currently supports saving the whole document as SVG, and doesn’t have artboards – just slices. However, slices can easily be created with either the slice tool, or by exporting a particular layer, and SVG output is on their roadmap. So that’s good news! Filename is taken from the slice name so you have full control over that. Once SVG output is added, it will overtake Illustrator in this test.

Sketch is the King when it comes to export options however. Export Artboards, Slices or Layers to multiple file formats and folder locations at once. It couldn’t be more flexible. In my day to day work, the balance is tipping between Illustrator and Sketch. The drawing tools in Illustrator are more mature (although still prone to having WTF moments), but Sketch is progressing fast and unencumbered by legacy UI, like having to tick a checkbox in order to just preview an effect. Its 2014 now Adobe, I’m sure my computer can handle it.

My preference is now for working mostly in Sketch. I’ll definitely keep an eye on Affinity Designer though, and more competition for the subscription-based Adobe Creative Cloud can only be a good thing for all of us.

Update: The Iconfinder Blog has a more in depth review and comparison of features.