Whenever I’m asked what app I use to draw icons, I’ve always recommended Illustrator. However, I recently discovered an important drawback though when creating large icon sets – there is a limit of 100 artboards per document.
Artboards are a great way of defining areas to export – you can keep all the icons for a project in one file, work on them in company and context, and use export scripts to create individual files. When I moved from Fireworks to illustrator, it was artboards that replaced the pages/states feature in FW. I think the arbitrary limit was set to avoid performance issues, but when you’re dealing with simple monochrome icons, that would surely never be an issue.
This is one of the reasons that Mordy Golding prefers Slices (with other good reasons), but export scripts certainly get around at least three of the artboard issues he mentions, and there are some drawbacks with slices:
- Slices can’t overlap, whereas artboards can. This is useful for the ability to export individual files as well as one large sprite.
- Slices are more hassle to name. Artboards aren’t particularly easy either, but at least you can hit Shift + O to enter artboard mode, or double click the artboard name in the list.
- You can’t align objects to slices, only selections and artboards.
But of course, you can have an unlimited amount of slices! In general though, I find slices in Illustrator a rather fiddly way of managing multiple exports.
In Sketch however, (and particularly Sketch 2) slices are great. They can be place anywhere, named easily and have the option to export final files without a specific layer – handy if you’re drawing icons on top of a background colour (such as dark toolbar) that you don’t want exported.
Adobe are currently gearing up for CS6, and maybe the artboard limit has been relaxed, but keep an eye out for Sketch 2. I’ve been very excited playing with the beta version, its got bags of potential!