Affinity Designer for Mac is not just a regular vector drawing app, the developers of the application have set themselves on a journey to redefine the tools available for creative professionals. Whenever words like ‘vectors’ , ‘illustration’ or ‘creative professionals’ are used, Adobe’s creative suite of apps are probably one of the first set of tools one refers to. Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator are unquestionably the most popular applications used for creating web graphics, designing UI and much more. So, how does Affinity Designer stack-up against the most popular applications that have won the trust of so many users over last several years? Can Affinity Designer replace Adobe Illustrator? I will do my best to answer these questions in my review.
This review is not about Illustrator vs Affinity Designer. Neither will I mention every feature of the app. I will cover those features which stood out to me as I used the app over the last few weeks.
It’s not often that we get to see people challenge what has become a ‘norm’ or an ‘industry standard’. A quick search on YouTube or Google for tutorials on learning how to draw vectors, learn web design or UI design will lead you to professionals using Illustrator and Photoshop as their preferred choice of software. If Affinity Designer for Mac needs to make its presence felt in an area dominated by Adobe, it needs to prove to users that it is better at accomplishing tasks related to graphic design.
For any application its UI is crucial to its success or failure. However, if you take a look at Illustrator or Photoshop their user interface isn’t all that comforting for beginners, yet pro users seem to have got accustomed to it. Over the years Adobe’s software suite has increased the number of features it has however, not much has changed in terms of its UI and UX (user experience).
This is exactly where Affinity Designer makes its first big impression. The user interface of Affinity Designer for Mac is everything you’d expect from a modern app. While there is instant familiarity with the workspace from Illustrator, the user interface is more beginner friendly and is very intuitive. The software takes a more visual and gesture based approach rather than features being hidden deep inside menus.
The way we interact with software is increasingly changing. With the advent of touch based interactions on our smartphones and tablets, trackpads on notebooks and desktops, gestures have become a ubiquitous interaction mechanism. It’s great to see Affinity Designer embracing gesture based interactions. The software does this by creating active drop zones in the layer panel.
For example, you can create a clipping mask by simply dragging the object halfway under the main object. You can also mask a vector shape by dragging other vector next to its thumbnail in the layer panel. But, it doesn’t stop there as you drag the object in different drop zones the app shows you live preview of what a clipping mask or layer mask will look like. This feature is fantastic. If you never knew how these features work trying and testing with live previews makes experimenting a lot of fun.
Experimenting can only be fun if you can undo and get back to previous state in case you don’t like the changes. Affinity Designer features a modern take on undo function. You can slide through more than 8000 steps of history so there will never be a moment where you feel that you messed up your file.
It’s worth mentioning that Affinity Designers’ full compatibility with popular file formats such as .psd, .ai, and .pdf will play a critical role in its success. The developers spent almost four years in R&D while developing the software and compatibility with Adobe’s suite of apps is a great achievement.
Affinity Designer for Mac when under development carried a codename ‘Persona’. Although the app was named differently when released, Personas bring a new workflow to the mix. The app features three Personas, Draw, Pixel and Export.
Draw Persona is all about vector drawing however, you are greeted with a pleasant surprise when you click on Pixel Persona. The app geniously brings pixel brushes, selection and effects like smudging, blurring, erasing vector brushes, sharpening and more to a vector drawing app. Want to apply a grunge brush to your vector art? No need to switch the app you are using. Affinity Designer can handle both.
The developers didn’t just stop at adding pixel persona, they added an intelligent assistant to make your tasks easier and enable you to work in an intuitive manner.
If I switch from draw to pixel persona and add a pixel brush stroke to my artwork technically I would need to first add a ‘pixel layer’ however, with the assistant working in the background you don’t have to worry about it as it automatically does the needful. The assistant can also place mask layer inside the vector when erasing. It can rasterise vector layer and then apply other brushes, automatically add adjustment as child layer to selection and rasterise layer and then apply filters.
Even the layer blending modes have received some love and gained live previews. Scrolling through different blend modes such as overlay, multiply, soft-light etc. will show you a live preview of what your design will look like so that you can make better choice quickly. This feature again goes onto show that the developers have paid close attention to the details.
Affinity Designer features dedicated gradient and transparency tools. These allow you to apply multiple gradients in an intuitive manner without the need to open any dialogue boxes.
Once you’re done creating your graphic design you can use the export persona to export your design. You can choose to export your design as 1x, 2x and 3x which is important as you may be creating design for retina displays or even mobile devices.
Another feature I’ve really liked is continuous export, once selected it automatically updates the exported file in the specified format and setting even as you continue to make edits and make alternate design decisions. It’s great to know that your final artwork folder will always contain the latest file no matter how many times you choose to make changes. Since the exported file is always overwritten you won’t have to deal with any duplicates.
Can Affinity Designer replace Illustrator? The answer to this question will depend on whether you are doing a feature by feature comparison or questioning its capabilities as a graphic design software.
There’s no doubt that Illustrator wins when it comes to the number of features. However, this doesn’t takeaway the fact that Affinity Designer is a very promising and extremely powerful graphic design software for the Mac. If you never knew Illustrator existed and used Affinity Designer for your project, you’d be able to accomplish nearly everything.
Affinity Designer is not fighting a feature vs feature battle rather it sets an example of how keeping usability in the forefront can result in a more productive and intuitive experience. The developers have said no to many features and yes to the ones that don’t sacrifice usability and provide reliable experience without adding any clutter.
If you are a beginner in vector drawing and graphic designing, I would recommend that you start right here with Affinity Designer. If you are a pro user who has been using Illustrator all this while, give Affinity Designer a try (trial available) and you won’t regret it.
Even though the application overall has highly impressed me there are a few concerns. If you’ve been using Illustrator you’ve got accustomed to certain keyboard shortcuts. In Affinity Designer you may need to learn different shortcuts. The software currently lacks any sort of symbols management. You can’t type text on a path. The only way to work is with layers, there’s no support for pages or art-boards.
It’s important to note that Affinity Designer was released on October 02, 2014. With the set of features already available in V 1.x it’s exciting to wait and see how the developers expand the current feature set.
Another point worth mentioning is that Serif Labs has opted to sell the software for a one-time price and not a subscription model. This alone is a very attractive investment for anyone from beginners to professionals.
Affinity Designer for Mac brings a fresh breath of air to the traditional vector drawing applications. Its focus on usability without sacrificing on advanced features is applaudable.
Watch Affinity Designer Features Overview Video