Design & UX
Article

Affinity Designer: Can a $25 $49 Vector Editor Really Cut It?

By Mateo Prifti

Affinity Design Review

Update: Pricing has updated since orginal article was written.

Conceptualizing and building a professional design are two very distinct things. In order to build a good design, the artist must feel comfortable with the tools in front of him.

For a long time, the industry standard has been the Adobe stack (Photoshop, Illustrator etc). In this article, I will be taking a close look at a modern new alternative to these classics.

Introduction

Affinity Designer is a professional graphic design app for the Mac. It is comparable in many ways to Adobe Illustrator and Sketch app thanks to its vector editing heart.

However in contrast to the much busier, classic Adobe Illustrator UI, Affinity employs a clean, modern, intuitive interface, making it easy to learn and very beginner-friendly.

A huge upside is Affinity's business model. There is a good trade off between power and price. You can get a license for USD $24.99 $49.95!

The UI

The Affinity Designer UI

The UI of the app is very similar to what we see in the Adobe package or Sketch App. It sports a top toolbar, two side toolbars, the working canvas and a thin hint bar at the bottom of the page.

The top bar in itself is divided into three main sections:

  1. The Persona toolbar
  2. The default functionalities toolbar
  3. The context toolbar
The Persona Toolbar

The persona toolbar is a key concept and a feature that distinguishes Affinity Designer from other apps out there. Personas are used to easily and quickly switch between sets of tools and functions, based on what your objectives are. There are three personas at the time of this writing:

The persona toolbar

1. The Draw Persona

It changes the UI so it serves useful tools to work on creating or modifying vector graphics.

2. The Pixel Persona

Pixel persona allows you to edit your vector drawing based on pixels. Tools such as brushes, retouching tools, and pixel selection tools will be available to you.

3. Export Persona

The export persona is used to output entire layers, groups, objects or regions as graphics in your chosen format.

Personas make it very easy to find the tools you need. Every time you access a persona the left toolbar changes, offering other functionalities and tools based on the currently active one.

The Default Toolbar

The default toolbar keeps the most common tools. Such as: *Buttons – that allow you to switch between standard or retina viewing modes.

  • Object controls for ordering (bringing forward or backward etc.)
  • Transforming(rotating)
  • Aligning
  • Snapping
  • Combining
  • Targeting

The default toolbar

The Context Toolbar

In the context toolbar, the different options change based on the currently active tool or functionality you have chosen. The dynamic UI makes it very intuitive to find what you are looking for without going in too deep in menus and submenus as you might traditionally expect.

context toolbar

The Hint Bar

The hint bar is located at the bottom of the page. It saves a huge amount of time by providing tips and shortcuts based on the functionalities, tools or options you have hovered your mouse over, or selected.

The hint bar

The right sidebar is composed of many useful tabbed panels. In the right sidebar, you can interact with layers, brushes, swatches, colors, effects, styles etc.

Right Sidebar

When the export persona is active the right bar changes with three new tabbed panels. The export settings, the slices panel and the layers tab that gives you options to selectively choose what to export and configure the many export variables presented in the settings panel.

Layout

If this kind of layout doesn't suit your style of working, you can change it by navigating to Window > Separated Mode. This will detach the UI components from each other, letting you flow them on the screen as you see fit and customizing the panel layout. So you arrange it based on your workflow.

This way you can always keep your tools tidy and organized within your reach, and not get lost around.

How to enable the separated mode

Usability

Affinity Designer features a 1,000,000% zoom – Which means that it can handle working on very large documents without losing speed. It is a very useful tool when it comes to working on projects that have a lot of detail and large canvas dimensions.

Affinity Designer features a 1,000,000% zoom

Import and export PSDs

Another huge upside is the ability to import and export projects from Photoshop. For example, if you have designed a mobile app in Photoshop and now you want to continue working on it on Affinity Designer, you can do that with no problem and the whole design will be intact.

Same thing vice versa. When you have a mobile app design in Affinity Designer but need to work on it on Photoshop, you can export it very easily.

PSD support is a great feature since the industry standard nowadays is Adobe Photoshop. This way you can still work with a team of designers who are not using Affinity Designer.

SVG Support

Of course, when we talk about vectors and the web it’s hard to not mention SVG. I’ve read reviews from 2014 that mention that Affinity Designer’s SVG support was a little flaky. Though I’m not familiar with older versions, the current version seems to have very solid support for SVG – though some manual optimization of files destined for the web is probably still in order.

Import and Export PSDs

Mode Mirroring

Mode mirroring allows you to view two states at the same time. Such as outline/vector view and pixel view at one time, inside one window.

Split View

Bottom Line

Affinity Designer is a very beginner friendly program thanks to its intuitive layout and modern design. If you already use Photoshop as your go-to design app, you will likely feel at home right away.

While you can't truly compare it with industry standards like Photoshop or Illustrator, you can think of Affinity Designer as something that draws together some nice aspects from each, since it offers an extensive set of vector drawing tools with some basic pixel-based manipulation.

Could it be a simpler, budget-conscious alternative? Yes, I think it does.

  • RedMint

    yaaaa. a cheaper streamlined Illustrator.
    boooo. only for wicked mac users.

    • http://sitepoint.com Alex Walker

      Yes, it’s a shame, @allisamint:disqus. We try to find things will be useful for people. We always keep an eye out for a equivalent Win or Linux app.

    • Leon

      I guess your wishes were heard: It’s coming to Windows soon, signup for beta has already started.

    • Aw Snap

      It’s out of beta and available for Windows now.

  • http://sitepoint.com Alex Walker

    This is a pretty impressive piece of software (apart from the OS-X only bit) for not much money. Nice work, @mateo

    • Mateo Prifti

      Thank you @disqus_DWdNL0UToz:disqus

  • srarden

    Is the pricing correct? I thought Affinity Designer was $49.99 (well in the US Apple App store).

    • http://sitepoint.com Alex Walker

      Just checking on that. @srarden:disqus. Articles take a few weeks to go through the editing process and sometimes we get caught when things change in the meantime.

  • timcharper

    Huge fans of it here. The core feature set is really solid, and in some ways, I think its better than illustrator.

  • https://mrdaniels.ch/warz/ Daniel Schwarz

    I found Affinity Designer incredibly hard to use. Not very intuitive, no labels to accompany the icons so I had no idea what did what. For me, the only redeemable feature was the cleaner interface (in comparison to Photoshop/Illustrator).

  • http://retouchingblog.com/ Tia Jones

    I tried the the trial for both Affinity Designer and Affinity Photo. I was quite impressed and plan to purchase Affinity Designer soon. Its great for those who to do vector work on a more casual basis. And while it may not replace Illustrator, it does function much smoother on my Mac than Illustrator with less complicated tools.

  • Robert Endl

    I use DrawPlus X8 and the UI looks very similar to that, from the pictures above. X8 has very good usability, even for an untalented user like me.

  • David Cattar

    I have been a graphic designer and programmer for over 15 years. All of that time I have been with Adobe. However, I am not biased. I am free to use whatever apps I choose on my personal machines. I purchased Affinity Designer and Affinity Photo. They truly are even comparable to Photoshop or Illustrator. I agree that new user who are not interested in ever using these types of softwares commercially are best suited to buy and stick with Affinity programs. But if you want to avhieve the next level of design, well Affinity doesn’t offer it (yet anyway).

  • David Waters

    Windows beta is out and currently free to use.

  • http://ricardozea.design/ Ricardo Zea

    Great article. Loving Affinity Designer, especially coming from Fireworks.

    The only thing I can’t stand, to be honest, is your phrase: “industry standard” regarding Photoshop and Illustrator.

    Photoshop and Illustrator ARE, by far, NOT industry standards whatsoever.

    We can say they are the most used softwares, and leave it at that.

    • max tsukino

      “We can say they are the most used software”

      that’s part of what makes them industry standard…

      • http://ricardozea.design/ Ricardo Zea

        “Part”, indeed. Still not standard.

        • max tsukino

          perhaps it’s better if you say “I don’t like it”…

          • http://ricardozea.design/ Ricardo Zea

            I like Photoshop, I haven’t expressed otherwise.

            What “I don’t like” is the author’s statement about Photoshop being a standard. Of course, it’s not.

          • David Mulder

            I am sincerely confused how you could argue that Photoshop and Illustrator are not an industry standards. Being a developer myself I have worked with countless of designers and files are invariably delivered as either psd’s or ai’s. Sure, it’s not a standard in the sense that some committee sat down and told everyone to use it, but I can positively say that in a variety of industries these two programs are the de-facto standards. Everyone expects you to be able to handle these formats and I more or less end up expecting the same of others (which is a pain, because I dislike both these applications and prefer Adobe Fireworks personally). Only when you get to the digital painting industry (as in, actual illustrators rather than designers) have I seen a wider range of programs being used, but even there my impression has consistently been that Photoshop and Illustrator dominate.

          • http://ricardozea.design/ Ricardo Zea

            💯 For Fireworks! 😉

            Yep, the term you used at the end is better suited in my opinion, “dominate”. Granted, I prefer the term “popular”, or “most used”.

            For me, “popular” or “most used” don’t have to mean “standard”.

            Let’s use a metaphor: Seems the Toyota Corolla is THE most sold car in the world**, that doesn’t mean that the Corolla is a representation of the “standard“ car.

            Also, Photoshop and all other Adobe products are losing ground daily to other applications: Affinity Designer, Affinity Photo, Sketch, InVision, etc., etc., etc. So in a not so distant future, the “standard” apps from Adobe are bound to be replaced and this article will then become misleading 😝

            Now, if Adobe released Fireworks’ code to the community, let me tell you, it would turn the web design and UI design industries on their heads making Photoshop even less popular as a web design tool.

            ** http://www.forbes.com/pictures/mkk45ekfi/1-toyotacorolla-201112/#624d0ee45c8a

        • Jerry Diaz

          And part of what makes a good screen name involves part reality and part creativity … like — oh just off the top of my head — something like “NitPicardo.”

          • http://ricardozea.design/ Ricardo Zea

            Haha! No jodás Jerry, malo, malo el chiste, lol! 👍

  • qt3dot14

    I’m new to this so here are my questions:

    Can this software take a raster image and vectorize that image?

    Does this same apply to digital pics? Can this software vectorize a jpeg, for example?

    Or maybe a better way to ask the question might be: can jpegs be converted to vector images and if so, can this software perform that process?

    Thanx for any input.

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