Best Adobe Illustrator alternative for Mac – Affinity Designer

I moved to the Mac from Windows about eight or nine years ago now. It has taken a long time to find the Best Adobe Illustrator alternative Due to my background in art and design and having a business as a signwriter, I wanted to have a good application for vector art. I was an expert user of Corel Draw having used it on a daily basis for 12 years and I’d never been tempted to try using Adobe Illustrator. I was disappointed there wasn’t a Mac version of Corel Draw and their only suggestion was to use the Windows version in a virtual machine. After leaving Windows, I had no desire to mess about with having Windows on my Mac. I did try out a number of vector graphics applications for Mac. There was Vector Designer, Inkscape and recently I tried out Candy Apple. Candy Apple, I thought was pretty good but none of the them came anywhere close to what I was looking for. Adobe Illustrator was expensive and not as easy to use as Corel Draw. It was something I could have got used to, but there were a couple of things that I did often in a vector art application that were very awkward to do in Illustrator. You do have some drawing applications which give you a certain amount of vector artwork drawing facilities and one example would be Pixelmator. I like Pixelmator as a bitmap art application, but for the sort of work I would do I would prefer to start from the vector side of things. So with this history of my search for a good vector design application for the Mac, it is understandable why I am delighted with Affinity Designer.

Getting started with Affinity Designer

As soon as you open up the application of Affinity Designer you can see there is a standard layout of the application tools and palettes. On the left hand side you have the icons to get to the tools you are going to use to create your artwork. On the right hand side you have the palettes which give you the control of those tools. The control palettes can be made to float on your screen for those times you need to have them closer to your working area of your design. If you have a large retina type screen it can be very handy to use the floating palettes. At the top of the screen there are icons giving you access to a few handy operations you might want to quickly apply to objects within your drawing. Facilities such as moving objects up or down in the order of depth within your drawing. With just one click you can send an object to the back of everything else or just move it so it is one step lower, as in behind something else. You have other transformations such as flipping objects either vertically or horizontally. There is easy access to the Boolean operations for combining, subtracting and otherwise splitting up multiple objects. You use those when you have two or more objects over lapping each other in the best Adobe Illustrator alternative.

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Starting a new document in Affinity Designer – Best Adobe Illustrator alternative

First thing to do is to set up your new document and the usual (Cmd N) will bring up the dialogue box. You have a few choices depending upon where the final design is planned for. The default is for a photo type of image, but you can also choose from print, web image or devices. If you choose devices you can make an image that is going to be destined for an iPad or you could even have something for Android device such as the Nexus 7 or a Galaxy. If you are planning to continue the work on an iPad then it could be handy to have your design specifically sized up for that device. The people from affinity designer have already teased us with a promise that there will be a version of Affinity Designer for the iPad at some point in time. I will be the first in the queue to buy it,

When you are setting up your new document, you can also choose whether you want it in portrait or landscape. Choose between transparent or a solid background. You might want to include some margins if you are doing a design meant for print. Choose paper sizes such as letter or the European standards of A3 or A4.

Best Adobe Illustrator alternative by far

Once you have made your choices you can get into the actual creative use of the application. First thing to note is that you have Personas in the best Adobe Illustrator alternative. There is the Draw Persona and a Pixel Persona you will be using for creation of your design. The other persona is for export of the design when you’ve finished it. The tools you have available in the toolbar on the left-hand side are context sensitive to the persona you’re using. Straightaway you will notice that you have in the Pixel Persona bitmap drawing and painting tools. This is rather good as using these tools can help you to put texture and depth into your vector design. Despite having the great tools you have within vector drawing applications, often vector designs will look to clean and too flat. Using a combination of vector drawing and bitmap painting you will get more interesting final design. Affinity Designer lets you do that.

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Vector drawing tools in Affinity Designer

The first three tools in the list on the left hand side you can’t do much with unless you’ve drawn something already. The first is the Move Tool which you can access quickly by pressing the letter (V). Apart from moving objects around screen you use this tool to also rotate and to alter the dimensions by using the nine nodes/handles around the object.Use the nodes at the sides so you can make an object narrower or wider. The corner nodes allow you to change the shape in whatever direction. On one of the sides you will see an extra node is sticking out and to use this one for rotation. There is a trick where you can hold down the control key and use any of the nodes for rotation. Instead of rotating around the centre of the object, it rotates around the node opposite from the one you have selected. The problem is that there doesn’t seem to be a way to constrain the rotation in 15 degree increments, as you can when holding the shift key when using the special rotation node. Also the object changes size and distorts as you move the node. Not good if you need the object to stay the same size and shape when you rotate it. The developers of the application have promised that at some point in time it will be possible to take the centre point for rotation and move it to wherever you would like it to be, either inside or outside the object. Ideally, it would be good to have a rotation dialogue window to set up rotation to specific parameters. You can make some changes in the Transform palette, but it still needs more options.

The next tool is the Node Tool. The quick access for the tool is the letter (A). You can use this tool with objects that are proper shapes. It does not work with an object that is still a rectangle or a circle or one of the other objects from a shape tool. You first have to convert it to curves, in order to use the Node Tool. There is a button available in the top toolbar when you have a shape selected so you can easily convert it to a curve. When you have one of these objects selected move the cursor over a line and you’ll see the cursor change to a wavy line. Click and drag on the line of the object and it will change the shape of the line. Bend it like Beckham. Or you can select a node and move it and you’ll also see bezier curve controllers from the nodes of the shape. Clicking and dragging on these nodes will also change the shape of the lines in between the nodes. In the top toolbar you will see icons specific to the node tool. So you can do things like joining a line in order to create a closed shape or the other way round you can open a shape and turn it into a line.

These first two tools are the basic shape manipulation tools you will be using a lot when you are creating your vector designs. Have a look at the bottom of the screen and you will see there are notes to help you work out what you can do. These notes tell you what you are able to do with clicking and dragging and using the modifier keys. So for instance you might want to select a number of nodes and you can do this with a marquee select. A marquee select is when you click and drag a rectangle putting the nodes you want to select inside that rectangle. Then you can affect all you have selected.

New in Version 1.2 – The Corners Tool

This newly added tool in the best Adobe Illustrator alternative is excellent. So you have selected an object you have drawn, or it could be a rectangle or whatever other converted to curves shape. Press the (C) on your keyboard to get to the tool quickly and you can shape the corners in five different ways. If you start with a right angle corner click on the node for the corner and drag inwards towards the centre of the object. This will give you a rounded corner. Have a look at the toolbar above and you’ll see that you can change the type of corner. The first icon will take you back to the right angled shape you started with. The second will give you back your rounded corner. The third will give a flat cut to the corner, the next one gives you a concave cut into the corner. The last of these icons will give you a cut into the corner with straight edges as if you had taken a squared chunk from the corner. When you have finished editing your corners you can Bake Corners. You might do this if you have other corner editing you want to do with the shape you created from the first round of corner editing.

Creating shapes in Affinity Designer

The first of the shape creation tools is the Pen Tool ℗. With this you can create either lines or closed shapes. Click once on your page to set the start point, click once somewhere else on your page and a straight line will be created in between those two points. If you want to have a curved line you can click and drag after the the first click. As you click and drag you will see the shape of the line change depending upon how far you drag the cursor. Let go when you have the curve you require. You will see you are also creating the bezier control handles for that node at the same time. When you move the cursor back to the starting node you will see the cursor change to have a small circle beside it. When you click on this, it will close the shape. This is good because if you are creating designs to sell through sites such as Fotolia you do have to close shapes properly. Another good reason to change to the best Adobe Illustrator alternative for illustrators.

The Pen Tool in Affinity Designer the best Adobe Illustrator alternative is an excellent choice if you want to create irregular and or complex shapes. It is the tool to use if you have a bitmap image on the screen and you want to trace an object to have total control as you draw the line. After you have created your shape or your line you can then go on to change the attributes of it. You can set the line stroke and colour as well as the fill, if you are working with a closed shape. You can also add a brush to the line to give it a textured edge.

In the next Mac 20 Questions we will move on to more of the tools available to us in the Draw Persona in Affinity Designer. The best Adobe Illustrator alternative.