Adobe Illustrator is hands-down one of the best design apps you’ll find. Since being released over 30 years ago, it’s become the industry standard for vector graphic design. But it also has plenty of worthy competitors, including CorelDRAW and Sketch. They might not be able to unseat the reigning champ, but some of these alternatives have gained faithful followings.
Affinity Designer has made waves ever since it joined the fray. Despite being much cheaper than Illustrator, it’s packed with similar features.
But can it really compete? When you pit Affinity Designer vs. Adobe Illustrator, does Affinity Designer really stand a chance?
The Contenders: Affinity Designer vs. Adobe Illustrator
Adobe Illustrator is part of the Adobe Creative Cloud, a huge suite of applications for professionals and amateurs. It shares that honor with the likes of Photoshop, Premiere, Lightroom, and After Effects. Adobe has dominated the creative software market for years, and it’s hard to see that changing any time soon.
Affinity, meanwhile, first appeared on Mac in 2014. But it comes from Serif, a British software company that’s been making design software since the 1980s. As well as Affinity Designer, Serif is responsible for Affinity Photo and Affinity Publisher.
Affinity Designer vs. Adobe Illustrator: Price
The most obvious difference between Affinity Designer vs. Adobe Illustrator is the cost. At full price, Designer is $49.99—and that’s for a lifetime license with free updates. Even better, it’s regularly reduced by up to 50 percent, frequently coming in at just $24.99.
With Illustrator, like most Adobe products, you have to pay a subscription fee. Stop paying, and you lose access to the software. Pricing varies depending on which apps you want, and the pricing tier you choose. The cheapest individual Illustrator license is an annual prepaid plan that costs $239.88 a year, which works out at $19.99/month. The rolling plan costs $31.49/month.
In Illustrator’s defense, its subscription includes apps for both macOS and Windows. Designer, in comparison, has separate licenses for each operating system, so you need to buy it twice if you want to use it for Mac and PC.
Winner: Affinity Designer wins it by a mile. Even at full price, it’s cheap, and you never have to pay again.
Affinity Designer vs. Adobe Illustrator: Interface
Both Affinity Designer and Adobe Illustrator have fairly cluttered interfaces. That’s simply because they pack in so many features. There are tons of different tools, menus, toggles, and more, that you can use when building images. And it’s easy to pull out and rearrange panels in both Designer and Illustrator, to get the interface just how you like it.
Probably the biggest difference is there’s just a lot more of everything in Illustrator. Because Designer has slightly fewer features, it might seem like it has a more intuitive interface. But they’re actually pretty similar. The menus are structured slightly differently, but most Illustrator keyboard shortcuts also work in Designer, and the toolsets look similar to each other.
One small advantage Designer’s interface has over Illustrator’s is color. Illustrator’s tools and menus are all monochrome, while Designer has color icons. This seemingly minor difference can make it much easier to find what you’re looking for when you’re deep in the middle of a design.
Winner: Affinity Designer, but only by a small margin.
This is one area where Adobe’s experience comes to the fore. When it comes to tools in Affinity Designer vs. Adobe Illustrator, there’s a clear winner: Adobe.
It’s not that Designer is light on tools. It’s just there are more tools in Illustrator, and some of them make a huge difference when you’re trying to create vector graphics.
One big one is Illustrator’s Shape Building Tool. This enables you to make complex shapes out of simpler shapes, using an intuitive click-and-drag method. In comparison, all Designer has is something equivalent to Illustrator’s Pathfinder options. These allow you to select two or more shapes and then click a button to do things like combining or subtracting parts of them.
Designer also lacks anything like Illustrator’s automatic tracing tool, and you can’t apply distortion or warp effects either. But those aren’t the only features it lacks compared to Illustrator. Serif is adding new stuff to Affinity Designer all the time, but it’s definitely on the back foot here.
Winner: Adobe Illustrator. If you’re coming over from Adobe’s software to Affinity Designer, you’re probably going to miss a few things.
Affinity Designer vs. Adobe Illustrator: Compatibility
There are a couple of ways to look at the issue of compatibility. First, both Affinity Designer and Adobe Illustrator are available for macOS and Windows. There are also mobile apps for both, but those are very much separate products.
Another important facet of compatibility is file type support. What kind of vector files can you work with in Affinity Designer vs. Adobe Illustrator? Both can import and export a wide variety of file formats, with Illustrator supporting slightly more.
Notably, Designer can open Illustrator’s AI file format, but Affinity’s file types don’t work in Illustrator or anywhere else. And you can even import Illustrator brushes into Designer, although they need converting. Illustrator does have some support for competing formats too: it can open files from CorelDRAW and save AutoCAD files, for example.
Winner: It’s a tie. Both apps support the majority of common file types, and they can run on multiple operating systems.
Affinity Designer vs. Adobe Illustrator: Learning Curve
If you’re not familiar with vector design software, it would be difficult to simply pick up either Adobe Illustrator or Affinity Designer and start using it. To get the most out of either program, you need to read and watch tutorials.
Having been around much longer, there are far more online resources for Illustrator. These include Adobe’s own tutorials and user guides, but there are countless more all over the web, from professionals and amateurs.
Serif also provides its own guides, and it has a growing community too. But as you’d expect, the number of tutorials for Designer pales in comparison with Illustrator.
What Affinity Designer does have in its favor is that it’s not quite so packed with features as Illustrator. That might make it a little less confusing to begin with.
Winner: Adobe Illustrator. With both apps, you need to put the legwork in. But as the industry standard for vector design, there’s just way more guidance for Illustrator.
Affinity Designer vs. Adobe Illustrator: Overall Winner
As much as you might want to root for the underdog, Affinity Designer falls short of Adobe Illustrator in several key areas. Considering the vast price difference between the two, that’s to be expected, but some of the missing features are essential to many designers.
If you can live without those things, though, the massive financial savings are hard to ignore. A whole lifetime’s use of Affinity Designer costs about the same as a single month of Adobe Illustrator. For amateur designers with a limited budget, Designer makes infinitely more sense.
But when it comes right down to it, Illustrator is the better software. It does more, it’s better supported, and it makes working with vectors easier. If you’re happy to pay for the subscription, you won’t be disappointed.
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