Is there an alternative to Illustrator? Here are 6...

Adobe's tool isn’t the only vector image editor in town. We select six brilliant apps that offer a viable alternative to Illustrator.

Adobe Illustrator CC is a superb vector editing tool that’s ideal for  print work, web mockups and logo design. But it’s also quite expensive and has a steep learning curve for novice users. So what's the alternative to Illustrator?

Since Adobe bought Macromedia and pensioned off Freehand, you might think that the options for vector editing were limited – but there’s actually a wealth of very capable software out there for every platform, ranging from desktop applications to web apps.

Common to practically all vector editors is support for the open SVG format, which makes it easy for you to export your artwork in code and render it from that code directly on your website. That doesn’t mean that all vector-based image tools are created equal, though, so we’ve picked out five of the best for you to investigate. Let us know what you think of them!

Also read: The top alternatives to Photoshop

01. Corel Draw X6

alternative to Illustrator
CorelDraw has a long pedigree and offers a mature alternative to Illustrator
  • Platform: Windows
  • Price: £478.79

This alternative to Illustrator is an old favourite from Corel - it’s been around for more than 20 years and is a mature, fully-featured application as a result.

All the standard vector editing tools are here, as well as an intuitive colour palette system and a fun set of vector shaping tools that allow you to distort basic vectors into more organic shapes.

There’s also support for object styles, which can be applied to any element on your canvas including text - much as in Adobe’s software. 

alternative to Illustrator
All the standard vector editing tools are here, as well as an intuitive colour palette system

Other interesting features include the ability to draw placeholder content for page layouts, built-in support for application scripting and advanced fill options that allow you to fill an object with bitmap artwork.

One interesting point of note is that Corel Draw will happily open Microsoft Publisher files, which could be a major timesaver for designers who have clients that send artwork in that format.

It will happily open Microsoft Publisher files, which could be a major timesaver for you

Corel is keen to sell you the Corel Draw Suite rather than the standalone product, so you do get a lot for your money including 10,000 clipart files, 1,000 high resolution stock images, 1,000 fonts and 350 templates as well as Corel’s alternative to Photoshop, Photo-Paint X6, and a website development tool thrown in.

02. SVG-Edit

alternative to Illustrator
Although SVG-Edit is limited to the SVG format it’s surprisingly capable
  • Platform: Web Browser
  • Price: Free

If you’re looking to quickly output SVG, or edit an existing SVG file, there are a few online editors that will do the job just as well as Adobe Illustrator.

Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) is an open format that allows you to reproduce your Vector drawings programmatically, and one of the nicest projects is SVG-Edit.

You can download and modify the code to make your own version

This is built entirely on HTML5, CSS3 and JavaScript without requiring any server-side processing. So not only can you use it to create and edit documents, but as it’s open source you can also download and modify the code - making your own version if you want.

The standard, albeit basic, toolset of every vector-image editor is here, and although it's limited to the SVG format it’s surprisingly capable.

03. Inkscape

alternative to Illustrator
Inkscape has very good SVG integration and supports a number of advanced features
  • Platform: Windows/Linux (Mac possible if you’re technically minded)
  • Price: Free

As with many of the free options available, Inkscape focuses on the SVG format as its primary file format.

This highly capable editor has a very good SVG integration, supporting many of the more advanced features that aren’t always available in other apps - such as alpha blending, cloned objects, and markers.

Although the interface is simpler, it’s still possible to achieve extremely sophisticated artwork

Full support for different colour modes means this is a viable alternative to Illustrator for both print and web design, and although the interface is somewhat simpler than Illustrator, it’s still possible to achieve extremely sophisticated artwork. Of particular note is the ability to trace bitmap images, support for variable width strokes and native import of Illustrator files.

There are source binaries available for Windows, Linux, and Mac, and compiled versions currently offered for Windows and Linux.

04. Serif DrawPlus Free/X5

alternative to Illustrator
DrawPlus isn’t really intended for professionals, but it’s got some impressive feature
  • Platform: Windows
  • Price: Free (Paid version £81.69)

Although at first sight you might think DrawPlus isn’t really intended as an app for professionals, it’s actually surprisingly capable, and as it’s offered in a free version it muscled its way into our list of alternative vector apps.

DrawPlus is designed to be intuitive in use, and has a wide range of tools that mirror functionality in Illustrator, but in a more approachable manner.

Some features are more user-friendly than Adobe’s software, such as 3D

There are also some nice extra features that are actually implemented in a more user-friendly way than Adobe’s software - 3D being a prime example, where you can quickly make an object 3D via extrusion, apply a wide range of 3D styles or draw your own bevel profile that’s instantly applied to your object. Similarly there's a collection of brushes and pre-defined templates to get you started working quickly. 

The app works happily in CMYK, allowing you to easily output print-ready artwork and it’s also capable of working with Pantone colour profiles.

05. Sketch

alternative to Illustrator
Sketch is a slick alternative to Illustrator, although it's not really designed for print work
  • Platform: Mac
  • Price: £34.99

This Mac-only vector editor is a slick, polished alternative to Illustrator, offering a full range of editing tools including a rich set of web options such as the ability to copy CSS styles directly to the the clipboard.

Built-in grid options for 960px and support from multiple artboards, many instances of the same effect (such as drop shadows, fills, gradients etc) and slices make this a great app for generating artwork intended for screen. 

alternative to Illustrator
Pixel preview mode helps you see exactly what you’ll get when you rasterise your artwork

It’s not designed for print work, however, so keep that in mind when comparing it directly to Illustrator.

That limitation aside, there are some really nice features that make this a lovely tool to use including the method in which you can edit and merge vector shapes in a non-destructive manner.

Editing tools include the ability to copy CSS styles directly to the the clipboard

Text is rendered beautifully, and the pixel preview mode helps you see exactly what you’ll get when you rasterise your artwork for the web.

As with Adobe Illustrator, there’s also support for multiple artboards. And unlike Illustrator, these aren’t size constrained.

06. Affinity Designer

Affinity Designer is the first creative Mac app from Serif
  • Platform: Mac
  • Price: Free (beta)

With those who balk at the price of Adobe Illustrator firmly in its sights, Serif's Affinity Designer for Mac is a pro drawing app that enables you to create crisp vector art. It features flexible layer management and a range of raster tools for finishing your images, and takes full advantage of native OS X technologies such as OpenGL, Grand Central Dispatch and Core Graphics.

Affinity designer is available to try for free right now

Featuring a PSD import engine and with full support for AI, PDF and EPS, Affinity Designer is the first in a new range of professional creative software for the Mac from Serif. It's currently in beta and is available to try out for free.

Words: Sam Hampton-Smith

Have we missed your favourite alternative to Illustrator? Tell us about it in the comments!

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