Adobe's tool isn’t the only vector image editor in town. We select five brilliant apps that offer a viable alternative to Illustrator.
Words: Sam Hampton-Smith
Adobe Illustrator is a superb vector editing tool that’s ideal for creating simple print work, web mockups and logos. 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 5 alternatives to Photoshop
01. Corel Draw X6
- 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.
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.
- 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
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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Have we missed your favourite alternative to Illustrator? Tell us about it in the comments!