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Illustrator alternatives: 6 of the best

Illustrator alternatives
(Image credit: Serif)

The best Illustrator alternatives are shaking things up and starting to break Adobe's long domination of digital art, illustration and graphic design. Adobe's software may still be the industry standard, but there are other options that are completely viable if you want to try something new.

Whether you no longer want to pay for a Creative Cloud subscription or simply fancy learning to work with a different interface, this list will start you on the adventure of working with Illustrator alternatives. Some of these have a one-off fee and some require a subscription, but there are some that also offer free versions. This guide will explain differences and help you find which best suits your needs.

If you're looking for more creative tools, you could check our pick of the best Photoshop alternatives or the top iPad apps for designers. If you want to stick with Illustrator, get Adobe Creative Cloud now or find everything you need to know in our article on how to download Adobe Illustrator. Otherwise, read on for the best Illustrator alternatives, and see our review of the free vector art app Bez.

The best Illustrator alternatives

Illustrator alternatives: Screenshot of Affinity DesignerCB

(Image credit: Affinity Designer)

01. Affinity Designer

The best all-round Adobe Illustrator alternative

Specifications
Price model: One-off purchase
System: Windows, Mac, iOS
Recommended for: Professional designers
Reasons to buy
+Feature-rich+Cheap+Works on iPad
Reasons to avoid
-Not the industry standard

We reckon the best all-round alternative to Illustrator is Affinity Designer. First launched in 2014, this vector editor from British software company Serif has gradually grown in popularity and influence, and for good reason. Not only is it powerful and feature-rich, but its one-off purchase price (£48.99, discounts are sometimes available) is far cheaper than an Illustrator subscription. 

Unencumbered by legacy code, the software tends to run a little faster than Illustrator, or a lot faster if you have a relatively new Mac (which is largely why it won an Apple Design Award). Can it do everything that Illustrator can? There are some gaps, which we detail in our Affinity Designer review, but generally, yes. Working with other designers who use Illustrator isn’t usually a problem either because Affinity Designer can import and export AI and PSD files.

Affinity Designer also boasts a few features that Illustrator doesn’t have, including the ability to switch between raster and vector workspaces within the same tool, one-million plus zoom, and unlimited redos. You can also use the full version of Affinity Designer on iPad (for £19.99, but currently half price), with optimised features for the Apple Pencil.

Illustrator alternatives: Screenshot of SketchCB endorsed

(Image credit: Sketch)

02. Sketch

One of the best Illustrator alternatives for UI design

Specifications
Price model: One-off purchase
System: Mac
Recommended for: UI designers, UX designers, web designers, app designers
Reasons to buy
+Great for UI and icon design+Simple and user-friendly
Reasons to avoid
-Mac only-Not as comprehensive as Illustrator

If need a vector drawing program primarily for digital design, then Sketch is probably the best of Illustrator alternatives, as long as you’re using a Mac. First launched in 2010, Sketch's strong focus on UI and icon design quickly led it to become the industry’s go-to software for app and website prototyping. 

It’s not a fully comprehensive drawing programme, so it doesn't have all the features offered by Illustrator. You wouldn’t use it to create complex illustrations or art. But by the same token, it has a simpler and more user-friendly interface that makes icon and UI design quick and easy.

A Sketch licence costs $99 and will give you one year of free updates. Once your licence has expired you can still use the app for as long as you want, but you will need to renew if you want the latest updates.

Illustrator alternatives: Screenshot of CorelDRAWCB endorsed

(Image credit: CorelDRAW)

03. CorelDRAW

CorelDRAW is an Illustrator alternative that still has plenty of fans

Specifications
Price model: One-off purchase or subscription
System: Windows, Mac
Recommended for: Illustrators and artists
Reasons to buy
+Feature-rich+strong community of users 
Reasons to avoid
-Not the industry standard-Expensive 

First launched in 1989, CorelDRAW is a vector drawing program with a big following among artists and illustrators. For most of this time, it was Windows-only, but there's now a Mac version as well. 

There’s no easy way to say whether CorelDRAW or Illustrator is the 'better' tool. Both are packed with features and both have their passionate advocates. Because the interfaces and approaches are quite different, fans of each tool will argue, with equal vehemence, that theirs is the easiest to use, but there’s no real objective way of settling this. 

An objective fact is that Illustrator is the standard software for the design and illustration industry, but that said, you can easily import and export AI and PDF files to CorelDRAW. The two tools can’t easily be separated on price, either. CorelDRAW is available for a one-off fee, but the upfront cost is fairly steep, so you’d have to use it for a number of years to make it cheaper than an Adobe Illustrator subscription. Alternatively, you can subscribe to CorelDRAW for £16.67 monthly, billed annually, which is only slightly cheaper than an Adobe Illustrator subscription. 

Essentially, the main reason to choose CorelDRAW over Illustrator would be if you prefer the interface and workflow. If you’ve never used it, you might want to take advantage of the free trial and just see how it feels in practice.

Illustrator alternatives: Screenshot of Gravit

(Image credit: Gravit)

04. Gravit Designer

One of the best broswer-based Illustrator alternatives

Specifications
Price model: Freemium
System: Web browser or downloadable app
Recommended for: Chromebook and Linux users; budget-conscious designers and illustrators
Reasons to buy
+Free version+It can be used online and on desktop
Reasons to avoid
-There are limitations to free version

Gravit Designer is a tool that allows you to work on a diverse range of design tasks, including illustration, UI and screen design, printed artwork and logo design. It has a lot of similar features to Illustrator, including a freehand drawing tool that smooths the paths as you draw, the ability to create custom shapes and the equivalent of the Pen tool . 

Gravit Designer is available either online in your browser or on your desktop as a downloadable app for Mac OS, Windows, Linux or Chrome OS. The tool supports a number of vector and raster file formats, including AI and Sketch files. You save your work onto your computer in the .gvdesign format, and you can export it as SVG, PDV, PNG or JPEG files.

Gravit Designer operates on a freemium model, so while the free version is quite capable, you need to pay for a Pro subscription (£75 a year at full price, currently with 20 per cent off at time of writing) to get unlimited cloud storage and features such as PDF export above 150dpi, CMYK colour space, version history and the ability to work offline. 

Illustrator alternatives: Screenshot of Inkscape

(Image credit: Inkscape)

05. Inkscape

The best free alternative to Adobe Illustrator

Specifications
Price model: Free
System: Windows, Mac, Linux
Recommended for: Linux users, cash-poor students and startups
Reasons to buy
+Free+Lightweight+Runs on Linux
Reasons to avoid
-Slow and laggy

Inkscape is a free and open source vector editor using Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) as the native format. It’s lightweight, so will run on quite low-powered computers, but it’s surprisingly capable for a free tool, with a lot of useful features including layers, object grouping, drawing, shape, calligraphy, pencil and pen tools, path simplification with variable threshold, bitmap tracing and Boolean operations. 

Inkscape natively supports opening or importing a range of formats, including SVG, PDF, EPS, AI (Adobe Illustrator) and CDR (CorelDraw). As well as Windows and Mac, it will also run on Linux. The main downside lies in its performance: it can be quite slow and laggy at times. But for a student or beginner wanting to create digital illustrations and vector graphics for free, and not wanting to spend any money, it’s an excellent choice.

06. Vectr

Illustrator alternatives: Screenshot of Vectr

(Image credit: Vectr)

06. Vectr

Another free Illustrator alternative

Specifications
Price model: Free
System: Web browser
Recommended for: Linux users, cash-poor students and startups
Reasons to buy
+Free+Easy to use+Browser-based
Reasons to avoid
-Lacks sophisticated features

Vectr is a completely free, browser-based illustration tool that offers a quick and easy way to get started with vector editing thanks to its intuitive interface. As it’s based in the web browser, anyone with an internet connection can use it, and that makes it quite straightforward for multiple people to collaborate on a design, too. Each image has a bespoke URL you can share with others, and you can export your finished work as an SVG, PNG or JPEG file.

Overall, Vectr is super-simple, which can be seen as a positive or a negative. It can't replace the feature-rich capabilities of Illustrator, Affinity Designer or CorelDRAW, but that means it has a very low learning curve (there are very good tutorials featured within the app itself). If you’re a beginner looking to create, say, a social media graphic with minimum time and effort, this is a sound option.

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Tom May

Tom May is an award-winning journalist and editor specialising in design, photography and technology. He is author of Great TED Talks: Creativity, published by Pavilion Books. He was previously editor of Professional Photography magazine, associate editor at Creative Bloq, and deputy editor at net magazine.