Affinity Designer vs. Adobe Illustrator vs. Vectornator

Vector graphics are known for being sleek, polished, and scalable, making them a great way for digital artists to create effective and flexible works of art.

We’ve taken a look at vector programs like Affinity Designer and Adobe Illustrator before but how does a free vector app compare to these premium app experiences?

Vectornator is a graphic design software for desktop and iPad that allows you to create vector graphics for free. How much can it do, and is there always an advantage to paying for your programs?

Let's find out what each of these vector graphic apps has to offer!

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Interface

Interface plays a huge role in how we use and enjoy our digital drawing and graphics apps. It’s evident that Adobe has a unique advantage on this front simply because they've been on the market for the longest, making them an industry standard.

However, there are newer apps that have decided to put their own spin on what makes a great interface for users. Let's start with a look at Vectornator.

Vectornator

  • User-friendly. Simple, clean interface with standard tools.
  • Built-in Tutorials. In-app tutorial to review the entire app.
  • Artboards. Active artboards have their own layers.

Vectornator is simple in its presentation. You'll find tools at the top left and right and a single toolbar on the left-hand side. This makes it feel clean and organized which is part of what I feel makes it user-friendly.

All of the tools that you’d expect from vector-based programs are there, such as the Pen Tool and Node Tool, without having to worry about how to use advanced design tools or new features. If you ever get stuck, you can press and hold any tool to learn more about it or even take a quick in-app tutorial.

In Vectornator, all of your artboards have their own set of layers that will change as you choose new active artboards which adds to its exceptional functionality.

A screenshot of Vectornator’s user interface.

#caption#Vectornator has a simple interface with a basic selection of tools.

Adobe Illustrator

  • Industry-standard. Adobe has a long legacy of programs that are used among professional designers.
  • Similar to desktop version. The iPad app is a simplified version of the desktop program .
  • Ruler & custom guides. Create your vector graphics with precision.

Most users with experience in graphic design will likely be familiar with the Adobe Illustrator interface. The iPad app interface is noticeably similar to the desktop program with a simplified layout, optimizing it for use on tablets.

Since Illustrator is a part of the industry standard for vector graphics, a lot of the classic desktop features, from the Blend tool and Gradients to vectorizing, are in the iPad app as well.

The toolbar is on the left side, with the taskbar on the right. All of the menus appear on one screen with the option to fine-tune your overall experience in the App Settings menu.

Creating vector graphics can be complex, so having the support of certain tools and features is always helpful. In Adobe Illustrator for iPad, the Ruler tool lets you measure the distance across your canvas and between objects. You also have the option of creating custom guides that offer you the flexibility to configure them to the needs of your projects.

A screenshot of Adobe Illustrator’s user interface.

#caption#Adobe Illustrator iPad interface feels classic making it great for users of the desktop program.

Affinity Designer

  • Raster support. Drawing modes that support vector and raster graphics.
  • Advanced tools. Unique tools that add more personality and editing capabilities.
  • Image editing. Selection tools for light image editing.

Affinity Designer offers the most unique interface of the three apps. It's unique because your user interface depends on the mode or Persona you're using. The Designer Persona is for creating vector graphics, and the Pixel Persona is for creating raster graphics.

Of the three apps, Affinity Designer is the only one that also has support for raster graphics. This is a nice option to have, as vector graphics are usually known for their sleek appearance, but not many options for adding texture.

Affinity Designer takes this a step further with tools like the Vector Brush Tool, which creates strokes with the texture of raster brushes and the editing capabilities of vectors. You'll also find features similar to Adobe Photoshop that offer light image editing capabilities like subject detection, and a variety of selection tools.

A screenshot of Affinity Designer’s user interface.

#caption#The interface in Affinity Designer changes based on the Persona you're using.

Verdict

It’s a tie.

Every artist will have their own preferences, but I think that Vectornator's clean, simple interface and ease of use is the best for beginners. You can also translate any experience you have from using other apps like Adobe Illustrator and begin using this app with ease.

Adobe Illustrator is the industry standard and many users will probably have prior experience with the desktop version. It has a lot of the same tools as the iPad version, so you don't have to feel like you're compromising on features or learning new software.

Affinity Designer has the most complex interface with the introduction of Personas, which each have its own toolsets. Being able to use raster graphics in addition to vector graphics is a nice option to have, but if that isn't the kind of work that you create, you might not see it as an advantage.

Price

Money is usually the first barrier that artists face when deciding which digital art apps and tools to use. This requires assessing the value that an app or tool provides.

Each of these programs represents three different pricing models:

  • Vectornator is completely free.
  • Adobe Illustrator is part of a subscription plan.
  • Affinity Designer is a single purchase.

Let's see what each of these models offers for the price.

A screenshot of the Vectornator app in the Apple App Store.

#caption#Vectornator is available for free on the iPad, iPhone and Mac.

Vectornator

  • Free app. Vectornator is free to use on iPad, Mac & iPhone.
  • iPhone version. Vectornator has a free iPhone app that allows you to access your iPad files on your phone.

Vectornator is the only free app, and it has a version for the Mac. It’s also the only app with an iPhone app version as well.

While I can't say whether or not working on graphics from your phone is a preferred experience, what it comes down to is access and options. Having access to your iPad files from your phone offers more flexibility for artists on-the-go.

A picture showing someone drawing on an iPad alongside a text description of the Adobe Design Mobile Bundle and the Apple App Store button to download.

#caption#Adobe has a large suite of programs that they bundle allowing users to get the most out of what they have to offer.

Adobe Illustrator

  • Subscription model. Available as a single app or in bundles.
  • Companion apps. Adobe Illustrator is designed to work with apps like Adobe Fresco and Photoshop.
  • Premium features. Bundle subscriptions offer access to premium features in free apps like Creative Cloud Express.
  • Range of packages. Adobe Illustrator can be purchased for anywhere between $15 and $53 per month.

If you only want to use Adobe Illustrator for iPad, you can do that for $15 per month. The Adobe Design Mobile Plan gives you access not only to Illustrator for iPad, but also to Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Fresco, and Creative Cloud Express on the iPad for $20.99 per month.

Adobe Photoshop and Fresco offer photo editing, and drawing and painting respectively, while Creative Cloud Express is a graphic design, social media software that allows you to create posts and graphics with ease. This bundle was designed to give users all the apps they would need for design and digital illustration on the iPad.

A screenshot of the Affinity Designer app with buttons to purchase on Mac, Windows, or iPad.

#caption#The desktop version of Affinity Designer can be used seamlessly with the iPad app.

Affinity Designer

  • Single purchase. Buying once offers lifetime access to future updates.
  • Affinity Serif Suite. Affinity Designer is a part of a suite of apps similar to Adobe.
  • Cross-platform support. The desktop version of Affinity Designer is available for Windows and Mac.
  • Range of packages. Affinity Designer can be purchased for $22 for the iPad version and $55 for the Desktop version (Windows & macOS, free trial available).

Affinity Designer is similar to Adobe in that it’s also part of a suite of graphic design software alongside Affinity Photo and Affinity Publisher.

The entire suite is designed by Serif as counterpoint to Illustrator, Photoshop, and Indesign, but without the subscription fees. In fact, the price you'd spend to purchase the entire Affinity suite is a fraction of the recurring monthly or annual payments from an Adobe Creative Cloud subscription.

Verdict

Vectornator takes the win.

Using a free app is going to be the most accessible for all users. If you think you’ll be working with a subpar or low-quality app just because Vectornator is free, think again.

Not only do you have all the tools that you need to create stunning work, you also have the option to work on your phone as well.

If you want to spend the money, Affinity Designer is the next most accessible with its reasonable price point and single purchase model. Affinity Designer also offers raster capabilities and is a part of a suite of apps that expands your capabilities to create.

Adobe is the most expensive and, while you do get access to more than one app in many of their plans, you'll end up spending more money in the long run — even if you only want to use Adobe Illustrator on its own. That said, there are some additional benefits with Adobe’s subscription that aren’t immediately obvious that might justify the cost. For example, Adobe offers access to storage in the Creative Cloud, as well as access to apps like Adobe Fresco, which serve as companions to Adobe Illustrator on the iPad.

Illustration & Design

All three of these apps are designed for vector graphic design and illustration.

When creating your document, you have a variety of templates to choose from across print, web, and digital illustration. A unique characteristic of vector-based programs is that when you draw, you'll notice a trail of points along your lines. This allows you to edit your paths with precision afterward by adjusting your points.

While each app allows for multiple methods of creation, let’s look at how each differs in its approach to illustration and design.

Vectornator

  • Color-coding. The start and ends of your vector paths can be easily identified with color-coding features.
  • Brush profiles. You can select and edit your brush stroke profiles.
  • Advanced features. Blur and shadows can be added to your objects and lines.

A unique aspect of creating vector graphics in Vectornator is its use of color-coding. As you plot your points, your starting point will always be green and your end point will always be red, making the start and end of every path easy to identify.

 

A screenshot of Vectornator showing a drawing of a curved line with green dots showing the starting point and red dots showing the end point.

#caption#With color coding in Affinity Designer, you'll always know where paths start and end.

The brush selection in Vectornator is simple in a way that follows suit with its simple interface.

 

For drawing in vector, you have two tool options:

The Pencil Tool is for drawing strokes and shapes that follow a uniform width. The Brush Tool is for drawing strokes with variable widths. You can choose from a number of preset brush profiles through the Style Tab.

 

A screenshot of a twisting line drawn in Vectornator with the Style Tab open on the righthand side of the screen.

#caption#You can change your stroke width and profiles using presets in Vectornator.

Other than choosing these profiles and making edits to them, the brush selection is limited. There aren't any categories to choose from or much texture offered in their brushes.

Despite these limitations, you can add blur and shadow to your lines and objects, which is unique for vector graphics programs on the iPad.

A screenshot of a blurred twisting line with a red shadow, and Vectornator’s Style Tab open on the right.

#caption#Shadow and blur effects can be added to elements within Vectornator.

In terms of design capabilities, you have the ability to integrate your existing UI designs from programs like Figma, Sketch, and more. This is where you can leverage access to their expansive stock image library to add to your mockups and projects.

Vectornator has a separate app to manage its fonts. With Fontinator you need to download profiles and install them through your iPad Settings which is a slight inconvenience.

Adobe Illustrator

  • Create & edit brushes. Create your own brushes from objects in your document.
  • Adobe Fonts. Choose from over 20,000 fonts to use in your projects.
  • CC Library support. Browse your Creative Cloud library to incorporate shapes and elements you’ve created into all your documents.

Adobe Illustrator has around 65 brushes across three main brush types:

The Pencil brush allows for drawing in a few basic ways, like dotted lines and stitch. The Blob Brush creates your strokes as already filled shapes that you can then intersect and join together. The Pencil and Blob Brush offer the least amount of default options within their categories, but you can still edit any of your brushes.

The Paint Brush category allows you to create your own brushes from objects on your canvas. Simply select your object, hit the + button, and select New Art Brush. While there aren't many brush options that add much texture or personality to your work, you can change your stroke size, create dashes, and change your width profile under the Properties menu.

A screenshot showing Adobe Illustrator’s brush options menu with a picture of different shapes in varying colors on the screen.

#caption# While you can't import brushes into Adobe Illustrator, you can create your own brushes using objects in your document.

You also lack the option of importing additional brushes into the program. Any brushes that you create become Document brushes that can only be used within a single project. While you can't import brushes, you can access your Creative Cloud libraries and use compatible shapes and other elements within Illustrator.

What about incorporating typography into your projects? Having access to Adobe Illustrator also gives you access to Adobe Fonts. This is Adobe's library of over 20,000 fonts.

Affinity Designer

  • Expansive brush selection. Over 200 brushes to choose from for both raster and vector graphics.
  • Vector brush tool. You can draw vector paths with the look and feel of raster brushes.
  • UI design. Drag and drop built-in UI elements into your document.

Affinity Designer has the most robust brush selection out of these programs with over 200 brushes across multiple categories. It also allows for both raster and vector creation, so you have a wide variety of brush options.

A screenshot showing a drawing of three lines in varying colors and thicknesses in Affinity Designer.

#caption# Affinity Designer has hundreds of brushes giving you different effects across a number of categories.

Affinity Designer’s selection of brushes has the best options in terms of offering a variety of styles, textures, and effects to add to your work. The Vector Brush Tool specifically gives you raster brush textures with the editability of vector brushes.

In line with Vectornator, Affinity Designer also has stock image support built-in with the additional option to drag and drop iOS UI elements into your document.

Affinity Designer offers your standard iOS font selection and also the option to install fonts from your Files app. Its OpenType feature support also makes it possible to access advanced typography features for your favorite fonts.

Verdict

Affinity Designer is the clear winner here.

When it comes to drawing, Affinity Designer's brush selection is unmatched among these three apps. Affinity Designer also has a lot of support for designers who might want to use the app for projects outside of illustration. Vectornator has only one brush and you can only change the width profile. Adobe Illustrator CC is great for drawing in vector for projects like logo design, but still has a more limited brush selection than Affinity Designer does.

Gestures & Features

Gestures make creating digitally on the iPad a streamlined experience.

Procreate and a few other other massively popular drawing apps redefined how artists work with their iPad, and many other apps have followed their blueprint. This means all three of these programs feature basic gestures like two-finger tap to undo, three-finger tap to redo, and pinching for zoom.

However, from the integration of stock images to automatic vectorization, each app also has features that make using them a unique experience.

Vectornator

  • Multi-touch gestures. Pressing and holding the screen will snap and edit nodes and handles.
  • Layer isolation. Zero in your focus on one layer while the others in your document are grayed out.
  • Iconator. Drag and drop vector graphics from a library of 80,000 icons.

Vectornator has a number of Pen Tool gestures:

  • 1-finger hold. Change your previous node to one with handles that can move independently.
  • 2-finger hold. Both node handles snap to 45º.
  • 3-finger hold. Only one node handle snaps to 45º.
  • Double-tapping the end node. Ends the path.

These gestures are designed to make the tricky task of plotting points easier and more controlled. With the added help from its color-coding system, beginner level vector artists are likely to find this experience a comfortable introduction to the pen tool.

Similarly to Affinity Designer, Vectornator features built-in stock image support from Unsplash. Vectornator also has Iconator, which is a library of over 80,000 icons that you can drag and drop into your work.

A screenshot of the Iconator tab open with the word "tree" in the library search bar in the Vectornator app.

#caption#Iconator allows you to search a library of thousands of icons in Vectornator.

As your project progresses, you can end up with a large number of layers with a lot of elements. To zero in on a single layer, just select it and toggle on Isolate Active Layer. This will automatically gray out all other layers, allowing you to focus only on the active layer.

A screenshot of a vector drawing of a woman against a faded background in the Vectornator app.

#caption#Isolating your active layer is useful for focusing on a single layer.

Adobe Illustrator

  • Touch shortcut. Pressing and holding the shortcut will allow you to perform other actions like editing paths and handles
  • Document sharing and commenting. Collaborate easily with others on your documents
  • Vectorize. Take pixel images and turn them into vectors of varied complexity

Adobe Illustrator uses Touch shortcuts, which is similar to the multi-touch gestures in Affinity Designer with a bit less flexibility. The touch shortcut has primary and secondary states, giving it over a dozen different functions, from rotational snapping to proportional scaling.

A screenshot of the word Create being duplicated in Adobe Illustrator using the Touch Shortcut button.

#caption#Using the Touch Shortcut in Adobe Illustrator allows you to perform a number of actions like duplication.

Adobe Illustrator features document sharing and commenting to make collaborating on projects easier. Comments can be left on documents, even if others on your team don't have Adobe IDs, giving the feature broader use and access. While you're connected and online, you can see edits being made to your documents in real-time.

A screenshot showing two photos of the Eiffel Tower next to each other in the Adobe Illustrator app.

#caption#Vecortization takes pixel images and makes them into vectors.

Curious to know how your photos might look as vectors? You can automatically vectorize them in Illustrator.

You can choose from color, black and white, and grayscale, then adjust your settings to make the result as simple or complex as you'd like. Once you have a vector version, you can increase the size of it without having to worry about blurring any pixels.

Affinity Designer

  • Multi-touch gestures. Unique multi-touch gestures add to an efficient workflow.
  • History. Get instant access to your full document history.
  • Assets Studio. Add elements from your document into a library that you can access across all documents.

Affinity Designer uses a number of multi-touch gestures for actions like duplication and constraining proportions. You can place your fingers anywhere on your screen, making it easy and comfortable to perform the gestures.

Another common set of gestures that you'll find are scrubbing gestures. By simply dragging your finger or Apple Pencil, you can increase or decrease your zoom level, stroke weight, and more.

A screenshot of the Assets Studio in Affinity Designer with the iOS 12 category of options open to the right.

#caption#The Assets Studio is a collection of pre-designed iOS UI elements ready to drag into your document.

In the previous section, we saw that Affinity Designer features built-in stock image support from Pixabay and Pexels, and UI support from its Assets Studio.

You can also use this feature to add shapes and elements from any document into a library. You can use this feature with pixel or vector elements in your documents. When you're ready to use them, it's as easy as dragging and dropping them into your documents.

A screenshot of a drawing of a flower and surrounding brush strokes with the History menu tab open to the right in Affinity Designer.

#caption#A full history of your document is easy to access in Affinity Designer.

Affinity Designer also contains a full, time-stamped history of every action you make within each document. Additionally, the app allows you to set the number of undo steps you want, all the way up to 2,048 actions.

Verdict

Depends on personal preference.

Based on the work that you create, you'll know which features matter most to you. I don't often need access to UI elements as a lettering artist, but having ready access to built-in stock image libraries is a cool feature.

Gestures across digital drawing apps have become pretty standardized over the years with a few unique variations like we saw across each program. Anything extra is nice to see, but perhaps not completely necessary to have a good experience with the app.

Export & Platform Compatibility

What good is being able to create if you can't export and share it in formats that are best for your workflow? Being able to utilize your work on as many programs and platforms as possible gives artists more flexibility and options.

A screenshot of the export menu options open in the Vectornator app.

#caption#In addition to exporting to common image formats, Vectornator documents can also be sent to straight to Adobe Illustrator.

Vectornator

Vectornator offers an impressive level of compatibility with a number of programs and formats.

Vectornator exports to the following file formats:

  • Vectornator
  • JPEG
  • PNG
  • PDF
  • SVG
  • Adobe Illustrator

You can send your work to Illustrator on the desktop straight from the Vectornator app with your computer close by.

Uniquely, Vectornator also allows for exporting of single layers by pressing and holding without having to leave your document. From there you can export to JPG, PNG, SVG or PDF.

For added convenience, you also have the option to export by pressing and holding unopened documents straight from the home screen.

Adobe Illustrator

Illustrator can export to the following file formats:

  • JPEG
  • PNG
  • SVG
  • PDF
  • PSD

Adobe doesn't offer compatibility for other file types in the design industry. However, it works well within the Adobe ecosystem, offering additional support for Adobe Fresco and Photoshop.

The artboards in Illustrator give you the ability to export only select artboards. This keeps creating and ideating flexible without having to worry about needing to export the full document when you're done.

Affinity Designer

Affinity Designer can export to the following file formats:

  • JPEG
  • TIFF
  • PNG
  • GIF
  • EPS
  • SVG
  • PDF

Affinity Designer is compatible with Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop files and can import them into their design programs.

Using Affinity Designer's Export Persona, you can export specific parts of your document by creating Slices.

It boasts some of the most impressive export capabilities allowing for 1x, 2x, or 3x resolution exports of your document simultaneously.

Verdict

Affinity Designer wins.

While all of the apps offer a good amount of file format support, Affinity Designer's advanced export features offer a more flexible experience.

Vectornator offers a nice level of file support and compatibility if you're looking to make the switch from other vector apps.

Illustrator is going to be the most limited in terms of compatibility and support as most artists are looking for alternatives to Adobe because of the higher price point.

Organization, File Management & Cloud Storage

Creating digitally can lead to the accumulation of hundreds of files that are unnamed and disorganized. Having a workflow for keeping your files in order is critical for digital artists. Even more essential is having a way of saving your files for future access.

This is how app handles organization:

  • Vectornator uses folder organization.
  • Adobe Illustrator uses folder organization.
  • Affinity Designer uses projects to organize documents.
A screenshot of a folder with four Vectornator documents inside of it.

#caption#Your documents can be organized easily with folders in Vectornator.

Adobe Illustrator uses the Creative Cloud to keep your files backed up. You can access your files across devices so any changes you make will automatically be updated. Depending on the plan you purchase, you have access to up to 100GB of cloud storage, which is convenient for users.

Verdict

It’s a tie between Affinity Designer & Vectornator.

Both apps offer automatic iCloud saving which is essential for digital artists. It's easy to stay organized with folders and projects and you don't have to worry about losing your work. I enjoy using the Adobe Creative Cloud but the convenience and security of your files comes with a hefty price tag.

Use Affinity Designer if you:

  • Are transitioning away from more expensive apps like Adobe Fresco.
  • Still want access to raster & vector brushes.
  • Have access to an iCloud storage subscription.

Use Vectornator if you:

  • Want access to your old Adobe Illustrator files.
  • Desire a more simplified experience.
  • Want import support for Figma and Sketch files.

At the end of the day, choose the program that works best for your creative workflow, and know that there is rarely a one size fits all solution. Thankfully, there are a lot of options for digital artists and hopefully, this breakdown helped you narrow them down.

An image of a Paperlike Screen Protector floating above an iPad Pro.

Wrap-Up

Vectornator is a great app for artists who want to create using vectors and there isn’t a huge barrier or learning curve.

Since the app is free, you won’t lose anything by trying it out, and you’ll have the added security of being able to use Adobe files within the app.

I see it as a great alternative to Adobe Illustrator for the iPad, especially since the difference in brush selection is minor and you have the option to save your work to the cloud, which is a huge plus.

Affinity Designer is the best app all around for vector and raster graphics artists because it has the best features and value for its price.

No matter which app you choose, Paperlike will be there to give you the best experience while you create on the iPad. With the added resistance, drawing or taking notes with your Apple Pencil will feel more natural. Get your Paperlike today.