Ultimate Affinity Designer Review on Mac OS - Part 1

Ultimate Affinity Designer Review on Mac OS - Part 1

For some time now, designers have been using Affinity Designer, a new program for vector graphics and illustrations. This is a detailed Affinity Designer Review for those who like to try something new in their work.

The developers promote this program as a professional one. In this Affinity Designer Review, I’d like to explore whether Affinity Designer could really live up to this status.

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I will use Destroyer illustration by Pocketstudio as an example.

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Affinity Designer Review: Interface

Looks like something in between Pixelmator and illustrator.

Everything is the same as usual: the toolbar on the left, Setup/Preferences at the top, some panels on the right… no idea what they are called in one word. We’ll call them Panels. The brightness or rather “the darkness” of the interface can be adjusted, but its range is rather narrow—from dark gray to very dark gray.

The program has three modes (personas): the vector mode (Draw Persona), the pixel mode (Pixel Persona), and the export mode (Export Persona). I will describe the tools for each mode separately.

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Affinity Designer Review: Common Tools

I like that some design software has the option to customize the number and order of the items in the tools panel. Pixelmator and Illustrator both have this option where you can disable the pre-set tools panel and create your own by dragging to it whatever items you want, and now Affinity Designer has the same option.

All this can be found in the menu: View->Customize Tools…

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The highest possible number of tools columns is 8.

The tools are listed in the default order. The default selection keys are in parentheses. To learn more about Affinity Designer Tools please continue reading “Affinity Designer Review”.


Affinity Designer Review: Drawing Mode Tools (Draw Persona)

1. Move Tool (v)

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Select/Stretch/Rotate. While holding the Shift key, you can rotate objects at 15° increments. That’s it, more or less. The cursor looks just like any other program’s cursor.

2. Node Tool (a)

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Can do all sorts of manipulations and actions with points and curves. When hovering over a point or a curve, it changes shape, which is convenient, because some complex pictures might look like a mess of dots and it can be impossible to immediately see what to drag and where. It can add a point to a curve with a simple click (to do this in Illustrator you have to hold down I-don’t-remember-what and click on it, or select the plus and click on it).

The Tool has its own action buttons on the context toolbar:

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  • Sharp button turns a round point into an polygonal one;
  • Smooth button works the other way around;
  • Smart button does the same thing as Smooth button, but chooses rounding and levers in a smarter way. But as soon as you pull the lever, the smart point goes back to smooth, so I don’t really understand what this third feature is for.

  • Break Curve button breaks the curve at a selected point;
  • Close Curve button closes a selected curve;
  • Smooth Curve button smoothes a selected curve. It works about the same way as the Simplify feature in Illustrator: when there are too many dots, it removes the excess as it sees fit. It can also add more dots, when there aren’t enough. The idea is to smooth out the contour;
  • Join Curves button connects several curves into one if you are drawing a contour in a few increments;
  • Reverse Curves button turns about the direction of the curve (the end of the curve is marked with a red dot where you finish drawing it). It can be useful when painting with brushes to turn about the direction of brush strokes.

  • Snap to Selected Curves button binds points with other points on the same curve;
  • Snap Off-curve Nodes button binds levers to opposite points connecting points with a straight line;
  • Snap All When Dragging button does nothing. Either it’s a bug, or it needs to be studied long and hard.

In general, in the Snap group, neither the icons, nor the help tips explain what the button does. Things like this might occasionally happen with interfaces.

In the bottom left corner, there is a little help tip about selecting points.

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3. Corner Tool

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Rounded Corner Tool. Rounds out corners of one or several selected points. It can also choose rounding points.

Bake Corners button turns rounded corners into curves:

4. Pen Tool (p)

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Pen is a standard tool. Creates points, curves lines, works as Node Tool when holding down the Command key.

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Modes and options:

  • Pen Mode is a standard mode where Pen works as any regular pen in any other program;
  • Smart Mode is a mode in which you create points where you want them, and the program automatically rounds them out. I have never had to use it.
  • Polygon Mode is the mode of creating polygons without distortions;
  • Line Mode is a mode in which Pen draws straight lines. It works similar to Polygon Mode. The only difference is that instead of just drawing points you have to lead the pen in the needed direction.

5. Pencil Tool (n)

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Pencil Tool has a Controller option that allows to adjust the line width using a Wacom pen.

When drawing, it creates a slight smoothing effect, i.e. the line is made smoother than you actually draw it. It cannot automatically connect points in the process, as the latest version of Illustrator does, so if you are drawing a contour in several increments, you have to fill in all the gaps to produce a complete shape.

6. Vector Brush Tool (b)

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This is a regular brush tool. Responds to the touch (if you have a tablet), has custom brushstroke modes and different patterns. There is just one thing wrong: pixel brushstrokes (but in high definition) that can’t be converted to curves, only rasterized.

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7. Fill Tool (g)

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Actually, it’s a gradient by default, but filling can be done with solid colors as well (apparently, that’s why it’s called Fill Tool). There are 6 types of fill: solid (single color), linear, elliptical, radial, conical, bitmap (patterned fill).

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Gradient Fill has 2 aspects:

  • Good one: it can fill a few objects simultaneously;
  • Bad one: if you use Gradient Fill to correct a point on the canvas, it switches to Corner Tool automatically. It’s the program’s bug that they promised to remedy.

8. Transparency Tool (y)

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This is a gradient tool that does the filling using transparency instead of color. Any number of dots can be added, just like in gradient.

9. Place Image Tool

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Place Image is the same feature as in the Adobe programs. It can insert pictures, as well as .ai, .eps or .psd files. A document is inserted as a smart object that can be opened right here, edited and saved. All in all, it works as well as the corresponding tools of the big rival programs.

10. Vector Crop Tool

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The button looks like the tool is to be used for cropping the canvas, but actually it does something else. Vector Crop Tool is a rectangular mask for a vector object on the canvas. The same result can be achieved by simply embedding the object into a rectangular shape (i.e. making the shape into a mask), so I can’t quite understand why there is a separate tool for that.

11. Rectangle Tool, Ellipse Tool, Rounded Rectangle Tool (m)

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Rectangle, ellipse, rounded rectangle. Just like in any other program.

12. Heart Tool and everything in it

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Those are smart shapes. After you draw one, you can grab and drag certain points to change some of the shape’s setting. The settings depend on the shape. If you have used Pixelmator’s vector tools, you will see that Affinity Designer has the same ones.

13. Artistic Text Tool (t)

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A tool for one-line texts. It can convert text to a curved contour and seems simpler to use than Illustrator’s corresponding tool.

14. Frame Text Tool (t)

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It’s a very simple tool for working with text frames. It works as well as any other and doesn’t have any special features.

15. View Tool (h)

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The hand tool for dragging/panning. The same as in any other program.

16. Zoom Tool (z)

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Zoom Tool that works just like the one in Photoshop, if I’m not mistaken. It zooms in and out following the movements of the mouse. I won’t say it’s not a useful tool, but I only used it once when writing this review to see how it works. I prefer using Opt+Space and the mouse for zooming.

Color Picker Tool

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A tool similar to one in any other program. I have all my tools in one column, so I can never see this one. But this program has many other ways of finding specific colors in the image.


Affinity Designer Review: Pixel Mode Tool (Pixel Persona)

Read more about pixel mode Tool in “Affinity Designer Review”. Actually, Pixel Persona is a set of minimum required tools for adding raster and effects to your vector image. It also has good brushes.

1. Move Tool (v)

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There is nothing to describe here. It’s the same Move Tool as in drawing mode.

2. Marquee Tools (m): Rectangular Marquee Tool, Elliptical Marquee Tool, Row Marquee Tool, Column Marquee Tool

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The first two ones are standard tools: Rectangular Marquee and Elliptical Marquee. I couldn’t quite understand what the other two are for, so I can’t really comment on them. Row Marquee Tool is a default 1-pixel-long row marquee. Column Marquee Tool is a default 1-pixel-wide column marquee.

The marqueed area can be clicked on and dragged.

3. Free Hand Selection Tool (l)

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It’s a lasso tool. It’s free hand by default. With Shift down, it can work as polygonal. The selected area can be clicked on and dragged.

4. Selection Brush Tool (w)

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Brush tool that selects by painting. Works by rounding curves like any other brush. Can select a new area by default, and deselect with Alt down.

5. Pixel Tool (b)

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It’s a 1-pixel-sharp pencil. It works by using a growing/shrinking square to draw. If you have used Pixelmator, you will notice that it has the same tool.


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6. Paint Brush Tool (b)

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Paint brush that works well on a tablet, responds well to pressure, rotation, angle, etc. It has customized settings for opacity, flow, hardness, wet edges and protect alpha.


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7. Erase Brush Tool (e)

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A regular eraser tool, just like any other.

8. Flood Fill Tool (g)

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It’s a bucket tool with options for threshold adjustment and adjacent/nonadjacent pixels filling.

9. Dodge Brush Tool (o)

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Highlighting tool. It has the same options as the brushes, and Tonal Range and Protect Hue in addition. I think everyone is familiar with this tool.


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10. Burn Brush Tool (o)

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Shadowing tool that works similar to Dodge Brush Tool with the opposite effect.

These two tools have one good feature: live brush tip preview. Like Photoshop’s stamps, for example.

11. Smudge Brush Tool

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It’s a finger tool with flow and strength options. Not really different from that of any other program.

12. Blur Brush Tool

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Blur tool with a regular brush options.

13. Sharpen Brush Tool

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Sharpening tool has the same options as brushes, with the addition of Clarity, Unsharp Mask and Harsh mode options.

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14. View Tool (h)

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15. Zoom Tool (z)

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Pixel tool to work with your pictures. If you insert a picture into a template and try to work on it with pixel mode tools, nothing will happen. The reason is that editing pictures has to be done in a separate application.


Affinity Designer Review: Export Mode Tools (Export Persona)

1. Slice Tool (s)

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Creates image slices for further exporting. Nothing unusual, works like similar tools in other programs.

The slices can’t be copied. If you need a few of the same slice, you will have to draw them manually.

2. Slice Selection Tool (l)

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Looks like a regular cursor in the previous personas, but it’s not the same. This arrow can only select an object on the canvas and create a slice around it via context menu tools. Nothing more.

3. View Tool (h)

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4. Zoom Tool (z)

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Affinity Designer Review: Overall Impression of the Tools

A minimum requirement set with a few extras. Quite enough for drawing illustrations and icons. Using it to do something complicated and technical (drafts and building blueprints) is also possible in theory, but it might involve too much manual work.

The tools seem to be fairly professional, but their niche is a little narrower than that of Illustrator.

As a bonus I would mention the process of drawing a character for my personal project.

Making of Henry Townshend [Silent Hill 4] from Eugene Reznik on Vimeo.

Thx for reading our Affinity Designer Review. Stay tuned!