Affinity Designer Updated for Mac Vector Artwork Creation

Note: What follows applies to the Mac version of Affinity Designer. An open beta of the Windows version is currently avaialble.

Serif has been around for many years, slowly adding to the capabilities of its Windows-based PagePlus, PhotoPlus and DrawPlus applications. So you'd think it would be in a great position to capitalize on the discontent of Windows users who really didn't want to be absorbed into the mother ship of Adobe Creative Cloud. But instead it decided to launch a suite of new apps under the Affinity brand, this time just for Mac. Windows graphic application developer Corel notably tried this years ago with its ProCreate Mac-based initiative, which completely flamed out, but Serif seems to be succeeding where Corel failed, since Designer received an Apple Design Award in June and has apparently often been the best selling Graphics & Design application on the Mac App Store. There's certainly every reason to wish for the availability of Creative Cloud alternatives on both platforms.

Affinity Designer was the first out of the gate, launching in October of 2014, and was followed up with Affinity Photo, with Affinity Publisher slated for 2016. The apps use a common file format, making it easy in principle to move work between them. Designer, which Serif claims is "the fastest, smoothest, most precise vector graphic design software available," comes with the usual vector tools, layer handling, mixed-media raster tools, 16-bits per channel support and professional color models. Serif was wise to set the bar high and keep the needs of design pros in mind, and this emphasis shows up in many places, not least of which is Designer's speed (reminiscent of the Windows vector application Xara Designer Pro), along with things like virtually unlimited zoom, extremely smooth gradients, real-time pixel preview, export to multiple resolutions, instant undo history, real-time embedded document editing, live filter effects, Retina 5K display and iCloud Drive support, and non-destructive booleans.

The subsequent point releases were made available at no charge to registered users and added significant functionality, such as text on a path; a corner control tool; a pixel alignment mode; improved PSD, PDF and SVG import/export; the ability to exchange imagery with Affinity Photo while the same file remains open; OpenType, typography and text performance enhancements; improved PSD handling and import of PSB files (very large Photoshop documents); customizable 2-axis and 3-axis grids (isometric) with snapping; a polygon creation mode; Media Browser support for Apple’s Photos library; support for per-channel blend ranges and per-object blend gamma with customizable ramp; and more-accurate color management and color picking. The program was also made available in German, Spanish and French editions.

Version 1.4, released in December 2015, provided an emphasis on professional print output, thanks to Pantone support, along with end-to-end CMYK and ICC color management, the ability to open, edit and output PDF/X files, set overprint controls, use spot colors and add bleed area, trim and crop marks. Artboards are all the rage and Designer accordingly allowed users to create an unlimited number of different design variants and sizes within a single document. Users could group artboards, place artboards within artboards and create them from any shape, with full control over what artboards to output and with what settings. Other improvements included a rotatable canvas; customizable keyboard shortcuts; global colors; new typography controls; improved import and export of PSD, PDF, SVG and EPS formats; and the addition of Italian, Portuguese (Brazilian) and Japanese language versions.

Version 1.5, which is once again a free upgrade, begins with an optimization for MacOS Sierra. Next up is the addition of symbol functionality, with multiple instances of an object permitting quick changes to all of them, a welcome, although belated, feature addition. Constraints make it possible to control the position and size of an object relative to its container, which Serif says lets them perform in a "pseudo-responsive" manner, handy when creating mockups. A new Assets panel makes it possible to store commonly-used design elements and drag them onto a document. Snapping has been given a boost thanks to automatic gap and span snapping, as well as geometry snapping. Also new is document-wide text styles; a new Color Picker tool; improved PSD/PDF/SVG compatibility; and the ability to automatically generate a palette from an image.

Finally, a significant bonus is the inclusion of the Grade UI kit, regularly $58, created by Russian designer Sergey Azovskiy. The package includes more than 1,000 user interface elements in 10 categories and 100 vector icons. The items, such as styles, color palettes and gradients, are based on the Bootstrap 3 (1170px) grid system and are provided in Designer format. The kit is available to registered owners of any version of Designer.

Is Affinity Designer a replacement for Adobe Illustrator? We'd have to say yes, for a broad spectrum of users, although Illustrator, when coupled with some of the powerful plugins from Astute Graphics, such as WidthScribe, shouldn't be written off just yet. But for the price you can't really go wrong. If you're still hesitant, a trial version of Designer is available.

Affinity Designer 1.5 for Mac can currently be purchased for $39.95 (regularly $49.99) on the Mac App Store. More information is available on the Serif site.