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The uses of vector graphics software are almost limitless: graphic design, page layout, freehand illustration, and more, but not all programs are created equal. Whether you're new to the digital arts or want to upgrade your existing software, it can be difficult to figure out which programs are worthwhile and which are a waste of time.
When you use Google to search for vector graphics software, you will find many options that call themselves vector graphics programs, but in reality, they are nothing more than tools for beautifying clip art, and although they can mix and match preset elements to create projects, they are not really vector graphics programs and cannot handle the most subtle things. A true vector graphics program can completely absorb your creativity and create almost anything you can imagine.
This is a vector graphic
Image source Depositphotos
If you are looking for a full-featured vector graphics program, you will find enough reasons to consider Adobe Illustrator as the gold standard. It has a wide range of features that allow it to perform almost any vector-based task, whether it's doing artistic illustrations, logo prototyping, or page layouts. You may feel overwhelmed by the task when first starting out, as there is so much to learn, but there are plenty of instructional resources online (such as the video courses on Udemy) to help you get through.
The best application for illustrators who draw with their bare hands is CorelDRAW Graphics Suite -- still being updated after 25 years of development, and with some incredible drawing tools built in that allow you to do common vector tasks without a stylus.
Raster images vs. vector images
Almost all the images you see online are raster images, they consist of a grid of pixels, just like the screen of a monitor or smart TV. The color and brightness of each pixel is defined by a 3-digit number between 0 and 255, with each number representing the number of reds, greens, and blues in the pixel, which combine to create almost any color visible to the human eye.
The most common type of raster image on a computer is the JPEG format, and if you have ever tried to print out material you found on the Internet, you will notice that it usually appears tiny, pixelated, or very blurry. This is because increasing the size of a raster image does not add any new information to the file, but simply enlarges what is already there, so your eyes will see the blurred or pixelated results.
Vector images, on the other hand, do not use a pixel grid, but store all the curves, lines and colors you see as mathematical expressions in the file. You can scale the image to any size you need and the result will still be displayed in the same quality. In other words, you can scale up a tiny image on your computer screen into a skyscraper-like mural, and the display will still be clear and sharp.
Do you need a dedicated vector graphics program?
The answer is probably yes, after all, that's what you want. However, if you are already using an image editing program, then it is likely that you already have some vector graphics tools, the most common example being Adobe Photoshop: it is primarily an image processing program, but Adobe keeps adding more and more new features to it, including basic vector graphics editing, although nowhere near as powerful as programs like Adobe Illustrator or CorelDRAW Graphics Suite and other dedicated programs, but it can at least open most vector files and allow you to make smaller adjustments.
Graphic and web designers absolutely need a good vector graphics program to get the job done, because vectors are perfect for prototyping and refining designs, and they also allow control over layout, thus freeing you from the constraints of desktop publishing layouts and other design quirks.
When it comes to illustration, vector is usually a perfect match for certain graphic styles, but not the only choice for digital illustration, as Photoshop, Painter, and PaintShop Pro also work well on drawing boards. All of these tend to use visual styles to reconstruct traditional offline media (such as watercolor or airbrush) rather than creating vectors of the artwork as you draw, and instead you get a raster image that is not scaled beyond the original size you created.
The best vector graphics software
There are many programs that can create and edit vector graphics, but a surprising number of options are dedicated to extremely specific uses, such as SketchUP for 3D drawing and AutoCAD for aiding engineering design. in fact, we have only considered some of the more general programs because they offer the most flexibility in terms of how they can be used.
While it is impossible to ignore the issue of personal preference when selecting the best vector graphics program, we tried to standardize the review process by using the following criteria.
- Applicability to drawing boards
Many artists use traditional media such as pen and ink to learn skills, and if you've spent years honing them in an offline environment, transferring those skills to a digital drawing pad and vector graphics program would be a huge benefit. Some programs are better suited for this purpose than others from the competition, but any good vector program should work smoothly with a drawing board.
- Can you simplify complex drawing tasks
Of course, not everyone who wants to use vector graphics is a skilled hand-drawn artist, but that doesn't mean that the vector graphics world is closed to us. Even if you can't draw a perfect circle by hand, almost any vector program will allow you to create a vector circle easily. However, what about more complex drawing tasks? Is it easy to adjust the shape of each point, line, or layer? Will it quickly allow you to rearrange, align, and subdivide? Can you easily trace the contours of an imported raster image? A good vector graphics program will meet all these needs.
- Can you handle typography effectively
There are many uses for vector graphics, but one of the most common is to create logos that can be scaled any way you want and still look good. Even if you are not a professional designer, you may want to use only text, and the best vector programs will offer complete typographic control without forcing you to choose fancy art lettering. After all, each text is already a series of vector graphics, so there is nothing wrong with using them.
- Does it support multiple vector formats
As mentioned earlier, raster images are usually displayed in JPEG format, but unfortunately there is no similar popular standard for vector graphics, and you will often find PDF, EPS, SVG, PostScript, and a variety of other formats, sometimes with even different version ranges for each, depending on the era in which the file was created. A good program should be able to read and write a wide variety of formats to meet any usage scenario.
- Is it easy to use
For any program, this is one of the biggest issues. To avoid postponing work and wasting time, use software that is easier to use.
- Does it provide good tutorial support
Vector graphics programs often have incredible features, each developer has their own design philosophy, and even if you already have experience with vector graphics, learning new software can take time. A good application will contain useful introductory tutorials and provide plenty of training material to help you improve.
Image processing software has always been very expensive, but this has improved over the past few years. Although frustrating to many users, the subscription-based model has become a popular way to overcome the initial price barrier.
1. Adobe Illustrator CC - the best vector graphics software
If you need the best all-around vector graphics program, then there is no alternative to Adobe Illustrator CC, which has been developed over decades to be a powerful tool that can be used widely. However, since the Creative Cloud version was first released, Illustrator is only available as part of a subscription and can no longer be obtained through the previous one-time purchase price.
Illustrator has a variety of tools for creating and working with vector objects that can help you create complex shapes with precision and ease. In the past, while it was clumsy when working with complex curved shapes, the new Curvature tool offers more options for drawing curves and anchor points, which is very welcome. In addition, since Illustrator is widely considered the industry standard, there are plenty of introductory tutorials to help you get started quickly.
Probably the biggest advantage is the customizable interface system (i.e. workspaces) where each element can be moved, docked, hidden, and allows you to create multiple custom workspaces. If you want hand-drawn illustrations, then you need to prepare different tools than when typesetting logos, and even if your project requires both tasks, you can quickly switch between custom and multiple preset workspaces.
The layout is handled perfectly, you have precise control over every detail, and when you need to customize the letters, you can simply convert them into editable form and adjust them to fit your project. Although not designed for multi-page documents, you can perform all operations such as letter formatting, page layout, etc.
Illustrator excels when it comes to simplifying complex drawing tasks. The suite of tools called Live Trace and Live Paint allows you to take almost any raster image and quickly convert it to vector format. Whether you want to convert a scanned sketch to vector or reconstruct a client logo in scalable vector via JPEG, these tools can help you save a lot of time and effort.
Aside from being a great illustration tool, Illustrator's biggest improvement is its handling of pen/stylus based input. There is no doubt that it can respond sensitively to pressure sensing and create stunning illustrations, but if vector sketching is your main goal, then you may want to prioritize other products, such as CorelDRAW Graphics Suite, which will be introduced below, before making a final decision.
- Powerful vector creation tools
- Flexible work area layout
- Creative Cloud Integration
- Multiple mobile application integration
- GPU acceleration support
- It takes a lot of time to learn how to use
2. CorelDRAW Graphics Suite - best for artistic creation
Deliberately marketing to Adobe users frustrated with the subscription-only model, CorelDRAW Graphics Suite takes a smarter approach: offering a subscription and a one-time purchase option. A one-time purchase is very expensive, the license never expires, but does not provide any feature updates; to stay up-to-date, it may be cheaper to opt for a subscription, which is less expensive than Illustrator and includes many other tools, such as Photo-Paint, Font Manager, and more.
CorelDRAW is an ideal choice for digital artists with tablets, and we start by looking at the new LiveSketch tool, which, despite its name feeling like an imitation of Illustrator, functions in a completely different way. When drawing with a board in most vector programs, you can create vector shapes based on brush strokes, but that's not the case with LiveSketch, which actually sketches out first and then creates the ideal line based on repeated brush strokes, and of course, the principles involved are hard to explain, so Corel has created a quick introductory video that you can check out here.
Although best suited for digital sketchers, CorelDRAW can also be used with the more commonly used vector shape tools and uses the same standard point and path system to create and adjust any object. It can also be used for tasks such as page layout and layout, but it doesn't handle them as well as Illustrator. Developers made the inexplicable choice to set the default print settings (such as line spacing and tracking) to use percentages instead of dots (which are the standard unit of print). In addition, it can actually create multi-page documents, but if you are extremely meticulous about typesetting for brochures and books, then it is best to use a specialized application.
Corel integrates a lot of other features that Illustrator lacks, and the WhatTheFont service is one of them, which is a huge help when you're trying to determine which font was used in an image or logo. On the less useful side, the software has a built-in store that offers a variety of options for sale, and while we don't mind a company trying to boost profits by selling other software, Corel is still selling new tools at exorbitant prices under the guise of extensions.
- Excellent vector drawing tool
- LiveSketch automatic vector sketching
- Full UI customization options
- 2-in-1 tablet optimization
- Excellent built-in tutorials
- Printing tools need to be improved
- Extension tools are expensive
3. Affinity Designer
Affinity has made its name through a series of affordable programs designed to challenge the leaders in mobile and desktop photo editing and vector graphics. The perpetual license is very affordable and is the cheapest paid program we've reviewed, and you even get access to a free trial version for a 10-day test run.
Comes with many useful point drawing tools and the anchor point feature is easier to use than Adobe Illustrator's defaults, and although there are no dedicated tools such as Live Trace or LiveSketch, Affinity Designer does offer pressure-sensitive pen drawing tools as well.
All vector programs allow you to merge multiple shapes in a variety of ways, but Affinity Designer is unique in that it can perform this operation non-destructively, and this flexibility opens up a whole new range of possibilities for experimentation in your creative process.
To break into the professional market, Affinity Designer supports a wide range of file formats, from vector standards such as PDF and SVG to proprietary formats for Photoshop and Illustrator. Even with these advantages, it is not yet ready to enter the top of the industry, but if Serif continues to aggressively push development, there is a good chance that Affinity Designer will be out in the spotlight in the near future.
4. Xara Designer Pro X
Xara is almost as old as brands like Adobe and Corel, but it doesn't do well enough compared to Adobe's strong market power. In addition to vector graphics processing, Designer Pro X includes many other features, such as photo editing, page layout and site building tools (no programming required).
Unfortunately, this means that Xara doesn't spend any particular time or effort on improving the vector drawing program; they offer basic line and shape tools for working with vector objects, but there isn't a higher-end extension to help you save time. You can still use the mouse as a pen to draw, but Xara doesn't seem to offer any special features related to the drawing pad.
Xara does a pretty good job of providing a lot of functionality while keeping the interface simple, but when everything is ready and then transformed into a website, it can be a bit limiting, and sometimes this is made worse by the intention of trying to avoid confusion (e.g. printing tools). The basic control options are well designed, but each setting is not labeled, relying instead on pop-up tools to indicate what should be controlled.
To its credit, Xara has created a number of official tutorials for Designer Pro X. If you want a feature-rich (but less focused) program, this may be for you, but for those serious vector graphics artists, Adobe Illustrator or CorelDRAW Graphics Suite may be better.
If you don't want to spend a penny on a vector graphics program, then the open source software movement may provide the answer in the form of Inkscape. The software is available for free and the features you get are more impressive than other free options.
Contains all the standard vector drawing options and is able to respond to pressure messages from the drawing board, and although it doesn't have the sophisticated drawing capabilities of top-tier software, it does contain a full set of filters that can perform certain useful functions. In addition, Inkscape supports extensions written in the Python language, allowing you to add additional features that are missing from the default version of the program.
The interface layout is slightly different from other programs because the open source community often has a habit of disregarding the user experience. For example, whenever text is to be used, you still have to navigate several menus deep to find all the different tools, even though the screen has space to display all these options.
Technically speaking, Inkscape is still in beta (0.92) and has been in that version for the last decade or so. We would like to have at least one UX designer join the development team in order to eliminate the cumbersome aspects of the interface and upgrade the software to a full release.
6. Gravit Designer
Gravit is another free vector graphics program, but unlike Inkscape, it is not open source, which, oddly enough, seems to make it avoid the user experience problems associated with most open source programs. It also has the unique advantage of being available for a wide range of operating systems and can even be run in a web browser.
The vector drawing tools are fairly standard, and Gravit offers an excellent degree of control and ease of use, with a clearly designed interface that automatically responds to the specific tools you use and feels good to the touch. However, it does not respond to pressure information from the drawing board, and the printing options do not use standard units, but this is a secondary issue.
The software can open some standard vector formats such as PDF, EPS and SVG, but it does not support any proprietary Adobe formats. Even so, considering it's completely free, we're still impressed with the overall results. If you just want to simply try out vector graphics, then Gravit might be the ideal choice.