Born out of a new idea within the Serif company in Europe, the Affinity range of professional graphics software started appearing with the launch of Affinity Designer in 2014. This new range of software, "built from the ground up," also included Affinity Photo, which was first launched in 2015, and a third app, Affinity Publisher, which is expected in 2018.
Enticed by what I had seen of Affinity Designer in YouTube videos, I had to get a closer look for myself. What I found in play with Affinity Designer really impressed me, with its stellar UI, great features, and ease of use. Most impressive is how this software uniquely brings together both vector and pixel work without leaving its confines.
My initial introduction to Affinity Designer was version 1.5, but the recent 1.6 update is quite impressive. I found it very good before, but the speed increase is definitely noticeable. In this release, there are also improvements in stroke stabilization, a smoother zoom, and the option of a lighter interface, though I am now so accustomed to a dark look.
Most of all, I think the interface of Affinity Designer just screams that this is a designer's app - from the look of the tool icons, the many starting vector shapes you can work with, to the individual vector and pixel workspaces. The interface layout is both familiar and welcoming if you are coming from other apps, but it adds some nice surprises.
Affinity Designer contains three distinct workspaces, called 'personas:' Draw, Pixel, and Export. The Draw persona is the vector playground, where you can build and create with shapes, the pen tool, and even vector brushes. The Pixel persona is where the raster tools come in, with some excellent brushes as well.
You can easily switch between these two personas without a hitch. So, for example, if you wish to sketch out your ideas with the raster brushes first, you can then switch right to the Draw persona to do the vector work. Or, you can work in vector first, and do some texturing and painting in the Pixel persona...or go back and forth between. The vector and raster brushes can also be infinitely customizable and even tailored to pen pressure.
Finally, the Export persona gives you tons of options and file formats to export your work. This is especially useful for setting up and exporting individual assets and images in different sizes and file formats as you need to. The amount of control you have here is excellent, and a great feature to have separately within Affinity Designer.
Real-time feedback is the biggest thing in Affinity Designer. Seriously - this is very apparent while working in every aspect. Whether you are creating or moving objects, applying effects, gradients, blend modes, and even working with text. You aren't just seeing outlines, which enables you to work faster, and makes creating fun, with instant feedback making discovery easier.
Another thing that stands out for me is the stored history. A slider even allows you to scroll back quickly through your work. And this info can be stored in the file so you can have all of your iterations available on another machine as well. Brilliant!
There are a couple of other standout features I loved. First, you can do Boolean operations while preserving everything. Yes, this is truly non-destructive, so you can still edit all component parts. And the million percent zoom - yes, you can seemingly zoom that far into a document, so you can really work in detail. And zooming is super smooth.
Perhaps, however, the biggest selling point with Affinity Designer is the price. For just $49.99 (USD) you get this really robust application - tons of features and no subscription plan!
There's so much more to Affinity Designer, but I'll refer you to the complete feature page here.
Affinity Designer is really a unique, creative software for professional designers, but is also fun and intuitive enough for the hobbyist. And, in any case, the price is very affordable. If you are still asking the question if it could replace Illustrator, I'm not going to compare. Affinity Designer is a very capable and professional software, and I feel you should check out the trial version and see how it could work for you.
For me, the only thing I would personally love to see in Affinity Designer would be a vector trace feature. Perhaps that is yet to come.
I must also mention there is a fantastic Affinity Designer Workbook available to purchase, where you can learn everything you need to use Designer to its fullest potential. And it is indeed beautiful, with plenty of full-color illustrations in a hardcover. I'll be writing more on this later.