Best alternatives to Illustrator 2020

Excellent vector graphic software apps for those without Adobe in their lives.

While there is a free version of Adobe's flagship vector software Illustrator in Adobe Illustrator Draw, this app is mobile only and not one to suit creators working on desktop who aren't eager to sign up to Adobe Creative Cloud.

There are also creators who may be wondering what else is out there besides Adobe software which can provide a similarly robust vector experience, either free or paid for.

In this round up of the best alternatives to Adobe Illustrator we feature both types, and have even thrown in an iPad app which, in our opinion, comes close to desktop quality.

Most of the software alternatives below are suitable for Windows and Mac, and we've noted which apps can accommodate your already existing Adobe work.

Affinity Designer

Affinity Designer

Say 'Illustrator alternative' to the creative community and most will think of Affinity Designer, Serif's flagship vector app approaching four years of age and counting.

A highly respected app for all those of years, it latest update impressed us with its optimisation for iPad, Windows and Mac.

Vector shapes now possess an unlimited number of strokes and fills, with more freedom to interleave different attributes and control how they are blended together.

Its upgrades also mean Mac users now have end-to-end Metal compute acceleration to take full advantage of the Mac’s discrete GPU, making all raster layer and brush operations up to 10 times faster than ever before. 

Existing Illustrator users should know they can open AI and EPS files in Affinity. Note though that you can't save back to AI, with files only exportable to Photoshop.

As of 2020, Affinity Designer adds a new stock panel to instantly search and drag and drop stock imagery into your work.

Curious iPad users can check out our review of Affinity Designer for the iPad from Tobias Hall.

CorelDraw Graphics Suite 2020

CorelDraw Graphics Suite 2020

You probably know this app simply as Corel Draw, one overshadowed perhaps by both Adobe and Corel's own masterly Painter program.

Its 2020 app saw effectively made it the Google Docs of visual design, with its browser based .App extension now serving as the central hub to share CorelDraw files with clients and contributors. This new collaborative workflow makes design changes, reviews, and approvals easy by enabling the designer to manage feedback from one or more contributors in a single working file.

Moving away from the browser and back to the original CorelDraw, the 2020 vesion offers AI-powered tools that expand design capabilities and accelerate workflows.

AI-based upsampling options create high-quality results when enlarging images, giving clean edges, sharpness, and fine details. 

Users can also quickly and accurately select an image with the new Smart Selection Mask that intelligently expands the selection by finding edges.

Vectornator

You can't use Vectornator on your desktop, but we felt we needed to put an iPad option on this list, especially one that comes at this level of quality for free. It's essentially desktop-like performance a few rungs below the paid for experience of Affinity Designer on the iPad; artists can edit an 8K Canvas with millions of elements and encounter zero lag.

With Vectornator, you'll also have access to your Creative Cloud library. With its Adobe CC integration, simply start working on your desktop and continue working on Vectornator on iPad or vice versa.

Vectornator also has a great UX, coming with no popovers and persistent panels, nice accurate sliders and even nicer animated buttons that provide feedback while tapping.

With Live Gradients meanwhile you can control the gradient composition directly on the shape itself.

Android mobile users looking for a similar app could go with Infinite Design instead, but the Vectornator experience is a hard one to beat. Try a download here.

Sketch

Sketch

Sketch is a UX app which does allow for vector graphic creation; artist Thalia Train can explain a bit more about that.

Like with Illustrator, there's the option for multiple artboards (as pictured). It also has a full range of editing tools, built-in grid options for 960px and a pixel preview mode that shows your output when rasterised for the web.

While it is a paid desktop app, you can download a free trial version from the Sketch site.

Note that AI files have limited support, and can only be opened as a single flattened layer.

Inkscape

Mac users won't like this as there's no real Apple version as such (besides a source binary), but Windows and Linux creatives looking for a free alternative to Illustrator will be in seventh heaven.

The interface may be simple, but Inkscape provides for great SVG integration, and has a robust set of tools including alpha blending, cloned objects, markers and bitmap image tracing.

While you can open AI files with Inkscape, to save them you'll need to export as PDF, then change the extension of your file by renaming it with a .ai. 

You can download Inkscape here.

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