I’m upgrading my illustration gear! I ordered a new-to-me iPad Mini 4 and a Friendly Swede 4-in-1 stylus. After trying a slew of vector illustration apps, I ended up using the humble Inkpad 2 on my obsolete iPad Mini running iOS 9 for almost all of my Inktober drawings. I really like the iPad Mini as a platform for illustration. It’s small enough to carry in a jacket pocket, but big enough to do anything but the most enormous illustrations.
My goal is to be able to get some level of professional work done on any device I own. This is complicated by the fact that I have OS X and Windows 10 on my laptop, iOS on my iPad Mini, and Android on my phone! Ideally I’d like full inter-operation where I can move my work from one to another with no or minimal re-work, so a strong common feature set and good importing and exporting features are mandatory. So my new main setup will probably be Affinity Designer on the iPad Mini. I will try using a stylus for the first time to see if I like it better than my fingers. I kind of doubt I will with a vector app, because vector is a lot more like sculpting than drawing. I suspect a stylus, especially a pressure sensitive one, is more useful for raster/painterly work like one might do with Procreate, which I also own.
Martin Whitmore, the Evil Illustrator, generously let me borrow his Intuos 3 tablet so I could try out a pressure sensitive tool on Affinity Designer on my Mac (in Windows 10). This way I’ll be able to test the pressure sensitivity and see if that might be worth more money later. Right now the pressure sensitive game on the iPad Mini 4 is very chaotic. It’s too old to support the Apple Pencil, which alone is over $100 anyway. It’s possible to use bluetooth styluses like the Wacom Bamboo Sketch with it, but every single app has to have native support for your specific stylus because Apple only supports their Pencil. You can’t just get the stylus and expect all the features to work across the board. As far as I can tell, Affinity Designer and Inkpad (more on them below) don’t support pressure sensitivity, so I just went for a capacitive Friendly Swede 4-in-1 stylus for now.
Let’s review some of the apps I’ve evaluated so far:
On Windows 10/Apple OS X
Adobe Illustrator CS 5: This was what got me started in vector art and what I used for Zen Fire, my second iOS game.
It’s clearly an industry standard and near the top of the game for vector art. However, I’m spiritually more behind Open Source and indy developers (I am one!), so for now I’m not planning on using Adobe’s new offerings.
Inkscape is the Open Source answer to Illustrator. It’s free, very capable, and has some great vectorizing features for turning raster art into vectors. I used it for my Death of Pun Dog contribution for Inktober 2019. It has that slightly goony Open-Source feel, but will clearly do everything I want. If I took the time to optimize my workspace, I think it could replace most for-pay apps.
Affinity Designer is a lower-cost professional illustration vector art program. It’s very streamlined and part of a larger suite that include Affinity Photo and Affinity Publisher. So far I’ve only used it for a few small sketches, but it the workflow is the best I’ve seen, and I really like the object tree feature. This shows every single individual item in the work on a tree, making it much easier to find and select things, especially when they’re all mobbed together. I’m looking forward to trying this one out on my new iPad to see how they set up the smaller workspace. At this point I think I like Affinity Designer the best.
Inkpad 2 is the app I used for most of Inktober. Despite the terrible review of this obsolete version, it’s cheap, very simple, has a great, intuitive interface, and supports most basic vector features like pens, pencils, path editing including some basic boolean operations, layers, opacity, blend modes, etc. The version I have is very old, so while I can export to Dropbox, I can’t import anything except raster images, so there’s no way for me to work on vector art I started with another app right now. It also doesn’t have any support for variable line width or gradient meshes, only linear and radial ones. However, it’s my goal to be able to drop professional level work with only this feature set no matter what tool I use. I suspect the newer version I can run on my Mini 4 will have more features. I think this is the current version, and it has spectacular reviews! I’ll report back when I can try the it!
Affinity Designer is available for iOS for $20, but I can’t try it until I get my new iPad.
Ivy Draw is the first good vector art app I found for Android. It’s interface is a little hard to learn, and the available documentation is very minimal, but once you figure it out, it’s amazing how much you can draw on your phone. It’s also very stable. However, its one major downfall is that gradients can’t be edited in the actual drawing. A separate dialog pops up with things like offsets, angle, etc., that have to be modified *without* being able to see the results on the original drawing. This makes complex gradients nearly impossible to use, and that sent me looking for an alternative, which was:
Infinite Design is another fully-featured vector app from the same developer who make the popular Infinite Paint. The Infinite in the title is support for (at least theoretically) infinite undos. This app has *much* better support for gradient editing in-picture than Ivy Draw. It also has substantially more features, brushes, support for variable line width, etc. Its interface also take some getting used to, and its documentation is also quite sparse for its complex feature set. Its biggest problem, though, is stability. The last time I did a drawing with it, it crashed at least 12 times. The Good News is that it didn’t lose any work, gracefully recovering my art exactly where I stopped next time I ran it. There is an active online forum, and the developer is also very responsive to feedback. I’ve already used my years of QA experience to help him remove a few of the more grievous bugs, something I plan to continue. At the moment this is the best option I’m aware of for vector on Android, and I’d love to see how it works on a bigger screen and with more general stability. At that point it would be a great option for artists who can’t afford the more expensive iOS devices but can score a used Android tablet.
I’m having fun trying out all these different options, and am becoming some of an expert on the competitive field for professional vector art apps. I’m actually picking up my new Mini today, so I’ll report back soon with the updated options on there.