If, like me, you've grown up with printed computer magazines with physical cover disks, then Serif is a name that's full of nostalgia. The Nottingham-based company, better known for its popular flagship desktop publishing package Page Plus, launched its first Mac product Affinity Designer and it is free until the end of September.
Affinity Designer is the first vector editing tool to offer creative professionals a serious alternative to Illustrator. Announced in beta a few weeks ago after four years of development, it's been causing quite a stir, especially if you are not keen on Adobe's Creative Cloud subscription model; Affinity Designer, for once, sticks to the pay-once, own-forever model.
For Affinity Designer, Serif has started from scratch, building an entirely new, high-end product, aimed squarely at creative professionals, on an entirely new codebase. That means Affinity Designer can take full advantage of the latest hardware which translates into a fast, responsive, feature-rich and very powerful application. Which means it could easily upset some established names in the creative industry.
Here 10 great reasons why Affinity Designer could become your new favourite vector editing tool.
01. It's free in beta
The Affinity Designer beta for Mac is free until its official launch in October 2014. Downloading it comes with absolutely no obligations. So you've got absolutely no reason not to give it a try.
02. There's no subscription
Once the free beta is over in October, Affinity Designer will be 'free to try, one price to buy', at a very reasonable £34.99/$49.99 via the Mac App Store. And there'll be no subscription charge; Serif has promised that all updates to the software will be free for at least the next two years. Why so cheap?
Despite Affinity Designer being a high-end product, Serif is hoping the modest price point will lure designers away from either being tied to an Adobe subscription or clinging on to old software.
And they're convinced there's a demand for such a product. "When you stop paying for the Creative Cloud, its apps stop working," argues Serif MD Ashley Hewson. "And if your internet connection or the cloud servers go down, you can't log in. That doesn't sit well with everyone. And even if cost isn't the main issue, many just want something fresh that can be taken seriously."
03. One million per cent zoom
With other vector editing programs, if you zoom in too far, what you're looking at becomes pixellated or just greys out. In Affinity Designer, the zoom just keeps on going and going. Only stopped drawing speedily around 40 million percent (and no, that's not a typo), so it's also safe to say that incredible accuracy is guaranteed.
04. It's really fast
Affinity Designer has been created with one overrriding goal in mind, says Serif: that 'working in Designer is always live'. That means no lag, no outlines – when you move an object, or series of objects, everything moves at once in real-time.
So whether it's a 100 megapixel image or the most complex vector drawing with thousands of curves, you still pan and zoom at 60fps, move objects in the correct z-order and see live views of all adjustments, gradients, brushes and effects.
In short, it's fast. Really fast. And when you go back to your old vector editing software, that will probably seem really slow and clunky in comparison.
05. It's compatible with your other tools
If you're worried about incorporating Affinity Designer into your current workflow – and in truth that will be most pro designers' concern – then Serif says you shouldn't stress. When it launches, they promise this new tool will open and be able to fully edit Adobe Illustrator AI, Photoshop PSD, PDF, FreeHand, EPS and SVG files.
You can output in standard image formats, PNG, JPG etc, and save as PDF, PSD, EPS, and SVG for broad compatibility. Affinity Designer outputs PSD for Photoshop and PDFs for Illustrator, so work can flow both ways.
06. You can export standard and retina quality in one hit
Affinity Designer offers crisp vectors plus pixel tools and previews, suitable for UI and web graphic design. A live preview shows what your artwork looks like at standard- or retina pixel-export quality while keeping the document in normal editing mode so you can fine tune it and see individual pixels change.
And when you want to export your graphics, or the whole design, easily turn layers, groups, objects, or custom areas into slices that are exported at standard and retina quality in one operation (in various image formats, qualities and colour spaces).
07. It unites vector and pixel design together
Not everyone who illustrates works in pure vector. Many prefer using Photoshop over Illustrator or other tools for vector work, creating very large bitmaps and scaling them down to final sizes to retain as much quality as possible. Others start with vectors in Illustrator and then finish artwork elsewhere.
Affinity Designer, however, offers vector and raster design together in one app. One button switches the toolset while the document doesn't skip a beat, still in one app, scalable, native, in one file format.
To give it a go yourself, try creating a vector shape, paint shading over it with pixel brushes and a Multiply blend mode, then drag the brushwork into the shape in the Layers panel so it's a child. The brushwork is clipped within the vector shape and the outline is drawn on top of the brushwork. That's pretty neat.
08. Powerful masks
One thing the integration between vectors and pixels means is that masks are uniquely powerful in Affinity Designer. For example, you can even apply two or more masks to one layer no matter if they are pixel or vector based.
09. Pro adjustments and effects
Beyond combining vector and raster tools, Affinity Designer takes mixed discipline to another level. Say that your client loves the logo or the concept art you sweated over for 60 hours… and yet the client wants another revision ("Can it be a bit greener"?) Well before your blood rises too much, check this out. The kind of professional image adjustments you'd find in Photoshop – such as Recolour, HSL, Levels and Curves – can also be found in Affinity Designer and can be applied to vectors, raster art, individual objects, layers, groups, or whole designs. And the adjustments can be masked, blended, stacked and so on.
As with glows, blurs, shadows and other layer effects that also apply to any type of artwork, all the adjustments update instantly, with zero lag. In other words, you can make all or part of the job "greener" with a couple of clicks, no reworking required.
10. End-to-end CMYK, pro output
If the guts of Affinity Designer seem impressive, that extends to working with massive documents, massive images and massive complexity. And then you can output professionally.
The developers have said on their forum that PDF/X and Pantone are coming in a free update quickly after launch, but Affinity Designer already offers professional quality RGB, CMYK, Greyscale, and Lab colour modes, full support for 16-bit per channel colour depth, and ICC colour profiles. All this works smoothly on any Intel 64 Mac (Core 2 Duo or better) running OS X 10.7.8 Lion or newer
Looking ahead: one file format across the whole suite
The 10 points in this list are directly about Affinity Designer, but this one is important and also involves Affinity Photo (entering beta October 2014) and Affinity Publisher (due late 2015).
The big news is that there'll be one common file format across all Affinity design apps, promising a seamless mixed discipline workflow. So you'll be able to open, edit and save the same file in Affinity Designer, Affinity Photo, and Affinity Publisher, seamlessly shuttling between the suite's apps to work in whichever discipline you need.
The Affinity team says each app will totally understand the others. That's because, unlike with rival software suites, there's around 80 per cent shared code between them. So each update will improve the whole suite.
There's also a shared document history. So you'll be able to undo and redo any design tasks in any Affinity app, even if they were originally carried out in another Affinity app, even from an earlier session.
Get it today!
Although there are a few things still to iron out during the beta period and more features coming in (free) updates, the latest build is looking very slick, with Serif's devs engaging swiftly and personally with forum feedback.
There are a lot of nuances and depth not covered in this round-up, so get your hands on Affinity Designer now and try it for yourself while it's free. Watch this space is definitely a cliché worth employing here, we're keen to see industry players and individual designers getting involved in something that is innovating at such a pace, and as always we welcome your comments.
- Article adapted from 10 reasons to download this free Illustrator alternative today