Review of Affinity Designer for iPad

Affinity Designer for iPad is the much anticipated competitor of Adobe Illustrator on the iPad. It’s a well-designed port from Designer on the Mac in terms of power and capabilities, and of integration with the iOS environment.

With Affinity Designer you come close to graphic design Nirwana if you have an iPad Pro and the Apple Pencil. The app has the same powerful features as its Mac sibling, including the ability to use Designer for app interface design. On the iPad, keyboard shortcuts have been replaced by tapping shortcuts, with or without multiple fingers, but I have a keyboard connected to my iPad Air 2 and I was surprised to see that Designer didn’t recognise any of the keys I pressed.

The design of there app to be completely controllable by pen, stylus and your fingers has been applied rigorously. That does mean you can throw your keyboard out of the window when working with Designer for the iPad. No more procrastination and your full attention to the design you’re creating.

The developers have also rigorously opted to go for the newest of Apple’s iPads. Affinity Designer is best used with an iPad Pro. That’s when you can use the Apple Pencil, and people who have it consistently report they’re over the moon with the Apple Pencil, so it’s understandable Affinity Designer has been optimised for it. That guarantees the best possible user experience, after all. And that, in turn, is very important for a company who wants (and I might add: so far succeeds) to create the ultimate Adobe challenger software.

It does, however, mean that other styluses like the Adonit Pixel that I used with my iPad Air 2 are not recognised. And so, they don’t offer any sort of control beyond a dumb stylus or your finger.

Still, those two design choices make a lot of sense for professional graphic and app UI designers, and those people are who the developers focus on. Even without a stylus that’s recognised, I could easily tell Affinity Designer is a joy to work with, even on an older iPad like mine. As with Affinity Photo for the iPad, the interface is gorgeous but invisible if you want it out of the way entirely. The interface is typical of Affinity products. It’s not a quickly assembled adaptation of the Mac version, nor is it a sloppy collection of standard elements.

It has carefully been designed to offer the optimal user experience and probably designed in Affinity Designer on the Mac. An example is that, when you create a path with the Pen tool and you want to make one of the curve points into a sharp corner, you can click the Sharp button in the bottom toolbar, which is context-aware. But you can also keep the smooth path and move one of its controls so it moves independently from the other. The way you do that is by grabbing the point with one finger and moving the other with your stylus or other finger. On my iPad, grabbing a point also shows a magnification area for more visual control.

Speaking of which: if you change anything that has a value associated with it, you’ll see the changes reflected in blue circles filling up around the corresponding dial.

So, everything that makes the Affinity Designer app on the Mac so powerful is at your disposal in the iPad version. For example, simultaneous duplicating and transforming works well, with your fingers as modifiers to the Duplicate command. I only have one minor criticism. When you want to remove a document from Designer’s library, you’re presented with a number of options, including one that reads “Close document”. In my opinion, it would have been better to keep that one in sync with other apps and call it “Remove document” or “Delete document” as that is what you’re actually doing.

There’s no denying that the people who are developing Affinity Designer and Photo, and soon also Publisher, know their stuff and they know it darn well. I’d even say they know it better than those veterans at Adobe who keep on adding features to their software and charging subscription fees in the process. You’ll see no such thing with Affinity products as it doesn’t depend on a subscription fee but on a good old-fashioned licence fee with updates (that often look like upgrades, to be honest) until the developers decide it’s time to charge an upgrade price in order to keep their business healthy.

Affinity Designer for iPad costs €21.99 and that’s cheap for what you’ll get in return.