Affinity Designer 2, an illustrator’s best friend

Affinity Designer has been updated a lot for the past half decade, but Affinity Designer 2 is more than a handful of new features. It’s a complete make-over and it tops the vector art app charts as it is now the most powerful illustration app available.

I found a whole bunch of YouTube videos made by enthusiastic illustrators who claim Affinity Designer 2 is better than Adobe’s Illustrator. Here are the most important reasons they think so.

Warp your vectors

Affinity Designer 2’s interpretation of warping is a powerful addition that allows you to apply a non-destructive warp over any vector artwork or text. You can choose between a fully customisable mesh, or use presets including arcs, perspective, fisheye and twists. Editing a warp gives a live preview — surprisingly fast even on my mid-2017 iMac — on anything from simple to complex illustrations, and gives a true vector end result.

This was one of the new features I was eager to try out on text, and I must say I didn’t even need to watch any of Serif’s well-made instruction videos. It’s easy to understand how it works, fast to render and fun to do.

No hammer needed builder tool

The Shape Builder Tool was my next venture in the world of Affinity Designer 2. Here I needed the instruction video because I initially failed to see that I was actually using this tool the way it’s intended. If that sounds crazy, it is. I didn’t look at my Layers panel — which, by the way, has gotten the same overhaul as Affinity Photo 2’s. It never occurred to me that the Layers panel has become a tool in its own right.

Anyway, when I started watching the Layers panel, I saw that with each action I took, I was actually creating layers with the added, subtracted or intersected shapes on them.

In essence, The Shape Builder Tool lets you do the same things the Add, Intersect and Subtract commands let you do in ordinary vector art apps, but in a much easier interactive way. You create complex shapes simply by dragging between segments to combine them or intersect them when holding a modifier key.

The it cut as through butter Knife Tool

Slicing in the real world is self-explanatory (certainly if you ever cut yourself!) and Affinity Designer 2 makes it just as fast and easy to slice a shape, curve or text into component parts. Once again the trick is to keep an eye on the Layers panel where cut parts appear on new layers as by magic.

Formidable for people who don’t have a steady hand is the Stabiliser, which provides even greater precision — but also scissor functionality on lines — and allows you to click on any node or segment of a curve and split it.

Measuring is knowing

The Measure and Area tools allow you to easily measure line lengths, segments, distances and areas of any objects to scale. So, if you’re drawing an ad that will be printed for display in a bus shelter panel in the streets of London, you can now make your art fit the panel exactly.

The Measure Tool allows you to measure the distance between two points/objects, while the Area Tool allows you to determine the area, perimeter and any segment length of a closed shape.

The Area Tool measures irregular areas, even as they are “boxed in” by rectangles which all of them are in vector drawing apps. Just click inside a closed shape and up pops a size in square-whatever-unit you chose to set.

Radiology View

A new X-Ray view mode shows the makeup of your work, which is particularly useful for selecting a specific curve or object within a complex artwork. It looks like a watercolour rendering of your art with borders slightly more densely coloured than the rest of it. This new view offers a better insight in the layers than raw vector line art views of less capable vector art apps because line art can quickly become overwhelmingly chaotic.

Grids for text, images and everything in-between

Repeating a rectangle or square, or a text frame in a grid is easy with Affinity Designer 2. You just drag-create your basic shape, then while keeping the mouse button down, press the keyboard’s arrow key — up/down to fill downward, left/right for filling sideways. If you keep the arrow key down, the grid elements start to drift apart in equal distances. Very handy!

It works with any shape, including the heart or other irregular shapes. It didn’t work with a pen-drawn shape, though.

Pick your style

Affinity Designer 2 now has a style picker as well. The Style Picker first loads the clicked item’s attributes onto the tool. You can sample from text as well as from shapes and lines. And as with everything in the new version, unloading the sampled style elements can be done in different ways, e.g. applying only some style elements to the target objects or apply a style to one object or multiple objects simultaneously, etc.

DWG/DXF Import

Finally, you can now import and edit AutoCAD and DXF files quickly and accurately, maintaining the layer structure and scale of the original file. This has functions like Multi Layer Import, Colour Override and Auto-scale, so import quality should be spotless.

Verdict

With a perpetual licence price of £144.99 / USD$169.99 / EUR 199,99 for all three upgraded apps, the Affinity creative suite is not exactly a deal breaker. It’s cheap — I remember Adobe charging more for its perpetual licence of Photoshop CS3 at the time (some 6 to 8 years back) and that was for Photoshop only.

You can still buy the Affinity apps individually, but for a limited time, Serif offers a 40% launch discount making the whole V2 suite available for £89.99 / USD$99.99 / EUR 119.99 one-off cost with no subscription. That’s also the “upgrade” price, because in actuality, there isn’t one.

In view of that pricing and the app very regularly receiving updates that Serif could charge for as well, I’d say Affinity Designer 2 is a bargain, and it gets you the best and most powerful vector art app currently available.

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