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TL;DR... I'd like to begin using vector apps without creating bad habits, and would like advice what to chose and what to avoid.

I'm on a tight budget and would like a low cost alternative to Illustrator for creating and editing vector graphics. What I don't want to do however is start with one that has non-standard tools or in some other way instills bad habits that I will later have to break when I eventually (possibly) switch to Illustrator.

If you'll pardon the metaphor, I don't want to learn how to drive on the right side of the road and later have to switch to the left side - or vice versa.

I'm considering Inkscape or Affinity Designer, but am open to other suggestions.

Additional information: I'll be using it for vectorizing raster images, font creation and editing, and creating files to send to vinyl cutters and/or laser embosser/cutters - possibly CNC routers. Ideally I'd like to use it without internet connection, and I want to pay once and be done with that.

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  • Not sure about the analogy, or why you think it's a "difficult" switch. If one learns to drive on the right side of the road, it only takes a short time to adjust to the left side. Vector tools are much the same. If you learn Bezier construction, adjusting to another app is merely learning to read a new "map" (i.e. where the tools are).
    – Scott
    May 1 at 17:22
  • In addition to what was mentioned in the Answers below, you might want to give CorelDraw a look-see. It has the option for a perpetual license, (i.e., pay once). I've used it for creating camera-ready artwork, color foil thermal print machines, and hermes engraving machines. Also, it made my transition to Illustrator a cake walk.
    – nocturns2
    May 1 at 18:00
  • @Scott i do not agree. Theres lots of things you need to relearn like how the intricasies of snapping work to be even remotely capable.
    – joojaa
    May 1 at 18:33
  • @joojaa I'm not saying it's an "overnight" thing, but it's not that difficult to learn the "map" of a new application.
    – Scott
    May 1 at 18:35
  • @Scott I am not nearly as optimistic. I use about 30 different kinds of design applications that are all on surface the same old same. Yet on average theres a 3 month investment to tool up for each application. Simply I wouldn't hire somebody to use X if they have less the 6 months of experience in that software.
    – joojaa
    May 1 at 18:37

2 Answers 2

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I've never used Affinity designer so I can't really comment on it.

Neither Inkscape nor Illustrator can create actual font files. You could use them to design/draw the glyphs however, but you'd need additional software to create an actual font file. Font-Forge is free and open source. I believe there's also a plugin (not free) available for Illustrator.

Nearly all vector software basically works using the same principles - at its simplest: Bézier paths with anchors (Inkscape calls these nodes) and curves. The main "standard tool" I suppose would be the Pen Tool (aka Bézier tool). Both have different shortcuts for some functions while using that tool, but the functionality is essentially the same. I use both Inkscape and Illustrator and don't have a problem switching between the two.

I don't think there is anything that would be analogous to learning to drive on the left or right when comparing Inkscape with Illustrator. They are lots more similarities than differences IMHO.

Ultimately Inkscape and Illustrator are a little different when it comes to what they were designed for. Inkscape was designed for SVGs, its own particular little niche if you like. Illustrator's niche is for print - it is a standard tool in the print industry. As for uses with cutters/routers, neither were specifically designed for that purpose, but some people do use them for that. I see no problem here with using either.

There are differences in the user interface, but that's unsurprising. The same goes for all software. If anything, personally, I find Inkscape's user interface simpler. Illustrator sometimes over complicates things. But this is only my personal opinion. Others will probably feel the opposite.

As far as creating outlines for cutters/routers, you could say that over reliance on effects or filters could be considered a bad habit - since you want vector outlines, and certainly no raster effects. But there is no obligation to use effects or filters in either Inkscape or Illustrator to get things done. These would not necessarily be considered bad habits for other uses however, such as when creating graphics.

Oh and Inkscape is free, so that last problem (payment) doesn't apply. There's absolutely no reason you can't have both Inkscape and some paid software. Two for the price of one!

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Illustrator, inkscape and affinity designer are all direct modeling tools. As long as you concentrate your efforts on creating the lines manually dont rely on their indirect modeling features no harm is done. The moment you do however then your skills are nontransferable. Also a lot of small things like snapping in each app needs to be relearned which in many cases is the bulk of the work.

Inkscape is not suitable for print design because it does not support CMYK or spot colors.

None of the applications are directly suitable for making fonts although inkscape can make svg fonts. They can make the individual glyphs but you will still need a separate software for font creation and all the convenience of one like kerning automation etc.

To be honest neither inkscape/affinity designer/illustrator are the right tool for laser cutting or CNC router work. If you must get a low cost alternative consider Rhino, which is a good jack of all trades (and master of nearly nothing). It also supports true 3D so you can even design your assembles properly. While not particularity good at anything it does play nicely with illustrator and does the part of the pipeline illustrator will not do for you.

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  • There is a chance CMYK will be implemented in Inkscape (in a year or two).
    – s.ouchene
    May 1 at 15:52
  • Inkscape generates SVG fonts. They work at least in Inkscape. No idea which other pieces of common graphics software know them.
    – user287001
    May 1 at 15:57
  • @user287001 only webbrowsers do. You would still need a external software to make them more general fonts. Still not any closer to a genrec font file. Will edit
    – joojaa
    May 1 at 18:31
  • @s.ouchene Really, been waiting for CMYK support for 10 years now still no dice.
    – joojaa
    May 1 at 18:32
  • @joojaa: You can find more details about that in this video: youtube.com/watch?v=0G1y27Fi7hY
    – s.ouchene
    May 1 at 19:32

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