For many years, Adobe Illustrator has been the industry standard as far as vector graphics are concerned. Vector graphics, for those unfamiliar with the term, are different from pixel art (such as is produced by many graphics programs such as Photoshop), in that pixel art, when “stretched” will eventually become blocky. Vector art, on the other hand, is in reality a series of mathematical equations. As such, when enlarged, curved lines stay smooth, as does text and nearly all aspects of the art.
At MacWorld 2008, a new program, called VectorDesign, was released. This shareware product, which sells for $69.95, has been designed to be “simple, intuitive and powerful to use,” according to the advertising copy on the website.
I recently purchased a license for VectorDesign (as part of the now-completed MacHeist bundle sale, which I talked about in this article), and while it is not yet the “answer” for those looking for an Illustrator alternative, it definitely suits my needs.
First of all, VectorDesigner is very easy to use. It doesn’t have a cluttered interface at all (in fact, it looks very much like Apple’s Pages word processor, upon first opening it), so is not intimidating at all. There are only a dozen or so icons on the toolbar, in addition to the Inspector palette, which allows for tweaking individual aspects of shapes and objects.
The available tools (via the toolbar), are a select option, for selecting and moving an object, a shape tool, for creating shapes such as ovals, polygons, rectangles, and stars), a text tool for adding text to the document, plus a sketch tool for freehand drawing. VectorDesigner also includes a path edit tool, plus functions for grouping, ungrouping, moving object up and back, and a boolean tool for applying multiple “rules” to an object or group of objects. As well, VectorDesigner has an adjust tool (similar to that found in iPhoto), for changing an item’s exposure, gamma, saturation, contrast, brightness and sharpness, as well as a sepia tool. You can use VectorDesigner to add media from your hard drive (it searches through common folders, in addition to any iPhoto library).
If you have OS X Leopard (Apple’s newest operating system, released in late 2007), and own an iSight camera, VectorDesigner is able to grab images from the camera and import them directly into your document. Finally, VectorDesigner also has a Flickr tool, for downloading images off the website. It includes common categories of images popular with vector art designers, such as images comprised of letters, numbers, different textures and colors, as well as doors, windows, crayons and flowers (close-up photography in particular). Once you’ve found an image you like, click on it and you’ll be shown what type of license the image has been released under, so you’ll know whether you can freely use it or not.
One of the nice aspects of VectorDesigner is that – as a good Mac application – it takes advantage of built-in technologies, so not only can VectorDesigner do everything I’ve mentioned, but it pulls in the effects known as CoreImage, to allow for even greater manipulating of your image. With these nondestructive filters, you can add distortion, halftone, color and gradient effects, and more. As these are nondestructive, you can remove any of them at any time, without causing “damage” to your image or object.
Finally, one of the cool little tools I really get a kick out of is the text tool. You can add text to any path (the edge of a circle or square, as in the screen shot), simply by selecting the text tool, and then clicking on the path you wish the text to follow. You can edit how close to the path the text follows, which side of the path the text follows (so your text can either be on the inside or outside of a shape), as well as change the baseline, spacing and size. It’s incredibly simple to use, and really adds a neat touch to your finished product.
All this having been said, however, VectorDesigner is not currently positioned to take a lot of marketshare from Illustrator. For one, it is currently incapable of importing any but the most basic image formats, and cannot currently open standard SVG (scalable vector graphics) images, EPS (encapsulated postscript) or Illustrator’s AI (Adobe Illustrator) format. As such, it is currently working in a bit of a vacuum. Sure, it is able to export to a fairly wide variety of formats, such as PNG, JPEG, GIF, TIFF, Photoshop, PDF, BMP, PICT, TGA, SGI and EPS, but until it is able to import all those formats, people will shy away from replacing the standard Illustrator package.
Still, at roughly 10 percent of the cost of Adobe Illustrator, VectorDesigner is a tempting piece of software. For those looking to gain experience with this type of application, without spending the money on Illustrator (or pirating a copy), then VectorDesigner is a fantastic deal. As I mentioned, this software was only released in the last month or so, and since then has already released three small updates. So at the moment work is progressing quickly and it is likely that many of the shortcomings VectorDesigner currently suffers from will be fixed in the near future.
If you’d like to take a look at VectorDesigner, head over to its home page and take a look.
If you’d like to get a glimpse of just how powerful and easy to use VectorDesigner is, you can download or view any one of the following four example movies:
Smart Shapes and Bezier Editing
Text On Path
Raster To Vector Conversion