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  • Writer's pictureMagik Chance

Vector Basics: Programs


Vectors are geometric shapes defined mathematically, allowing them to be scaled to any size without loss of quality. This makes them ideal for logos, illustrations, and other design elements. Vector graphics have a very clean or illustrated look compared to the pixelation of raster. While raster is preferred for art that layer or blend colors, vector graphics give the creator maximum control since every element from lines to shapes to gradients is editable. This control also makes it much easier to use with a mouse instead of requiring a pen and tablet.


Graphic programs tend to specialize in vector or raster images. Today we’re going to look at a few vector programs, but keep in mind there are more out there than are listed here.


Inkscape


Inkscape is a completely free program you can download at inkscape(dot)org. It has the vast majority of the functions you will need for creating and editing vectors, plus powerful “path effects” and filters. As of its newest update, Inkscape includes blending modes which means there’s very little it can’t do that paid programs can.


Since Inkscape is the most easily accessible and capable program on this list, I will be using it in all demonstrations in this series. Inkscape has a large number of tutorials on YouTube, and I highly recommend “Logos by Nick” if you need some extra help or ideas.


Adobe Illustrator


Illustrator is considered the industry standard tool for vector graphics and illustration. As part of Adobe's creative suite, it integrates tightly with Photoshop, InDesign, and more; however, the subscription cost to access it may be too much for casual users: $22.99/mo for just Illustrator, or $59.99/mo for the whole Creative Cloud.


Affinity Designer 2


Affinity Designer 2 offers professional-grade vector illustration tools at a very affordable one-time cost: $69.99 for just Designer, or $164.99 to get Designer, Publisher, and Photo. With support for unlimited layers, live effects, and advanced gradient mesh tools, it's an attractive alternative to Adobe Illustrator for casual and pro users.


Figma


If you are looking for a web-based vector program, I suggest checking out Figma. It is a little simple compared to the programs listed above, but a great deal can be done with it. Also, if you decide you like it, there is a downloadable version. Figma is free, but there is a limit on the number of projects you can have going on the free version.


Vector Features in Raster Programs


While dedicated vector editors provide the most control and capabilities, even raster graphics programs like Photoshop and GIMP include some basic vector shape and path tools. However, overall functionality is limited compared to vector-specialist programs. I'd recommend exploring those first before attempting vector creation in raster editors.


Recommendations


For beginners, Inkscape or Figma offer the best combination of accessibility, features, ease of use, and price. More advanced users may want to evaluate premium tools like Affinity or Illustrator.

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