After much anticipation, Serif Labs launched Affinity Designer for iPad. If you’ve been following along with this blog, you might have noticed my interest in utilising iPad as a design tool. I’ve seen a lot of potential for the iPad as a legitimate tool for designers to carry with them at all times for a while now, but as I wrote back in March it really does depend on the software. Well, it’s safe to say that that software has arrived in the form of Affinity Designer.
Affinity Designer comes from an established and successful development team — Serif Labs. Serif have already got a suite of existing apps in the form of Affinity Photo and Affinity Designer for Mac and Windows. These apps, are not only truly competitive with the design tools from Adobe, but they only require a one off payment, (in the case of Designer for iOS - currently only £13.99!) something the team are clearly very proud of, as creatives around the world grow continually frustrated with Adobe’s Creative Cloud subscription based model.
For the last few months, I’ve been using Vectornator Pro, a free piece of software that I wrote extensively about. It’s great. It runs well with few bugs or crashes, its interface is easy to navigate, and it’s updated frequently by its developers. For free software, it’s hard to ask for more and you can accomplish a lot with it. Affinity Designer however, brings with it powerful features, and polish, that only having an large and experienced team can really bring.
Serif have really pushed the iPad Pro to its limits, utilising Apple’s ‘Metal’ software tools to squeeze out great performance. It does work on older and less powerful iPads, but if you are considering it for doing professional work, you’re going to want an iPad Pro to run it.
They’ve also considered how you interact with a touch screen, adding gestures to the interface, like holding down two fingers and tapping an object to duplicate it, or swiping up and down on the point size of text to change its size - to create a more complete experience instead of simply porting a design built for mouse and keyboard input. Coupled with an Apple Pencil, which works for both illustration and and selecting those often tiny anchor points, it all makes for a really great experience using Affinity Designer, particularly if you have a larger 12.9” iPad Pro.
What can’t you do?
This question is easier to answer that ‘What Can You Do?’ - if you have used a vector app before, you’ll know exactly what you’re dealing with when you open Designer. This is a huge positive for a multitude of reasons. For starters, it’s great to know that you are not being limited by choosing Affinity, also you can rest easy that with just a few hours, you can establish a workflow similar to the one you’ve been used to. This is always a big sticking point for creatives switching software, the idea of losing skills that you’ve spent year becoming proficient in, is daunting, yet I found Affinity instantly familiar.
The largest drawback I have came across so far with Affinity Designer and their Photoshop alternative Affinity Photo, is not being able to support smart layer within PSD files. As a designer, Mockups are a huge part of presenting work to clients, and not being able to use these in Photo or Designer is a draw back. At the minute, I’m currently doing all the designing on my iPad, and then opening the files on my MacBook (which sync automatically via iCloud Drive) and finish off the presentation there. Furthermore, Designer cannot export .ai files for Adobe Illustrator. It can handle opening them, but will save them in their own format, or export them into a a number of different formats, such as .eps and .svg, which can be reopened again in Illustrator with everything intact.
I’m sure there are more features that more seasoned Illustator users will miss, but for a huge amount of designers, Affinity Designer ticks all the boxes. If I come across any others, I’ll update this post.
Stand Out Features
While Designer is a fully featured app, there are a few stand out tools that make it a joy to use. For starters, it uses two different ‘personas’ for working in. The primary Vector persona for the majority of your work, but also a Pixel persona, which adapts the tools available to ones for colouring and painting and brushes, much more like Procreate.
Another feature I’m really happy to see is the ability to not only use artboards, but also have them automatically shaped to the sizes of popular devices (iPhones, for example) make for really some really clever layout tools. Couple this, alongside what Serif call Constraints, a feature that automatically resizes items on an artboard to another artboard of a different size (for example, an iPhone app layout to an iPad App layout) and you have a magnificent App for doing Interface design.
Everything else you’d want to see is there, but if you’re still in doubt that this app elevates the iPad to a new level for Pro users, I’d reccomend watching some of the tutorial videos they have posted on their website, to give you a clearer idea of how great the app is.
In summary, if you’re a designer, this app is absolutely worth the asking price. In my opinion, it’s best used on a 12.9” iPad Pro, with an Apple Pencil in your hand. Don’t be afraid of the workflow you’ve built over the years, Affinity does a great job of feeling refreshing, but familiar enough to get using right away. It’s incredibly powerful and very feature rich, and at it’s current price of £13.99, it’s a steal.
Thanks for reading! If you don’t know me, I’m a graphic designer from Belfast, chronicling my journey into building a graphic design career. If you enjoyed this post, or any others, follow me on Instagram or Twitter, or if you really want, hire me!