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Serif Affinity Designer

Our Rating :
Price when reviewed : £35
inc VAT

A powerful, flexible Mac graphics tool that should be in your toolbox whether you’re a pro or just having fun


OS Support: Max OS X 10.7.5 or later, Minimum CPU: Core 2 Duo (64-bit), Minimum GPU: Intel HD Graphics, Minimum RAM: 1GB, Hard disk space: 325MB

Mac App store

There are very few really good vector drawing packages around for the Mac, in part because Adobe’s Illustrator rules this particular roost, but Affinity Designer, Serif’s first foray into the world of Mac software, looks like it could shake things up in very interesting ways.

From the start it’s clear that Affinity Designer has big ambitions. Documents can be set up for a number of different destinations: print, with different paper size presets, a ‘press-ready’ version of print for commercial production, photo (where the page size presets are photo print sizes), web, and ‘devices’ if you want to create work to fit phones or tablets. The device size presets include iPads and iPhones as well as a couple of Nexus models, two Kindle Fire sizes, and the Galaxy S5, or you can set up your own custom dimensions if you prefer.

Affinity Designer has three ‘personas’; one for drawing and shape creating, one for pixel-oriented painting, and one for exporting, with features for creating sliced parts of designs and generating images at different resolutions. These help you work on different parts of a project without having to rearrange windows or move toolbars manually.

In a nod to today’s high resolution Mac screens there’s a Retina Pixel View mode, which doubles the pixel pitch of the regular Pixel View mode. If you’re making print graphics leave this off and objects appear sharp at all zoom scales, but turn on one of the pixel-based view modes and you see exactly how the work will appear in bitmap form at the document’s current resolution setting.

 The interface is well considered, with tools and features presented in a logical and convenient manner

In use, Affinity Designer is surprisingly fully-featured. The shape drawing tools have eighteen different custom types on top of the basic rectangle, oval and rounded rectangle objects, each with a broad range of specific customisation options. Draw a cog object and you can adjust the number of teeth as well as their width, depth, and angle of cut. These can be kept as customisable ‘smart’ shapes or converted to regular curves and worked on with the Node tool, the equivalent of Illustrator’s Direct Selection tool. As well as regular colour fills, transparency and gradient fills can be applied to objects and customised, and the appearance of objects can be saved as styles, ready to apply to other items.

The brush tool has a number of different tricks too. As well as standard mark-making brush styles there are brushes that apply translucent chalk or marker pen-like textures, and there are also brushes that create a chain link path and a tatty rope. Many brush styles include variation options for width and opacity, but a pressure-sensitive pen and tablet are required to get the most from these features. It’s possible to have opacity and stroke width vary according to velocity, changing depending on how fast you move your mouse, but we had to move so fast to see changes that it was hard to have any control.

The Layers panel shows every object in a document, and can be used to group items together. Switching to the Pixel Persona and using tools such as Smudge, Dodge or Burn converts the affected object to a pixel version at the document’s resolution. Styles and effects (emboss, shadow and so on) are preserved, but it’s a one-way process; they’re no longer editable vector shapes.

 Enable one of the Pixel View modes to see the way pixels will be rendered in the exported work

Comparing Affinity Designer to Adobe’s market-leading Illustrator is a tough one, but in many ways this actually comes out on top. While Affinity Designer is a vector-based drawing tool (not a bitmap photo editor), its Photoshop-style effects and resolution-aware rendering abilities are very impressive.

Affinity can open a wide range of file types, from JPEGs and TIFFs through to PDFs and even native Illustrator and Photoshop documents, complete with layers. Opening PDFs present the page elements as editable objects and multiple pages are managed as different layer sets, a quirky but generally quite workable way of handling things.

Export formats cover print, web and smart device requirements: bitmap options from JPEG to TIFF, layered Photoshop, and vectors from old-school EPS to PDF and SVG. It’s more a bitmap-aware drawing tool with some Photoshop-style abilities than an image editor, but if you currently use Photoshop to make web graphics like buttons or banners you’ll really like what Affinity Designer is capable of.

There are features in Adobe Illustrator that Affinity doesn’t have – for instance text on a path, 3D shapes, and auto-tracing images. But there’s so much that it does have and it’s presented in such a logical, modern way that it’s already our preferred tool for making quick graphics for print and screen. It’s as fun to use as it is effective, which encourages experimentation and helps users get more from their ideas. Even better, a full, non-expiring copy of Affinity Designer costs less than a month’s subscription to Adobe’s Creative Cloud. We’ve been wondering when a serious challenger would appear, and Serif has thrown down the gauntlet in fine style.

OS SupportMax OS X 10.7.5 or later
Minimum CPUCore 2 Duo (64-bit)
Minimum GPUIntel HD Graphics
Minimum RAM1GB
Hard disk space325MB
Product codeid824171161

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