Inkscape vs Illustrator

Inkscape Vs Illustrator: Can Inkscape Replace Illustrator?

Inkscape vs Illustrator: I’ve noticed a rise in popularity of the open source design software ever since Adobe started requiring their users to rent their software instead of letting them own it. For professional graphic designers, the price tag is something they may have no choice but to swallow, but for casual users of the software — people who occasionally need to whip up some graphics on their own, like bloggers, web designers, photographers, content creators, social media managers, and so on — there are other solutions that may prove to be more practical for their situation.

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You could always use GIMP instead of Photoshop for raster image manipulation, but when it comes to vector graphics, Inkscape is a more cost-friendly alternative to Illustrator, and considering that Inkscape doesn’t cost anything, it clearly wins the price debate. But can Inkscape really replace Illustrator? As someone who has used both programs, I’d like to weigh in with my opinion.

Don’t Lose Sight of The Big Picture

One mistake a lot of newcomers to design often make (and I was guilty of this myself) is placing too much importance on the things that don’t really matter in the grand scheme of things, like which operating system is best or which software is best. The best operating system or the best software is the one that you feel most comfortable using and will help you get the job done to the best of your ability.

Never confuse a designer with their tools. A talented and experienced designer can create a better logo with crayons and a napkin than an inexperienced, first-time user can with the latest, greatest, up-to-date software and operating system running on the world’s most powerful system. Much like how an experienced chef can make a much better meal with cheap ingredients and shoddy kitchen utensils than I could with state-of-the-art cookware and the finest ingredients.

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There’s no way to look at a poster on the subway and determine which software was used to design it, which operating system that software was running on, or which manufacturer built the hardware that was used, so these things really aren’t all that important in the grand scheme of things.

It’s not the tools that matter; it’s the person using the tools that matters. And when it comes down to the question of Inkscape vs Illustrator, the only real question is whether or not Inkscape is equipped with everything you will need for your vector design work. My answer to that question: almost! It’s really, really close though. There’s only one true shortcoming that Inkscape has, in my opinion.

CMYK

CMYK graphic

Unfortunately, Inkscape doesn’t have the ability to output files in CMYK color profiles, which will make designing anything for print a real challenge. However, there is a workaround that I went over in one of my Youtube videos. There’s also a few other solutions that are a little more elaborate, here and here.

So as long as you’re not designing leaflets or postcards or anything else that will be sent off to the printers, Inkscape is fully-equipped and completely capable of handling any kind of vector design work you may need it for, and you can even use it for print work too if you’re willing to use the workarounds.

When it comes to things like website icons, channel art, Facebook cover photos, mobile application GUI, and so on, Inkscape truly is a viable alternative to Illustrator. Anything that was designed in Illustrator can, theoretically, be designed in Inkscape as well. Inkscape is a fully-featured, complete and professional vector graphics application. And as print media continues to die off while digital becomes more and more the standard, the gap between the two applications will shorten. But for now, I have to give Illustrator a slight edge, and that is in no way an indictment of Inkscape. It’s a pretty damn impressive application when you consider that it was created by a team of volunteers and is given away for free.

heart vector graphics

The Bells & Whistles

Another advantage Illustrator has is a variety of additional tools and features that will make your workflow a little more efficient. For example, the pathfinder tool is great, as is the 3D tool, and having more options for warping text is also really neat, along with some other features. But these things can all be accomplished manually in Inkscape, so I don’t really consider them necessities. I look at them more as luxuries — an added bonus for all the money you’re paying Adobe every month, and whether or not those luxuries are worth the price tag is up to you to decide.

These minor advantages are to be expected though when comparing a free product to that of which was created by the industry standard in creative software. All things considered, I think the volunteers over at Inkscape have done nothing short of a phenomenal job in creating something that rivals the product of a corporate juggernaut, and lord have mercy on Adobe if the Inkscape team ever figures out a CMYK solution. I think a lot of people (myself included) will be cancelling their Creative Cloud subscriptions, and the Inkscape vs Illustrator match-up will be a near draw.

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Nick

Nick Saporito is a Philadelphia-based graphic designer who specializes in branding-specific design.

All stories by: Nick
12 comments
  • Anonymous

    One other advantage that Illustrator has is the proprietary file format. If I’m not mistaken, Inkscape cannot save a file as a .ai, so I guess if a client were to ask for that file, you’d need Illustrator then. This is not a major drawback at all, in my opinion, as I’m a dedicated Inkscape user, but I do wish there was a way to export .ai files in Inkscape. I’ve heard that an open source program called Uniconvertor can convert a svg to ai, but I have not tried it yet.

    • Heru.

      I’m an inkscape user and when it comes to client I always ask them before if they want their file in ai, and if not i will give them pdf, eps, and svg. if my client ask me for the ai file i will ask my Adobe-user friend to save my svg file as ai. it was a challenge but it’s okay for me.

  • Mickael

    Great post! Another obvious advantage that Illustrator has is the proprietary file format. I don’t think Inkscape can save a file as .ai yet, so if a client was hell bent on that .ai file for their editable source file, I guess you’d need Illustrator then. Although, I have heard of an open source program that may be able to convert a .svg to .ai. I believe it’s called uni-converter. Personally, I’ve found Inkscape to be more than adequate for my vector graphic needs.

    • Nick Saporito

      Another great point. That .ai format has become a brand of its own. I haven’t heard of uni-converter but I am going to look into it. Sounds interesting. I’ve had a few people ask me about this and weren’t able to produce .ai file for their clients because they only use Inkscape. This sounds like it may be helpful for them.

      • Michael

        Did a little research on Uniconverter. It sounds like it’s kind of still in the early stages of development, so it may be a little “buggy”. But it claims to be the universal vector graphics translator and .ai is listed as one of the file formats that the software is capable of exporting. Maybe it’s a step in the right direction?

      • Michael McGowen

        Hi, Nick.
        As much as I love your tutorials, which are TOP NOTCH BTW…best I’ve found on all of YouTube, the topics you broach which are of utmost importance to those of us pursuing a living as a graphic designer are so important. Thank you for reminding us that no matter how artistic or creative you are, when it come to providing a service to someone that is willing to give you money in exchange for your services, details matter. And part of those “details” is understanding the translation of “How do I get this logo you designed for me onto my business cards?” While the answer to the aforementioned question might be academic to some, it’s certainly not to many “great designer wannabes.” I could wax eloquent…but I have to share this URL because I’ve had a complete PARADIGM SHIFT after researching this thought: Should Inkscape support CMYK? Read this before you blindly just say “Yes” it should…the implications run far deeper and should cause all of us to think… and be proactive to support our own opinions. May free speech continue to guide this great nation.

  • Linux User

    Years ago CorelDRAW Suite & Windows replaced Illustrator & QuarkXpress on a old Mac IIsi. I tested cross-platform open-source Inkscape, sK1, GIMP, Krita, Scribus, Blender, Bluefish (WebDev); the latter won me over. Presently Windows 7 was replaced by Linux using Fedora Design Suite Distribution — It’s working out great for me 😉

    Windows 10 ’45-Page Zero-Privacy User Agreement’ opened my eyes to just how morally-bankrupt Microsoft has become. I can no longer trust MS at all; and neither should you. The devil is in the details with ‘user-identifiable data collection’!

    FYI sK1 is great at converting CorelDRAW files to SVG.
    FYI: Rename .ai files to .pdf & import into Inkscape.

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