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.
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.
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.
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.
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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