Inkscape vs Illustrator vs. CorelDraw

Inkscape VS Illustrator VS CorelDraw | 2019 Comparison

Inkscape VS Illustrator VS CorelDraw | 2019 Comparison 1024 602 Nick Saporito

When it comes to vector design, the big three applications are Inkscape, Illustrator, and CorelDraw. All three are excellent options and are completely capable of handling raw design needs, but the one that you should use depends on you and your own personal needs. In today’s post I’ll be comparing Inkscape vs Illustrator vs CorelDraw — both the pros and cons of each — so you can decide for yourself.

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Inkscape

Inkscape screenshot

Inkscape is an open source vectors graphics application available for all major operating systems, and it has been my preferred vector graphics tool since I started back in 2012. Don’t let the fact that it’s free fool you into thinking of it as anything less than professional. This isn’t MS Paint. Inkscape is capable of virtually anything any other vector design software is capable of from a design standpoint. 

Pros

Cost: It’s hard to beat free. Inkscape is a great option if you’re just starting out and have no money to invest.

Less CPU Demands: Inkscape is a very lightweight application that will run good enough on low-end computers with outdated hardware.

Intuitiveness: This is just my own opinion, but Inkscape’s UI and functionality seem slightly more intuitive than Illustrator’s. A good example of this would be editing gradients on the canvas. It just functions in a more natural way in Inkscape.

✅ Versatility: Works on all operating systems, including Linux. In fact, it runs best on Linux in my experience.

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✅ Community: Inkscape is made by volunteers who are passionate about their work and put principles and values over profit. This makes for a supportive grass roots community that feels good to be a part of. 

Cons

Lack of CMYK Support: No ability to output files in a CMYK color format, making Inkscape not a very good choice for designing anything needing to be printed.

Instability: You’ll regularly experience bugs and glitches.

Cross Platform: Since Adobe is the industry standard, Adobe’s proprietary formats tend to be what’s most commonly used by designers and clients. This can pose a problem when someone else wants to send you an Adobe file for you to work on.

Employment: Hardly used by any design studios or agencies, meaning your Inkscape skills probably won’t land you a traditional job.

Who should learn Inkscape?

  • An aspiring freelancer who has no immediate plans to seek traditional employment at a design studio or agency.
  • Online business owners (bloggers, Instagram influencers, YouTubers, Amazaon sellers, etc.) whose focus is not design, but may occasionally need simple DIY graphics to supplement their work.
  • Anyone using a low-end computer that would struggle with more comprehensive applications like Illustrator.
  • Anyone who deals primarily with digital design and will not need to design for print.

Adobe Illustrator

Adobe Illustrator

Illustrator is a vector graphics application by Adobe. It is widely recognized as the industry standard tool for vector design and is used by the overwhelming majority of studios, agencies, and professional designers. 

Pros

✅ Employment Opportunities: Since Illustrator is the industry standard for vector design, there’s more upside to learning it over any other vector application. It’s what most employers and institutions use. Knowing how to use the Adobe software will put you in a great position to qualify for employment as a graphic designer.

✅ Extensive Features: Although Illustrator doesn’t do anything that the other vector tools can’t also do, it does have some neat features that can automate some of your work and save time that would otherwise be spent doing it manually. A good example of this would be working with multiple art boards — something I always wished Inkscape had. 

✅ Development: Since Adobe is the industry leader, innovative new features and tools tend to debut on Illustrator before they eventually make their way over to the alternatives.

✅ Proprietary Formats: Adobe’s proprietary formats (.ai, .psd, etc.) tend to be what’s most commonly used by designers and requested by clients. Although there’s workarounds for opening and creating Illustrator files with Inkscape, it’s far from perfect because things sometimes get lost in translation. Having access to Adobe software means you’ll be able to work with proprietary files other designers and clients send you without a problem.

✅ Cross Platform Usability: One thing I love about the Adobe suite is how well all of its applications communicate with each other. Vector graphics created with Illustrator can very easily be imported into After Effects, Premiere Pro, Photoshop, etc. and worked with further. 

Cons

Price: Adobe software is sold as a service, meaning it’s an ongoing monthly expense. That’s a pretty big pill to swallow if design isn’t a big part of your job or business and you just need occasional graphics.

Hardware Requirements: Requires high performance hardware in order to run well. As I wrote about recently, using Adobe software on a low-end machine is very frustrating. Not only will you need to fork over some dough for the software, but you’ll need to invest in a high performance machine as well.

No Linux support: If you want to use the Adobe suite, you’ll have to do so on Windows or Mac.

Who should learn Illustrator?

  • Anyone who wishes to be employed as a graphic designer at a design studio or agency.
  • Students (Adobe gives discounts to students.)
  • Aspiring freelancers who have money to invest in software and high performance hardware.

CorelDraw

CorelDraw screenshot

CorelDraw is a vectors graphics application by the Corel Corporation. Although I have little experience working with it, it does seem to be a nice middle-of-the-road option. 

Pros

✅ Price: Although the CorelDraw suite comes with quite a substantial upfront cost (see current prices here,) it eventually becomes a better value than Adobe Creative Cloud if you use it long enough, because you only have to pay for it once and you own it for life (they do offer a subscription plan if you’d prefer that though.)

✅ CMYK Output: Unlike Inkscape, CorelDraw allows you to create print-ready files in CMYK format like Illustrator does, but without its price tag.

✅ Design at Scale: According to some print shop owners I’ve talked to, they tend to prefer CorelDraw because apparently it has a much larger canvas than Illustrator, meaning you can design large signs and banners at scale. 

✅ Employment Opportunities: In my experience CorelDraw is the preferred application used by most sign shops, so becoming proficient with it can help land you a job at a local sign shop.

Cons

Employment Opportunities: Yes, this is both a pro and a con. Knowing how to use CorelDraw will qualify you to work at sign shops and the like, but that’s about it. Most everyone else demands proficiency with the Adobe suite.

Windows Only: According to Corel’s website, CorelDraw is currently not on its list of Mac-compatible applications. This is the kiss of death for their hopes of ever taking significant market share from Adobe in my opinion because most creatives prefer Mac.

Cross Platform: Much like Inkscape, you’ll have trouble working with Adobe’s proprietary formats.

Who should learn CorelDraw?

  • Anyone who will work primarily with print and/or would potentially like to work at a sign shop.
  • An aspiring freelancer who has some money to invest but would prefer something a little more economical than Illustrator to keep monthly expenses low.

Become A Master of Inkscape!

Want to learn more about how Inkscape works? Check out the Inkscape Master Class – a comprehensive series of over 50 videos where I go over every tool, feature and function in Inkscape and explain what it is, how it works, and why it’s useful.


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Nick Saporito

Nick Saporito is a Philadelphia-based graphic designer who specializes in branding-specific design. A full portfolio and information regarding services offered can be found at LogosByNick.com.

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28 comments
  • Bill Kennedy

    Nick, I’ve been printing decals for model railroading on an HP laser printer from Inkscape on my PC. I’ve had much success in modifying fonts to match the real railroads with Inkscape. However, I’m having problems with the toner chipping, especially black, upon model application. I’ve used about every paper type setting and printer density setting without solution. I’ve spoken to a decal professional who said my problem was printing with Inkscape. He uses Corel Draw. He didn’t say it had anything to do with the RGB/CMYK issue but stated that printing was just not Inkscape’s strong suit. I feel it has more to do with the HP settings selections. I’ve spoken with HP and the person that I spoke with didn’t even know what a decal was! Plesase advise. Thank you.

  • Jake

    Coreldraw is a User and Machine plug-ins Friendly. It can run most complicated machines than other designing software. It can run, Laser Cutter and engraver, CNC Machines, Cutter Plotter, and more. So Learning it is not only for Sign Companies, but Learning it is an enterprise 🙂

  • wildan

    hi nick.
    can u upload your inkscape course to udemy.com please.
    i don’t have any methode for pay,
    but with udemy.com, i can pay with pulse methode.
    thanks.

    • Nick Saporito

      I initially looked into putting my courses on Udemy but I decided I didn’t want to do business with them. Sorry. If you’d like to pay any other way just send me an email and I’ll see if it’s something I can do. Thanks for your interest.

  • LINDA R JAMES

    I just recently downloaded Inkscape and then discovered your videos!! SOOOO greatful for people who are so knowledgeable and willing to share their knowledge. I purchased a vinyl cutter a little over a year ago and it came with LXI software which I have used and enjoyed but I think learning Inkscape will make many things much easier. Once again a BIG thanks!!

  • Chandler

    Thank you for the information. I’m looking into starting a home based t-shirt business with no clue on any of the programs. Which do you think would be best for me to start out?

    • Nick Saporito

      Well Illustrator wouldn’t be necessary because you’re just designing t shirts and not looking to to do extensive client work or gain employment as a designer. You’ll want CMYK output since you’re designing for print, so I would recommend CorelDraw or even look into Affinity Designer. Last I checked Affinity is only $50 and would have everything you need. I don’t have any experience with it personally but I plan to try it out very soon. Good luck.

  • Paraxweb

    just binged watch all of your content on youtube. As a software developer for more than 15 years I used to watch and read lots of online tutorials and without the doubt, you have one of the best methods to deliver the content. I had worked with inkscape and gimp for my projects a lot but I enjoyed even to watch you teaching the things I already knew.
    such a magnificent job man. thank you

  • Gary

    Hi Nick

    Been watching your Inkscape tutorials and they are a blast! Loads of information and easy to follow.

    From your comparison, I do think Inkscape will be the right fit for me.

    I am mostly a Photoshop/Lightroom user and have been toying with taking the plunge with Illustrator (mostly due to the Adobe family relations) but am not a designer and, as you mention, a bit of a big pill to swallow for occasional use.

    I do have a question though. How transferable would the knowledge gained from using Inkscape be if I did decide to move to Illustrator (waaaayyy down the road)? I do realize that keyboard shortcuts and tools will be different (or at least called different things) but is the general usage similar?

    Thank you for any insight,
    Gary.

    PS. Grabbing your design book!!

    • Nick Saporito

      Thanks Gary, hope you enjoy the book! Once you have a solid understanding of Inkscape it isn’t very difficult to get the hang of Illustrator. They’re different but similar in a lot of ways. When I started using Illustrator it took me maybe a month before I was comfortable enough to use it regularly if I had to.

  • Joni Solis

    I have been using Serif DrawPlus for years for logo work and will be soon working with Affinity Designer (a Serif program). I do also use Adobe Illustrator to save some of the files to give to my logo clients but I do all or almost all of the design work in DrawPlus. I did try Inkscape many years ago but just didn’t care for it over DrawPlus.

    Doesn’t Inkscape save to SVG and can’t you open SVG files with Adobe Illustrator?

    A video on how you work in Inkscape and then save all the required image files would be a nice one to consider making.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for this. Inkscape is a pain when dealing with a print shop. Some things are lost in file format translation (Filters) or just don’t work properly or as expected.

    Most reliable way to send files I’ve found so far is to export the design to a PDF.

    That might be a blog topic/youtube video for you to do some time. How to integrate inkscape into your workflow and make files compatible with print shops, embroidery, etc.

    • Nick Saporito

      True. I even have problems with PDF format though, especially when dealing with transparency, blurs, clipping paths and masks, etc. I’ve found the best way is to just export a flattened PNG file then open it with GIMP so I can then export it as a JPEG.

      • Rick Roubos

        For some items that can be processed with raster images yes.

        I think opacity is another feature that gets butchered too. Hopefully the inkscape devs are working on file format compatibility or someone creates a plug-in that solves these problems.

        I use inkscape for volunteer work (non-profit youth sports team) and can’t justify buying CorelDraw or Illustrator.

        Is the SVG file format not standard? Doesn’t seem to be in print and embroidery businesses.

  • Daniel

    Affinity Designer would deserve to be included in futures comparisons. It is cheap. very elegant and precise. Although it lacks some features now, I am very satisfied with it. I also use Inkscape for some works.

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