iDraw is Still the Best Illustrator Alternative

For every Microsoft Word, there’s a Pages — a lightweight option that dispels with a couple of professional features, but still manages to find users because of what’s often described as a superior user interface and compelling ease-of-use. In the case of Photoshop, those options are Acorn and Pixelmator (with Pixelmator being my weapon of choice).

Apps like these aren’t necessarily matching Photoshop feature-for-feature, but they do capture enough of those tools at bargain-bin prices to make them valuable assets to anybody’s digital arsenal. When compared to Adobe Illustrator, iDraw is the Mac-exclusive beautiful-but-bargain-bin competition — especially compared to the often-despised steep subscription fee for Creative Cloud. Read on to find out if iDraw wows me in the same way Pixelmator and Pages do.

The Elephant in the Room

Let’s cover some of the basics here: while Photoshop and Pixelmator are vying for attention in the photo editing arena, Illustrator and iDraw are duking it out in the vector category. Both apps support a ton of features to make illustrating for print or for the Web as easy as possible. But I’m painfully aware that what matters most isn’t what you can do with iDraw — it’s what you can’t also do with iDraw.

This was easy. It took about ten seconds to apply all the gradients.

This was easy. It took about ten seconds to apply all the gradients.

The easiest way to break this down is like this: Are you a professional designer already earning good money (as in, self-sufficient with some extra cash to spare)? Are you a student at a fine arts school specifically for graphic design? If you already own a copy of Illustrator, would you take Beyoncé’s advice, put a ring on it, and walk it down the aisle?

If any of those three options ring true for you, you need to know iDraw won’t be a complete replacement for you. Think of iDraw as the sort of app you could use for a first draft and Illustrator for the rest of the heavy lifting. I think iDraw’s Mac-focused design is lovely and a clear improvement over Adobe’s program, but I still don’t recommend ditching the original do-it-all app completely.

With that said: for the rest of us — those of us without design degrees or people who design for fun or make less than half their income on design work, iDraw is well worth the money. With that out of the way, let’s take a look at what iDraw can offer you.

Vector, Vector, Everywhere

If you’ve never designed anything before, or this is your first experience with an illustrating program, then iDraw is a great place to start. The app’s opening pane includes an option to check out iDraw’s User Guide on the Web. (You can download the PDF from there if you want a local, searchable copy.)

The User Guide is filled with a ton of great information.

The User Guide is filled with a ton of great information.

The User Guide is one of the best I’ve seen, and I’ve seen quite a few in this line of work. If you’ve never used a vector drawing app before, it will get you started in no time and you’ll learn a ton of handy things along the way. This is one of the few User Guides worth reading for anybody who downloads the program — not just newbies. Design veterans might walk away inspired, and newbies will learn valuable things about how to go about the task.

The app also comes with another huge perk. It integrates with iCloud so your work can be picked up on an iPad and continued. Although this isn’t the place to review an iPad app, it’s worth noting that the app is very well done and worth the extra money for the convenience (although I do look forward to some interface tweaks for iOS 7). When you add the price of the iPad app to the price of iDraw for Mac, it’s still under $40. That’s incredible.

iDraw’s Capabilities

iDraw supports all sorts of vector tools with ease. Of course, there’s all sorts of tools for pure illustration and tons of different brushes. Shapes, lines, and many gradient tools are built into the app. In fact, for anybody but the most serious of professionals — as I noted prior — this app covers every necessary base that Illustrator had.

Of course, a lot of this was covered in our previous review. I’m more interested in noting some of the more recent features.

The app makes it easy to use icons and logos. You can even import Photoshop/Illustrator icons and labels.

The app makes it easy to use icons and logos. You can even import Photoshop/Illustrator icons and labels.

First, SVG import and export has been significantly expanded over the past several updates. I think the app is getting closer to the point where even the strictest of professionals will find the vector export can suit their needs. You can also import layered Photoshop files, and iDraw will keep the layers intact.

Smart Guides are also a fantastic new feature, one which I rely on in Pixelmator as well. The idea is that items you’re moving around can snap to a grid, so it’s easy to line up multiple different objects without having to strictly count pixels. It’s not quite as nice as Pixelmator’s implementation of the feature, which is a bit more robust and can snap to multiple points on a grid in relation to any object, but iDraw’s initial implementation of the feature is worth praising.

Thanks to the ability to snap to areas in a grid, duplicating and layering this element is easy.

Thanks to the ability to snap to areas in a grid, duplicating and layering this element is easy.

The app has also been updated for the Retina displays from top to bottom, so if you’re like me and have one of those ridiculous 15″ MacBook Pro beasts, you’re going to feel right at home. Speaking of which…

The Interface

As far as iDraw’s aesthetic appeal, this is an app designed from the ground up for Mac. I’ve heard a lot of people say that the app looks like it could fit right in with Pages and the like, but I’m more inclined to say that iDraw and Pixelmator are in leagues of their own. Their apps are dark in colour, which some people will find distracting or garish. That being said, black coats of paint do for software what black clothing does for people — it makes the software look sleeker. When an app has as much functionality as iDraw, I think the black aesthetic helps it look less cluttered.

I like the different windows for quick and easy access to important tools.

I like the different windows for quick and easy access to important tools.

That’s not to say that iDraw looks cluttered. The is smartly and efficiently designed for both smaller displays with its fullscreen mode and larger Cinema displays, where it would fit right in with tons of room to spare. One notable feature is tabbed files. Instead of working with multiple canvas windows, all of them are collected via tabs. It makes iDraw look more like a web browser, and I think it’s great — I prefer to avoid having my display cluttered.

I do wish the app had some additional keyboard features, though. I’d like to be able to map the Appearance/Properties/Shape Library/Styles windows to keyboards, so I could hide them or make them visible with the click of a keyboard combination.

Final Thoughts

iDraw has another huge perk over Illustrator: it’s updated very frequently. Indeeo is constantly innovating and incrementally improving their product, and I have the absolute confidence in it. With Adobe, I’ve always felt that they built great software, but often ignored users or updated their programs only when it was convenient to them. Indeeo, on the other hand, has tremendous respect for their customers, and it shows. (Note that there is no demo available; this is one area where Indeeo could show their potential customers some more respect.)

With iDraw, what you get is an app that’s perfect for basic-to-complex vector work. It’s tantalizingly close to replacing Illustrator, but those who love Adobe’s products need not apply. Those who are looking for an alternative, especially in the world of Creative Cloud, owe it to themselves to try the software. iDraw is frequently refined and consistently excellent. Highly recommended.

Update: We should have mentioned Sketch as well. It’s a vector design app that’s in a class of its own — good enough to replace Adobe Fireworks and more. If your needs extend beyond what Illustrator traditionally has offered, it’s the app to check out. If you’re wanting to directly replace Illustrator, though, iDraw is a great alternate.


Summary

iDraw is the best Illustrator alternative for anybody who needs it.

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