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Inkscape or Adobe Illustrator, which vector-based graphic design software is better?

Read this ultimate Inkscape vs. Illustrator comparison to find out which one is the best application that’ll fit most for your graphic design needs in a vector environment.

Inkscape first burst onto the scene in 2003 as part of the Sodipodi project. Having gone through numerous changes over the years, including changes in coding, developers, and hosting environments, it has proven itself to be a unique vector-based art software. Its primary export format is that of SVG. Usage for the application has spanned everything from logos to billboards.

Illustrator poses as the older challenger to Inkscape for being the most iconic name for vector-based applications for graphic design. Since its release way back in 1987, after two years in development, Illustrator has become far more than the vector graphics editor it was initially known for. The application has not only a hefty legacy but also an award-winning one, having won the award of Best Vector Graphics Editing Program from PC Magazine in 2018.

Comparison at a Glance

1. Interface
Winner: Inkscape. With a less busy interface, Inkscape is far more friendly for users to jump right in and start creating.

2. Draw Tools
Winner: Illustrator. Illustrator’s wealth of tools makes it ideal for drawing.

3. Features
Winner: Illustrator. Though both applications have many identical features, Illustrator has just a tad more to make it a narrow winner.

4. Font
Winner: Illustrator. With its elaborate font tools, Illustrator is the clear winner in this department.

5. Workflow
Winner: Inkscape. It’s the simple setup of Inkscape that makes it more of an ideal program for a smooth workflow.

6. Formatting
Winner: Illustrator. Not entirely bound by vector graphics alone, Illustrator is far more accommodating of file formats.

7. Pricing
Winner: Inkscape. Inkscape wins by default for being a free and open-source application.

8. Plugins
Winner: Illustrator. The wealth of additional plugins for Illustrator spans far and wide.

9. Support
Winner: Inkscape. The amount of support and materials for Inkscape is unparalleled in making this program work for graphic designers

Short Verdict

Overall, Illustrator is a better option than Inkspace thanks to its extensive array of tools and features and constant updates. Although Inkscape is free, it simply cannot compete with the capabilities of Illustrator. Also, Illustrator works extremely well with other Adobe applications, which is a major advantage.

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1. Interface

With Illustrator having been an industry-standard in graphic design for so long, not to mention carrying a hefty price tag, it comes bundled with many tools that can crowd the screen. It’s become a little cleaner and easier to manage over the years but still takes quite a bit of getting used to for those just jumping into the program for the first time. There’s an intricacy that will possibly overwhelm first-time users.

Inkscape is notable for carrying much of the same tools but with a less cramped work environment. Everything has been simplified to be the cleanest workspace possible so that you’re not bombarded with feature windows when trying to conceive creatively. Selecting the text tool and changing the front is incredibly simple: just clicking the text tool on the sidebar and then selecting the font from the top menu bar. It’s all crisply presented and right out in the open that there’s little danger of becoming lost and overwhelmed with trying to keep a slew of windows organized while working.

If you’re reading this article, it’s most likely because you’re scoping out a program to utilize for the first time. And the interface for Inkscape is ideal in this department as newcomers can hop right in the application, poke around, and start churning out graphic design projects in little time.

Inkscape Interface

Winner: Inkscape

2. Draw Tools

As both Inkscape and Illustrator are vector programs, there’s a lot of overlap between the two applications.

Inkscape’s drawing tools are intuitive enough to understand, given the refined interface. The drawing tools include freehand options of the pencil and calligraphy tool while the pen tool allows for a fuller range of object creation with Bézier curves and straight lines.

Illustrator has the same tools but with a few more features as well. This includes the paintbrush tool, which allows for better free-form paths with texture and the blob brush tool, which is best suited for compound paths. All of this makes the program exceptionally beneficial for those who are going to find themselves doing a lot more wrapping around shapes and objects with plenty of variants.

In the department of draw tools, Illustrator has a few more options to make it best suited for the most intricate of designs for those handy enough with a drawing tablet. This makes the application more inclined to recommend for those graphic designers who want to be as artistic with their designs as they do analytical, giving plenty of power to free-hand and mouse-handed designs. The program certainly lives up to its name.

Winner: Illustrator

3. Features

For their many features, Illustrator and Inkscape are in stiff competition. Both feature similar aspects in their tools of object creation/manipulation, paths, text, and rendering.

What’s rather remarkable about Inkscape is how much crossover it has had to match the more unique features of Illustrator. Inkscape supports as-you-drag rendering, node editing, boolean operations, bitmap tracing, and font modifications. Those already familiar with Illustrator should have no problem at all getting used to the matching tools. And with a dedicated community of developers, the application continues to improve based on the needs of the users.

However, the significant improvements to the features of Illustrator simply can’t be overlooked. Making excellent use of Adobe’s cloud environment, Illustrator projects can be saved as a cloud document and be accessed on any machine that has Illustrator installed. Where Illustrator once relied on outlines for rendering drawing, the full image now renders in real-time as you draw. The amount of control Illustrator has in organizing, manipulating, and duplicating artboards makes working on complex projects less headache-inducing.

Inkscape is making vast improvements that could very well catch up to all of Illustrator’s innovations with time. At this time, however, Illustrator has the upper hand.

Winner: Illustrator

4. Font

Illustrator has an immense amount of control in the typography department. The tools present not only allow for a vast array of font families and design, aided by the Adobe Fonts packages, but can also be used to create more 3D designs and elaborate effects. The wealth of features in this department makes it a great application for crafting logos and flyers with much control.

New features continue to be developed by Illustrator in this department. The snap-to-glyph feature makes measurements far more precise alignments of live text. Objects can now be better aligned to glyphs of fonts. Font height also has better control in the new tools with Em Box, Cap Height, x-Height, and ICF Box.

Inkscape is also capable of supporting a lot of fonts but it requires a bit more of an installation process than Adobe Fonts integration with Illustrator. But its tools are just a tad more limiting considering the simplified environment. While it certainly is more comfortable to implement fonts with a bare-bones display that is simple enough for users of any level to use, it falls just a few hairs short of toppling Illustrator in the realm of typography.

Illustrator Fonts

Winner: Illustrator

5. Workflow

One aspect that simply can’t be ignored between the programs is how much resources they take up. A lot of the functionality with these applications will ultimately come down to how powerful your device is. If you have an older machine you don’t plan on replacing soon for economic reasons, this can be a massive part of the decision making process.

It is here where Inkscape is king. Illustrator has loads of functionality but it comes at the price of being exceptionally taxing on your CPU, eating up a lot of resources and RAM. Older machines could be struggling to keep up, mainly since Illustrator updates every year with newer versions that require more dedicated space and memory. It’s not for nothing, however, considering the real-time rendering of effects can be quite handy for previewing detailed designs.

Inkscape, however, has a functionality that is as simple as its design. A heavy-duty machine is less required for the program, mostly since users can stick with the current version for some time and decide where or not to upgrade later if their machine can handle it. While this basic layout may not bode for more complicated projects that require an extra level of care and detail, Inkscape does have an appeal for more straightforward projects that are not as intensive on artboards organization and extensive features, making this more of the ideal software for older computers.

Winner: Inkscape

6. Formatting

For two vector-based applications, Illustrator and Inkscape have a bit of a divide in terms of out-of-the-box formatting. They’re not fully compatible with one another in terms of their outputs. Illustrator can export in just about any format of file and color while Inkscape is more limited. In terms of what Inkscape can export, the formats include SVG, PS, EPS, and PDF, formats that Illustrator can recognize.

One area that is most concerning where Illustrator comes out on top is that Inkscape doesn’t support CMYK. This makes Inkscape not as desirable for printing considering the limited range of color which is an absolute necessity if you’re seeking a project for print.

It is for this reason that Illustrator is more desirable as it’s a better fit for a broader range of projects, both digital and print. Inkscape is undoubtedly capable of print projects, to be sure, but with limited control in the quality. It’s best suited for those graphic designers who will find themselves doing a lot of work in the area of brochures, posters, magazine layouts, and flyers.

It should also be noted that Inkscape also has a mobile version entitled XInkPlus that puts it just a tad ahead of Illustrator in the tablet-friendly department for such functionality.

Winner: Illustrator

7. Pricing

ProductRegular PriceDiscounted Price
Adobe Creative Cloud$52.99/monthCheck here
Adobe Illustrator$20.99/monthCheck here
InkspaceFreeNo Discount

Per the current Adobe payment model, Illustrator is purchased via a subscription model. The plan is annual at $20.99/monthly or $238/yearly for just Illustrator, but, let’s be honest, if you’re serious about graphic design, you’re probably going to need Photoshop as well. So it’s highly likely you’ll be requiring the full Adobe Creative Suite priced at $599/yearly. That’s a steep price tag but is noteworthy for being an industry-standard program, so it’s a bit of an investment. There is a 7-day trial as well as a 14-day money-back guarantee.

Adobe Pricing

Inkscape is undoubtedly the more desirable option for novice graphic designers who are either still learning or just starting on their own in the industry. It’s free and open-source, meaning there’s no cost to not only use the program for your commercial benefit but tinker around with its many aspects as well.

Inkspace Pricing

Even though Illustrator certainly has more frequency in graphic design industries, it’s advisable for first-timers to simply download Inkscape and give it a shot considering there is nothing to lose.

Winner: Inkscape

8. Plugins

Both Illustrator and Inkscape are home to plenty of plugins to better suit the needs of the graphic designer.

Inkscape has grown quite a bit within its open-sourced community to provide highly specific plugins for whatever you’re seeking—trying to make a blueprint layout for design purposes? Try the Blueprint Maker plugin. Are you seeking to turn a design into a puzzle? Use the Lasercut Jigsaw extension. Everything from grid layouts to shape creation can be honed and modified through the wealth of free plugins made within the community.

One of the essential plugins for Inkscape that should be a requirement is Ghostscript. This essential plugin will make it easier to read EPS files by converting them into PDFs that are Inkscape compatible. Another critical plugin is that of ImageMagick, which allows for exportation in the JPEG format.

But when compared, Illustrator simply offers a whole lot more. Such notable free plugins include MirrorMe for instant reflected designs in real-time, DirectPrefs that better allows for easier access to time-saving tools, and Cineware for 3D needs. And that’s only the free plugins. Poke around for the more spendy options, and you’ll find so much. If you want an unbelievable amount of control in manipulating a font into your own, try the FontSelf plugin starting at $44. Dabble in creating stunning tapestries with Mandala Creator Pro for only $12. The more complex task of assembling a neon sign is even more comfortable with the Neon Realistic plugin for $8.

Even if Illustrator’s grander market is not free, it does have a lot more range and certainly makes more challenging graphic design tasks all the easier that it’s worth investing a few more dollars for a quality render.

Winner: Illustrator

9. Support

Given that Inkscape is open-source, it has created a friendly community of developers and users cropped up around it. The thriving community occupies a forum, chat, and mailing list on the application’s website. Also, present on the website is numerous tutorials and templates to not feel as overwhelmed with trying to retool Inkscape to suit your needs. If a developer hasn’t quite addressed the tweaks you’re seeking, the website is very open about reporting of bugs and issues, in addition to managing and debugging the program.

Illustrator doesn’t leave its users out in the cold either, which would seem a given for the hefty price tag placed on the application. From the very moment the user opens any Adobe program, they’re greeted with a window that gives them the option to tap into support elements. Clicking on the Learn button will bring the user to all sorts of learning materials and resources, including document presets and guided tutorials. Of course, technical support for Illustrator is about as sound as all their creative suite applications.

It’s tough to gauge the support because both applications operate under different models. Inkscape is far more open with its supportive environment to accommodate users personally, while Illustrator is broader in its substantial offerings. Ultimately, though, it’s the more personal touch and sense of community that makes Inkscape shine bright and appear welcoming for any interested parties.

Illustrator Color

Winner: Inkscape

Final Thoughts

If you’re seeking to do more industry work than visual experimentation, Illustrator is the program to stick with. Inkscape certainly shouldn’t be discounted though for its ease of use, broadening base of developers and being, well, free.

As time progresses, it could very well be that Inkscape’s cleaner environment will trump the more busy interface of Illustrator with improved mechanics. There’s a lot of room for improvement within Inkscape to catch up, and the open-sourcing of the program may very well make that possible in the future. As it stands now, however, Illustrator simply has more functionality that can work well enough for just about any project and has keen compatibility with other essential Adobe applications.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Is Inkscape compatible with Illustrator?

Yes, in terms of supporting SVG files. AI formats can’t be exported directly but can be redefined from PDFs.

Can Inkscape be used on tablets?

Yes, under the tablet app version entitled XInkPlus.

Can Illustrator be used on tablets?

Yes. Adobe’s subscription service covers mobile versions as well.

Which software is best suited for a novice just starting out?

Inkscape for sure, considering the free cost, open-source code, and simple enough environment to learn.

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