Studio Musings

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

A New-to-me Option for Bead Illustration Software

Graphic - vector illustration and design by Indeeo, Inc.
Every few months I receive an email from someone asking what software I use to create my bead diagrams and illustrations.  To date, I've used Adobe Illustrator, but that may soon change as I continue to explore a new iOS ap called Graphic.

I love Adobe Illustrator. It's been the gold standard for vector-based graphic design and illustration for years, for good reasons.  But it also costs a pretty penny.  I'm lucky enough to own an old copy of Adobe Creative Suite 6 (CS6), purchased right before they moved to a subscription model.  These days, the single-app license for Illustrator is $19.99/month if you don't happen to be a student or teacher.  The price makes it really hard for me to recommend it to other indie designers.  I also worry about what I'll do when my current version of CS6 gets too old and glitchy to work with the latest operating systems on my computer.  Sooner or later, it's bound to happen.

This means I'm always on the look out for a solid, low-cost alternative.  Last night, I think I may have found one, designed for the iPhone or iPad.  Searching for 'vector-based illustration software', I came across a review for Autodesk Graphic, by Indeeo, Inc for iOS.  Comparing the feature set from the reviews to the latest feature set in the product description in the App store, I decided it was worth the $8.99 pricetag to give it a test drive.  Doing research for this blog post this morning, I found that different links have different pricing, from $2.99 - $29.99.  One thing to note - the link for $2.99 seems to be for an earlier version of the program (version 1.01, as opposed to 3.1) - so I wouldn't recommend it.

Why do I like Graphic, besides the pricetag?

Bead Sample page: trying out the shape tools and gradient fills
It's easy to use
The interface is very intuitive for anyone who's familiar with Illustrator or other drawing software.  They also have a really nice series of tutorial pages to quickly bring you up to speed on the tools and workspace.

It's quick
I worked up this little beading sample page within about 20 minutes of downloading the program, that includes reading through the tutorial pages.

It has the tools I need
I have very specific things I want to accomplish.  Can I make pretty looking 'beads' quickly?  Can I easily add a radiant fill, and change line and fill colors?  How about adding in the thread paths?  Does it have layers for additional control?  Early experimentation indicates that Graphic meets all of these needs, hands down.

It's vector-based 
This last one may need a little more explanation.  In a nutshell, the question is whether lines are rendered as a series of little dots that all happen to connect, or as a continuous line described by a mathematical algorithm.  The later creates smooth, beautiful curves no matter how much you scale the original image.  Here's an example to show the difference:

Zooming in on a .JPG and a .SVG file

For this, I exported my Bead Sample page in two separate formats, first as a .JPEG, then as a .SVG (which is a vector-based file format).  I opened the .JPEG in Photoshop, then zoomed in to 500% on one of the beads.  This is the left-hand sample, and you can already see the pixellation along the outer edges of the shape.  I then opened the .SVG file in Illustrator, and zoomed in 800% on the same bead.  This is the right-hand sample; see how nice and smooth the edge looks?  The very slight pixellation you may notice is because I combined the two samples and text in Photoshop, then reduced the size and saved them as a .jpg so that they'd download more quickly over the Internet.  

That's the key with bead illustrations - drawn them in a vector-based program, then export them in the size and format you need for your particular purpose.  While, of course maintaining your original, vector-based files as your originals.

It Exports into Multiple Formats
I touched on this above, but it's worth pointing out again.  Besides JPEG and SVG, you can also export into PDF, PSD and PNG, as well as a Graphic source file (useful if you're moving between devices).  

It supports the iPad Pro and iPencil
All the experimenting I did last night was curled up on my couch.  Drawing with the iPencil on my iPad, is a night-and-day experience compared to working with a mouse.  But even if you don't have an iPencil, I had a lot of success with simple touch gestures, and still found it much easier than working with a mouse.  

Could be used to Layout Single-Page Tutorials
Graphic, like Illustrator, is designed for single-page designs, not multi-page books.  However, within those limitations, it offers a lot of control for page layouts combining illustrations and text.  In fact, their beautifully-done Intro Guides were all created using the program.  


So, will Graphic replace Illustrator in my workflow?  I'll have to see as I do more experimentation.  At this point, I'm guessing that I'm going to use it to augment how I use Illustrator.  At the very least, it's fun to use and will allow me to work in situations where dragging along a laptop simply practical.  If you decide to check out Graphic for yourself, I'd love to hear what you think!  

In the meantime, I'm still looking for a viable, lower-cost alternative to Adobe's InDesign for page layout and design.