Vector graphics shoot-out: Illustrator v open-source

Summary:We wrap up our investigation of vector graphics editors with a look at Adobe's Illustrator, along with a selection of more specialist applications, including Microsoft's Visio and the free, open-source LibreOffice Draw.

2D line drawing with Visio and Draw

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Microsoft Visio Premium 2010 opening display.

Microsoft Visio
There is a market niche for easy-to-use 2D vector line drawing programs and Microsoft's Visio is one of the best available. Although it started life in 1992 as little more than an office flowchart program, Visio has developed into a very flexible drafting application that can be used to produce flowcharts, floor plans, network infrastructure diagrams and accurate and complex mechanical drawings complete with dimensions — to mention just a few of the types of drawings it can handle.

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Visio Premium 2010 can be used to produce quite complex mechanical drawings, as shown in this example.

The comprehensive stencil packs are a powerful feature that allow, for example electronics circuit diagrams, network diagrams and architectural floor plans to be be drawn very quickly. All that is required is to select appropriate components from the Visio stencils collection, drop copies of these onto the work page and then to add connector lines of the required style and thickness.

LibreOffice Draw

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Here is the same Visio drawing (a VSD file) opened in LibreOffice Draw. Some fonts have been substituted and the arrowhead size has grown.

The FOSS office suite LibreOffice (forked from OpenOffice, which is now 'owned' by Oracle) includes LibreOffice Draw, a vector-based drawing program. In LibreOffice 3.5, Draw gained the ability to import Visio drawings (VSD files): it's still early days for this feature, and the resulting imports are not flawless — rounded corners on rectangles and lines are lost, for example. However, development continues and hopefully the import quality for Visio files will soon improve.

Draw uses the Insert and Format menus to insert and format layers that appear as, and are selected via, tabs in the drawing workspace. Layers can be toggled as visible and/or printable through the non-dockable Modify layers dialogue box, which is accessed via the Format menu.

Although LibreOffice in general has templates, Draw 3.5 does not at the moment have its own set of stencils. Work is being done on opening and using Visio stencil files (.vss) and this feature may appear in version 3.6. Draw does have a symbol Gallery and the Gallery can be used to store and manage drawing building blocks created by the user.

The Open Document Foundation provides user guides to Draw as PDFs for download from its wiki. The Draw Guide is also available as a printed copy from Lulu.com for £8.39.

Neither Visio nor LibreOffice Draw support colour management.

Digital painting and modelling applications
Digital artists looking for an approach that perhaps more closely approximates brush and canvas, or clay and plasticine, can use a range of more specialist vector image applications. Corel Painter, now at version 12.1, offers brushes, paper textures, paints, oils and watercolours to help recreate the look-and-feel of traditional painting techniques. Digital modelling applications from Pixologic, Zbrush and Sculptris, provide 3D painting and sculpting to high levels of realism.

Vector drawing on tablets & phones

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iDraw running on the Apple iPad.

Artists and designers now have the option of replacing the traditional paper sketchpad and pencil with a tablet computer. For example, Indeeo Inc's iDraw, which is available for the iPad (£5.99) and Mac OS X (£17.49), is a comprehensive vector editing app.

Adobe Ideas is a £6.99 vector design app that runs on both iOS and Android. Ideas offers easy synchronisation via a free Creative Cloud membership and its output can easily be imported into Illustrator or Photoshop for further work on the desktop.

Topics: Open Source, Apps, Reviews, Software

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