12 Vector Graphics Editors for Designing

Vector graphics drawing software is used for creating and editing vector graphics. It provides graphic designers with the ability to create precise, scalable and layered images. Both 3-D graphics and CAD (computer-aided design) technology rely heavily on vector graphics.

Inkscape (Mac, Win, Linux)

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Inkscape, an open-source vector graphics editor, is similar to Adobe Illustrator and CorelDRAW, but its use of Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG), an open XML-based W3C standard, as its native format sets it apart from others. Inkscape supports many advanced SVG features (markers, clones, alpha blending, etc.), and great care is taken in designing a streamlined interface. In Inkscape, it is very easy to edit nodes, perform complex path operations, trace bitmaps and much more. Inkscape has a powerful command-line interface and can be used in scripts for a variety of tasks, such as exporting and format conversions.

Inkscape provides binary packages for Linux, Windows 2000/2003/XP (in a fully self-contained installer) and Mac OS X (in a .dmg package). We know that Inkscape is successfully used on FreeBSD and other Unix-like operating systems. Note that Windows 98/ME is no longer supported. Its latest version is 0.46.

Summary. Inkscape has a powerful command line interface and can be used in scripts for a variety of tasks, such as exporting and format conversions. It is a very mature and advanced editor that can serve as a good alternative for well-known commercial vector graphics editors. Download Inkscape.

DrawIt (Mac)

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DrawIt is an easy-to-use, powerful vector drawing application designed for the Mac. It features entirely non-destructive editing, live filters, powerful vector tools, a standard collection of basic shapes and a clear and intuitive interface.

DrawIt is a powerful vector tool that is also very easy to use. Users familiar with other tools will feel right at home. Also coming standard with DrawIt is a large number of ready-to-use and easily customizable special vector shapes: circles, stars, rounded rectangles and polygons are just a few of the shapes that can be added to your document. There is also support for an unlimited number of nested groups, masks and custom overlays.

DrawIt Pro and DrawIt Lite require Mac OS 10.5 Leopard. If you’re still running Tiger, then use DrawIt 3.3.3 or DrawIt Lite for Tiger. It will cost you approximately $40.

Summary. The application includes a large number of easily customizable, ready-to-use shapes; circles, stars, rounded rectangles and polygons, as well as support for an unlimited number of nested groups, masks and custom overlays. Download DrawIt.

SK1 (Linux)

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SK1 is an open-source illustration program for the Linux platform that can substitute for professional, proprietary software like CorelDRAW and Adobe Illustrator. Unique project features are a CorelDRAW formats importer, a tabbed multi-document interface, a Cairo-based engine, color management, etc. SK1 also includes CMYK colorspace support and CMYK support in Postscript.

SK1 can export documents to Adobe Illustrator 5.0 (based on PostScript), PDF, PS, SVG, SK/SK1, CGM and WMF. It can also import formats such as CorelDRAW versions 7 to X4, Postscript (PS) and Encapsulated Postscript (EPS), etc. Download SK1.

Xara Xtreme (Mac, Linux)

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Xara Xtreme is a powerful, general-purpose graphics program for Unix platforms, including Linux, FreeBSD and (in development) Mac OS X. Formerly known as Xara LX, it is based on Xara Xtreme for Windows, which is the fastest graphics program available. Its latest version is 0.7.

Xara Xtreme for Linux is very fast and very slick to use. It offers some of the most powerful graphics tools available. Xara Xtreme has a small learning curve and is able to create a huge range of outstanding graphics. Xara Xtreme has behind it a huge amount of learning materials, tutorials, movies, tips and a very active, enthusiastic and growing user community.

The developers of the application claim that Xara Xtreme uses “the world’s fastest vector rendering engine”. And since performance matters when it comes to graphic editors, it is definitely a significant advantage. Download Xara Xtreme.

Skencil (Linux)

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Skencil, formerly called Sketch, is a free vector graphics editor, released under the GNU Lesser General Public License. Running on GNU/Linux and other UNIX-compatible systems, it is a flexible and powerful tool for illustrations, diagrams and other purposes. A somewhat rare feature of Skencil (for a drawing program) is that it is implemented almost completely in Python, a very high-level interpreted language. Python is powerful, object-oriented, and yet easy to use. The rest of the program is written in C for speed. The software is now in version 0.6.17. It has versions compatible with Linux on the i386, DEC Alpha, m68k, PowerPC and SPARC architectures, as well as with FreeBSD, Solaris, IRIX64 6.4 and AIX.

In addition to the standard features that you expect from a vector drawing program, Skencil also has more advanced features, such as the possibility of bending text along a path. The current stable release is 0.6.17. Skencil is quite usable already, even for production use. The low version number is mainly due to a lack of some important features, such as good text support.

Some of its other distinguishing features are that rectangles, ellipses and bezier curves (in addition to ordinary horizontal and vertical lines) can be used as guides; text can be converted to bezier curves, though only if Skencil has access to the PostScript Type 1 font files (pfa or pfb); and blend groups allow for automatically updated interpolations of arbitrary objects. Download Skencil.

Scribus (Mac, Win, Linux, OS/2)

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Scribus is a desktop publishing (DTP) application. Scribus is an open-source program that brings professional page layout to Linux/Unix, Mac OS X, OS/2 and Windows desktops with a combination of “press-ready” output and new approaches to page layout. Scribus is designed for flexible layout and typesetting and allows you to prepare files for professional-quality image-setting equipment. It can also create animated and interactive PDF presentations and forms. Example uses include writing small newspapers, brochures, newsletters, posters and books. Scribus supports professional publishing features, such as CMYK color, separations, ICC color management and PDF creation.

Scribus is known for its broad set of page layout features as compared with leading commercial applications, such as Adobe PageMaker, QuarkXPress and Adobe InDesign. Scribus supports most major graphic formats in addition to SVG. Although written in C++, it has built-in scripting using Python. It is available in more than 24 languages.

It also comes with a lot of support options to help you achieve the best results. There is an enthusiastic and friendly community around Scribus that assists beginner and pro alike through a mailing list, IRC channel, wiki, contracted support and a bug tracker. Download Scribus.

Ipe (Linux, Mac)

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Ipe is a drawing editor for creating figures in PDF or (encapsulated) Postscript format. It supports making small figures for inclusion in LaTeX documents as well as making multi-page PDF presentations that can be shown online with the Acrobat PDF reader. Ipe 6.0pre31 (November 2008) is the most recent version of Ipe. This extensible drawing editor is free, which means that everyone is free to use it and free to redistribute it on certain conditions. But Ipe is not in the public domain.

Ipe allows the entry of text as LaTeX source code. This makes it easy to enter mathematical expressions and to reuse the LaTeX macros of the main document. The integrated picture environment is well suited to preparing graphics for LATEX documents. In the display, text is displayed as it will appear in the figure. Ipe produces pure Postscript/PDF, including for text. Ipe converts the LaTeX source to PDF or Postscript when the file is saved. Users can provide ipelets, which are small, dynamically loaded plug-ins that interact with Ipe and can modify your drawing in some way. The Ipe system comes with a number of ipelets pre-installed; for example, there are ipelets for aligning objects in various ways, for precise stretch and rotation and so forth.

Summary. Ipe’s main features are tight integration with LATEX, sophisticated snapping modes, extensibility via ipelets, an easy yet flexible user interface, customizability with style sheets and the ability to export to PDF and EPS file formats. Download Ipe.

ConceptDraw PRO (Win)

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ConceptDraw PRO is powerful business and technical diagramming software that supports the creation of business diagrams, flowcharts, network diagrams, floor plans, technical drawings, home and office layouts and the like. ConceptDraw 7 charts can be exported to a variety of file formats, including images, CAD documents and HTML. It also supports importing and exporting of Microsoft Visio XML files.

With ConceptDraw PRO, you can design professional-looking graphics, diagrams, high-end flowcharts, floor plans, engineering drawings and other intricate illustrations in minutes. ConceptDraw’s libraries include thousands of scalable objects. You can maintain business processes with clear visual documentation and present and communicate information in a clear and vivid way.

Through ConceptDraw Office, ConceptDraw PRO provides you with the tools you need to generate reports, documentation and presentations that entirely reflect project performance. It is a comprehensive tool that can be used to create a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) and to track a project’s status on an intelligent dashboard. It has the huge set of vector drawing tools that can compete with any professional illustration program. It runs on Microsoft Windows and Mac OS X. Its latest version is 7.2 and costs $299.

Summary. ConceptDraw Professional is designed for people who need to create high-end flowcharts, engineering drawings, and other intricate illustrations. ConceptDraw’s libraries include thousands of scalable objects. If you have enough resources for a powerful leading vector graphics editor, ConceptDraw is definitely an option worth considering. Download ConceptDraw Pro.

Jfig (Mac, Win, Linux)

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Jfig is shareware and costs around $30. Jfig is a 2-D graphics and diagram editor based on the FIG file format. The user interface of Jfig is based on Xfig, a popular graphics editor for the X11 window system. Jfig can also be used as a class library to embed 2-D graphics and diagrams into other Java applications. For example, the “Jfig simple applet” allows you to include and display FIG files in Web pages.

The Jfig presentation viewer and corresponding presentation builder allow you to construct slideshows from a set of individual FIG files. Jfig software is written in Java and can be used on notebooks, PCs and workstations running Windows 2000/XP, Mac OS X and OS/2 and most versions of Linux and Unix. While the user interface allows for very fast editing, its mode-oriented concept differs from most simple drawing programs for Windows or Mac and may require some getting used to.

From a software standpoint, Jfig is not just an editor but rather a class library for 2-D graphics editors. It consists of several Java packages, with about 200 Java classes.

Because of the support of LaTeX-formatted text objects, Jfig and Xfig are often used to create diagrams for LaTeX and PDFLaTeX documents. Several features, including TEX font and macro support, make Jfig a popular editor for creating TEX figures for TEX and LaTeX documents.

Summary. The editor supports all common drawing primitives, including boxes, circles, ellipses, polylines, arcs, splines, text objects and embedded bitmap images. Many attributes, such as color, line width, line style and different arrowheads, are provided. However, Jfig is mostly intended for scientific and technical figures. There is no support for 3-D functions, shading, transparency, etc. If you are willing to do a little bit of programming, you can also use Jfig as a class library to include vector graphics in your own Java applications and to create your own custom graphics editors. Download Jfig.

ZeusDraw (Mac)

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ZeusDraw is a new vector drawing program with a fluid, graceful interface, great brushes and a host of other features. It requires Mac OS X 10.4 or higher. ZeusDraw is a Universal Binary and can be run on Intel or PowerPC. Its current version is 1.3.1.

Quartz and Cocoa let ZeusDraw show you what you are doing as you do it. When you move or rotate an object, you see the object move or rotate, not its bounding box. ZeusDraw has a selection of vector brushes (smooth, shaded, multi-hair), and it also has an object brush that allows you to paint with any piece of artwork, either vector or bitmap. ZeusDraw simplifies bezier curves. With ZeusDraw’s path tools, you enter control points in order along the path (which is more logical and intuitive because the shape of a polygon made by the control points is a rough indicator of the shape of the curve). ZeusDraw comes with a version of the Shades Color Picker built in. In addition to working with normal full-color bitmaps (JPEG, TIF, PNG, GIF and BMP), ZeusDraw can use grayscale bitmaps as stencils.

Chromatic Bytes has announced the release of ZeusDraw Mobile for the iPhone and iPod touch. It’s available for purchase and downloading now from the App Store for $9.99. ZeusDraw costs $90. Download ZeusDraw.

MagicTracer (Windows)

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MagicTracer is a raster-to-vector converter for Windows. It includes both raster and vector editing tools. MagicTracer includes support for image scanners.

If you are a construction manager or architect who wants to import scanned blueprints or sketches into your favorite CAD program, or a sign maker who wants to convert an image file into shapes that you can cut out with a vinyl cutter, then MagicTracer is for you. MagicTracer offers three main categories of tools for manipulating raster and vector data: image, raster and vector.

In the latest version of MagicTracer, vector entities now have their own color property. All of the draw commands in vector mode use the current color for newly created entities, just like the draw commands in image mode. Its cost is $60. The online-alternative is a free tool vectormagic that converts bitmap images to EPS, SVG, PDF, and PNG formats. Download MagicTracer.

NodeBox (Mac)

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NodeBox is a Mac OS X application that lets you create 2-D visuals (static, animated or interactive) using Python programming code and then export them in PDF or as a QuickTime movie. NodeBox is free and well documented.

NodeBox can generate forms such as rectangles, ovals, stars, arrows and also bezier paths in general. It supports images (even PDF) and text (with line wrapping). NodeBox is a “state machine.” As such, it is easier to understand by people who have no experience in programming.

Although it has a limited set of commands, NodeBox has full Python support, making it a useful tool for advanced Python programmers as well. You can deconstruct paths into contours, insert points at arbitrary positions on a path and construct paths based on a list of points. You can apply all of these transformations to text as well.

NodeBox can generate PDF documents that can easily be certified (CMYK colors, embedded fonts and images). It also generates QuickTime movies. The application targets designers and has an easy set of state commands that is both intuitive and creative. It is essentially a learning environment and an automation tool. Download NodeBox.

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