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Comparing Inkscape and Illustrator: What Are the Real Differences?

written by: •edited by: Michele McDonough•updated: 5/19/2011

Inkscape has been billed as being a viable alternative to Adobes Illustrator. Can Inkscape really replace Illustrator as a SVG graphics editor? Learn about the issues when comparing Inkscape vs. Illustrator in this helpful Bright Hub article.

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    Scalable Vector Graphics - What are They?

    Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) is a file format that describes 2D graphics and graphics applications in XML. This allows web developers to use graphics both on their websites and in advertising materials. SVG graphics are interactive and are often used in JavaScript and MS Visual Basic applications. You might want to use SVG formatted graphics in the following situations:

    • Web development
    • When requiring quicker development time
    • When you will require multiple data updates
    • When the end user will interact with the graphic
    • When you want graphics that are customized

    Adobe Illustrator has long been the preferred program to use amongst those working with SVG editing (even when up against software like CorelDraw). Inkscape, on the other hand is open source software, available to the public for free. When looking at Inkscape vs. Illustrator, which will come out on top? Read on and find out.

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    Price - The Obvious Difference

    Probably the most obvious difference between Illustrator and Inkscape is the price. A license for Adobe Illustrator will cost you $599, unless you are a student or instructor (this will be $198.95 according to Academic Superstore). Compare this to open source SVG software, Inkscape. You will be saving at least $200, and if it's been a while since you've had an academic affiliation, you will be saving up to $600. However, is saving the money worth it?

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    File Size

    In an experiment done by Caroline Wizeman, two identical graphics were created with the same canvas size, colors and text. When she saved each she was surprised to find that Inkscape's file was 3K while Illustrator's file size was 473K. Illustrator created an extra 12,039 lines of code for the image. She had to choose "Save for the web" to get the Illustrator file down to 2.3K.

    Based upon file size alone, if you are looking for a lighter footprint for your graphics, then Inkscape seems to win here too.

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    But...Illustrator is More "Professional!"

    One common argument against Inkscape is that Illustrator is the more professional program for graphic design. Some of this is due to features that Illustrator has that Inkscape lacks. Taken directly from the Inkscape Wiki, these features include:

    • Gradient meshes
    • Multiple strokes and fills for one object
    • Color management for print
    • PMS color
    • Natively work with graphs based on data
    • Free transform and perspective transform
    • Blends

    By the same token, Inkscape has some features that Illustrator does not have. These features include:

    • Edit SVG source directly
    • Clones, tiled clones, edit clones on canvas
    • Keys to move/rotate/scale by screen pixels
    • Shapes as objects
    • Edit gradients with handles on-canvas
    • Edit nodes with keyboard
    • One-click paint bucket fill
    • Color painting over objects

    Because these two software programs do have differences, what's "professional" might depend upon what you need the program for. For example, if you need to create shapes as objects, then you will want to use Inkscape. If, on the other hand, your project requires blends and gradient meshes, then you will need to use Illustrator. So, from this standpoint, the two are tied, and the winner of this match of Inkscape vs. Illustrator will depend upon your needs.

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    Inkscape vs. Illustrator - User Interface

    Which program is easier to use? Is Inkscape user friendly enough to help even the least technologically savvy meet their business's graphic design needs? Inkscape is user friendly, and even though the program is user-friendly, this doesn't translate too much into a problem you often have with open source projects - oversimplification. On the other hand, die-hard Adobe Illustrator fans believe that Inkscape is not powerful enough to tackle many graphic design projects. It's important to note on both accounts, that Illustrator and Inkscape are both meant for SVG graphics - that means graphics that will be used mostly on the internet - and are not meant to be used for raster graphics (Photoshop, Gimp. etc.).

    In this case, yes, Inkscape is more user-friendly than Illustrator, but it depends upon what you want to do. If you really need to blend, then you will be met with frustration in Inkscape.

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    Which Has Better User Suport - Inkscape or Illustrator?

    Another commonly argued point in the Inkscape vs. Illustrator debate is the potential for User Support. Should something go wrong, and you require product support, Illustrator's support is buried in a sea of information. (Initially, I didn't think it had its own support page, but it does.) Once you do arrive at the Illustrator help and support page, you can find tutorials and blogs talking about different things you can do in Illustrator, as well as issues resolutions. When you try to contact Adobe, you are given a drop-down menu that will instruct you, most often, to purchase phone support. Alternitively, you can find support in the help and support forum.

    Inkscape's user support includes FAQs, documentation, articles, tutorials, a discussion forum, bug reporting, Jabber chat and IRC Chat. At any given time, there are support networks available, and if a developer is not available at that time, then the regular support people can tell a client what time to expect user support to be available.

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    So...Who Wins?

    Between Inkscape and Illustrator, it boils down to what you will need the program for, what your graphic design budget looks like, and what your work requires. Most SVG users will be perfectly happy with Inkscape, especially those who provide graphic design services as freelancers or as startups. Companies, small businesses, and freelancers with money to invest may want to go ahead and put their money into Illustrator, using Inkscape as a supplement should they need to. Both programs are valuable in their own right.