Let’s assume you’ve been using other vector based design apps for a little while and you’re pretty comfortable with where things are and how to find your way around. With that in mind, we’re going to take an in-depth look at Affinity Designer and go through some of the key things you should look out for when getting to grips with everything the app has to offer…
Creating a document
To get started, simply select New Document from the Welcome screen. Here you’ll be given the option to select a variety of print, web or other design presets, choose a transparent background for your design (great for web assets like PNGs) or add a bleed around your design for any printing purposes.
The first thing you might notice are the three icons in the top left of the screen. These are known as Personas (or Persona Switching when going between them) and will become a really useful asset as you get into using Designer.
Designer Persona is your default vector-based design option and allows you to create infinitely scalable vector designs, as you would in any other vector software.
Pixel Persona is a little different and allows you to work in a raster-based design mode, which is like having the best of both worlds—working hand in hand seamlessly together. Ideal for combining slick vector elements with highly detailed raster textures or for applying a multitude of raster effects directly within Affinity Designer itself!
Export Persona is the final option and allows you to have much finer control over how your files are exported. You can create individual ‘Slices’ to export specific zones of your design or just quickly access export presets if you need to save multiple files at once.
All the familiar and essential tools are shown on the left of the screen (most of which have the same keyboard shortcuts you may be used to using as well).
Move Tool V | Artboard Tool | Pen Tool P | Pencil Tool N | Transparency Tool Y | Place Image Tool | Triangle Tool M | Text Frame Tool T | Node Tool V | Corner Tool C | Vector Brush Tool B | Fill Tool G | Vector Crop Tool | Rectangle Tool M | Colour Picker Tool I | View Tool H
At the top of your document is the Toolbar which gives you access to essential adjustment parameters such as Snapping controls, Rotate and Flip, and Object arrangement.
By selecting a tool, this then brings up the Context Toolbar. This is extremely handy as it shows you a variety of settings relevant to the tool you’ve selected and saves valuable time scrolling through settings and panels to get to the function you need.
You can easily create multiple artboards for your design by using the Artboard Tool from the Tools panel on the left-hand side of the screen. Here you can select a preset from the dropdown box or by clicking ‘Insert Artboard’ you’ll be given an artboard that matches your document size straight away.
You can add multiple artboards by click-dragging the curser to the desired place and size, or while holding down option (or ⌥ alt) and click-dragging on the edge of an existing artboard you can duplicate and place around your document too.
Who needs Windows when you can have Studios instead?
Instead of ‘Windows’ which you may be familiar with, Affinity Designer refers to these as Studio Panels and are mainly visible to the right-hand of your document.
Affinity Designer has a streamlined selection of Studio Panels set up by default, so if you can’t see the panel for ‘Character’ or ‘Assets’ for example, you can make sure these are viewable by going to View>Studio> and then ticking the relevant options you want to be visible on screen.
Once selected, extra settings are available via the small ‘Burger’ icon to the far right of the panels box too.
Now the fun really begins
Let’s take a quick look through some of the key tools you might need and how they may function slightly differently to other apps (keyboard shortcuts for each tool are included too).
Type Tools T
Dragging the Artistic text tool to the size you require allows you to have instant control over how your initial text element will look. The live preview of the ‘A’ shows you how the chosen size and font will render, which is really useful and saves valuable time otherwise spent inputting specific character sizing etc.
Dragging the Frame text tool allows you to position your paragraph in the appropriate location on your document.
Navigating to Text>Insert Filler Text from the top menu will automatically fill your text box with sample paragraph text so you can preview its layout too—ideal when you don’t have any copy ready to put into your document.
(You can also do this by right-clicking on the empty Text Frame and selecting it from the pop up window that appears too).
Brush Tool B
The Vector Brush Tool is the default paint brush option available within Affinity Designer. Switching to the Pixel Persona also allows you to access both the Paint Brush and Pixel Brush Tools, which allow you to paint raster content in a variety of different ways.
Adjusting brush width, colour and other essential settings can be achieved from the Context Toolbar at the top of the screen, while other settings can be adjusted by editing the current brush on the Brushes Panel.
It’s definitely worth spending a bit of time experimenting with the range of brushes in both Designer and Pixel Personas. Both have a range of different characteristics which have various benefits for your design work. Some of the recent additions to the latest Designer update are particularly impressive too.
Pen Tool N
The Pen Tool allows you to plot out your desired shape or line by connecting together individually positioned dots. These dots are referred to as Nodes and they allow you to modify your drawn shape in a variety of ways.
Once the Pen Tool is selected, you can adjust how the path will be drawn by selecting one of the many modes available on the Context Toolbar, such as Polygon or Line mode, or you can use one of the more advanced features like Rubber Band mode, giving you a line preview of where your next curve will be positioned in context while you’re drawing!
Pencil Tool P
The Pencil Tool works in a very similar way to the brush tool and allows you to create a handmade look by drawing freehand with the mouse or when using a graphics tablet or stylus.
Using the Stabiliser feature via the Context Toolbar adds a lot more functionality to the Pencil Tool too, allowing you to create much smoother fluid lines with the help of a kind of multifunctional-digital-string.
Within the stabiliser settings you can choose either the Rope or Window mode, both of which give you different results depending on what kind of image you’re creating, so it’s worth experimenting to see which works best for you.
A Sculpt mode is also available within the Pencil Tool and allows you to redraw sections of your lines by simply drawing over the sections you want to replace.
This is really handy when you’re experimenting with parts of your
design and you need to tweak elements totally on the fly.
Rectangle (+ other) Shape Tools M
The Rectangle Tool allows you to instantly draw rectangle or square shapes directly within your design. By repeatedly pressing the M keyboard shortcut you can alternate between Rectangle, Ellipse and Rounded Rectangle shape tools too.
To the right of the Triangle Tool is a tiny dropdown arrow, clicking on that will bring up a wealth of other shape tools—most of which are not usually seen in other design apps. These can save a huge amount of time, especially when you need to quickly implement slightly trickier vector shapes such as a Donut, Heart or the catchily labelled Callout Rounded Rectangle Tool.
Fill Tool G
The Fill Tool allows you to adjust the fill and line colour of any vector and text object you have selected. However, the Fill Tool really comes into its own when it’s being used to apply and adjust gradients. Here you have many different styles of gradients (such as Radial and Elliptical) but also the ability to apply Bitmap Fills which have a multitude of different design applications.
Vector is better
While in the Designer Persona, using one of the many drawing tools will help you to create your initial vector line or shape. Once drawn, these shapes or lines are known as Curves and are labelled as such on the Layers panel to the right.
Adjusting these curves is done very intuitively via selecting the handily titled ‘Node Tool’ A from the left-hand tools panel.
With the Node Tool selected you can:
Drag and reposition the node placements
Click on any section of your curve to instantly add a new node
Click and drag on the curve line to fluidly reposition that particular section, while simultaneously adjusting the adjacent sections too
Select multiple nodes and reposition them all at the same time.
Layers within Affinity Designer work a little differently to how you might expect. Generally speaking they work in a very traditional way, allowing you to stack your objects and design content in order of importance to determine which elements are shown in front of others.
However, by dragging a layer underneath the text label of the layer or directly to the right of the layer thumbnail itself you can either Mask or Clip your content to that layer!
This is a huge time saver and allows for some really unique and fast results. Previously having to create masks individually and then going through separate mask settings would be quite convoluted, whereas using the simplicity of Affinity’s layering system makes it fun and incredibly easy to mask or clip your design elements together in seconds!
The wonderful world of Adjustment Layers
Adjustment layers are one of the many secret weapons Affinity Designer has to offer. Here you can apply a multitude of useful visual adjustments which otherwise would have to be applied in separate photo editing software.
To apply an Adjustment Layer to your layer or object simply go to Layer>New Adjustment and choose the effect you need or alternatively you can select the little circular symbol ⊘ to the middle of the Layers panel itself.
Adjustment Layer highlights
With a HSL Adjustment Layer applied you can totally transform the Hue, Saturation and Luminosity of your designed elements, which is a fantastic way to instantly try out different colour schemes without having to change each element of your design individually. You can also manipulate and adjust specific colour channels of your choice while allowing the rest of the image to stay the same.
(This is done by selecting a specific colour below the adjustment wheel, instead of the default setting which will change the HSL elements of the whole layer being affected).
The Posterise adjustment is a really versatile option. It allows you to have a much more detailed and authentic looking ‘Posterised’ image, compared with alternative options such as the Cutout filter often seen in other apps, the Affinity Posterise adjustment retains a lot of the original image characteristics.
Adjusting the Levels slider determines how many colours will be used in the effected image, so for best results keeping this number to around two to five gives you a much more dramatic and effective outcome.
Similar to the benefits of the HSL adjustment, you can use gradient maps to dramatically recolour your artwork. However this time the colour characteristics are overwritten to show the (two or more) specific colours within your chosen gradient settings, instead of just adjusting the pre-existing colours already in your image.
This is a very powerful recolouring tool, and can also be used to apply a specific HEX, LAB or CMYK colour value to your artwork.
(One way this can be done is by ensuring your artwork is converted to black and white, and then by adjusting the far left gradient colour to your chosen colour value, and the far right colour to white. The image will then be displayed in that specifically chosen colour).
The Threshold adjustment allows you to create a two tone, black and white image from either greyscale or pixel based image data. This is really handy if you need to instantly put together a high contrast black and white variation of your artwork, and also works great when combined with other Adjustment Layers too.
For example this works very effectively when a Threshold layer is applied, followed by a Gradient Map allowing the colours you’ve selected to be neatly distributed throughout your image.
Bonus tips and tricks
Marquee selection settings
One handy setting to adjust is the way in which the Marquee Tool interacts with the objects you want to select. By default, clicking and dragging around your object will only make a successful selection once the marquee has covered the whole object.
(Many people prefer this to work where only a small section of the object needs to be highlighted for it to be selected). This setting is easily changed under Affinity Designer>Preferences>Tools>Select object when intersects with selection marquee.
Adding noise texture to your artwork
The abilty to add Noise to your vector artwork is one of my favourite features within Affinity Designer. This was something that would have otherwise required importing to another application but within Designer this is a very easily adjusted attribute you can change directly within the Colour Studios Panel. Simply click on the Opacity setting icon to reveal the Noise setting too!
This is also a particularly powerful tool when overlapping shapes with added Transparency modes too. It really allows the grain to push through and gives a fantastic vintage retro fuzz effect to your vector designs.
The official instagram channel @affinitybyserif is a fantastic place for inspiration, showcasing some of the very best work created in Affinity apps by users all over the world. Great for picking up new ideas or connecting with like minded designers too. Don’t forget to tag your work with the hashtag #madeinaffinity for a chance to be featured on our social pages too!
Downloadable shortcut cheat sheets
Hopefully this article has given you a much stronger understanding of Affinity Designer but along with this guide we’ve also put together a Keyboard Shortcut PDF you can download and view on your separate devices, or print out and keep on your desk for reference.
Check out our article about the latest Affinity keyboard shortcut cheat sheets to download the relevant PDF for your OS.