iDraw Review

iDraw showing texture map

A while back I reviewed Artboard — an inexpensive Illustrator-replacement-wannabe — fairly positively. I then discovered a bunch of limitations and bugs, and tried iDraw. (Note this is a review of the Mac version of iDraw. I haven’t tried the iPad version yet.)

Having used iDraw quite extensively for the last few months I can only say that, for my uses, iDraw pretty much kicks not only Artboard’s butt, it kicks Illustrator’s as well (until you get to Photoshop integration). The only application that holds a candle to it is Sketch (another excellent program I need to review).

The most challenging thing I’ve been doing with iDraw is texturing a 3d character. Normally I would do something like this in Photoshop or some other dedicated bitmap graphics program, but I wanted a simple, clean look, and ended up trying a wide variety of programs including Photoshop, Acorn, Pixelmator, Mischief, and Artboard — before settling on iDraw. For the kinds of things I was trying to do, iDraw was simply head-and-shoulders above the rest. Color me very impressed.

Now if only iDraw could include Sketch’s ability to set named export areas with specific objects included or excluded from export it would be awesome. But as it is, Sketch and Artboard can talk to each other via SVG so it’s no big deal.

(If you’re looking for a replacement for Fireworks, Sketch isn’t exactly that — but as a tool for creating pixel-perfect vector art, it’s probably better.)

Solid Drawing Tools

Screen Shot 2013-10-03 at 10.18.32 PM

iDraw’s drawing tools are solid and well-implemented (better than most — note the compound path support), with good snapping (both to grids and other objects). Indeed, unlike Sketch (which I also like a great deal) iDraw’s snapping works correctly when dragging multiple objects (no need to great groups just to make snapping work).

Powerful Styling

iDraw's style interface

Like any useful bezier drawing application, iDraw supports booleans. Unlike most of its rivals, iDraw provides an incredibly powerful and flexible set of tools for styling shapes. Again, Sketch comes close to iDraw in this regard, but iDraw lets you explicitly reorder the different effects whereas Sketch (as far as I can tell) does not.

Artboard's mystifying style palette
Artboard’s mystifying style palette

iDraw’s styling UI is not only better than Artboard’s (or Illustrator’s or Sketch’s for that matter), it has most of the precision controls you need — e.g. you can control whether a stroke runs inside, outside, or centered on a path — although you don’t have Sketch’s or Illustrator’s fine control over corners and caps. In comparison, Artboard’s styling controls are crude and in many cases simply mystifying.

 

Screen Shot 2013-10-03 at 8.43.19 AM

 

Here’s some detail from the texture map I was working on. Note there’s all kinds of subtle layered effects on the different components of the pupil.

Sketch pupil detail imported

 

Here’s the same pupil exported from iDraw as SVG and then imported into Sketch. (No, it didn’t get turned into a bitmap en route!)

Artboard imported pupil detail

 

And here’s the same pupil imported into Artboard. Also note the horribly rendered bezier handles on the selected object. Not a functional problem (they work just fine) but ugly.

Workflow

Clearly, iDraw can export SVGs that other programs can read, which is a great start. (Artboard can export to PDF but not, as far as I can tell, SVG, which is a huge black mark.)

iDraw's export dialogiDraw can in fact export to pretty much any file format you’d want (no EPS! — how times have changed) but it doesn’t have the export workflow niceties of Sketch (which lets you create named export regions and if necessary specify exactly which objects get rendered within each region, and then allows every region to be exported with one click).

Shortcomings

Probably the single biggest failing of iDraw is its weak typography. If you’re looking for  any typographic tools beyond pair kerning, look elsewhere. It is possible to get good type out of iDraw but it has a weird bug in the default style of text where text by default seems to have text, fill, and stroke styles (and looks awful). If you turn off everything except the fill style it looks fine. But there’s no real ability to deal with body type conveniently (or tables), so if you need to do anything more than a logo, you probably need a different program.

Unlike Artboard, iDraw allows you to use CMYK colors. If you’re working in print, you’ll still probably want Illustrator, but unlike Artboard or Sketch, it’s at least usable.

Aside from these two items, I’d like to see some more control over strokes (corners and caps), and there are a few fit and finish problems (e.g. the way styles are rendered in the style palette is a bit wonky, especially for text styles).

Conclusion

Overall, iDraw is my favorite vector drawing program right now, although for drawing UI components I’d give the edge to Sketch, which deserves its own review. There are some other programs I haven’t mentioned, such as Lineform, ZeusDraw, and Intaglio. These are all not bad — probably better than Artboard — but I prefer iDraw to all of them, and at $24.95 (in the App Store) I believe it’s cheaper than any of them.

 

  • Hilman

    nice fair review! How about doing webdesign here? would u like prefer sketch or this one?

  • Sketch is definitely geared towards web design (and production) in a way that iDraw isn’t. If you’re trying to produce SVG art pieces (e.g. for a game) you might be better off with iDraw because it’s fundamentally a better artists’ tool. If you’re building web page elements which need to be sliced up and exported at multiple resolutions and so forth, then Sketch is specifically geared towards that. Both programs seem to be built on fairly similar underlying engines (e.g. there’s a strong correspondence between the styling functionality and what’s available via CSS3 — gradients, box-shadow, and the like))

    In the end, both are good, neither serves all functions, they’re both cheap, and they play well with each other — I’d say get both, but for a web designer if you had to pick one, I’d pick Sketch. (iDraw has nothing to compare with Sketch’s slicing functions.) For someone on the art vs. design side, I’d pick iDraw.

  • MediaOps

    For anyone who’s used Freehand (the great vector program that Adobe bought & killed because Illustrator couldn’t compete with it), vector apps like iDraw seem rudimentary. I still keep a copy of Freehand on my laptop, and turn to it whenever I have a special job to do.

    Other vector apps do the basic functions: shapes, lines, fills, gradients & text. And if you know what you’re doing, you can make nice designs & logos & even fairly complex graphics like the car they show on the iDraw promo page. But they all have a generic synthetic, CGI look that comes from being limited to basic tools. And after trying to do even simple illustrations with iDraw, I can see that using it to make the car graphic would be a very long & tedious job. But then, next to Freehand, everything, including Illustrator, is clunky & limited.

    With a program like Freehand (which has so many different functions & combinations of functions, they’re impossible to list) you can do vector illustrations that look like, well …art. And far from being difficult to use, Freehand is always fun, because with the kind of organic freedom it gives you, you can be really creative, see possibilities you never dreamt of, and enjoy the process. Almost like using real materials, like paint & canvas.

    I also highly recommend looking at Open Source apps like Inkscape, LibreDraw (part of the LibreOffice Suite) and Gimp (the free imaging app that kicks Photoshop butt). They’re not only totally FREE, but have far greater capabilities than iDraw or Pixelmator. Like Gimp, Inkscape & LibreDraw both offer a bewildering array of features & tools (like envelope-warping & 3D). Also, unlike iDraw or Pixelmator, they’re endlessly customizable and import & export dozens of formats, giving them serious professional functionality. None are as easy, intuitive, efficient or fun as Freehand, but they produce professional results. And did I mention they’re FREE?

    iDraw isn’t a bad program. It’s a nice stable amateur app (once you get used to the confining, inefficient interface) but it also feels annoyingly rigid & limited; not versatile & intuitive at all. I’m always running into walls with it, like I felt on Windows systems before I got a Mac.

    I use iDraw occasionally for simple jobs, and it’s definitely worth the $25 price. It’s touted as an Illustrator alternative (at a small fraction of the cost) and that’s a fair comparison, since Illustrator has a similarly stiff, nonintuitive feel.

    But the iDraw design team would be much wiser to look to Freehand for inspiration, and not merely emulate the mediocrity of Illustrator.

  • I was a Freehand user back in the day (and yes, it’s stunning that Illustrator has yet to catch up to Freehand) but I disagree that iDraw takes its UI cues from Illustrator (I’m not sure where it takes its cues). It’s clear that iDraw is very immature (e.g. it doesn’t grouping layers, which indicates it doesn’t get used for complex drawings with dozens or hundreds of layers).

    I am certainly not one of those people who could produce “art” with Freehand or Illustrator, but I find iDraw to be easier to work with than either (and certainly superior to Inkscape). I think probably the most annoying thing for serious users of Freehand (or late model Illustrator) would be the weak gradient support. Freehand supported color mesh gradients (whatever they were called) if I recall, and Illustrator does too these days. (This is an awesome feature that was present in high end graphics programs in the 80s but fell by the wayside when the cheaper Mac programs took over the space.) By comparison, iDraw lacks even the ability to precisely control the gradients it does support. This is a major weakness, but its support of huge numbers of effects channels per object in some ways makes up for it.