Illustrator to Affinity Designer Guide

Most designers coming from Adobe Illustrator may think making the switch to Affinity Designer is a trivial task due to its similar look and layout. This guide is meant to highlight and explain some of the subtle differences and quirks I stumbled into when I first started using Affinity Designer.

This post gets updated while I am learning more about Affinity Designer. You can grab a 10 day trial version of Affinity Designer on their website. Share your experience in the comments and be sure to leave any questions you have here!

Tool switching

Switching from one tool to another works the same as every other application. Pressing the same key twice is a bit different however which took me off guard.

Hitting the same key toggles you to the previously selected tool or cycles to the next tool of the same type. Having the Artistic Text Tool (T) selected and pressing T again would switch the active tool to Frame Text Tool (T) for example.

Default selection behaviour in Affinity Designer
Default selection behaviour in Affinity Designer

Selection behaviour

Affinity Designer’s default selection behaviour only selects items completely within the bounds of the marquee selection of the Move Tool (V). I prefer to be able to select all of the items touched by and/or within the marquee selection. Fortunately this can be enabled at Preferences > Tools > Select object when intersects with marquee selection.

Another setting I recommend turning on is Preferences > User Interface > Show selection in layers panel, this makes the layers panel scroll to and highlight the item you have selected, this is useful when making clipping masks for example.

Clipping Artboard/Canvas

Affinity Designer makes a distinction between artboards and canvases, a document without any artboards is a canvas and always clips all shapes. Uncheck View > View Mode > Clip to Canvas to turn off clipping or use the “\” Hotkey.

Artboards also clip shapes, but dragging shapes out of an artboard makes them visible. This works if the shape is moved completely outside of the artboard. It’s not possible to turn off this behaviour unlike canvases.

Clipping two shapes using the Layers panel
Clipping two shapes using the Layers panel

Clipping Masks

Clipping masks are a powerful tool in a non destructive work flow but work quite different from Adobe Illustrator. Select which items you want to mask and nest them under a parent shape, this shape now functions as a clipping mask. Nesting items in the Layer tab is a bit precise however, more on that later.

Finish Typing

In Adobe Illustrator cmd + return is the shortcut for finishing typing. The same key combination converts the shape to outlines/curves in Affinity Designer. Press escape to finish typing instead, I learned this the hard way.

Using Check spelling to solve misspellings
Using Check spelling to solve misspellings


By default Affinity Designer has a spell checker enabled, something I didn’t expect. Spell checking can be very helpful but I find I have it disabled most of the time to keep those red lines out of my designs.

Spell checking can be disabled by toggling Text > Spelling > Check spelling while typing. Alternatively you can get fix those typos by using Spelling Options ( Shift Command ; ) This lets you review the errors and change them quick and easily.

Highlighted Align(left) and boolean operations(right)
Highlighted Align(left) and boolean operations(right)

Pathfinder & Align Tab

Affinity Designer has no separate tab for boolean operations and aligning functions. These tools are always in the top bar unless you remove them yourself. The align functions are somewhat hidden in the top bar but are often found in the context toolbar when needed.

Limitations of scaling the UI and minimisations
Limitations of scaling the UI and minimisations

Minimising tabs

Affinity Designer’s user interface can get quite claustrophobic if you’re using all its features. In Illustrator its self explanatory hot to minimise a tool tab. In Designer you can minimise a tab by clicking on the name with your middle mouse button (MMB).

I hope Serif will implement Illustrator-like tabs as this behaviour doesn’t seem very intuitive.

Colors in Tools panel

Single column and double column Tools panel
Single column and double column Tools panel

For some reason the current colors are not displayed in the Tools panel by default, opposed to how it’s always visible in Illustrator’s toolbar. Fortunately it’s possible to change that!

By going to View > Customize Tools… and then setting the Number of Columns to 2. After closing the customization panel your current colors will show up, right where they should be.

Color Picker in the Color panel

The Color Picker behavior in the Color panel
The Color Picker behavior in the Color panel

You may have noticed the Color Picker tool in the Color panel, this one works a bit different from the regular Color Picker tool. This color picker is used by clicking and dragging it over the color you would like to pick. After doing so the color will be stored in the picked color swatch. To actually apply this color you will have to select an object and press the picked color swatch.

I suppose this can be used to temporarily store a color as opposed to adding it to your swatches.

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