Illustrator to Affinity Designer Transition Guide

Affinity Designer offers impressive features and buttery smooth performance but its unfamiliar controls held me back from seriously using it. I decided to dive into Affinity Designer and document the obstacles I didn’t catch in my first days of usage. This guide will get you from fumbling to designing in no time.

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.

Selection behaviour

Affinity Designer’s default selection behaviour only selects items completely within the bounds of a marquee selection of the Move Tool (V). I prefer to be able to select all of the items touched by and 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 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.


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.

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.

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.