Adobe Illustrator is hugely popular software tool for making vector graphics. Unlike raster graphics (which you’re more likely to use Paint.NET or GIMP for), vector graphics use mathematical expressions to draw the lines, shapes and colours. This means they’re infinitely scalable, so you can blow them up to the size of a billboard with no unsightly pixellation.
Vector graphics are the best choice for a number of design and illustration tasks, such as creating icons, logos, diagrams, charts, posters and website graphics. In the latter case, the current standard is Scalable Vector Graphics format (SVG).
Adobe Illustrator is the industry standard tool for vector graphics, but it's undeniably expensive and many people have been turned off by its move to a subscription payment model as part of the Adobe Creative Cloud. This has led to a renewed interest in alternatives such CorelDRAW, Sketch or Affinity Designer, all of which involve just a one-off fee.
But if your needs are relatively simple, then you can save even more money by trying out alternatives to Illustrator that are totally free – and there are some brilliant options to choose from.
Example vector files designed by Freepik
A feature-packed editor that's a true substitute for Illustrator
Open source vector graphics package Inkscape is staggeringly powerful, and is the best free alternative to Adobe Illustrator for pro and semi-pro illustrators, graphic designers and web designers.
As well as the standard drawing and shape tools, Inkscape boasts a special spirals tool, a tool to create patterns and arrangements of clones, advanced object manipulation options, multiple filters (including bevels, textures, overlays and more), and some nifty fill settings. In short, there’s very little Illustrator can do that Inkscape can’t.
Because it's open source, it’s not only free to use but if you have the technical know-how you can even edit it and incorporate it into other software. And new features are being added all the time; the latest version brings mesh gradients, improved SVG2 and CSS3 support and new path effects to the party.
So what’s the catch? Some users have complained that it performs slowly, although that does seem to depend on what device and operating system you’re using. The best thing to do is just download it and give it a quick try; there's nothing to lose.
Review and where to download: Inkscape
A browser-based vector editor that's as powerful as a desktop app
Boxy SVG is a free tool for creating scalable vector graphic files that runs as an extension in Google Chrome. It comes with a good range of basic tools, including pens, bezier curves, text, basic shapes, stroke and fill, layers, ability to add type, groups, transforms and paths.
The main selling point for Boxy SVG is the utter simplicity of its UI. It makes a virtue of paring down the experience of creating vector graphics to a fairly minimal set of options. These essentially restrict you to the kind of things that the SVG format is good at. As a result, it’s fast, easier to pick up than Illustrator, and the files it creates are clean and efficient.
As well as importing and exporting files in SVG and SVGZ format, you can also use Boxy SVG to import and export JPEGs and PNGs. Wonderfully convenient.
Try it online: BoxySVG
Get a complete vector-editing suite in your favorite web browser
Gravit offers many of Illustrator's key features right in your browser, so there’s nothing to download and you can access your designs from a range of devices, wherever there’s an internet connection.
Once you've signed up for an account, you can run the editor in Chrome, Firefox, Safari or Opera – or any derivative thereof.
Gravit’s basic vector toolset includes Pen, Line, Knife, Slice and Bezigon tools. You can create shapes including rectangles, ellipses, triangles, polygons, and stars, plus there are layers, auto-shapes, live filters and path editing modes. There are also good typography tools, paste-inside support, all wrapped up in a well designed interface.
You can export your graphics in JPG, PNG, or SVG format, or save your work online and retrieve it later.
Gravit might not be as powerful or feature-rich as Illustrator, but it's a very capable alternative, and its browser-based nature gives it an edge.
Try it online: Gravit
A slimline vector editor available for your browser or desktop
Vectr is a free cross-platform program that you can use used to create and edit vector graphics, either on your desktop (versions are available for Windows, Mac, Linux and ChromeOS), or in any modern browser.
Vectr is intuitive to use, with a shallow learning curve. “Design software shouldn’t bring people a sense of struggle, yet that’s exactly how the troublesome design software we grew up on made us feel,” says its developer, who has created this pared-back vector editor with accessibility in mind.
While it lacks many of the advanced features of Illustrator, then, it’s got all the tools you need for basic vector editing - shapes, text, multiple layers and like - and what it does, it does very well. You can save all work you create in Vectr online, or export it in PNG, JPG, or SVG file formats.
Vectr is a great choice for beginners, or just anyone needing to create a simple graphic with the minimum of fuss.
Try it online: Vectr
A straightforward Illustrator alternative for web developers
If your prime reason for wanting a vector graphics editor is to create SVG files for websites, then SVG-Edit may be all you need. You can use this free vector software within your web browser to create SVG images and edit existing ones.
SVG-Edit works in any modern browser, and offers a basic set of vector editing features including hand-drawing tools, shape tools, text tools and path tools. The tool is open source, which means that new features are being added all the time by contributing developers.
Try it online: SVG-Edit