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29 Vector Drawing Programs 329

Posted by timothy
from the drawling-lahns dept.
Ed Pegg writes "I did a survey of all available vector-based drawing programs, in anticipation of SVG in the next Firefox. I found 29 different vector drawing programs. Of these, 14 were free or open source. More than I expected. Did I miss any good ones?"
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29 Vector Drawing Programs

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  • I've found that for producing vector figures (mostly for research papers) OmniGraffle is pretty amazing. Its not free, but supports far more features than dia (such as helping you auto align and create symmetric figures). Also the interface seems nice and well done.

    • How does it compare with Illustrator?
      Does it do CMYK? Does it do exports in a good
      variety of formats? Does it handle page layout
      issues so printing people (at places like
      Science and Nature) are happy?
      • Doubt it can replace illustrator. Do not believe it supports CMYK. Many export options. No clue about the last one, but you can almost poke around the website [].
      • I haven't actually used it enough to compare it, and I have no real experience with Illustrator. I don't have too great of needs when it comes to vector graphics. Mostly making diagrams consisting of circles, arrows, boxes and text. For that purpose you really don't need anything too fancy, but I found OmniGraffle much easier to use and line up objects to make them look good than Dia (although running dia remotely on a dual xeon vs OmniGraffle on my ibook was a big plus for dia).

        As for CMYK, I know there
      • I am not the original poster, but I've used OmniGraffle:

        It has a long NeXT heritage means GnuStep and Mac OS X are the targeted OS's. Others may be a challenge.

        In my opinion, OmniGraffle excels at diagramming office graphics rather than print graphics (Illustrator) or drafting graphics (CAD). But templates exist for circuit diagrams, UML, and many other technical domains.

        The big features I like in OmniGraffle are:

        • AutoLayout - Makes a first pass at arranging your data.
        • Connection Magnets - very flexible
    • I use OmniGraffle 3.0 [] for doing diagrams and charts. It works absolutely fantastic for that (once you figure out the somewhat strange shapes palette so you can import several thousand additional figures). It's easy to use and the output is beautiful, I love the nice vector shadows and such, they print out really nicely. I wouldn't use this app for designing logos or other artwork though, it's pretty much strictly a diagraming program, I suppose that's why it supports Visio file formats, but not Corel Draw f
  • You missed one (Score:4, Interesting)

    by lakeland (218447) <> on Tuesday August 02, 2005 @02:14AM (#13219860) Homepage
    cat >
    10 10 moveto
    50 50 lineto

    Perhaps cat is not the easiest to use, but it easily the most powerful and easier to control from another program! It can also be trivially scripted to produce eps and pdf, or later updated with $EDITOR.
    • Mod this up! This sort of technique really came in handy when I needed to add some arrows to a LaTeX figure just before submitted a research paper for review last week. The necessary steps:

      1. Google for "draw lines in eps". Result: Drawing and Filling Shapes []
      2. Read just enough to get going.
      3. Insert the few commands at the end of the eps file in a simple text editor.
      4. ...?
      5. profit!

      All in all, it took maybe 30 minutes to go from 0 to 60. A very powerful tool. Also not bad for editing captions, labels, etc. -- P

    • I've googled for PS / EPS tutorials a few times and I either find really basic documentation or overly detailed low level documentation. I would like to know how to lay out a basic "newsletter" style document in PS.

      I basiclly want to learn how to create a letter (or A4) sized self contained PS document that contains the following:
      * Embedded EPS logo in the upper right hand corner
      * Large typeface header text to the left of the logo
      * A line across the page
      * Date / Issue / etc information on one line of text a
      • Short answer: It's more complex than you think.

        To PostScript, a letter/word/line is just another shape that can be put on the page. You'd need to break lines manually, control line spacing yourself, etc. Want it justified? Forget it.

        You'd be much better off using (La)TeX for this sort of thing.

      • I would like to know how to lay out a basic "newsletter" style document in PS.

        Personally, I don't think hand-coding your own PS routines to do something like that is really practical, but if you really want to do it, Don Lancaster [] has what you need. The guy is a (mad) genius with PostScript.

      • I have to agree with the other poster, LaTeX is by far going to be the easiest and most efficient way to do this. The quickest way to get it done is to just extend an existing document class and make your own. It's actually easier than it may sound - you can probably mostly just inherit from the article class and do a renewcommand on maketitle (copy and paste out of article.cls then edit it to suit your needs) Grab the multicol package to do your three columns.

        • In fact, I'll go ne better - it's pretty easy to knock these things up once you've done a couple, so here's my quick and dirty version of what you described:

          \ProvidesPackage{newslet ter}
          \LoadClass[a4paper,12pt]{article}[2000/01/01 ]

          %Load Required Packages
          \RequirePacka ge{graphicx}


        • LaTeX's output is phenomenal (you can always tell a Word document from LaTeX output pretty easily), but the syntax really sucks.

          One thing that might help would be better perl-style error reporting, but it's just very nasty to do some things...start creating a complex document and you figure out that various packages do not interact all that well (well, *this* table package can do foo, and *this* table package can do bar, but....). There have been a bunch of times that I know *what* I want to do, but not *h
    • What about thick black permenant marker of the front of the screen? Makes a good drawing program in my experiance!
    • What about cat > file.svg ? ; )
  • by tonywestonuk (261622) on Tuesday August 02, 2005 @02:16AM (#13219869)
    ... a vector drawing program, that IS what you wanted..... No? Try here: Virtual Etch-a-sketch [] (Flash required). Cheers.
  • You forgot notepad (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dnixon112 (663069) on Tuesday August 02, 2005 @02:21AM (#13219877)
    <?xml version="1.0" standalone="no"?>
    <!DOCTYPE svg PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD SVG 1.1//EN"
      "" >
    <svg width="12cm" height="4cm" viewBox="0 0 1200 400"
         xmlns="" version="1.1">
    <rect x="1" y="1" width="1198" height="398"
            fill="none" stroke="blue" stroke-width="2" />
    <circle cx="600" cy="200" r="100" fill="red" stroke="blue" stroke-width="10" />
    • Hi,

      as you can see in other messages, it's good pratice to supply a link to the tool so that we can download and test it. Does anyone have a link?
    • Why is this flamebait, when the post above saying the same thing but with PostScript and cat was (4, Interesting)? Is it that you don't like SVG, or don't like Notepad, or are you all just on crack?
    • To construct a few of the diagrams in my thesis, I wrote a program that outputted SVG, which I then loaded into inkscape to add a few labels and the like. It's very, very straightforward to visualize scientific data in this way, easier than doing bitmaps in many cases.
    • Actually, that program can just be a text editor,
    • Because SVG is XML, which is text, it can be generated by anything that can create text--Perl, PHP, ASP, whatever. Here is a sample (with source) done in PHP. [] Fun, fun, fun. I haven't coded vector graphics in ages. Anyone else remember things like Apple's HPLOT and Basic's LINE? I do. I think this will work:

      10 SCREEN 2
      20 A=INT(RND(1)*200)
      30 B=INT(RND(1)*200)
      40 LINE (0,0)-(A,B)
      50 GOTO 20
      • I agree. I don't know why it has been push aside as a toy for so long. I will welcome SVG when it becomes well used. So I can now make web pages that can display graphs and charts dynamicly without having to pay an exorbinate amout for flash. Or having to take all the Server Side processing to create GIF or JPG.
    • I object to the separation of "High end vector drawing programs" and other "Programs" described as less expensive. This separation is completely artificial and serves to belittle a whole list of programs for no specific reason. They should all be in the same chart and the features can allow people to draw their own conclusions. I have not used the commercial programs, but IMHO Inkscape will do everything I am likely to need in the near future.

      Since this is a math guy, he might want to look at using Python

  • The article notes:

    Adobe is buying Macromedia, might vanish.

    Might? MIGHT????

    Dude, FH has hada tube up its nose for years, and now that Adobe has it in its clutches, it's good as GONE. Which is a terrible shame, because I prefer FH to AI any day of the week. It was much more intuitive, and it had MULTIPLE PAGES (like DUH!) and was generally just a Better Application. What pissed me off with FH was it had a persistent memory leak in vers 9, 10, and MX, which they never properly fixed. But even with cras

    • I would expect AI to simply sit and suck for the rest of eternity until they finally roll it into Phootoshop 14 or whatever.
      If Adobe was ever going to roll AI into Photoshop, they would have done it around version 3.0 when they added layers. I highly doubt they will ever merge the two applications, Adobe would much rather sell you two applications than just one.

      If you want a good alternative to AI, check out Corel Draw. Seriously. It's a great app once you learn its quirks. Even Corel Photopaint is a worthy
      • I use Corel Photopaint every day. I have Photoshop, PSP, etc. but they don't get used unless I need a specific feature that Photopaint lacks (and most Photoshop filters work with Photopaint). Photopaint is way easier to use, and much faster on the same hardware. (Tho I much prefer v8.0 to later versions, which are starting to pick up some of Photoshop's user-hostile traits.)

      • Everybody laughs at me voor using Corel products! I'm so happy I'm not the only one using them.

        I diched CorelDraw this year (for indesign) because the files are indeed a bit messy. I still use it from to time though.

        But I use PhotoPaint everyday. I find it very intuitive and fast. It's an underrated software title. I'd like to switch to The Gimp, but I can't bring myself to learn it.
  • Weird Grouping (Score:4, Insightful)

    by TheFlyingGoat (161967) on Tuesday August 02, 2005 @02:27AM (#13219893) Homepage Journal
    Ok... I can kind of understand why this could be helpful to someone looking for a vector drawing program for some purpose, but the programs on that list do such different things. CAD graphics are for one thing, vector illustration is another, graphing programs are yet another. Even included a vector animation program. Sure, they all use a particular method of calculating objects, but that's about it.

    Can you imagine trying to do an ad layout with AutoCAD? How about trying to do animated web graphics with a graphic program.

    This chart is pretty much useless, except for listing what standards formats each can handle.
  • for slashdotting drunk at 2 am. Tsk tsk.
  • Of these, I've used Autocad LT since 1998, but their latest upgrade price ($349.00) seems high. I've found Illustrator and CorelDraw more powerful.

    AutoCAD and Illustrator are for completely different audience. I get a lot of plots from Matlab; and Illustrator is a good package to make some touch up to the graphs. I would never use AutoCAD for that. But you really can't say which one is more powerful.

    And where is XFig???

  • Missed TGIF (Score:2, Informative)

    by saikatguha266 (688325)
    TGIF [] is a very nice vector drawing program. It is a very highly evolved version of xfig (but with better UI than xfig -- not gtk or qt though). It exports to a whole slew of vector formats -- my favourite being LaTeX and EPS. I don't leave home without it. ... Then again, I don't leave home much. :-p
  • SVG Icons (Score:2, Interesting)

    by ochinko (19311)
    I've always wondered why rendering of scalable icons isn't relegated to the font server. Seems to me that all the needed code is already there.
    • Re:SVG Icons (Score:2, Informative)

      by akzeac (862521)
      AFAIK they are optimized directly for font rendering (black/white or black with grey tones), while SVG requires colors, gradients, multiple transparencies, textures and so on.
    • I've always wondered why rendering of scalable icons isn't relegated to the font server. Seems to me that all the needed code is already there.

      That is a very good idea.

      I think the main reson for not doing it is that, by shifting rendering up to a server from the client, the ability to scale dynamically (without a round trip to the server for each component) is lost. I find myself using the firefox scroll-wheel scaling more and more as my eyes get old and lazy, so personally I'd generate a lot of extra

      • No, he didn't mean the web server, he meant the font rendering code in your OS.
      • I think the main reson for not doing it is that, by shifting rendering up to a server from the client, the ability to scale dynamically (without a round trip to the server for each component) is lost.

        While a good thought in principle, you fail to take into account that in the bizarre inverted world of X11 the server sits on the client. And the "font server" that the GP mentioned is a special process that the X server (that sits on the client) uses to render the fonts, and it sits on the client as well. Co

        • The X server does not necessarily sit at the same place at the client (although it's the most common case). You can run the client (e.g. Firefox) on a computer on the other end of the world, while running the X server there will generally not help you :-)

          Actually the terminology IMHO isn't confusing at all. The server is the program which manages the shared ressource. In the case of displaying, the source shared by the programs is the graphic display. The graphic display is managed by X, therefore X is the
    • The reason this is not done is that fonts are monochrome. Each character in a font must be rendered in a single colour. The question then becomes, why don't we remove this limitation on fonts? It would be nice, for example, to include a basic set of (colour) emoticons in the unicode character set (hell, ASCII had happy and sad faces).
      • ASCII had happy and sad faces? At what code points?
        Or did you mix this up with the IBM PC character set extension which mapped (IIRC) ^A and ^B to faces (but IIRC it was not happy and sad, but light and dark)?
  • Fireworks does vector and raster in one program very intuitively and is my number one tool for quick web mockups. Unfortunately, like Freehand, I fear that Adobe is going to do the death dance on it to make you buy their TWO ridculously overpriced and overpowered tools for this space. Which is very, very sad, since it is the only tool I know of that does all the things it does without a ton of extra fodderol you aren't going to use for web work and costing a bloody fortune.
  • Close enough for my purposes, creating maps in vector formats - QuickGrid [].
  • What I'm really after is an EPS to SVG converter so that I can use them with Apache's FOP [] tool.

    Any suggestions?
  • by Brendor (208073) <brendan.e@gm a i l . com> on Tuesday August 02, 2005 @03:11AM (#13220000) Journal
    Alias Maya []has a great vector renderer. It outputs decent AI/EPS files as well as .swf files.

    Also there were previous slashdot stories about Pixar's in-house Sketch Review Tool [], (a hybrid vector/raster tool) and Microsoft Acryllic [].

    I believe Studio Artist [] is primarily vector based.

    There are also many vector programs for the sign/graphics industry to control CNC routers and plotters. FlexiSIGN [] is one of them.

  • by mattr (78516)
    GraphViz [] which lets you draw graphs (has perl module too) in different formats including SVG. I believe I once saw a subroutine call tree drawn in it from perl profiler.
  • Not open or free, but Realdraw [] is one of my favorite drawing tools. It's not as deep as AI or Freehand, and is probably closer to Fireworks in concept since it also does html slicing and bitmaps, but to get a design out quickly and intuitively it's one of the best.
    It exports to SVG, and the author has a policy that you pay once and get upgrades for the life of the app.

    If you thought Microsoft Acrylic was a good idea, but needed work, Realdraw is what it'll be like when
  • 1. Photoshop
    2. Paint Shop Pro.

    While both of these are better known as Raster tools they actually do as much if not more in dealing with Vector images.
  • I'm surprised you didn't list xfig [], despite listing a port and a clone (and noting they were related to it).

    I often use xfig to draw simple figures for latex documents that I write... I've always found the interface quite awkward to use, though. .fig files are also a bit restricted, but conveniently they're often easy to edit by hand.

    • I am also a long time user of xfig. Even though I never get used to the user interface, it works reliably and has the features I need. My favourite feature is that you can export your drawing in a large number of formats (EPS, PDF, mixes of EPS/PDF and (La)TeX, various pixmap formats, and nowadays SVG). As pointed out, the actual FIG format is human readable and I have done search-and-replace edits in FIG files that would have taken way too much clicking in any GUI drawing program. Actually, being able to i
  • Somebody asked this question a few years ago on slashdot in a more 3-D context, and one person heartily recommended SketchUp []. They've got a free download.

    I checked it out, and have been a happy customer every since. They've got both MacOS X and Windows versions, and it really kicks ass - it's the only vector drawing program that I've used where I feel happy to just doodle and something interesting tends to evolve. It's that good of a tool, that it naturally extends your imagination. Of course, becaus
  • by jd (1658) <<moc.oohay> <ta> <kapimi>> on Tuesday August 02, 2005 @04:46AM (#13220178) Homepage Journal
    Some of these are probably listed elsewhere, but many aren't (as of the time of this posting) and it's good to have them collected in one place, anyway.

    This list is NOT comprehensive, even of what is on Freshmeat (which, in turn, is not comprehensive in what is Open Source, which in turn is not comprehensive in what exists) but it should make for a good start.

    Oh, and this list was trivial to make. Once you have such a list, it is then easy to go out and try the software to see if it'll do what you want. According to the fictional character Sherlock Holmes, "it is a mistake, often made, to theorize without data". So, when you theorize as to what software you'd like to use, here is some data you can use.

    • White Dune [] - one of the best VRML editors - but, then, who uses VRML?
    • Sodipopi [] - a very respectable editor
    • Vector Visuals [] - looks like a nice package
    • Gnu Plotutils [] - long-in-the-tooth, but is pretty standard and does do SVG.
    • Quantum GIS [] does do some GIS-related vector work, but it is unclear as to whether you can really edit the vectors, per se
    • Artstream [] - not been maintained in a while, though
    • Skencil [] is a package recommended by Artstream's developers as a good, modern alternative
    • JFDraw [] - Seems to be a good drawing package.
    • Sketsa [] - a good sketching package, looks pretty powerful
    • Figurine [] - doesn't look terribly maintained, but does look ggood.
    • Cenon [] - Not sure about this one, but seems OK
    • Inkscape [] - seems to be recommended by other Slashdotians.
    • GDraw for gnustep [] - which, of course, means you'd need to install GNUStep to be able to use it.
    • Autotrace [] - a vital tool if you are wanting to vectorize raster images. There are a lot of tracing programs out there, but this one seems fairly popular. Not sure if it strictly fits the definition of a "drawing program", though.
    • tgif []
    • Gestalter []
    • KDE 2D Workbench []
    • RLPlot []
    • Magelan Graphics Editor []
    • Geist []
    • VisIt [] - arguable as to whether it really counts
    • X3D-Edit []
    • mjbWorld []
    • Dia []
    • QCad []
    • JGraphpad []
    • Flash For Linux []
    • Gaphor []
    • DoubleType [] - good for those doing their own fonts
    • Chemtool [], as molecules can be vectors too!
    • Glips Graffiti SVG Editor []
    • Every time someone says "does nobody use Freshmeat" and lists the dump of some keyword search, they completely miss the point of asking the question on Slashdot. Rather than have thousands of people having to individually try a looong list of possibly buggy and obsolete software, collectively putting together reviews of the applications each person has used in one place can pull together a very good overview of which apps are best and should be used for what. The idea is to eliminate wasted effort, not boos
    • I suppose a number of posts about software titles missing from the list are inevitable, especially since the list could be enormous once one includes the bevy of CAD and 3D apps. While most of these are ill-suited for casual use, there is one missing title that has broad application: Canvas [], which is now is owned by ACD Systems [].

      Canvas is capable of both vector and raster editing. I would say it's most comparable to CorelDRAW!, but it's clearly superior in many regards (such as the optional GIS and Scientifi
  • I really like inkscape. I've worked with it a fair bit now, and with the exception of a standard icon library for creating network etc diagrams, it's really good.

  • QCad (Score:3, Informative)

    by smugfunt (8972) on Tuesday August 02, 2005 @05:04AM (#13220215)
    TFA says QCad is $28 but it is free (and Free) for the *nix versions.
    And maybe it isn't totally intuitive but it is easy to learn. I give it a thumbs up anyway.
  • but I haven't seen Gimp mentioned yet - it'll do basic svg stuff
  • VectorWorks
    And I'm sure I could find many others...
  • For those of you who have not noticed, the URL cited in this comment maxes my CPU. While I realize that I am using an older legacy browser (Netscape 4.79) -- this is because I consider security through obscurity to be a reasonable path. This is a classic example IMO of people citing URLs where they have no idea *what* kind of code may end up being executed on their machine. (And this is with Java & Javascript disabled!)
  • My favorite for cleaning up schematics for presentations is Canvas (was Deneba Canvas, now ACD?). About version 7 is when they incorporated the last feature I use. They are on version "X" now I believe (ooo, how original). Canvas 5 and 7 run under Crossover office with bugs and crashes but it is manageable. There was once a linux build of Canvas 7 but it used such out of date libraries I never tried it at the time.

    We have a site license for Microsoft Visio too. It can do the job, but the lack of hotke

  • For all those non-math students who wanted to know all about that piece of software, you couldn't ask for much more than "I prefer an application that works like the drawing tool in a word processor."

    Your article inspired me to write my own inspired review of drawing software:

    Dia -- May be an abbreviation of "Diagram" (?)
    Inkscape -- I prefer Xara X.
    jFig -- I don't like figs (or prunes).

    I understand this article is probably geared toward poor mathematics students, but come on. If you're going to go

  • Cenon - [] --- interesting NeXT CAD/CAM program making the jump to opensource illustration. Runs on OPENSTEP, Linux (w/ GNUstep installed) and Mac OS X

    Intaglio - [] --- Mac OS X native program able to make use of Apple Advanced Typography / ATSUI and other Mac OS X technologies. Commercial, but demo available.

    There's apparently a graphing calculator in Mac OS X w/ does nifty things, and I'm surprised that Mathematica, MATLAB and METAPOST weren't ment
  • What about Blender? Technically it is a 3d program, but it does have Bezier curves. Does that count?
  • also mention metapost, PyX, Asymptote, GRI, ...
  • It shouldn't be too hard to get your hands on a few Unix-y command line utilities like ps2pdf and ps2epsi and psmerge and the like. You might also look at 'tracing' tools such as 'potrace' which will take a bitmap file, trace the edges of shapes, and output vector graphics (in any one of several fun formats). They're limited, but useful.
  • I've been using Linux for a few years now, mainly for scientific work. I've always found superb software tools for most of my needs, except vector drawing.

    Yes, there are numerous vector drawing programs out there; some are reasonnably good, some aren't, but I can't understand why there's still no "GIMP" of vector drawing yet. Vector drawing is vital for most scientific work -- it's essential for producing clean, top quality schematics.

    Inkscape and Sodipodi are very promising but not quite there (I didn't tr

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