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Enterprising indie software developers trying to gain ground on the industry’s major players can take a couple of approaches. One is to ape what’s come before, but with a fraction of the resources. Another is to try to do something entirely new. Sketch 2 goes with the ballsier tactic, and largely succeeds in creating a sleek and modern app for crafting vector graphics.
Although Sketch 2 will appeal to some fans of Illustrator (and, to some extent, Fireworks), it’s not trying to be an Adobe product, nor is it striving to be all things to all people. It lacks Illustrator’s interface flexibility and depth, but its efficiency more than makes up for it. Sketch’s approachable, usable single-window workspace has common tools across the top, layers and objects in a panel to the left, and a contextual inspector to the right. Even relative newcomers can quickly get a grip on the basics of the app.
Sketch 2's pixel preview lets you see how vectors will look when exported as a bitmap.
Fundamentally, Sketch 2 acts like a typical vector drawing product. You get a canvas (which is infinite, although multiple artboards and pages can be defined) to which you add shapes and Bezier curves. These can then be edited, styled, and combined using boolean operations. Plenty of nods are made to screen-based user interface design. For example, you can zoom in and view a pixel preview, and exporting is geared heavily toward modern devices, letting you optionally export 2x versions of any user-defined “slice,” handy for Retina displays. Usefully, Sketch 2 also lets you trim transparent pixels during exports, which is just as well given that slices don’t appear to snap to object edges.
Web designers get special tools, too. Style types mirror CSS properties, and you can copy the CSS attributes from any onscreen item. With web design increasingly emphasizing layout creation via the manipulation of CSS rather than exporting imagery, this is an excellent feature for anyone working in that industry.
Sketch 2 does have some downsides. Magic Trackpad scrolling was erratic (although holding down the Space bar and click-dragging was fine), and we found various bugs and limitations throughout. The most irksome was inconsistency in the Undo and Union commands, the latter of which occasionally obliterated very small objects during attempts to combine them. Elsewhere, applying effects sometimes moved items very slightly on the canvas. None of these quirks was a deal-breaker, although we did find ourselves relying more heavily on Sketch 2’s shapes than on freehand drawing.
The bottom line. For its most likely target market, we have no qualms in recommending Sketch 2. As a product for working on interfaces for iOS apps and websites, it’s excellent value for money, and the 2x export and Copy CSS Attribute features easily justify the price tag. For illustrators without a geometric bent, we’re slightly less gung-ho, but the 15-day free trial is definitely worth a shot.
Mac OS 10.6 or later
Highly intuitive interface. Solid, usable UI-oriented tools. Modern export workflow. Extremely useful web tools.
Some freehand drawing issues. A number of bugs and quirks.