Evaluating Vector Tools for Game Art Illustration

I’ve been working on a game project in my spare time and need a good tool for vector illustration. The obvious choice is Adobe Illustrator, right? Well, I wanted to explore my options and see if I could find something cheaper. My primary criteria: Mac OS X and Wacom Intuos4 tablet support. Secondary: some sort of Adobe Flash-like animation for cut scenes would be a nice feature to have available; especially with tweening.

adobe illustrator test

The first thing I found was Inkscape. Inkscape sounds like a pretty good tool. Of course it requires X11 to run, which isn’t a big deal. A lot of open source tools need X11, including GIMP, which I already have. Unfortunately, the Wacom Tablet support between X11 and Inkscape isn’t complete on Mac OS X. Pressure doesn’t work and the “eraser” side of the stylus acts like a fat paintbrush. The real killer for me was brush effects. They don’t work in the stable release 0.46 and the developer release from March 09 is missing icons or something, so I couldn’t tell what the tools were and it was discouraging. Ultimately, I had to walk away from this one as “not ready for me, yet”. I dissed it slightly on Twitter and was contacted by Jon Cruz, one of the developers. I’m sure Jon and the rest of the team will eventually build a cool project, perhaps of quality similar to GIMP, but I personally have to move on and find something that will work now.

Then I saw Skencil. Skencil has some of the same promise as Inkscape. But when I went to the download page and followed the link to Stewart Midwinter‘s instructions on how to build it… yeah, I may be a software developer, but I’m not looking for more pet projects. I may sound like a total wuss, but I can’t stand the tedium of figuring out what versions of tools I have on my system to make something work.

Then I tried Anime Studio Pro. Anime Studio Pro offers a simple, easy installation and relief from all the details of figuring out if your open source stack is working – while also relieving your wallet of some excess weight, of course. This is the trade of right? Either roll up your sleeves and get dirty figuring out how to get it to work, or pay someone to make it work out of the box. Anyway, Anime Studio Pro is a vector draw tool, plus 2D animation tool, plus 3D animation tool. Wow, 2D animation? With bones? Cool! That sounds pretty promising. It can import Adobe Illustrator files – without any special features, apparently – couldn’t confirm in the demo, though. Not sure what it can export to, since the demo version seems to be crippled. I liked using it for 2D vector work though. Very easy to use. Here are two examples:

more anime studio pro stuff Trying out Anime Studio

I’m a little concerned about the output formats. The are no options on the save menu in the demo version. And it cannot import AI files in demo either. I didn’t try out the animation, so I’m not sure how hard that is. Mixed reviews on Amazon about it’s difficulty. I found the 2D drawing to be pretty easy and was able to figure out enough without reading any documentation.

Finally I went back to try Adobe Illustrator. What can I say? Illustrator works. It’s tools are weird and confusing, but everyone uses it and it’s easy to find tutorials and blogs about how it’s used. And it works with Flash, which has tweening.

adobe illustrator test

I may just end up buying some Adobe package, after all.

Author: eric

Eric Holsinger is a software professional and photography enthusiast in Southern Maine.

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