Welcome back to another Affinity Designer article, in which we’re going to take a close look at six tools that you should be adding to your arsenal right now. So, assuming you've poured yourself a fresh cup of coffee, sit down in that trusty old chair and let's get started!
Before we begin, I wanted to take a moment and confess that I’ve only been using Affinity Designer for a year or so now, but I’ve noticed that the more time I spend playing with it, the more I come to realize the raw power this little piece of software has.
Now, if you’re just starting out using it yourself, then this list should be quite a little helper, since I cover some of the more hidden tools and features that you might not have even noticed, and I go into as much depth as possible in order to describe and present the way they work.
So, without wasting any more time, let’s jump straight into it!
1. The Corner Tool
The first tool on our little list has to do with corner adjusting, and believe it or not, once you start using it and find out how useful it can be, you’ll never want to let it go from your arsenal.
I’m talking about the Corner Tool, which by default can be found within the workspace’s left Tools panel, or you can quickly select it using the C keyboard shortcut.
As soon as the tool is selected, the software will activate a custom Context Toolbar, located within the top section of the interface, where you can do things like adjusting the Corner Type and Radius of a shape’s corner. By default, the options come greyed out, since you need to have an actual shape selected in order to make any adjustments.
So let’s assume we have an avocado-shaped ellipse, and we want to adjust its pointy tip by making it rounder.
Now, here comes the cool part, since we can go about doing so using two different approaches.
The first one is the more eye-based click-and-drag method, where you select the tip’s node, and then hold and drag towards the inside until you’re happy with the result. As you hover over the node, your cursor will automatically switch to a different state, indicating that you can adjust the respective corner, giving you a set of visual guides as you make your adjustments.
As soon as you let go of the node, the software will make the indicated adjustments, changing the Corner type from None to Rounded.
The problem with this click-and-drag method is that you don’t have as much control over your Radius’s value as you’d want to, since most of the time you’ll end up with a decimal number instead of a round one, which might end up breaking your otherwise pixel-perfect project.
That being the case, I recommend you always use the second method, which relies on the Radius input box, since you can select the node that you want to adjust and then simply enter the desired value using precise round numbers of your own choosing.
If you take another look at the available Corner types, you’ll notice that you have a couple of other options such as Concave, Straight, and Cutout (which are pretty self-explanatory). Depending on what you’re trying to achieve, these might push you in the right direction.
In the end, no matter what type of corner you decide to go with, all of them behave as a live effect, which means that you can always go back later on and adjust them if needed.
On the other hand, if you ever need to convert your corner back to curves, you can easily do so using the Bake Corners option.
While the action will reveal the corner’s composing nodes, it will strip away its editability during the process, so be careful when deciding to use it.
Once you’ve baked a corner, you can select any of its two composing nodes using the Node Tool (A), and then further adjust the shape by repositioning them or their handles’ endpoints.
When it comes to the type of shapes that you can use the Corner Tool (C) in collaboration with, you can basically adjust anything you create, whether it’s an open path or a closed one, a basic geometric shape or a pen-drawn one. The only ones that I recommend you should stay away from are rectangles.
While there’s no issue with using the tool in combination with rectangles, I usually prefer to adjust their Radius from within the Rectangle Context Toolbar, which is in my opinion more flexible since it lets you set a global Radius or a corner-specific one.
By default, when you create a new shape using the Rectangle Tool (M), the Context Toolbar comes with the following options.
The first one, Single radius, as the name suggests, instructs the software to use the same value for all of its four corners.
Next, you have Absolute sizes, which lets you adjust the Radius of the corners using pixel values instead of percentages.
Then you have Corner, where you can choose from four different types (Rounded, Straight, Concave, Cutout), which are identical to those found within the Corner tool’s Context Toolbar.
To start adjusting the corners of a rectangle, you first have to select a Corner type, since otherwise the software won’t allow you to set a value for its Radius. No matter what you end up going with, the Radius will automatically default to 25% as you can see for yourself.
The first thing that I do when adjusting the corners of a rectangle is make sure that the Absolute sizes is enabled since I want to be able to use pixel-based values in order to have a higher degree of control over the final result.
If you want to adjust each corner on its own, you can easily do so by first unchecking the Single radius option, which will show individual Corner types and Radius options for each one (TL – top left, TR – top right, BL – bottom left, BR – bottom right).
If you need to adjust the position of the resulting shape’s nodes, you can always do so by first converting it to curves using the Convert to Curves option, and then selecting the Node Tool (A) and carrying out the required adjustments.
2. The Stroke Panel’s Pressure Sensitivity Graph
When dealing with stroke-based projects that are more art inclined, a tablet is sometimes really useful since it can help you create more interesting lines through the use of pressure sensitivity.
But what if you haven’t made the jump yet, and you’re still relying on your mouse and keyboard to do the job?
If that’s the case, you’ll be happy to find out that Affinity comes with a pretty interesting solution in the form of a Pressure input box, which allows you to adjust the width of a stroke as you go along its path in order to simulate a more hand-drawn appearance.
Now, by default, the tool can be found within the Stroke panel’s bottom-right corner, next to the Properties button.
As you can see, I’m using a 24 pt thick horizontal Stroke line as my “test subject”, but you can go ahead and use any shape you want, as long as it’s a Stroke based one.
To open up the Pressure box, you’ll want to click on the little blue rectangle, which will bring up a simple grid with two control nodes found at its top. While at first the tool might look “basic” in terms of its appearance, don’t let that fool you since it’s actually really powerful, as we will get to see in the following moments.
The way the tool works is pretty simple. Each node controls the Width of the Stroke’s length based on the side that it’s found on, and lets you adjust the appearance of your shape by tapering either one of them.
To do this, you first need to have your shape selected, and then you can use either of the nodes by simply double-clicking on them and then dragging them down until you get the desired result.
By default, the left node is the one that’s always selected when you open up the panel, which is indicated by a small blue square state.
If you’ve already made an adjustment to one of the stroke’s sides, you can easily select the opposite node by simply clicking on it once and then adjusting its position as needed.
If you bring both nodes to the same level, you can click on either one of them, and it will let the software know that you want to adjust both sides at the same time, which will be indicated by a shift in the state of their appearance.
As you would expect, you can add as many nodes as you want, by simply clicking along the graph’s path and then using them to further adjust the Stroke’s appearance.
If you find that you’ve accidentally added a node that you want to get rid of, you can easily remove it by pressing the Delete key and then clicking anywhere within the surface of the Pressure box in order to make the changes active.
Once you’ve finished adjusting the Pressure graph for one Stroke, the software will apply the same settings to any new ones that you create.
While this is a neat feature, you sometimes want to be able to create new pressure graphs from scratch. When this happens, all you have to do is select the new Stroke and then use the Pressure box’s Reset button, which will strip away all of the previous one’s settings, letting you start fresh.
If you’ve created a more complex Pressure graph that you would like to keep and use in future projects, you can use the Save Profile button, which will add it underneath, giving you the ability to apply it to any Stroke based shape, by simply selecting the object and then clicking on it.
You can also remove any of the created Pressure profiles, by simply hovering over them and then pressing the little x button.
3. The Fill Tool
Love using gradients within your Artwork? Well, Affinity Designer comes with one of the most complex gradient creation tools that I have seen within a digital product of its type, so believe me when I say, it can do a lot of things.
Now, by default, the tool is located within the left Tools panel, or it can quickly be selected using the G keyboard shortcut, which will activate its own dedicated Context Toolbar.
The first option that we find here is Context, which lets you tell the software if you’re working with a Fill or a Stroke.
Next, we have Type, which lets you choose from seven different options.
- None: which completely removes the Fill or Stroke’s color/gradient
- Fill: which strips away the gradient and leaves only one Fill color
- Linear: which applies a linear gradient
- Elliptical: which applies an elliptical gradient
- Radial: which applies a radial gradient
- Conical: which applies a conical gradient
- Bitmap: which allows you to use an image on top of a shape, similar to a clipping mask—this one, to be honest, I think should be moved under a different tab since it doesn’t make sense to have it here.
Now, I won’t go over all of them since they have
the same settings, but I definitely recommend that you take a few moments and
play with them since you’ll be able to quickly see the differences.
When it comes to creating the actual gradient, you’ll want to start by hovering over your shape with the Fill tool, and then clicking and dragging from one side to another, which will give you a live preview of the result. You can start from outside the shape itself and go over any of its corners, in any direction. As a general rule, the length of the gradient will influence the transition between your color stops, so the further away they are from one another, the smoother the transition will become.
You can adjust the length of a gradient by simply clicking on either of its color stops and then dragging them either to the inside or to the outside, thus contracting or extending its overall length.
If you want to drag in a straight line, you can easily do so by holding down the Shift key, while pulling the end point in the desired direction.
If needed, you can reposition the entire gradient by hovering over any of its outer color stops until the cursor turns into a move icon, and then simply holding down the Control key while selecting and dragging it using the mouse.
When it comes to adjusting the spread of one color stop over another, you can easily do so using the Mid Point slider, by simply clicking and then dragging it in the desired direction.
You can easily change the direction of a gradient by selecting one of its color stops and then dragging it in the desired direction.
If you want to flip the position of the color stops, you can easily do so using the Context Toolbar’s Reverse Gradient button.
To add new color stops, simply hover over the gradient’s path, which should give your cursor a little plus sign, letting you know that you can now click on it in order to create them.
Once you’ve added a new stop, the software will add a new Mid Point between it and its neighbouring stop, which you can reposition by selecting and dragging it as we saw a few moments ago.
If you need to remove a color stop, you can easily do so by first selecting it and then immediately pressing the Delete key, which will revert the Mid Point slider back to its original position.
At this point, you might be wondering how you go about changing the colors of the stops, since at the end of the day that’s what a gradient is all about, creating color transitions. Well, this is where the power of the Context Toolbar comes into play, since all the options are hidden within the little colored rectangle. As soon as you click on it, a new panel will drop down and show you all the available settings.
Here, you can select any of the color stops from within the preview bar and then click on the Color rectangle, which will bring down another pop-up that by default comes set to Tint.
If you click on it, you’ll find that you can select from 12 different color picking methods. Personally, I like working with RGB Sliders, but you can try them out and see what works best for you.
Here you’ll also find a Noise slider, which can be used to add texture to your current color stop.
Going beyond colors, you can use the panel to adjust things such as gradient Type, the position of the Mid Point, and the Opacity of the color stop. You can also add new stops using the Insert button, which you can reposition using the Position input box, or you can remove existing ones using the Delete button. Basically, all your gradient’s controls are neatly put together in one place, making the entire process as easy as humanly possible.
4. The Transparency Tool
The next tool on our little list is probably one of the most interesting ones that I've had the chance to use, since it allows you to apply transparency gradients to any vector-based object, be it a Fill or a Stroke based one.
The tool itself can be found within the left Tools panel, or it can be quickly accessed using the Y keyboard shortcut.
In terms of handling, it works pretty much the same way as the Fill tool, since you simply drag it across your shape in order to apply the transparency gradient. As you can see from the custom Context Toolbar, the default gradient Type used by the software is Linear.
If you take a closer look at the Type dropdown list, you’ll find that you can choose from five different options, depending on what you’re trying to achieve.
When it comes to making basic adjustments to the gradient, such as adding and removing grayscale stops or adjusting the position of the Mid Point, the process is identical to that seen for the Fill Tool.
For more complex settings, you’ll want to click on the little white rectangle, which will bring down a familiar panel, where you can adjust further things such as the Opacity of the grayscale stops, the position of the Mid Point, and the position of the inner stops.
5. The Effects Panel
Number five is the Effects panel, which, as the name suggests, allows you to enhance your artwork using a couple of visual treatments.
By default, the panel is located within the software’s right-sided panels, between the Layers and Styles ones, and comes with ten different effects which are pretty self-explanatory:
- Gaussian Blur
- Outer Shadow
- Inner Shadow
- Outer Glow
- Inner Glow
- Color Overlay
- Gradient Overlay
You can apply an effect to a selected shape by simply checking the little box found in front of its label, which will expand its settings, allowing you to customize it as needed.
For example, I can quickly apply a Gaussian Blur effect to my rectangle and adjust its Radius either using the horizontal slider or by entering a custom value in the input box.
As soon as the desired effect has been applied to an object, the Layers panel will indicate this by displaying a little fx icon next to the shape. This feature can be really helpful when dealing with multiple objects, since you can easily figure out which one of them has an effect applied and which doesn’t.
If you find that you need to refine an effect, you can easily do so by double-clicking on the fx icon, which will bring up a new window where you can carry out the desired adjustments. Of course, you can do the same thing from within the Effects panel; it all depends on what works faster for you.
If you need to, you can apply multiple effects to the same object, but don’t always expect them to look good together, especially if you don’t take the time to tinker with their settings.
You can apply the same effect to multiple shapes at the same time by simply selecting them from within the Layers panel, and then using the desired visual treatment.
When doing so, you should know that if the shapes are grouped together, the software will always treat them as a single larger object, thus giving you a slightly different result than what you might expect, so always keep that in mind.
If you want to apply the same effect to an entire layer, you can easily do so by first selecting it from the Layers panel, and then picking the desired effect from within the Effects panel. As we saw with the grouped objects example, the software will treat the shapes that are on the same layer as a single larger one, so make sure you think ahead so that you know exactly what you want to achieve.
You can achieve the same result by using the Layer Effects, by opening up the Layers panel and then clicking on the little fx button, which in some cases might actually give you a few more options to play with.
The two tools are actually linked together, since if you select one of the Effects panel’s effects, you will see a little gear icon on its right side, which, if you click on it, will bring up the Layer Effects window.
6. The Layers Panel’s Blend Modes
The last tool that I’m going to show you is part of the Layers panel, and it gives you the ability to blend the colors of different shapes or entire layers with one another, in order to produce an interesting visual effect.
For each and every shape that you create that is not grouped or part of a layer, the default blend mode is Normal.
As soon as you start grouping or positioning your shapes within layers, their blend will change to Passthrough, which doesn’t have any special properties on its own since it takes on those of the group or layer.
To change the blending mode of a specific shape, first you have to select it from within the Layers panel, and then click on the drop-down list found next to the Opacity level, and hover over the 33 available Blend Modes to get a preview, making a selection once you’re happy with the result.
As a general rule, you should always aim to adjust the blend of a top object, since otherwise you won’t get any visible results.
You can blend entire layers with one another, as long as each and every one of them has its own composing shapes, since they pretty much behave as groups. As with a regular shape, all you have to do is select the top layer that you want to adjust, and then simply pick a blending mode that looks good.
Personally, I like to use blend modes to adjust the color scheme of my artwork, by creating a gradient with the same Width and Height value as my Artboard, which I then blend to my underlying shapes. It might take a few tries, but this little trick usually produces some fast and interesting results that might make your art stand out.
So, whether you’ve already added the tools to your arsenal or not, I hope that you managed to learn a new trick or two after reading this in-depth material.
As always, if you have any questions or suggestions, feel free to post them within the comments section, and I’ll start a conversation with you as soon as I can!
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