Vector-drawing programs have shaped the commercial environment of everyday life for nearly three decades. From exterior building signage to restaurant menus, nearly all visual communications in society have been impacted by these programs. Yet, the leading program used for this type of visual art, Adobe Illustrator, has faced no significant competition in the last 10 years. Many graphic designers are saying that there is room for an alternative.

When desktop computers with graphics-based interfaces (i.e. windows, buttons, icons) became available, making a logo, a flyer, or even a publication became more accessible. The amount of work required for graphic designers decreased as well.  A person without professional publication experience could lay out an entire publication at home. This was named "desktop publishing" by the computing industry.

What allowed desktop publishing to appear is a specific type of computer program, one that uses vectors to draw objects and type.   These are vector-drawing programs; they avoid using pixels for making imagery and instead make use of plotted points that provide scalable image information-- no matter how much a vector design is enlarged, it never becomes blocky in pixels.

Example of vector-drawn work (from Starbucks wi-fi connection web page).


The two vector art programs in use since the 1980's have been Adobe Illustrator, released in 1987, and Macromedia FreeHand,  released in 1988.  These two products are considered the first software applications that were used on a broad scale for commercial vector work and they started mainstream use of all vector-drawing programs.  Competition between the two was intense during the 1990's and continued until the next decade.

Screenshot of Adobe Illustrator 88 (1988).

In this decade, however, there is only Adobe Illustrator left for a person who works as a professional graphic designer; this is because Adobe bought FreeHand (as part of a larger acquisition), then discontinued the product.  Additionally, other products that generate vector work do exist today, but they have not been taken up by graphic design departments of major companies.   In 2006, Adobe sought to make Illustrator the sole, mainstream vector-drawing program available for graphic designers and since that time the program has, in fact, maintained a monopolistic position. Though a variety of alternative products are currently available, their reach to the working design world has been limited.

Product box for Macromedia Freehand MX.

A Set of Serious Alternatives Is Needed

At the time of its shelving, FreeHand was utilized by a loyal set of users who preferred its way of working to that of Adobe Illustrator.   Since 2006, comments have been appearing across the Internet lamenting Adobe's elimination of this cherished alternative. The difference in experience between FreeHand and Illustrator was significant enough to some users that after the program's removal, a large number took extra measures to continue using it, even keeping old versions of their operating system to ensure it could run.    In fact, in 2011, some enthusiasts attempted to make Adobe release the program's code to the public by way of an anti-trust lawsuit.  These FreeHand users lost their lawsuit, as the court case was unlikely to succeed in the first place, but many have still not given up their preference for the program.   What we can conclude from this is that there is a need for a separate, alternative software package and it does not have to be the same as the program made by Adobe.

The Next Generation of Vector-Drawing Programs

Noctivagous takes the following position: in its time, Macromedia FreeHand was, in some ways, faster to use than Adobe Illustrator.  Yet, when viewed from a broader perspective, even FreeHand was not all that smooth.  In Noctivagous' view, to say that one of these two programs was better than the other is just comparing one taxing vector-drawing program to another— neither program was natural for design work and it could be said that no vector-drawing programs have ever been satisfactory to use, despite becoming part of everyday graphic design life.  It is, rather, that they have been easy to utilize for fast publication, they lay out type and images quickly, and so they have remained essential tools.   But viewed from the perspective of traditional art, they fall short. For example, graphic designers are advised in their training not to rely entirely on vector-drawing programs when making graphic designs. This is because these programs do have drawbacks and are not adequate in a number of situations. People who rely heavily on them are not necessarily doing well in their work.

So far, software projects that provide an alternative to these two programs only reproduce their existing features so as to make their programs usable "clones."   As such, almost nothing has changed in this category for several years. The purpose of Noctivagous is to introduce a separate, independent type of vector-drawing program that moves beyond both Macromedia FreeHand and Adobe Illustrator, one that implements a traditional approach to drawing through the computer. Vector-drawing can thereby become an activity that even traditional artists want to do.

Noctivagous has named its vector-drawing product, svdraw.  It is made on a different basis and programs the computer in a more interactive way than what past vector-drawing programs have done.  In short, our company has made the Apple Macintosh computer a device for real-time vector drawing by making the keyboard and trackpad work in step as opposed to relying strictly on a mouse to plot points.  We have revised the way a vector-drawing program works by making the keyboard and trackpad act in conjunction so that the computer can provide a different type of graphic design program.  Any MacBook and any Apple Macintosh desktop computer becomes a machine for a natural feel of vector-drawing because all models are equipped with this hardware.

Contact Information

E-mail: jprattx @ gmail. com