Whether you’re a total novice, a designer in training, or a seasoned pro switching from another product, this article is for you.
First, we’ll introduce Sketch—what it is, why it’s popular, and how to claim a free trial and install it on your Mac. Second, we’ll explore Sketch’s user interface, explain the basics, and walk you through some tips and tutorials. Third, we’ll take a look at some of the app’s more advanced features (Bézier curves and blending modes are especially fun).
And finally, we’ll point you to a heap of quality Sketch resources, and link you to our free 99-point Sketch Cheat Sheet to download and refer to as you learn. Sound good?
1. Why Sketch?
For a while after its initial release in 2010, Sketch was regarded as a lightweight graphics tool that enabled user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) designers to quickly mock-up app designs.
But Sketch has come a long way in the past few years—and its capabilities now extend far beyond creating screen mockups. As a young product built for today’s needs, it doesn’t have any of the bulk that comes with the legacy compatibility demanded of Adobe’s Creative Cloud suite of products. (See our Sketch vs Illustrator article for more about that.)
Sketch is now proudly marketed to visual, mobile, icon, web, and product designers—and I think it’s only a matter of time until its developers, Bohemian Coding, are confident enough to pitch the software to illustrators and artists as well.
What is Sketch?
Sketch is one of a group of programs called vector-based graphics editors. Other well known vector-based apps include Adobe Illustrator, CorelDRAW, and OpenOffice Draw.
A vector editor is different from the other main kind of graphics package, which is known as a pixel or raster editor. In a pixel graphics editor (like Adobe Photoshop, GIMP, or Microsoft Paint), when you draw a shape, what gets saved is just a lot of pixel data, which looks like a circle from a distance:
But in a vector-based package like Sketch, what gets saved is some mathematical cleverness that plots the shape itself. In practice, this means that you can keep zooming in to a vector forever and you will never see any degradation in image quality. Designers and illustrators usually prefer to work with vectors, because they can always be converted to pixels. It’s much harder to go the other way.
In Sketch, unless you paste in pixel graphics like a photograph, all layers are vector-based. Every object is made up of underlying points and curves, which can be viewed and edited by double clicking on any shape. But we’ll come back to that later!
Good things come in small packages
Sketch has become a significantly more mature and stable product over the past 12 months. For an app that’s less than 50 megabytes in size, Sketch punches significantly above its weight, and it now has a premium feel that far exceeds its price tag ($99 full price, $49 for students). For comparison, Adobe Illustrator CC is currently hogging over 1000 megabytes of my hard drive.
What’s more, Bohemian Coding’s ongoing program of software enhancements means that when there are bugs, they are fixed pretty fast. (If you’re geeky like me, you can check out the update log.)
Sketch’s established rival, Adobe Illustrator, was first released in 1987 (!) and remains the industry standard in traditional design studios. But for a new generation of designers, Sketch presents a huge opportunity to learn the fundamentals and achieve beautiful results.
Learning design in Sketch is rapid, rewarding—and fun. Designer Marc Andrew has even written about how Sketch gave him back him design mojo.