Adobe XD or Sketch + Silver Flows — Which should you be using?

“I can’t locate the layer panel.” With Adobe’s new release of XD earlier this week, as well as a public release of InVision LABS now owned Silver Flows, you may have found yourself asking, “Do I start using XD, or should I keep using Sketch?” Adobe XD is an experience and digital design software with vector graphic capabilities. After exploring and using XD for the past several days, some of the initial questions fellow designers and myself had were, “Where is the layer panel located?” and “What shall we use from this day forward?”

Sketch, by Bohemian Coding, is a proprietary digital design software and vector graphic editor for Apple’s OS X. Sketch was found to be a tremendous answer in terms of digital-based, web-centric design software, even viewed by some UX, UI, and web designers as a better alternative to using Adobe Photoshop. Many designers out there will agree that Adobe Photoshop was currently the best software on the market before Sketch, XD, & Muse, as well as other software designed to easily work alongside front-end developers. Photoshop was known for getting the job done; however, Photoshop is still undeniably photo-editing software. We couldn’t easily navigate our web-centric digital designs with freedom and ease — the kind of freedom and ease anyone who has used Adobe Illustrator understands. This lead to Sketch seemingly being one of several software options for this area of design that were starting to hit the market at the time. But, we cannot forget Adobe’s Muse.

Adobe Muse could be viewed as Adobe’s first official nod to the world of digital-based design; a program allowing you to create an HTML5 website with no knowledge of coding. Now, Adobe Muse isn’t an unacceptable program by any means; however, this wasn’t the answer for all types of digital design, especially in terms of prototyping. Muse was marketed mainly to an audience with basic or no-known knowledge of coding as a program to create beautifully designed HTML5 websites but to not have to worry over the front-end details of that said site. As designers, we dreamed of having universal digital-design software that could have friendly prototyping capabilities that not only allowed us to create designs with ease, but a program that also allowed us to test those designs without constantly pestering developers.

Now, we all must remember that up until this week, designers had limited options when it came to combining these top two priorities. This week Abode released XD, and InVision LABS publicly released Silver Flows, the first prototyping plugin built exclusively for Sketch. For designers, this is enormous. It not only gives us more options and choices than ever before but allows us to choose from a multitude of paths to take. This opens up doors not only for what software we use, but the options that any software could have the potential to break into the common mainstream, such as Sketch.

When Sketch first burst onto the scene in 2010, it was a relatively unknown digital design program within the digital design world. For myself, I knew of the program but didn’t start exploring it’s full capabilities until I joined Google last year. With a recent surge in popularity, it’s not only probable that Sketch is useful, but it’s also apparent that Sketch is good; showing it has the capability of being a key player in the digital design community by winning an Apple Design Award in 2012.

If we are comparing the top two digital design contenders, Sketch to Photoshop, before the release of XD this week, you could say we’re ideally comparing apples to oranges. Now, we can all agree that apples and oranges are both fruit just like Sketch and Photoshop are both artistic software programs. Both pieces of fruit are eatable and both programs are usable for designers. But, the ultimate conclusion you might come across is that the apple is slightly easier to eat because of it’s design. This is what I refer to as Sketch being an apple. This doesn’t mean that an orange is hard to eat or that Photoshop isn’t relevant in digital design. Photoshop, as well as Adobe’s other programs, such as Illustrator, InDesign, and After Effects, will always be utilized by a variety of designers, just as Illustrator will always be one of my favorite programs. Sketch itself however, offers its own unique way to create an effective answer by combining elements from each of these programs to create a seamlessly web-centric digital design software. Even going a step further to ask, now that XD and Sketch+Silver Flows are incorporating an accessible process for non-coding designers to prototype, where does that leave other prototyping software like Pixate at? Pixate, who is owned by Google, is a program that’s compatible with Sketch and generates native prototyping by mirroring the artboard to your device. It is one of many prototyping software programs available today, but let’s continue to focus on this week’s releases by highlighting some of the differences between Sketch+Silver Flows and Adobe XD.

One slight difference in XD and Sketch is the usage of the pen tool. One thing I’m sure all of us can agree on is that Adobe is a solid contender at perfecting the world of vector points. Something that I’ve talked about with fellow designers is that they seem to have trouble getting the hang of Sketch’s vector tool. However, Sketch isn’t solely an illustration program but was made to be a digital design program. With that in mind though, Sketch was initially able to support physical pixels allowing vector shapes to adapt easily, so there’s no stress of spending unnecessary time adjusting and tweaking.

When it comes to the main welcome windows of both programs, XD’s opening screen layout seems to be easily navigable offering templates for iPhone, iPad, web, & custom size artboards. Below that, you have a sample file to work from, UI Kits, Resources; and, of course, like any other Adobe product, your most recent files. Sketch’s opening screen is a little trickier to navigate but contains a helpful introduction video, options for opening a document, iOS and web templates, social links, a sign up feature, as well as easily offering customer support. XD & Sketch both have featured Material Design and Apple iOS UI Kits, but XD also has a UI Kit that Sketch does not — Microsoft Windows. Most other usual features are ideally the same in both programs, but one unique feature about XD that jumps out is how a user is able to capture live recordings of prototype flows.

Another feature included in Sketch+Silver Flows is not only that it is easy for “making quick, flow-based prototypes, but it also plays nice with Framer.js to help you add micro-interactions to your Flows so you can send actions back and forth between Silver and Framer.”

When it comes to PC users, there’s some bad news. Sketch is solely Mac software. This could be a downfall for some designers operating on a PC computer; however, most designers prefer Macs. This isn’t a complete fumble for Sketch, but it is something PC users should be aware of — they will still be getting the short end of the stick, as XD won’t be released for Windows until later this year.

When analyzing pricing for users, there’s a variety of information to look over. Although Adobe’s CC service is a monthly subscription costing anywhere between $19.99 a month for a single app (which currently at this time does not allow for a selection of XD) or $49.99 a month for access to all apps, XD is currently available for free during a current preview period. The ending date for when this period is over though is unknown. Bohemian Coding’s Sketch is a one-time cost of $99 with InVision’s Craft containing Silver Flows (among other plugins to help the design of real data). When comparing cost factors, Sketch+Silver Flows certainly wins for anyone who is a digital designer on a tight budget or currently living in San Francisco, even with receiving updated plugins without any added costs. However, we must remember that XD is only one of multiple programs owned by Adobe. This is a great time to download both programs though, as XD is currently free and Sketch has a 30-day free trial.

Previously Adobe CS, now Adobe CC, has always been on the higher end of the cost-spectrum, but we can’t forget to remember why. Understandably, Adobe is not only a large enterprise consisting of a wide variety of software programs, but it is also a company that consistently releases updates for all of its programs about every two years, while also creating a multitude of new software programs along the way for a variety of design and art. Bohemian Coding’s Sketch is still only one program in itself, even though they both have third-party developer plugins available. Sketch makes these plugins effortlessly navigable, one of which is InVision LABs own Craft, which contains Silver Flows. Sketch is momentous by having innovative plugins such as CSSketch or Sketch Measure, and integrations with Framer, Zeplin, and Avocode.

So what exactly is the answer? Both — or rather the answer is up to you. One program isn’t completely better than the other, as they both are good in their own light. The future decision on which is used more than the other could predominantly boil down to personal preference, what front-end developers prefer, or by us designers who might end up using both hand-in-hand. However, the ultimate question is, will companies make decisions to use one over the other in terms of digital design? We will have to wait and see; but, in the meantime, it is us, the designers, who will be doing the choosing.

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