6 Affinity Designer Tools That You Should Be Using Right Now | How To

Welcome back to another article, in which we’re going to take a close look at six 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.

Looking to learn how to use Affinity Designer? Why not check out one of our many video courses here on Envato Tuts+.

So, without wasting any more time, let’s jump straight into it!

1. The Corner Tool

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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.

corner tool location

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.

corner tool context toolbar example

So let’s assume we have an avocado-shaped
ellipse, and we want to adjust its pointy tip by making it rounder.

example of shape that will be adjusted using the corner tool

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.

corner tool adjustment using the click-and-drag method

As soon as you let go of the node, the software
will make the indicated adjustments, changing the Corner type from None to
Rounded.

example of corner type changing when making shape adjustments

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.

adjusting a shape using the radius input box

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.

example of available corner types

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.

example of baking the corners of a shape

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.

using the node tool on a baked corner

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.

adjusting the node of a baked corner

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.

example of rectangle context tool bar

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.

choosing a corner type for the rectangle

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.

using absolute sizes for the corners of a rectangle

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).

individually adjusting the corners of a rectangle

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.

converting a rectangle to curves

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.

pressure sensitivity location

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.

opening up the stroke pressure box

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.

example of adjusting the left node of the stroke pressure graph

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.

example of selecting the right node of the stroke pressure graph

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.

example of selecting both of the stroke pressure graph nodes

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.

adding a new node to the stroke pressure graph

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.

example of removing a node from the stroke pressure graph

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.

example of new stroke using the same pressure graph settings

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.

example of resetting the stroke pressure graph

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.

example of saving a custom pressure graph

You can also remove any of the created Pressure profiles, by simply hovering
over them and then pressing the little x button.

example of removing a custom pressure graph

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.

example of fill tool 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.

fill tool context type example

Next, we have Type, which lets you choose from seven different options.

example of fill tool gradient type
  • 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
linear gradient example
  • Elliptical: which applies an elliptical gradient
elliptical gradient example
  • Radial: which applies a radial gradient
radial gradient example
  • Conical: which applies a conical gradient
conical gradient example
  • 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.

creating the gradient using the click-and-drag method

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.

adjusting the position of the right color stop

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.

adjusting the spread of a color stop using the mid point slider

You can easily change the direction of a
gradient by selecting one of its color stops and then dragging it in the
desired direction.

adjusting the direction of the gradient

If you want to flip the position of the color
stops, you can easily do so using the Context
Toolbar
’s Reverse Gradient
button.

reversing the color stops of a gradient

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.

adding new color stops to a gradient

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.

removing a color stop from the gradient

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.

gradient panel example

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.

example of changing the color of a stop

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.

changing the color of the left stop

Here you’ll also find a Noise slider, which can be used to add texture to your current
color stop.

adding texture to the left 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.

example of using the gradient control panel

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.

example of using the transparency tool

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.

example of transparent gradient types

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.

adjusting the mid point of a transparent gradient

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.

adjusting a transparent gradient using the dropdown control panel

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
  • Outline
  • 3D
  • Bevel/Emboss
  • Color Overlay
  • Gradient Overlay
opening up the effects panel

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.

using the gaussian blur effect

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.

example of effects becoming visible within the layers panel

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.

adjusting an effect from the layers panel

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.

applying multiple effects onto the same object

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.

using the same effect on multiple shapes

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.

using the same effect on shapes that are grouped

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.

using the same effect on shapes that are on the same layer

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.

using the same effect on an entire layer using the layer effects window

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.

accessing the layer effects through the effects panel

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.

example of default blend mod for ungrouped shapes

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.

example of default blend mode for grouped shapes

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.

example of using a blend mode on a shape

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.

example of using blend modes on layers

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.

example of using blend modes to enhance an illustration

That’s All!

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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