Quick Review of Vector Art Software

We realize that many of you who are interested in designing custom-made items through Ponoko may not necessarily be experienced designers, or well versed in graphics software. In fact, it may scare off a few – but it really shouldn’t. As we’ve recently completed our first round of closed beta testing, there were quite a few non-technically inclined users – absolute beginners, to say the least with vector art software packages. They were able to produce some very unique and personalized products.

So, if you’re keen to create and design, here is a brief guide to the basics of graphic software that you’ll need to draw up your designs. While this is by no means a completely comprehensive guide, it’s a good start. I’ve included links to some other more substantial and detailed reviews of the standard graphics software out there.

Vector Program. What is it? Software program that allows you to draw and edit technical drawings, generating EPS files which is particularly important for Ponoko users as EPS files are needed to use the system.

Where can you find them? There are industry standard shrink-wrapped graphics suites you purchase with all sorts of bells and whistles to free, open-source programs you can find online.

Now, as I mentioned for your use with Ponoko, you’ll be able to use any vector program (packaged, online, licensed or open-source) that can generate an EPS file to upload onto our platform. The following is a list of some of the more popular vector editor programs that we’re familiar with:

CorelDRAW: CNet’s review gave CorelDraw Graphics Suite 3X an 8 out of 10, with the bottom line being: “a powerful and feature-rich bundle appropriate for home, business, and professional graphics”.

Adobe Illustrator: The review on this industry standard is that it’s the top of the line graphics program. Check About.com’s Adobe Illustrator Tutorials for Basics and Tools for a list of free online tutorials to help users.

Macromedia FreeHand/Adobe FreeHand MX: As of May 2007, Adobe is no longer continuing development for FreeHand. But for those who continue to use or have access to Freehand, user resources for tutorials, downloads, tips and help can be found here at About.com.

Inkscape: A free Linux based vector program was given 5 out of 5 and “Excellent” from Softpedia.com’s review.

Q-Cad: A multiplatform 2D CAD program that can be downloaded from download.com

Xara Xtreme: From About.com:

Xara Xtreme is a top-notch graphics tool, no matter what your level of graphics experience. With its amazing speed, small size, reasonable system requirements, moderate price, and powerful feature set, it’s hard to go wrong with Xara Xtreme. Although it’s currently only for Windows, Xara has announced plans to make Xtreme open source and to develop Macintosh and Linux versions.

Aviary (Raven Vector Editor): Yet to be released, but will be coming soon this year from Aviary (see earlier post). This free online tool is part of a design platform consisting of 13 other tools that can work together. To get updates on when these tools will be released check their blog.

Google Sketchup: This is pretty easy to use if you’ve never worked with 3D modelling before. Good for modeling such as woodworking projects. Google provides a lot of support through their Sketchup blog, with tutorial videos and podcasts available from Go-2-School. There’s a free version you can download as well as a pro version for $495.

UPDATE: The free version of Sketchup will NOT export .EPS format.

References and Reviews to check out:

Wikipedia “Comparison of vector graphics editors”

Designer-info.com: Vector Drawing

About.com: Vector Drawing Basics – Bezier Curves and Paths:

Wikipedia: “List of Vector Graphics Editors”

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I’ll vote for Inkscape, which has the dual benefits of being absolutely free, and totally cross platform. We used it on our Macs AND PCs, so it’s not just for Linux.


There’s also an excellent online manual (which can be purchased in a printable PDF form) which eased considerably our complete newbie experience with vector editing in general.

So all in all it’s probably quite a good choice for people wanting to try the Ponoko experience without having to shell out for one of the professional packages. And who knows – maybe they won’t need anything else.

Thanks Alan! That’s great. The fact that you can use it for free is very attractive. I’ve had a big play with Sketchup but I’ll have a go at Inkscape next.

I like Inkscape too, and I’m using it now for a design project. Until now, I’ve tended to use my ageing copy of Freehand, but there’s one big thing about Inkscape that appeals to me. Because it’s a native SVG editor, you can easily manipulate that SVG with text or XML tools. I’ve also been exporting SVG from the open-source GIS tools that I use (QGIS and PostGIS), so I can take road and meshblock data, dress it up for presentation, and export as PDF.

Also, if you’re talking about 3D modelling, then you should look at Blender. The interface is eccentric to say the least, but hugely productive once you get the hang of it, and very powerful. Oh, and of course it’s open source and cross platform 🙂

It was only a 5min look but the freeware version of Google Sketchup doesn’t export .eps files – you need to get the pro version. But I’m not a graphis weenie so I don’t know if there is any other techniques you could use to convert from the Sketchup formats to .eps or not.

Mac users should check out Lineform from Freeverse. Very nice.


Thanks Richard, I’m sorry I missed that with Sketchup. I’ll update it immediately.

I also found this collection very helpful:


Thanks for the tip Alberto, that looks excellent.

Hi I’m new to Ponoko, but I’m really getting into it. I love the concept and everything I’ve seen so far.
As you can see from my web site I own KJ Laser Ltd. and have been in the laser business for nearly 30 years. I have used Corel Draw for all my vector programing for the last 10 years. I started with Corel Draw 3 and now run CDX3, I have been a strong supporter of all Corel Products.

If there are people out there who do not want to buy and take the time to learn a software program for making vector designs for Ponoko, e-mail me, at jim.arnold@shaw.ca I will keep your ideas confidential and make your EPS designs for a very resonable price and e-mail them back to you for your submittion to Ponoko. I have always enjoyed making vector programs. Like Ponoko’s lasers my lasers also use color for defining the speed and power of the laser system. (I own 2 Kern Laser Systems.)

Keep an eye open for my products in the “Show Room”, as soon as I can get everything in place. Regards!

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