Learn which design tool is right for you.
Sketch has long been among the most popular design tools for user interface (UI) design. But in recent years, other popular alternatives have cropped up. Two of the biggest are Figma and Adobe XD. So which tool is better for user experience (UX) and UI designers?
All three are excellent pieces of software, but each has its own strengths. If collaboration is critical to your design process, Figma is the clear winner. If you value the customizability of third-party plugins, you may prefer Sketch. If you’re already familiar with the Adobe interface from its Creative Cloud ecosystem, Adobe XD could have an easier learning curve.
Which piece of software you decide to learn depends on several factors, each of which we’ll explore in more detail in this article.
|Platform||Browser-based app||Desktop and browser app||Desktop and mobile app|
|Operating system||MacOS, Windows, Linux||MacOS||MacOS, Windows, iOS, Android|
|Collaboration||Real-time collaboration||Real-time collaboration for MacOS Sketch subscribers||Real-time collaboration on projects synced to the cloud|
|Getting started||Lessons and design exercises||Documentation||Video tutorials and step-by-step guides|
|Plugins||Growing library available in-app||Large library, downloaded externally||Growing library available in-app|
|Vector manipulation||Vector networks||Vector paths||Vector paths|
|*Price||Free starter version or $12/month per editor (US)||30-day free trial, then $9/month per editor (US)||7-day free trial, then $9.99/month (US)|
*Prices are current as of the time of writing (June 2021)
Figma is a cloud-based vector graphics and prototyping tool used for a range of graphic design tasks. Since its release in 2016, it has become a popular option for UI designers thanks to the fact that it works directly in a browser. You can access your projects from any computer and platform without having to install software or purchase multiple licenses.
Sketch, a desktop vector graphics editor for MacOS released in 2010, has been the go-to choice for many UI and UX designers. Sketch is geared toward digital design, so it isn’t weighed down with any print design features. Work on your projects on the native MacOS app, then collaborate online with a synced web app.
Adobe XD is a vector-based design tool specifically for user experience (UX) design. It was released in 2016 with UX-specific features that were not available to designers using Photoshop or Illustrator. You can use it as a desktop app on your computer or cloud app on mobile devices.
To help you make an informed decision on where to invest your time and money, let’s take a closer look at some of the main differences between these three apps UI design apps.
Platform, one of the biggest differentiating factors, should probably be your first consideration when choosing which piece of software to learn. Sketch is exclusive to MacOS, so if you’re working on a Windows or Linux system, it’s out of the question. Figma is primarily a cloud-based app, though the company does offer desktop apps for both Windows and Mac. Like Sketch, Adobe XD is a desktop application that syncs with Adobe’s Creative Cloud.
These platform differences have a direct impact on how collaboration works for each app. Figma was designed with collaboration in mind. You can edit projects as a team in real time, see who changed what, and embed comments and feedback directly in a design. You can share projects with anyone for free, so others can leave comments without having to download special software.
Both Sketch and Adobe XD have released collaboration features to try and catch up with Figma in this arena. Sketch just released its real-time collaboration capability in May 2021, but this feature is only available to those with a Sketch subscription and a compatible version of the Mac app. Like Figma, this tool includes a browsable version history. You can also invite unlimited viewers to test prototypes or give feedback via the Sketch web app.
Adobe’s Coediting tool lets you save a project to the cloud and invite other editors to design together in real time. Projects are compatible across Mac and Windows computers, which makes this a more flexible option than Sketch but not quite as seamless as Figma.
Learning a new tool takes time, so how beginner-friendly are Figma, Sketch, and Adobe XD? Adobe XD and Figma have a slight edge thanks to their collection of learning materials and tutorials.
Tutorials: Both Figma and Adobe XD offer free tutorials, guides, and other learning materials to help you get familiar with the software and design as a whole.
In Figma, these are presented as short written lessons and design exercises. Adobe XD offers step-by-step video guides, video tutorials, and recorded live streams. Sketch has documentation with some how-tos, but it’s not quite as beginner-friendly as the other two platforms.
Interface: If you’ve used either Sketch or Figma before, the other app’s interface will be familiar to you. Both are quite similar, so transitioning between the two tends to be straightforward. Those with previous Adobe experience should find XD’s interface similarly intuitive.
With a sizable library of third-party plugins, Sketch offers the most customizable design experience. There’s a plugin for just about any functionality on the Sketch plugin page, including animation, translation, device-adaptive layouts, prototyping, and developer handoff. Many apps, including InVision and Zeplin, feature direct integration with Sketch.
Figma is starting to catch up with their own library of plugins. Since the first plugin wasn’t introduced on Figma until 2019, the community of developers hasn’t had enough time to build out a library as extensive as Sketch’s (yet).
Adobe XD offers both native and third-party plugins. While Adobe has offered plugin integration for longer than Figma, its library of options is significantly smaller. If there’s a particular plugin you can’t live without, this could dictate your choice of design software.
With both Figma and Adobe XD, plugins are built directly into the app. This means you don’t have to search for and download a plugin from the web in order to use it.
Figma offers more flexibility when it comes to vector manipulation. The program uses vector networks, which allow you to connect multiple lines to a single point. This speeds up the production of vector drawings. Paths in Sketch and Adobe XD restrict you to a sequence of connected points (called nodes).
Figma’s collaboration capabilities give it an edge when it comes time to pass your Figma files off to developers. Developers can be invited as Viewers to explore prototypes, leave comments, and export assets all from a single link.
Sketch uses what they call a web inspector to allow developers to inspect Sketch files and export assets, even if they’re not using a Mac computer. Handoff tools like Zeplin also integrate with Sketch.
Adobe XD features a Development share option, where you can mark design files and assets for export. Developers can then download these assets to their own computers from a single link.
For beginner designers, Figma wins with a free Starter version. While there are some limitations on the number of team projects, team files, and version history, it offers more than enough functionality if you’re just learning the software or working on portfolio projects on your own. The pro version of Figma is the most expensive of the three, costing $12 per editor, per month.
While Sketch continues to offer a Mac-only license for a one-time fee of $99, they’ve since shifted to a subscription model that includes real-time collaboration and web tools. A Standard subscription costs $9 per month, per editor, but you can test it out with a 30-day free trial (at the time of writing).
Adobe XD offers subscription pricing at $9.99 per month, or $52.99 per month as part of a Creative Cloud app bundle. You can try it out with a seven-day free trial.
Any of these programs have enough functionality and features for effective UI design. However, if you’re just getting started in UI, Figma’s free version, learning materials, and ability to work on any computer make it an excellent choice for beginners.
Get hands-on experience with both Figma and Adobe XD with the Google UX Design Professional Certificate on Coursera. You’ll learn how to create high-fidelity prototypes in Figma and a responsive web design in XD. Upon completion, you’ll have a sharable credential from an industry leader for your resume.