Affinity Publisher and StudioLink review - InDesign replacement or...?

Affinity Publisher and StudioLink review

Affinity Publisher StudioLink icon logo

Affinity Publisher and StudioLink review

Last week I slithered from my orchard hideout to attend the second Affinity Live event which saw the official launch of Affinity Publisher and the surprise announcement of StudioLink in a well-presented keynote.

I heard something years ago which I constantly go back to. It was that the Queen of England thinks that everywhere smells like fresh paint.

Everywhere she goes has been spruced up just before she arrives. I thought about it earlier that day on the way to Nottingham. I flew from the new Corvera Airport in Murcia which still has that fresh paint smell and gaping open spaces desperately failing to be filled by large, potted plants.

Seeing the spectral figure of Ronnie O´Sullivan dutifully playing snooker in Serif HQ got me wondering if he thinks there is a snooker table in every building.

Bob Byrne Affinity Designer

(Me with pint and Affinity logo. Credit: Some woman taking pics at the event)

Serif HQ didn’t smell like fresh paint this year but the renovations and remodelling have continued. Imagine a huge executive airport lounge/Apple store somehow crammed inside a normal industrial estate unit Tardis-style with stacks of pallets in view from the front door.

Serif is an odd company in that the Affinity range and associated rise would qualify them as a startup but they have been in business for thirty years. I first thought that it must be their institutional memory which keeps everybody involved humble and grounded but now I think it is also their location. It must be the pallets.

My most creative and productive phase happened in a building exactly like that in the grey maze of Ballymount Industrial Estate. I think a swanky location makes wanky egos.

Seriously, between my time in Sweden, Dublin and Malta I have met dozens of startups who you would think are splitting the atom the way they carry on. And here is Serif, casually adding another one million users since the last time I met them and actually making some sort of difference in the world.

 

My first week of Affinity Publisher and StudioLink.

Here are my disjointed notes from a full week from using Affinity Publisher with StudioLink.

I’ll start with the usual caveat of “these are early days for the apps etc” and if you are looking for essential design and layout functions then Affinity Publisher is for you.

The Designer and Photo personas were visible but disabled during the Beta phase but Ash Hewson, the presenter and Managing Director could have multiplied the wow factor tenfold by not including these in the Beta and going for a bigger reveal.

Firstly, StudioLink does not open an instance of the other Affinity apps. I thought that it opened both Affinity Designer and Affinity Photo and that the file was somehow saved and reopened each time.

So your Assets and Brushes will need to be exported and imported into Affinity Publisher. 

And essentially with this, you are not linking Studios. Studios are the menus like Appearance, Stroke etc in the Affinity family. So the name may confuse some.

During the keynote, I was trying to imagine my new workflow. I wondered if it would allow us to continually export a pdf or even continuously export spreads/artboards in the Affinity Designer persona. This is something professionals would kill for. I know a bloke who works in a large organisation who uses Folder Mill to ping colleagues on the same network when he saves his work and even automatically prints new changes to projects. That’s the dream. Send your client one file and let them get pinged every time you save the document as the pdf updates for them. The Export Persona in Affinity Designer has a JSON export so this could be bashed into some notification feature.

Speaking of which Affinity Designer´s Export Persona is not included in StudioLink.

No biggie but I assumed I could then save my .afpub document as .afdesign to allow me to open it Affinity Designer and create slices for export. But this is not currently possible.

 

Using all three apps for illustration, design and layout.

The big application, at least for me, would be for making comics. The pictured workflow would see me drawing up panelled pages in Affinity Designer, reordering the flow pages in Publisher and then doing the actual drawing in Affinity Photo then sending it off to print. Besides the unthinkable scenario where your file corrupts and you lose the entire project somehow, being able to do ALL work in one file would be astonishing.

I just heard from Matt Priestly from Serif, he is an absolute gent and always goes out of his way to help those in need. I originally had an issue with the resolution being too low in Affinity Photo (I thought the max was 400dpi) but you can enter your own values. Solved.

Another UX goof which completely threw me was the navigation of a .afpub with multiple spreads in Designer and Photo. From Matt: “you just need to choose which page you’re looking at from the chooser on the status bar or by using the ‘Pages’ menu item on the iPad version of Designer”. Nice. I’m guessing that all these new navigation and commands will be streamlined over the next few versions.

The perfect example of how Affinity has world-class functionality but some C-class usability is this: on the iPad in both Affinity Designer and Affinity Photo, to create a new Pixel Layer you need to reveal a submenu.

So it is: tap New Layer then tap Pixel Layer every time. And yep, even when in the Pixel persona in Designer this is the case. I really don’t get that and I know when an app is priced low like this that people bounce hard off these snags. I bounced within my first 10 minutes in Affinity Designer for over a year because of something like this.

I’ve made a few comic pages in Affinity Photo and the brushes for are perfectly suitable for painting and touchups but it is really is not suitable for line art.

Phwoar…

For my Tourist Trade graphic novel project, I plan to do most of the inking with vectors so I can get around that for now.

Importing an Affinity Designer document with multiple artboards into Affinity Publisher.

I have loads of documents with multiple artboards so I really wanted to see what would happen if I opened one in Affinity Publisher.

You can’t open a .afdesign directly but you can you drag it into Affinity Publisher. On trying this you will see the Convert to Spreads? modal and after confirming this you will see that each Artboard is now a Page or Spread. As mentioned above, it looks like you are only opening one spread but the entire doc is there.

Nice.

So that’s my first impression of Affinity Publisher and StudioLink as both a fan and hardcore user but now I prepare to unscrew my head Worzel Gummidge style and replace it with my Marketing noggin.

What’s in a name? Absolutely everything.

I worked in a company who were constantly launching new “products”. Every internal initiative or tool was given a cool name and slick logos against my protests.  It was great to show investors a growing list of proprietary products but some shareholders rightly fumed that we shouldn’t be splitting our focus and resources on new products. 

I felt we should be strengthening the existing brand and not diluting it. I agreed then and now.

I’m against giving something a name which is not really consumer-facing. Certainly, it adds perceived value, it is a good basis for press releases to tech sites and it gets the overworked devs building it all fired up but the average customer just wants things to work.

Apple have Metal etc but as a user, you very rarely say it or see it. A tiny amount of Mac users know what is and they definitely don’t care. 

After a week I still have not got used to opening Affinity Publisher as my default workspace and I don’t think I ever will. I have a residual beef for InDesign and desktop publishing, no matter what it is called… is just not sexy.

I prefer Designer to be the venue for all the action. Today this icon is my go-to app…

Affinity publisher studio link icon

My approach would be this: after purchasing the three apps (separately or all at once) the only launcher icon you see is an app called Affinity.

Affinity Apps Icon Launcher

I pulled that Affinity icon off IconFinder and it is missing that infuriating odd line at the bottom which is apparently called a “Ladkin”

I thought this was going to be one of the announcements on the night. The message in the keynote “…and that’s why we are called Affinity” seemed to be heading that way too. Check it out from 28 minutes onwards. 

Going that way, turning the word Affinity into the suite name futureproofs for any other apps they release.

We´ve seen how Creative Suite came and went and soon Creative Cloud will need a rebrand as the word “cloud” was a buzzword when it launched but it is redundant now. It should just be called Adobe Apps or something.

Compare:

“Are you an Affinity Designer, Affinity Photo and Affinity Publisher user?” versus “Are you an Affinity user?”.

“I’m using Affinity Publisher with StudioLink to make a graphic novel” versus “I’m making my graphic novel in Affinity”.

File extensions might be a temporary problem but I’m already having to resave old Designer files to get them into Publisher.

Anyway. Who knows what the future has in store for all of this. 

Perhaps the icon could be a stack of pallets.

Cheers,

Bob @clamnuts

Hey, here we again at the bottom of the post with a big, dopey gap. I’m still wrestling with this new WordPress theme but will add some kind of block. Meanwhile, check out the new trailer for Day Trip to Hearsay.

Next: My battle with Trump´s 25% Tariffs on imports from China.