A review of Sketch: pros and cons of the latest UI/UX tool for designers

First released in 2008, Sketch has come a long way in the world of design software.

Most designers in my age group were strictly taught to use Adobe Creative Suite in college (Illustrator, Photoshop, InDesign, etc.), but Sketch is making a name for itself as a viable new tool for mobile and web interface mockups in the design community.

After using Sketch on two projects (a mobile app UI design and a data-driven web dashboard UI design), here are a few pros and cons I’ve found:

Pros

  • Cost Sketch costs just $99/year. That’s a huge savings compared to Adobe Creative Cloud's monthly fee of $49.99 for all apps.
  • If you know Illy, Sketch is easy to learn Most of the tools you’re used to using in Illustrator are readily available in Sketch, they’re just organized differently. It’s quick to learn if you’re accustomed to using Illustrator. Watch some tutorial videos and leverage Sketch’s Documentation and you’ll pick it up real quick.
  • Great for web and mobile layouts Sketch keeps us designers accountable to pixel perfect layouts. It leverages grids, snap to grid functionality, and snap to pixel functionality so you never encounter half-pixel renders or imperfect alignment — critical in a world of responsive design/multiple screen sizes and resolutions.
  • Vector based Rest assured your graphics will scale beautifully, because Sketch provides vector outputs. This is true for Illustrator, as well, so this point may be moot if you’re comparing Sketch just to Illustrator, but many UI/UX designers I know still use Photoshop for interface design and in their case, those raster outputs can be burdensome when it comes to exporting and implementing @1x, @2x, @3x, etc.
  • Pre-loaded screen templates, easy to add as artboards This is a huge pro for me, as it can be a real task trying to decide on the ideal dimensions to design for, especially considering there are so many different screen sizes and resolutions in the mobile market. Sketch provides a library of pre-built artboards for iOS devices and responsive web design layouts. Just add an artboard and select the device you want to design for, simple as that.
    • *BONUS* There are even libraries with standard iOS icons, Android icons, and Mac icons that you can use in your designs - who doesn't love a little streamlining?
  • Symbols PURE GOLD! Interface designers reuse multiple elements, from navigations, to buttons, to icons. With Sketch, you can set symbols, reuse them throughout your design, and when you modify the master symbol, that modification automatically gets rolled out across your designs.
  • Autosave = fewer heart attacks We’ve all had that “oh shit” moment when your computer wigs out because you are pushing it to the max and everything crashes. Did I save? Are my last 2 hours of work all for naught? Sketch leverages Apple’s Auto Save and your work gets automatically saved every 5 minutes. Phew!
  • Device mirroring This is a real treat for clients. Mirror your designs directly to their devices so the whole team can get a feel for how the designs look right on their own phones or desktops. This is also helpful for us designers, as some of us tend to get a little wrapped up in beauty over function. With mirroring, you can stay focused on usability, making sure that sexy feature will translate well to this it is meant for.
  • Sharing in the cloud Another treat for clients and team collaboration, you can share your whole interface up to the cloud and simply send out a link to the team to share your designs. No more sending of massive files, no more trying to figure out if you’re sending the most up-to-date iteration. Just push to the cloud and share a link.
  • “Make Exportable” (shit yeah) Convert any group or layer to a slice and export it (or all of them!) as a PNG. This is a super simple way to deliver graphics to developers and a huge time saver for everyone.
  • Community support, custom plugins In one of my Sketch projects, I ran across an issue where I wanted to create a pie chart and couldn’t find any feature in Sketch to accomplish this seemingly simply task. A quick Google search was all I needed to find a plugin for Sketch specifically created to support pie charts. (Thanks @abynim on Github for Sketchy Pies!) There seems to a be a lot of community support and resources available, which is exciting and helpful.

Cons

  • Limited illustration - not going to design a logo in Sketch While Sketch is great for mobile and web interfaces, it isn’t sufficient for creating custom logos, complex illustrations, or in-depth print designs.
  • Old habits die hard ("v" is not the hotkey you think it is) While most of the features in Sketch are similar/identical to Illustrator, there are some habits I have ingrained from using Illustrator for years that did not convert well to Sketch. You’ll have to relearn a few hotkeys/workflows in Sketch. For example, “v” does not engage the selection tool.
  • Sharing in the cloud, resolution not so good I also listed this as a pro, but one downside to cloud sharing is that the screens don’t render in totally high resolution. Clients will see pixelation and distortion when they zoom in to your designs, which can be alarming for them.
  • Built exclusively for Mac, sorry PC designers Sketch is built only for Mac at this point, so if you’re a designer on a PC, you’re out of luck.

Overall, I still prefer Illustrator for creating more complex designs, and I definitely prefer it for print design projects. It is entirely possible this is simply because of my comfort zone, as I’m sure there are dozens of tools in Sketch I’ve yet to learn. However I'm making the switch to Sketch for all mobile user interface designs moving forward.


Are you a designer who disagrees with these points?


Shout out to my cousin and insanely talented UI/UX designer, Erin Nolan at madebyeno.com, for introducing me to Sketch on our co-working trip to Montreal. Love ya real talk.