Figma VS Sketch

Meng To
Meng To
Sep 30, 2016 · 8 min read
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Figma is like Sketch in the browser with real-time collaboration.

With the limited time I had with it, I can already say with confidence that it’s far more polished and production-ready than in my first experience with Adobe XD. It also has three invaluable features that set it apart: real-time collaboration, vector networks and version history. It can handle dozens of designers working on the same document, at the same time without breaking a sweat. Last but not least, this tool is really fast, easily handling 20+ Artboards in a single document.

People will inevitably compare Figma to Sketch, so as a long-time user of Sketch, I’d like to share my experience, following a tradition that I started 3 years ago.

Browser VS Native

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I was skeptical at first because Figma is a browser-based user interface design tool, but now I’m convinced that there is a future in this area. Everything is extremely responsive, works as expected and the software is almost every bit as powerful as its native counterpart Sketch, minus features like Symbols, Overrides and Plugins. Every document and version exist on their server, making the task of iterating effortless and worry-free. You can still save your document as .fig to make it downloadable. Like this, you can share your Figma files with others.

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By default, Figma uses Google fonts (a free library of 800+ fonts), but you can also add your own by installing an add-on. They even included the hugely popular FontAwesome. I think this is an incredibly smart move, since collaborators won’t need to download extra fonts when they jump in.

Real-time collaboration

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For many teams, this is a game-changer. Being able to design with a fellow designer, engineer or client in real-time will save a ton of time in both execution and communication. Although not every project needs collaboration, it’s good that the possibility is there.

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You can quickly work alone, then invite others whether they’re signed up or not to edit or view-only your design in progress. The advantage of a browser-based tool is that the recipients won’t need to install anything at all, or even own a Mac to participate. Figma works on Mac, Windows, Linux and on mobile devices (viewing only). I can’t overstate how this will completely change team dynamics and allow true collaboration between designers and developers. Anyone can just come in and check all the specs: fonts, colors, sizes, distances, etc. Developers can benefit from inspecting the constraints and how the layouts adapt to multiple screens.

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Version History

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The versioning is much more visual in Figma, allowing you to quickly compare between versions. It’s a lot more pleasing to use than Sketch’s macOS native versioning, which feels slow and over-the-top. While they both have Autosave and version history, their execution is completely different.

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In Sketch, it’s slow to navigate between each version. Often times, designers disable this feature because it eats too much of their disk space.

Comments System

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The comments feature is built-in. Team members can pin comments to your designs and you’ll receive notifications when there are new comments or replies. Once you’re done, you can click “Resolve” to hide the thread.

In Sketch, you can add comments by downloading a plugin or use the excellent Zeplin for a more interactive solution that includes specs and assets delivery.

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Zeplin is also browser-based, so it works for Mac/Windows.

Another Sketch plugin worth noting is Craft from InVision, which allows you to design with real data. You can quickly generate names and photos from presets, Websites or APIs.

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If you put Sketch together with Craft, InVision and Zeplin, the package suddenly becomes a lot more attractive for comments and prototyping.

Vector Networks

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Vector Networks introduced by Figma.

Sure, it’s still missing things like Scissors or Rotate Copies, but for most vectors, I believe that Figma is easier to use and Vector Networks can lead to interesting results.

Import from Sketch

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Strangely, I couldn’t copy and paste vectors from Sketch to Figma, but I could drag and drop an SVG file directly into an open document.

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I was even able to import the extremely detailed vectors from Angle and got a fairly impressive result. Sure, the gradients and shadows aren’t as good-looking (sometimes even missing), but all the shapes were there. This is a big deal because you can use virtually any Sketch UI Kit in Figma.

There’s a Desktop-ish app

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You can download the desktop version, but don’t expect a native experience. It’s basically just a Web wrapper. Still, unlike the browser version, the keyboard shortcuts won’t interfere with browser’s. For example, CMD + 1–9 switches between browser tabs, but in the Desktop app, it switches between documents. You also get rid of the extra browser chrome.

Constraints

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In Figma, you set up the constraints by pinning against the borders, or setting the element to center. It’s essentially like Sketch’s Pin to corner and Resize object. I have to admit that Figma’s version is more visual and intuitive to use while Sketch has more options like Float in place.

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Is Float in place any good? Yes, if you want the elements to keep the same proportional distance and size between each other.

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Performance

The User Interface

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The user interface is almost an exact replica of Sketch, down to the tiniest details like the names of the tools, keyboard shortcuts, the Artboards and Groups, or the Export tool. Don’t get me wrong, this is a GOOD thing for users. It just means that Sketch has set such a powerful standard that both Adobe XD and Figma have no hesitation following.

Sketch is like the “iPhone” of design tools, in that most new tools will copy its standards, add a few twists, but years down the line, they’ll mature enough to be truly unique on their own. In the end, users win the most as they get more choices at the highest standard. In other words, they’re no longer stuck with Photoshop for UI design, the same way they were stuck with dumb smart phones with clunky keyboards. Of course, I don’t mean this as an insult to Figma or Adobe. They’re smart to answer the modern designers’ needs in a way that don’t confuse them, making their transition as smoothly as possible. To be fair, a lot of these standards came from the Mac and Adobe’s own Illustrator and Fireworks (RIP).

Should you use Figma?

Both tools can reinforce each other, meaning that they can fulfill different needs as you switch between Mac and Windows, iOS and Android, home and office. I’d choose Figma for its real-time collaboration, multi-platform support (Windows, Mac, Linux) and Sketch for its platform maturity, true native experience, and its excellent plugins and resources. In term of features, I think both will eventually catch up to each other (Real-time Collaboration, Vector Networks, Comments versus Symbols, Overrides, Plugins).

Figma is totally free until the end of the year, so give it a try.

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