Get Started — Figma & Sketch Basics

A (somewhat) quick tour of Figma and Sketch showcasing the most important tools and features (in my opinion) for UI design.

Alex
Alex
Feb 17 · 7 min read
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What are Figma and Sketch?

First of all, it’s important to know what the tools we’re working in are for. Figma and Sketch are primarily made for User Interface (UI) design and prototyping, meaning that you can create user interface prototypes with ease in Figma and Sketch.

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Figma

Figma is an online tool that lives inside your browser, so you can use it whether you’re on Windows or Mac. However, this also means you can only really use it with an internet connection. You can download the desktop app if you’re more comfortable with that, but it’s not different from the browser version. You can use it completely for free if you don’t work in an organization. You can use Figma here.

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Sketch

Sketch is a desktop app for Mac only. You can get a free 30-day trial. After that, if you wish to keep it, you will need to pay 99$ as a one-time purchase. However, you will only receive updates for one year. If you wish to keep getting updates afterwards, you will need to buy the license again. You can get Sketch here.


Gettings started

Once you create a new document in Figma or Sketch, this is the interface you will see (see below). There isn’t much, right? Figma and Sketch present only the essential to get started once you create a new file. On the top, you’ve got your tools (In order from left to right are: Move, Frame, Rectangle, Pen, Text and Comment, with more tools in each dropdown). In Sketch, those tools are all located on the top left under ‘’Insert’’. You can, however, rearrange the toolbar at the top to your liking. On the left side will be your frames/artboard and your layers, and on the right side will be some settings to change values of text, color, shapes, etc. You also have your prototyping features on a different tab on the right side.

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The tools

Most of the tools you have available at the top of the interface are pretty straightforward, but I’m going to explain what each of them are for and in what cases you can and should use them.

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Move and Scale tools

The move tool

The move tool is what you will be using when you’re not using any other tool. You can, obviously, moves elements around with it but also use it to resize and select elements. Hold down Shift to select multiple elements at once or to scale up or down while keeping the elements’ proportions.

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The Scale tool

Underneath the Move tool, you’ll find the Scale tool. This is what you should use when you want to scale up or down things such as icons you have imported into your document. This is because the Scale tool will keep the element’s proportion perfectly, whereas the move tool might not (even if you hold Shift). The hotkey for the Scale tool is ‘’K’’

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As you can see, scaling things such as icons that use strokes is not effective with the move tool. Instead, use the Scale tool (K) so that the strokes keep their proportions.

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The Frame Tool

A Frame (or artboard) is a group with a predetermined width and height. This is basically the foundation of any UI prototype whether it’s for a desktop or mobile interface. Both Sketch and Figma give you a couple choices of common dimensions for mobile, tablet, desktop, smart watch, paper and social media.

The Slice Tool

The Slice tool is made to export a specific area of a screen.


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The Shape Tools

Those are pretty straightforward and it’s what you will use a lot of the time. With the rectangle tool, you can create rectangles and squares. The line and arrow tools create a line using a stroke. With the Ellipse tool, you can create circles and ovals. With the Polygon tool, you can create a shape of 3 or more sides and with the Star tool, you can create a star with 3–60 points. You can also import an image into your file with the Place Image tool.


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The Pen Tool

The pen tool is especially useful for creating icons. If you’re familiar with Illustrator’s pen tool, Figma’s and Sketch’s pen tool should feel very similar.

The Pencil Tool

You can use the pencil to draw strokes. I’ve personally never really used it and chances are you won’t either.


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The Text Tool

The text tool is something you will use all the time. Figma defaults to Roboto 12pt. You can change that (and much more) in the Design panel on the right side of your screen. It’s also good to note that Figma has the whole Google Fonts library built-in, while Sketch does not have that. You will have to download the fonts you wish to use if they aren’t already on your Mac, with Sketch.

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The Comment Tool

This is quite straightforward. With the Comment tool, you can leave a comment anywhere on your screen. It’s especially useful when you work with other people, or if you want to leave yourself some notes. Sketch does not have this feature.


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The Layers panel

This is where all of your frames, groups and layers live. All of your images, text and shapes will be there. You can collapse groups and frames as well as show/hide and lock/unlock layers or groups from that layers panel. You can also notice that you can create multiple frames at the same time.


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The Design Panel

The design panel is located on the right side of your screen. I know there’s a lot of stuff there, but you can probably forget quite a lot of it. At least when starting out. What you’re gonna be interested in the most are those areas I highlighted in red.

For shapes

In the second red section, you will find your layer mode and your opacity, as well as your fill and stroke colors and some effects (drop shadow, inner shadow, layer blur and background blur). You can fill any shape with a solid color, a gradient (linear, radial, angular or diamond) or even an image. You can change an element’s color by clicking on the little colored square in the design panel

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For text

You will have different settings available for text layers. Along with the text’s color, you will be able to add a stroke, change the typeface, font weight, font size as well as line height, letter spacing, paragraph spacing and horizontal and vertical alignment.

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That’s it for this part, thanks for reading!

Read the second part to know a little bit more about how to use Figma and Sketch for UI design:

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The Spot

We are a network that strive to offer younger creatives a…

Alex

Written by

Alex

UI / Visual Designer, digital artist & hobby guitarist

The Spot

The Spot

We are a network that strive to offer younger creatives a way to learn, get instant feedback and create contacts and a network.

Alex

Written by

Alex

UI / Visual Designer, digital artist & hobby guitarist

The Spot

The Spot

We are a network that strive to offer younger creatives a way to learn, get instant feedback and create contacts and a network.

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