Figma’s Vector Networks, an Alternative to Paths

Stephen ColesStephen Coles Posts: 701
edited February 2016 in Type Design Software
A vector network improves on the path model by allowing lines and curves between any two points instead of requiring that they all join up to form a single chain. This helps provide the best of both worlds; it combines the ease with which points can be connected on paper and the ease with which geometry can be manipulated once it’s drawn. Splitting and recombining geometry is much more natural with vector networks. Delete anything, anywhere. Connect anything to anything else. Stroke cap and join styles just work naturally in vector networks, even for points with three or more lines coming off of them. This isn’t the case for paths because it’s impossible to use paths to represent attaching three lines together at a single point.



Another way we wanted to improve over existing vector editing tools was to add support for direct manipulation. Figma’s bend tool (the command key on OS X) lets you drag the curve around directly. The editor will automatically figure out where to place the control handles for you:
— Evan Wallace of Figma, which is software specifically UI design, but I wonder if these vector tools have relevance for type design.

Comments

  • I can’t pass judgement on the utility of this idea until I can use it in a tool appropriate to type design.

    But I will say that I don’t think paths are the real problem with vectors. The problem is that Adobe Illustrator’s tools for creating and editing paths are trash, and instead of treating them like trash and doing better, everybody else follow’s Adobe’s lead and builds their houses on top of said trash. 
  • Looks quite intriguing to me.  I would have to try it real life to tell if I liked it better than paths. 
    I do all my drawing in FontLab even for things other than type. I then paste it into AI since the AI system is, shall we say, deflating?
  • Mark SimonsonMark Simonson Posts: 786
    edited February 2016
    I saw this today, too.

    Looks like a big part of it has to do with accommodating complex shapes where nodes are part of more than one path. Which is cool, but doesn't seem relevant to glyph shapes, except maybe stroke-based designs.

    The automatic filling of open paths does seem relevant. Isn't there something like this already in the FLS 6 beta?

    I do like their general attitude of rethinking 30-year-old conventions.
  • I never understood why Adobe didn't incorporate the far superior drawing tools of Freehand into Illustrator when they acquired Macromedia. I'm sure type designers especially would prefer a similar drawing experience to FontLab rather than the crappy clunky Ai UI. 
  • I recently tried Sketch to draw some quick icons for a new site, and I wanted to just use icon fonts again. Sketch simplifies the worst of the Illustrator tools. No wonder people are upset about vectors: Sketch imitates the worst vector tool. The two popular UI design tools are shit.

    If this can actually make graphic designers use vectors decently, I’ll happily endorse it. The Illustrator magic vectors and Sketch kid-proofed version of the same are a huge reason people dislike vector drawing (I think).

    The FontLab 6 beta and this are interesting new approaches to an old technology, and I like it. I use SketchUp a lot as well, and there are plenty of ways to draw – they all help me see in different ways.
  • I never understood why Adobe didn't incorporate the far superior drawing tools of Freehand into Illustrator when they acquired Macromedia. 
    What in particular made freehand better? I never used it, although I was aware of it when it was being developed.
  • The Freehand pen tool was quite similar to the one in Fontographer, mainly because it was made by the same programmers (Altsys). FWIW, I preferred the Illustrator pen tool way back when Illustrator and Freehand were competing, but it has somehow become worse over the years. Maybe because I've grown so accustomed to pen tools in font editors.
  • I was one of the very first users of Ai 1.0 and loved it then.  It was its best and most bug free at about 8.o before the glitz and bloat years ensued.  What was better about Freehand was that when you deleted a point in mid-path, the curve sprung out like FLS does now.  Ai, on the other hand, would sag down like wet spaghetti. What I did like about Ai was the minimal number of pen tools.  You could achieve any effect by just using option keys on the same tool so it was very fast.
  • Thomas PhinneyThomas Phinney Posts: 722
    edited February 2016
    Nice to see Figma starting to get some public exposure. I did some consulting for them a couple of years ago.
  • D. Epar tedD. Epar ted Posts: 688
    edited February 2016
    Dragging the curve directly with the handles being placed 'automatically' is something we all do every day, so that is not a big deal. Multiple line intersection is not useful to us, and when this guy says paths, it may mean closed contours instead?, as lots of drawing tools allow three lines of paths to join visually, and selecting or moving them together is simple enough even if unjointed. Lastly, our kind of lines depend on smooth curve continuity. So splitting and joining geometry, if that means what I think it does, in not terribly valuable to us, because it assumes geometry that seldom exists in letterdrawings, or at least splitting and combining curves cannot be counted on to produce good non-geometric letter shapes.

    Nick:  Adobe didn't incorporate anything of Freehand into Illustrator when they acquired it, because they had to sell it straight away to Aldus or likely face a court. They could have kept FH, buried AI, and had a monopoly at the high end, but for pride of creation, as AI was/is? the only application Adobe made themselves, having bought most of the rest.
  • There was a time, in the late 1990s, when Adobe made a nearly great set of vector drawing tools. It wasn't in Illustrator, but rather in Photoshop. (I believe it was in 2.5-3.x, though I'm not certain.) The tools were subtle and supple, and if you were doing work based on antique type, you had the possibility of working over high-quality scans that you could manipulate however you wished. What was especially good about these vector tools was they way they toggled, allowing you to use two hands in harmony. With really good scans that enabled you to differentiate the impression mark from the ink spread, you could make some very subtle judgments. The outlines would then be exported to Ai eps format, then (with some difficulty) imported into Fontographer.

    But with Photoshop 4 (to the best of my faulty recollection), the tools were changed. You could no longer toggle them they way you could earlier. I contacted Adobe about this, but nothing came of it. With each successive version of Ai, one winces at the crapulousness of its interface and functionality. It's become a bad neighborhood you try to drive through as quickly as you can. I have a feeling that, before Adobe switched to a subscription model, sales of Ai were quite low. Rather then bolster its interface and usability, they can now hide behind the suite, knowing that the subscribers need at least two pieces badly enough to buy the whole thing. 

  • Chris LozosChris Lozos Posts: 940
    edited February 2016
    I remember the Photoshop vector tool as well.  They were good for defining a mask.  Since tracing quality scans has never been a priority [or even an interest] for me, i don't find those FS tools that helpful.  My analog drawings are not that critical and I prefer leaving curves in flux as I proceed with a typeface. I suppose if you were doing a revival, this might be helpful though.  I agree that Ai has taken a downturn over the years though. 

  • Nick:  Adobe didn't incorporate anything of Freehand into Illustrator when they acquired it, because they had to sell it straight away to Aldus or likely face a court. They could have kept FH, buried AI, and had a monopoly at the high end, but for pride of creation, as AI was/is? the only application Adobe made themselves, having bought most of the rest.
    True, but then Adobe acquired Freehand again 11 years later, when they bought Macromedia in December 2005, and even kept it around a little while. But they did nothing with it, really.

    Also, I agree with you that the Figma vector editing tools are not of special interest to type designers, because they do not relate much to the kinds of vectors we deal with.

  • Nick:  Adobe didn't incorporate anything of Freehand into Illustrator when they acquired it, because they had to sell it straight away to Aldus or likely face a court. They could have kept FH, buried AI, and had a monopoly at the high end, but for pride of creation, as AI was/is? the only application Adobe made themselves, having bought most of the rest.
    True, but then Adobe acquired Freehand again 11 years later, when they bought Macromedia in December 2005, and even kept it around a little while. But they did nothing with it, really.
    Hah! I wondered what David was on about, thinking only of the second time, ahah :) Thanks for clarifying that Thomas :)
  • I remember years ago, seeing a presentation about a new drawing program. I forget what it was originally for. It was pre smart apps by many years but, it was not initially for print. Maybe it was a precursor or competitor to Flash?
    Soon after that, the business model its founders were part of changed and it  vanished. Anyhow, it was intuitive, simple, and powerful. Even simpler than Freehand. Figma reminds me of this tool, but a little less powerful and less intuitive (but still, anything is better than Illustrator tools IMO). I wonder if the Figma people realize, they are reinventing something that was already coded a decade or more ago? A simple, intuitive, powerful, vector drawing program.
  • I remember years ago, seeing a presentation about a new drawing program. I forget what it was originally for. It was pre smart apps by many years but, it was not initially for print. Maybe it was a precursor or competitor to Flash?
    About 10 years ago Xara got out of a non-compete contract they made with Corel a long time, and released what is now Xara Design Pro. Prior to this they had been the most-anonymous library developer for the core geometric library used in CorelDRAW. I wonder if you are thinking of them? :) 
  • Dave Crossland said:
    I remember years ago, seeing a presentation about a new drawing program. I forget what it was originally for. It was pre smart apps by many years but, it was not initially for print. Maybe it was a precursor or competitor to Flash?
    About 10 years ago Xara got out of a non-compete contract they made with Corel a long time, and released what is now Xara Design Pro. Prior to this they had been the most-anonymous library developer for the core geometric library used in CorelDRAW. I wonder if you are thinking of them? :) 
    No.
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