Figma vs Sketch: 10 Differences That Set Each Apart
Product and UI designers often face a difficult decision when it comes to which tool they’ll use: Figma or Sketch? Let’s finally settle the score of the Figma vs. Sketch debate. By the end of this article, we will have the clear winner and you will know which app is best for your purposes.
I’m a Web and UI Designer. When I first tried Sketch, I fell in love with it. Sketch was fast, lightweight, and easy to use. It was perfect for interface design.
Last Updated January 2021
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Most UI designers felt the same way. Until Sketch appeared, we had to use Photoshop for interface design. Photoshop has its purposes, but it’s not made for UX and UI design. It’s made for photo manipulation. Hence the word “photo” in its name.
Soon enough, Sketch became the industry standard and stayed that way for many years.
Enter Figma, sometimes referred to as “Sketch on steroids”.
Why I had to decide between Sketch and Figma
When I first tried Figma, I didn’t see any major benefits, so I went back to Sketch.
But a few years later, when I started creating a web design course, I needed to choose an interface design tool to teach. Sketch was not the best choice because it’s only on Mac and you have to pay for a license. I needed something free and available for all machines.
This brings me to the most important difference between Figma vs. Sketch.
Difference #1: Platform availability
While Sketch is only available on macOS, Figma works on Mac and Windows and has a web app.
If you don’t own a Mac, this simple fact is enough for you to make the decision.
Even for Mac-owning designers, this is still an important fact. When I’m working on a big UI project like a mobile app design, I work with a team. There are times when I need to give design files to another designer. If they have a PC, there’s no way for me to share my Sketch files.
Difference #2: Cost
Figma is free for individual designers but costs money for teams with more than two designers (editors). Then it gets more expensive than Sketch, starting from $12 per editor/month. But that’s for your employer to worry about.
Sketch is a flat $99 to download.
Difference #3: Styles
I started using Figma for my course. I began noticing tiny but meaningful differences.
The difference between styles in Figma vs. Sketch is what made me switch to Figma for my freelance work.
In Figma, you can create independent styles from Text, Color, Stroke, and Effects. You can apply these styles however you want to any layer. You could apply a text style and a color style, only a shadow, or everything together.
In Sketch, that’s not possible. You only have two types: Text and Layer Styles. Every property becomes part of that one style. For example, a pink rectangle with a drop shadow in the example below is a single layer style.
I can’t apply that pink color or shadow independently on any other element.
In Figma, the pink color and shadow styles are independent:
This small detail makes all the difference. I need to create a pink color or drop shadow style once and then use it across the entire project. It doesn’t matter if I apply it to text, rectangle, ellipse, group, frame, or anything else. Color is color and shadow is a shadow (not according to Sketch though).
I can later decide to change the pink color style to blue. And the change will affect every single layer with that style. All pink buttons, pink text, pink icons, and everything pink will become blue. A single-click paint job. Whoa!
You could achieve something similar in Sketch. But you will need to combine styles, nested symbols, and more. Figma’s approach is much more elegant.
There’s more. Figma handles text styles much better than Sketch. In Sketch you can’t override any of the properties of a particular text style.
For example, say we have a Big Headline text style: Roboto, bold, 45px, left-aligned, in black color.
Throughout the project, we will need the headline sometimes center-aligned, sometimes left-aligned, and sometimes blue instead of black.
In Sketch, we can make these overrides, but they are temporary. The moment we need to tweak something about the master style, like changing the font, all those overrides will disappear:
Not even the alignment stays. So, to make use of text styles in Sketch we can’t have one Big Headline text style. We need to have:
- Big Headline / Left Aligned
- Big Headline / Center Aligned
- Big Headline / Right Aligned
- Big Headline / Blue / Left Aligned
- Big Headline / Blue / Center Aligned
- Big Headline / Blue / Right Aligned
And so on for every color variation. And that’s just for one type of headline. We need the same for other headlines, subheads, paragraphs, links, and captions. This creates such a mess that often it’s better not to use styles at all.
In Figma, there’s only one Big Headline. Notice how all color and alignment properties persist as I update the master text style:
How many Big Headline text styles do we need in Figma? One. This discovery almost brought me to tears.
Difference #4: Live collaboration
The most discussed detail about Figma is its real-time collaboration feature.
Due to this feature, many have dubbed Figma “the Google Docs of digital design.” Here’s how it works:
- The changes are visible to others in real-time.
- You can see mouse movements of other editors, color-coded and named, like in the GIF above.
- It actually works — no syncing issues or long lags.
This is a game-changer for large teams with many designers working on the same project.
Sketch is far from having this feature yet. They do have a cloud feature, but so far it’s more like Dropbox for file sharing.
Difference #5: Prototyping
From my experience, Figma’s prototyping is superior to Sketch. Here’s why:
- Figma offers more UI triggers: On Click, On Drag, While Hovering, Mouse Enter/Leave, and a few more. The only Sketch trigger is On Click.
- Prototype preview is more stable and works better in Figma.
- Both apps have the standard transitions between prototype screens, like Move In/Out. But Figma has an extra one called Smart Animate. This allows you to create advanced animations, like this bouncing ball I created in a couple of clicks:
Where Figma prototyping fails
Figma’s prototyping is missing one crucial thing — linking between pages. For now, it doesn’t allow us to connect frames if they are on different pages.
In Sketch, this isn’t a problem. Why would you need this?
Often, I work on apps that have more than 300 screens. In Sketch, I organize these screens in pages. For example, I will have pages like these:
- Sign-up screens
- Help screens
- Booking screens
- User profile screens
This way, if I need to make an update to the user’s avatar, I can go to the “User profile screens” page and easily locate the avatar.
But since Figma doesn’t allow prototype linking between pages, I need to have them all on the same page:
In Figma, I waste a lot of time looking for screens. For easier searching, I must take the time to organize screens in different groups.
If I know the name of the frame and I use a search plugin, I can easily locate it. But I can’t memorize what I’ve named 317 screens. I need to visually browse through what’s out there.
Also, when you have 300+ screens on the same canvas, you end up zooming and panning a lot to go between screens that are far from each other. But with pages, you can get to that screen with a single click.
I need this feature more than those fancy animation options. So for me, this one goes to Sketch.
Difference #6: Plugins
There’s an ocean of great plugins to fill the gaps of missing Sketch features.
Figma falls short of Sketch when it comes to the number of available plugins. That’s because it’s a new tool and they launched plugin support in 2019.
But what Figma lacks in quantity it makes it up in quality:
- Plugin installation is a matter of a single click in Figma. In Sketch, you need to download a ZIP file, usually from GitHub, extract it, find the plugin folder, and place it there. Not fun.
- Finding a plugin happens right inside Figma. There’s a Plugins tab where you can browse and search all Figma plugins. I love this. When I need something simple like a spell-checker, I don’t need to leave the app.
Here’s how to find and install a Figma plugin:
Demo of Figma plugin installation
Figma needs a bit of time so that third-party developers can catch up and create more plugins. For now, let’s call it a draw.
Difference #7: Symbols and components
Symbols in Sketch are the same as Components in Figma. They work in a similar way, except for one major difference.
In Figma, you can override most properties of a Component. In Sketch, you can only override the text of a Symbol, unless you prepare the Symbol by nesting other Symbols and Layer Styles inside it. And still, that only limits you to the nested options.
Above is a single button Component in Figma. The differences in colors are simple Fill overrides. I don’t need to have four different button Components or nest layer styles inside it. One Component can rule them all.
And if I want to standardize the button colors, I can pick the color from my universal Color Styles:
Difference #8: Dark mode
Dark mode doesn’t just look great. It’s necessary for accessibility and to prevent eyes from getting tired.
The opposite is true as well. Working in dark mode during bright daylight is difficult. The visibility of the UI is very low and you end up squinting most of the time.
That’s why having both the light and dark modes is ideal. You get optimal viewing any time of day.
Sketch has both modes. But Figma has only one, light mode. You could manually change the canvas color in Figma, but that’s about it. The UI stays white.
Difference #9: Third-party resources
Kick-starting design projects is often easier if you’re using ready-made UI kits.
Sketch is a winner here. It’s been around longer and it has a larger market (for now), so there are plenty of paid and free kits to download.
You can import a Sketch file into Figma, but styles won’t convert and you’ll lose important features within the kit.
Difference #10: User delights
I’m an Apple “fanboy.” What I love the most about Apple products are small but delightful details. For example, a genie effect when minimizing a window on macOS.
I’ve found many delightful details in Figma, too.
In Figma, if you delete all layers inside a group, the group disappears too.
It’s small, but this tells a bigger story about who’s behind the product. Everyone can get the basics right. But to make something delightful and awe-inspiring takes extra effort and dedication.
In Sketch, you can copy all properties from one element and paste it on any other element. It’s a handy feature. But you can’t copy only one property, like a background shadow.
In Figma, you can copy a single property. For example, I apply a shadow on a button, I want to use exactly the same shadow on other elements too. I can select that property in the properties panel, copy it, and then paste it on any other layer.
There’s this little-known shortcuts tutorial bar in Figma. It shows all shortcuts nicely broken down in categories.
The shortcuts you’ve already used are highlighted in blue. This way you can tell all the shortcuts left to learn. This is what I call a delightful product.
Automatic frame numbering
When I’m working on an app with 300+ screens, I absolutely need to number them. When I ask my product manager which screen they’re talking about, they need to be able to say “#51” not “that booking screen that comes up before that final payment confirmation.”
In Sketch, I have to manually number frames, but Figma does this automatically.
There are more ways Figma delights, but I’ll let you discover those.
Let’s tally up the score.
- Figma: 6 points (Platforms, Price, Styles, Live Collaboration, Components, Tiny Delights)
- Sketch: 3 points (Prototyping, Dark Mode, Resources)
- Draw: 1 (Plugins)
There used to be even more differences between these two apps. But they are quick to catch up on any new feature the other one introduces.My bet is on Figma. I hope after reading this article, yours is, too. And if you want to learn design using Figma, this course might be for you. Spoiler alert: I’m the instructor.
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