This tutorial is also available for Inkscape.

Vector Orientation – understanding a frequent problem

Affinity Designer Tutorial

A very common question on social media groups for vector art are problems with substraction and union due to vector orientation. All of a sudden the substract won’t work. You want to cut a shape out of your design and it’s just not showing as cut out. Even though the vector shapes show both elements as one object but in the same fill colour. Most likely the issue is a different orientation of those two objects.

Note:
This is not a unique problem to Affinity Designer. The same problem shows in Inkscape, Adobe Illustrator or CorelDraw (just to mention the tools I am frequently using). 

What’s vector orientation anyway? Vector shapes are a sequence of nodes – those little circles and squares when you switch to the Node tool. These nodes define the position in relation to it’s neighbors and the angle the two are connected by. No angle means a straight line [the circle will be a square]. The sequence (clockwise or counter-clockwise) of these nodes is the orientation.

2Dgameartguru inkscape toolbar

Let’s see this in action…

2dgameartguru - vector orientation Affinity

A good example of orientation is  a simple line/ curve. The stroke goes from thick to thin by adjusting the stroke pressure.

Duplicate the line and select a node. Click on “reverse” in the node tool options and the direction of thick to thin changes.

What does that mean to closed shapes like circles?
Let’s create a circle and duplicate it. Flip the duplicate horizontally.
Afterwards, convert both to shapes to curves.

Switch to the node tool and select all nodes.

Turn on “show orientation” at the right end of the node tool options.

2dgameartguru - vector orientation Affinity
2dgameartguru - vector orientation Affinity

A little red line appears at the top node – which also has a red rather than white outline.

This is the starting node and the red line indicates the orientation of the curves.

The problem comes when you combine objects with different orientation.

Note:
Here’s a sample with to circles intersecting and it doesn’t seem to matter which way the orientation is.

2dgameartguru - vector orientation Affinity
2dgameartguru - vector orientation Affinity

Here’s a sample of a text within a text.
The 2 and the word ‘volume’ have been converted to curves but when subtracting the letters from the number the V does not cut out.

Even though this is one curve and the nodes show the fill is black where it should be transparent.

Using the node tool, select on node in the V and click on reverse.

The orientation of the letter changes to counter clockwise and the letter becomes a cutout.

2dgameartguru - vector orientation Affinity

Conclusion

I am not sure what triggers the issues [complexity of shapes, curves/ straights, number of nodes]. It seems to happen more frequently with fonts. The inside cutouts of letters like B or b or overlapping extensions in handwritten fonts. I have encountered the issue with stock art as well. Those files might have been exported from other tools and got ‘altered’ on the way.

So, before pulling you hair out and wondering why something as simple as a substract is no longer working, try to change the vector orientation. It might be a possible fix to the issue. Good luck!

Note:
Eventually, I will write  a version of this post for Inkscape – as it has been a common issue in the facebook groups I frequent. Check again in a little bit.