If you don’t want to fork out 300 bucks for Adobe Illustrator Inkscape is definitely an alternative. Inkscape is an open-source alternative to software like Illustrator, Xara and Freehand. It has most of the stuff commercial software has, but with a slightly different interface. The developers used the GNOME Human Interface guidelines when designing the program. It is pretty clear that Inkscape has a legacy from another open source illustration program, Xara Xtreme. As a matter of fact the two open-source projects are sharing some features and experiences.
If you come from an Adobe-world like me you will probably be annoyed of the different interface, but after a while one discovers that it’s pretty nice and even uses logic. Of course there is also the process of re-learning all the shortcut keys (why can’t someone standardize them).
A drawback with Inkscape is that it doesn’t handle file-formats from Adobe Illustrator and Freehand. So if you are going over to Inkscape, don’t forget to save your Adobe-files as SVG or EPS. Inkscape can save to some interesting formats, most noteworthy PDF. The PDF saving feature is fast and does the job without any problems at all.
I tested Inkscape with Windows Vista and had no stability problems whatsoever. It runs smooth, and feels a lot faster than similar Adobe products. It also takes considerably less time to load. There are also versions of Inkscape for MAC OS X and Linux. The program is considerably small; the installer is just 21 MB. It’s even possible to carry Inkscape around on a USB-stick.
There is one down-side with Inkscape, the program can’t export to Flash and it has no built in animation capability. But for pure illustration purposes Inkscape is quite competitive and is a great product for amateurs as well as pros.