Design tool memory usage

How do various design tools utilise memory? What’s their baseline usage with no documents open? How does memory grow with lots of large documents open?

Empty documents #

The graph below shows what happens when Figma, Sketch, Illustrator, Photoshop, and Affinity Designer have 0, 5, 10, or 15 empty documents simultaneously open. For apps that require a document size or bit depth, I used 512×512px and 8bits per channel.

Graph showing how much memory is used by empty documents. Worst to best: Figma, Illustrator, Affinity Designer, Photoshop, Sketch.

The results show a linear increase in memory usage as more documents are created. That’s what you’d expect, but it’s always good to test your assumptions. Figma’s usage is by far the highest, and Sketch’s usage is the lowest.

2048 circles #

Lots of circles in a grid

The next test involves opening an SVG with a grid of 2048 circles in it. The main purpose of this test is to check layer/object overhead. The objects themselves are simple, there’s just a lot of them.

Graph showing how much memory is used for the test document. Worst to best: Figma, Illustrator, Photoshop, Affinity Designer, Sketch.

The results show linear growth for all tools again. Figma has the highest usage, and Sketch has the lowest usage, again. Figma is further from the pack this time though, using just under 7 GB when 15 copies of the test document are open.

2048 points #

A flower shape with 8 petals

This time around, we’ll use an SVG containing a single path with a 2048 points. The path looks similar to the one shown above, but instead of eight petals, there’s 2048. Each petal is a bézier path segment. This test checks how optimally path data is stored.

Graph showing how much memory is used for the test document. Worst to best: Figma, Affinity Designer, Illustrator, Photoshop, Sketch.

The order is similar to last time, but with Affinity Designer shifting up two positions. Figma is once again the tool using the most memory. I believe Figma loads a full copy of the application per tab, which may be part of the cause for its high memory usage. Each tab is also limited to 2GB of ram, leaving around 1.75 GB for the largest possible document. Put another way, if you purchased a Mac Studio with 192 GB of ram, you could only open documents that use less than 1% of it. This is different to the other applications tested, which have access to the Mac Studio’s full 192 GB, minus whatever the system is using. Figma simultaneously uses the most overall memory of all the tools tested, while also being the most constrained.

Tiger #

A tiger illustration

The tiger below is a common test SVG, containing around 1000 paths and many groups. This test is similar to the previous ones — open up 0, 5, 10, and 15 copies and see how much memory is used. The results below show more of the same.

Graph showing how much memory is used for the test document. Worst to best: Figma, Illustrator, Affinity Designer, Photoshop, Sketch.

300 images #

Brightly coloured geometric images used for testing

What if we import 100, 200, and 300 images into a single document? The images used for this test were 1024×1024 each, and all unique (as seen above).

Graph showing how much memory is used for the test document. Worst to best: Photoshop, Figma, Affinity Designer, Illustrator, Sketch.

Moby Dick #

This next test is a riff on Jesse Grosjean’s Moby Dick workout. The idea is simple — create a text box and paste the entire contents of Moby Dick into it. Then, duplicate the text box and test memory usage with 5, 10, and 15 copies.

Moby Dick is around 1.3 MB. It’s a hefty chunk of text, but by no means huge, especially for modern computers.

Graph showing how much memory is used with multiple copies of Moby Dick pasted into a document. Figma and Sketch not shown. Illustrator, Affinity Designer, and Photoshop all about the same.

The graph above looks a little empty, because Sketch and Figma both had issues with Moby Dick. Sketch froze not long after pasting the text. Figma froze for 55 seconds after pasting, then ran out of memory. Testing both apps again with a 200 KB text file gave similar results.

Figma out of memory alert

The other apps handled 15 copies of the full Moby Dick text. I didn’t test beyond that point. Note that the memory usage for each additional text box seems minimal, which is what you’d expect, given it’s just 1.3 MB of text.

Methodology #

Apps were freshly launched prior to each group of tests. No other large apps were open during testing. Testing was only conducted once, due to the number of tests required (normally I’d consider averaging multiple tests). Photoshop can’t open SVGs directly while maintaining vector objects, so Affinity Designer was used to convert the SVGs into PSDs for Photoshop.

Tests were conducted with the latest versions of the applications, on an M1 Pro MacBook Pro with 32 GB of memory. Memory for the main application processes were used, and background processes were excluded from the results.

Background processes #

All the apps tested create Open and Save Panel service and QuickLook service processes. These use around 30 MB for each app, and they stop running when the app is closed. Figma’s FigmaAgent process continues to run, even when the app is closed (it’s used for uploading your fonts to their servers). FigmaAgent uses around 10 MB on my Mac. These processes weren’t counted in the results, but they’re all small enough that they wouldn’t drastically change the graphs.

Adobe does install a huge amount of background processes that run even when Photoshop and Illustrator are closed. I found 7 background processes, using around 480 MB, even with the main Creative Cloud app closed.

Published 4 September 2023.