Robosketching for the People

Robert Stribley   October 15, 2010


Don’t feel boxed in when it comes to your digital sketching options. (Image via Banksy.)

As the jokes about the iPad being an outsized iPhone recede and sales continue to skyrocket, many of us are finding ways to incorporate an iPad into our working lives. Early buzz suggested that iPads were great as communications and reading devices, but not so hot for any sort of genuine professional productivity. Au contraire.  As a cursory review of the landscape reveals, for example, there are quite a few apps, which enable you to sketch your ideas into reality, whether you’re sitting on the subway, sipping at a café or spacing out in a meeting. So, no need to reach for that cocktail napkin anymore – simply reach for your iPad.

I can’t claim to have reviewed all the sketching apps competing for your attention, but here’s some info on the few I have had the opportunity to use and can recommend.

Adobe Ideas – This app bears the twin virtues of being free  and extremely simple to use. It may not offer much in the way of brushes or stencils, but it renders nicely and unlike some more expensive apps, it doesn’t begin to pixelate your sketch when you zoom in. Perfect for jotting down a quick sketch when you’re not at your desk. Did I mention, it’s free?

Autodesk SketchBook Pro – By far the most robust of the sketching apps I’ve tried, SketchBook Pro includes only simple shapes, but a myriad of different brushes and tools. It also allows layering. Coming from the same folks who brought us AutoCAD, yet priced at $7.99, it’s remarkably affordable for all the features it includes. But wait there’s more! It’s also currently on sale for $3.99.

Penultimate – Described as a notetaking app, Penultimate actually performs the role of a digital Moleskin notebook.  It gives you plain, lined or graph “paper” to sketch or write on and allows you to save multiple notebooks, not just pages. And at $3.99 it’s quite affordable. Though there are limited colors and no brushes or stencils, Penultimate may win you over with its old-school elegance anyway.

Additionally, I’ve heard great things about Omnigraffle’s iPad app, but I haven’t yet felt compelled to plonk down the $50 to try it out. I understand it’s reasonably robust with access to plentiful stencils as well as line and text tools. And as you’d hope, the exported files can be opened in Omnigraffle on your desktop. On the minus side? The sole two reviewers over at iTunes agree that the price is pretty inflated for what you get.

Got an app? Now, grab yourself a Pogo sketching stylus (or if you’re the DIY type, make one yourself) and you’re ready to sketch.

This listing isn’t exhaustive; it simply reflects those apps your intrepid reporter has heard others speak highly of and so felt compelled to procure. Feel free to make your own recommendations in the comments.

And, of course, if you can’t afford all this stuff, a yellow legal pad and a Sharpie can still work wonders.



One Response

  1. An update for anyone who’s still reading …

    Muji launched a nice-looking sketch app today, which incorporates handwriting recognition, but also allows you to input text via keyboard if you prefer. Haven’t gotten to try it out yet, but it appears simple and elegant in the way you’d expect a Muji product to be.

    More here:

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