Developer: Autodesk Inc.

Price: 1.99
Version: 1.0
App Reviewed on: iPad 2

iOS Integration Rating: ★★★½☆
User Interface Rating: ★★★★☆
Re-use / Replay Value Rating: ★★★½☆

Overall Rating: ★★★½☆

Demoed at the new iPad unveiling in March, Sketchbook Ink by Autodesk finally landed on the App Store yesterday. It’s a simple sketching tool, with a delightfully Spartan interface, and intended as an inking app, not a replacement to their full-featured digital drawing app Sketchbook Pro. While I laud the design and concept, the lack of features and some technical hiccups don’t live up to the hype. Still, the amazingly high output resolution is a major selling point.

Almost Zen-like in it’s minimalism, and reminiscent of Zen Brush, users get a canvas, seven pens, two eraser pens and a color palette. I say pens, not brushes, since the virtual pigment simulates ink from a fountain pen with an assortment of nibs, with their wonderful quirkiness. So much so that I was more inclined towards calligraphy than towards drawing.

The images are “resolution-independent” making zooming a pleasure and fine detail work easy. And, output resolution is far greater than even the new iPad can display – up to 11,336-by-8,727. The ink is reactive to the porous nature of real paper, which creates some interesting, if often unintended, effects. The tools are tucked neatly on the margins and disappear with a tap.

All that’s very appealing, and I understand what Autodesk is selling here, but there are some features no art app should be without and first amongst them are layers. It’s an odd omission, particularly considering there is an option to import a photo as a background. Another oddball oversight is the lack of any control over ink opacity. In fact, the width of the stroke is the just about the only adjustable element. I’d like the option to manipulate the preset brushes and a smudging or blending tool.

The export options are lacking as well, limited as they are to the iPad’s photo library, iTunes, Dropbox, or email. It seems like an “open-in” for Sketchbook Pro would be a no-brainer, not to mention social network posting. I have an iPad 2, so this may not be an issue on the third generation models, but despite the app’s overall fluidity, pen strokes occasionally lag. It’s not a matter of a not-quite real time; it can sometimes take several seconds for a line to appear.

And yet, with all these complaints I like SketchBook Ink. I paint, draw and sketch a lot, despite my (obvious) utter lack of talent or creativity, and something ineffable makes the holistic experience quite satisfying. And, as the sample image (left) shows, some great digital inking can be achieved when SketchBook Ink is in the right hands. In any event, the app isn’t going anywhere and updated features are sure to follow. It’s presently on sale for $1.99, regularly priced at $4.99, so if this sort of simple interface appeals, I’d grab a copy now, while the dollar-feature ratio is evenly balanced.


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