SketchBook Pro
Issue: Volume: 27 Issue: 3 (March 2004)

SketchBook Pro

An illustrator by trade, I implement digital tools, as well as traditional pencil and paper, in my daily work flow. So when Alias announced its SketchBook Pro, I jumped at the opportunity to add it to my arsenal of tools. Before SketchBook Pro, I started projects with pencil on paper, sketching out rough ideas. When I created an image I wanted to translate into the digital realm, I scanned it. Once it was digital, I added color and other embellishments.

In a short time, SketchBook Pro changed my work flow by replacing pencil and paper. It enabled me to add color right from the very first stage, a practice that I normally didn't do with sketches on paper. And I could change colors quickly and easily.

High-quality images are possible with Alias Systems' SketchBook Pro software solution.

I did find myself thinking of it as a sketchbook, as opposed to a handheld way to fine-tune and create finished images and material. I used SketchBook Pro to create a rough sketch that I later would finish on my workstation. And, considering it is loaded on a portable Tablet PC, it holds great potential for working remotely. It might be nice to have when I'm traveling, enabling me to sketch the instant that inspiration strikes. I might even e-mail sketches to the office or my client when I'm in the field. And I could sketch during meetings, either to make notes on a pre-existing piece of art or to create something based on ideas being exchanged.

I often used SketchBook Pro's screen-shot utility, which is always available on the toolbar at the bottom of the screen. I just click the camera on the right-hand side of the toolbar and it takes a picture of the entire desktop and launches the resulting image file in SketchBook Pro. At the same time, it sets the image layer as a locked background and provides me an active layer on top of it. I can start right in, making annotations. I use that utility often and think it's a very good idea.

Although I use my Wacom tablet extensively, this marked my first experience sketching directly on an LCD. I had to get used to hardware limitations. Assigning color can be difficult because we all see the screen differently. Colors can look very different when I reposition the LCD only slightly. As a result, it is hard to be confident that the colors I pick are accurate.

I would have liked a selection tool that offers more detailed options than a rectangle. I am accustomed to having a detailed lasso selection tool with which to select a certain part of my sketch. I was drawing a face, and I liked the nose but thought that it should have been higher. I didn't want to erase it and redraw it; I just wanted to grab it and move it. That's something I often do when I'm sketching, and I couldn't find a way to do that with SketchBook Pro's rectangular selection tool.

In addition to the lasso selection tool, I wanted the ability to scale a portion of my illustration. Inevitably, I always find my-self wanting to pick a small part of my sketch and scale it. I did not have a way to do that, yet it seems like a natural feature for a sketching program.

Two erasers are provided: one at the other end of the pen stylus and a standard eraser option. The regular eraser tool can be modified, for instance, in terms of size and opacity, and saved as a preset. I could not customize the default eraser on the end of the stylus, however. I would have liked to be able to flip the pen over and use my favorite eraser, which is very small and pressure sensitive. Instead, only one large eraser is offered at the end of the stylus.

Given the availability of multiple un-do, I wasn't afraid to experiment with my sketches and, in turn, did not have to limit my creativity. I also enjoyed the availability of layers in SketchBook Pro. To trace portions of an image, I simply would bring in a photo and put an active layer above it as tracing paper. I could name and rename the layers, writing in the titles with the pen stylus. It is a nice way of keep everything stylus-controlled. I thought that I would find myself wanting to use the control keys, as I usually do. But the tools seem to be designed in such a way that it limits the desire and need to use the keyboard.

Suitable for use with Tablet PCs and Wacom pressure-sensitive tablets, the software responds quickly to the stylus. The pen-based interface and marking menus are well done. Additionally, I had the option of saving files in such popular formats as TIFF, BMP, JPG, GIFF, and PNG. Overall, I was very happy to have this tool with which to sketch. It's not only efficient, but also a lot of fun to use.

Chris Hipp is a professional illustrator well versed in a wide variety of digital imaging solutions.

Alias Systems
Price: $179
Minimum System Requirements: A Tablet PC or a workstation with a 266mhz Intel Pentium II or greater processor, Windows XP or Windows 2000 only, 128mb of memory, a 16-bit color display, and a pressure-sensitive Wacom tablet and pen stylus.