Sketchbook, a.k.a Sketchbook Pro, returns
Sep 19, 2021
Reading Time: 5 minutes
02 Dec 2023
I wrote sometime back about Clip Studio Paint and how I thought it was perhaps the best replacement to paper drawing going. And largely, I still think that CSP is a brilliant, wonderful tool. The caveat to the article was that at the time my all time favourite tool, Sketchbook Pro, had been properly abandoned by Autodesk, so CSP was the best alternative.
But the winds have changed and Sketchbook, now under the control of some of the crew responsible for it, is off under its own steam and once again moving forward after many, many years. So naturally, eagerly even, I had to have a look at it again (not that it ever vanished from my world 100%).
I discovered Sketchbook way back, but remember buying it again in 2007. At the time it was a standalone product and was simply so far ahead of everything else at the time, as a designer it was hard to go past it. Originally designed by Alias/Wavefront as a sketch tool to compliment the Alias 3D modelling software, it was clear to me they were thinking like people who actually design for a living; and what’s more, were doing it tablets. Everything about Sketchbook was simple, clean and intuitive and let me concentrate on the drawing rather than dealing with the UI (user interface). I loved every minute of it.
The problem came when Autodesk took it over and then proceeded to gradually just let it go. And I say ‘problem’, probably more from the standpoint of management (or mismanagement) rather than the application itself… it was pretty near perfect the way it was; and maybe that was its problem for a company like Autodesk? Anyway, after years languishing I was one of many that gave it up, not because it was not good, but because Autodesk could not make up its mind with licensing, or much else.
When I heard the news of Sketchbook breaking off and going at it alone, I’d umm’d and ahhh’d for about 20 minutes before deciding to pony up the $30 (or whatever) they were asking to buy it from the app store. This is the 3rd or 4th time I have actually bought this same application (for desktop), if that gives you any idea of just how hopeless Autodesk had been in managing it, but decided to buy it one last time if that meant the guys, and the application, will once again start moving forward.
So what’s so good about Sketchbook that I would 1. pay for it… again, and 2. use it instead of CSP? It’s a very simple answer really – Sketchbook is, hands down, the most intuitive drawing application ever made. Yea, I know people will scream about Procreate, but it’s only for mobile devices and Sketchbook was built for desktops (especially when using a Wacom or similar), then for mobile devices. But even against Procreate, it’s still the clear winner when it comes to being completely intuitive; and that’s probably due to the simple idea that Sketchbook was, and remained, a very single purpose application, and one with a very clearly defined audience at that.
Perhaps the best way to demonstrate this is to compare the Sketchbook workspace to that of CSP:
Clip Paint Studio. I love it but the UI sticks with the old faithful set by the likes of Photoshop 30 odd years ago.
Sketchbook is about the process of drawing.
While both the above workspaces represent my personal setup for each application, both are, ultimately set up to do the same thing. CSP is UI overload, Sketchbook is more like my actual desk when I am sketching on paper.
Features wise it’s still very clear to see to see that Sketchbook had been designed for (and as I understand it, by) professional designers, built around what I’d consider to be the pure essentials for drawing – guides, selection tools, basic shapes, text tool and layers. And while a small selection of more advanced tools such as mirror, pen stabilisation, and perspective grids round out the offerings, to make digital sketching life a little bit easier, in today’s world of overblown software feature lists, the tools do not seem like a lot. But honestly, Sketchbook has everything (all??) you need and in mimicking the analogue drawing experience in so many ways, it keeps with what are effectively ‘real world’ tools of the trade. What’s more, the tools, especially the guides (which I consider to be best in class), are so intuitive and easy to use, it’s very much like using their physical counterparts. Believe me, that’s a really good thing, reinforced to me recently when testing the idea of tightening up some very loose doodles I had scanned.
The brush/pen engine is solid, and fast. I had been thinking that it was that little bit slower than CSP, but if that was true or not, was just me, or the most recent version has been sped up, I am not sure. But in back to back comparisons, I found both Sketchbook and CSP to be on par in terms of speed and reaction time, which is vital if you are looking to use it as a primary drawing tool. And adding layers to a fairly large canvas size does not seem to phase it either, meaning that creating hi-resolution images is not an issue.
For those that like working on tablets, the porting to mobile is seamless. Other than a few small changes to allow for the format/device change, the mobile version of Sketchbook works in exactly the same way to its big brother. That means you don’t have to think too much, or at all, when switching between devices, and of course files are totally interchangeable, meaning moving from tablet to desktop is a non issue. This is a huge advantage over something like Procreate, as many like myself simply feel constricted on tablets, even on the large iPad Pro. My Wacom Cintiq is 27″, which has a more or less A3 (or 12.5×17″ to those in the US) workspace, and that’s just about 3 times the size of our iPad Pro! So while I don’t mind doodling on the iPad, I can work 1:1 print size on the Wacom and save myself all that pinching and whatnot. Sketchbook allows me to doodle on the iPad and move it to to the Wacom to work on it 1:1.
I could go on and drill down into every little aspect of Sketchbook, and bore you stupid in the process. Rather, what I am going to say is if you sketch and draw, a lot, for fun or professionally, or you are thinking of moving to the digital space to do so, then you’d be doing yourself a massive disservice for not at least checking out Sketchbook. With any luck, now that it’s sailing under its own sails and backed by people who really love it, it is only going to keep getting better…. which is kind of a big ask!