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How to Turn Your Smartphone Into a Sketchbook


By: Jordan Krueger

As a designer, you already understand the importance of keeping a sketchbook on hand. Especially as a student, you never know where you will be when a moment of inspiration may suddenly strike you and you need to quickly jot down an image before it leaves your head. I used to be under the assumption that there was no substitute for a physical sketchbook and pencil, but slowly smartphone and tablet app developers are changing my opinion.

Finding the Right App

While I do prefer drawing on bigger surfaces, having an ultra-portable sketchbook in my pocket is a huge plus. If you have a tablet, you obviously have the benefit of having a bigger surface for drawing; in addition, you also have your pick of highly useful and well-designed artist apps. While I do consider myself an Adobe fan, I would not recommend Adobe Ideas, particularly if you plan on using it on an Android tablet (it doesn't even work on an Android phone) because it currently doesn't allow you to create multiple layers. One huge plus of Adobe Ideas, however, is that it renders vector lines, meaning your work will not be pixilated no matter how much you zoom.

Across both Android and iOS mobile devices, the one app that seems to deliver solid usability at a decent price is Sketchbook Pro. It has a mobile version for phones, and a pro version for tablets supporting a larger canvas image size. In the mobile version you can create up to 6 layers (and you don't have to pay extra for them like in Adobe Ideas) and have a larger variety of brushes and blending tools than Adobe Ideas. This app simply trounces Adobe Ideas in most ways possible, except for the lack of a vector mode.

Of course, there are a plethora of other apps you can try out on Android or iOS; most of them are under $5, so why not give them a try? Of course, if you are very limited by your budget, I would just stick with Sketchbook Mobile. For Android, some other well-received apps include Fresco Pro and Small ARTtools. iPhone users also have some high quality options including Brushes and Inspire.

Finding the Right Stylus

While you can do a lot of great sketches and work just by using your fingers, most artists will prefer using some utensil in the shape of a pencil, pen, or brush. Believe it or not, most phones are not very stylus-friendly at the moment. They are designed to detect fingers with their capacitive touch-screens, which results in most capacitive styluses being fat and imprecise. However, there have been recent stylus-engineering breakthroughs in the last couple months resulting in some interesting and very precise styluses.

At the moment, the most precise and reliable stylus I’ve used is the Adonit Job Pro. The stylus has a thin plastic dish surrounding a tiny center which serves as a censor for the screen. What results is a stylus with ballpoint-like precision; perfect for our sketching purposes.

For those of you looking for a broader, paintbrush feel from a stylus, look no further than nomadbrush. Not only does it simulate the feel of a paintbrush, it also simulates the effects of a paintbrush on capacitive screens. I highly recommend using either or both of the styluses mentioned above, depending on your preferences.

Using Your Sketchbook

After finally choosing your preferred sketching app and stylus, now all you have to do is use your phone how you would a pocket sketchpad. Spend some time getting familiar with the app, and even watch some tutorial videos if you feel overwhelmed with options and user interface choices. The Sketchbook Mobile app is incredibly complex, but once you learn the subtle nuances of it, you can create surprisingly high quality sketches. Granted, I mainly use the app for idea creation. I still prefer executing the ideas on Adobe Illustrator with a high quality artist’s tablet.

November 25th, 2011 written by Staff Writers

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