Autodesk Sketchbook Pro: Powerful, Digital Drawing

The iPad, it’s not a device for content creation, is it?

Ask many a tech pundit that question, and they’ll say, “No, it isn’t.” But, there’s a flaw in the opinion you’re receiving. You’re asking a writer if they can use the iPad to write professionally. That’s a little more specific a context than just “content” in general. Of course the writer’s answer will be “No”. They’re creations rely on words, on text, and it’s arguably easier to create text with a hardware keyboard than it is with a software one. Can it be done? Sure. I’ve written 1000+ word posts for iPad.AppStorm solely on my iPad. But it isn’t ideal.

The problem with the opinions of many a tech writer, is that they’re leaving out all of the other types of “content” we human beings can create. With its gorgeous 9.7” display, photographs look beautiful on the iPad, and there are some great photo development apps available. And while there’s nothing on par with Lightroom or Aperture currently, there’s nothing stopping someone from building an app of that caliber. Recently, with the introduction of iMovie for iPad and Garageband for iPad, we’ve seen just how wide open the possibilities are for the creation of a wide range of content.

Today we’re going to look at one of the stand-out apps in the art category. It’s another area that captured the imaginations of iPad users. With hardware this advanced, could someone finally create software that enabled an iPad to become the ultimate digital sketchbook? Autodesk has tried, bringing their legendary Sketchbook Pro franchise to iOS. Let’s see how well they’ve done.

The Interface

If you’ve read any review I’ve done on AppStorm, you’ve probably seen me lead with a discussion of the app in question’s UI. That’s because I personally view the UI design as paramount to a quality app. Maybe it’s my background in UI design that makes me more sensitive to this than the average iPad user might be, but in any case, the average user notices UI issues just the same, even if they can’t pinpoint specifically why they’re not happy with the app.

Sketchbook Pro's "Main" UI

Sketchbook Pro's "Main" UI

Ok, so that isn’t really the main UI of Sketchbook Pro. I wanted to make a point. When you launch Sketchbook Pro this is what you see: a blank canvas. And touching it makes a mark on the screen. At its core, that’s how Sketchbook Pro works. You touch the screen, swiping and swooshing, and you create a piece of art.

But don’t worry, there’s a lot more power “under the hood”.

Sketchbook Pro's Tools UI

Sketchbook Pro's Tools UI

That’s more like it. Pens and brushes, color swatches, a toolbar of buttons and popovers like your layers palette. There’s a lot there. But never does the UI feel cluttered, or obstructed. It feels native, and that’s saying quite a lot. There’s something that Sketchbook Pro uses that really adds to that…

Gestures, Gestures, Gestures

Yup, gestures. They’re a prominent part of Sketchbook Pro’s UI. I forget who said it first, but it’s been mentioned many times since: gestures in iOS are like keyboard shortcuts. They can’t be used exclusively and extensively, but they’re important and useful for an iOS power user.

The first gesture that’s really key in Sketchbook Pro is the 3-finger tap. That calls up all of your tools. Pretty important if you want to be efficient. But it isn’t required that you know that gesture to use the app. That little grey circle that’s always on the screen, that calls up those tools too.

And so it goes with the rest of Sketchbook Pro’s gestures. There are ways to accomplish the same tasks through the visual interface, but there are more efficient ways to do it with gestures.

My two favorite gestures are 3-finger swipe left to “Undo” and 3-finger swipe right to “Redo”. I use those constantly. Honorable mention goes to the 3-finger swipe down, which reveals the Brush Editor. Also extremely useful.

Your Drawing Tools

Alright, let me give you a little look at the range of tools available to you.

Your Tool Options

Your Tool Options

Above is the type of selection you’ll find the brush editor contains. A lot to choose from. Sketchbook Pro does a nice job of paring things down for you though. Your main toolbox of options contains a more manageable array.

You’ve got your:

  • Pencil
  • Marker
  • Technical pen
  • Brush
  • Chisel-tip
  • Air Brush options

In addition to some fancier options like splatters, streaks, and other texture brushes. You also have both soft and hard erasers at your disposal. Always useful for correcting those ever-annoying mistakes.

As you can see, quite a robust offering. Sketchbook Pro also has a built-in store, accessible through the Brush Editor. Right now there are a handful of packs, all available for free. Hopefully it’s something Autodesk will expand upon, perhaps even allowing custom brushes.

The Brush Store Button

The Brush Store Button

Export Options

Another key area of importance, and of great concern to any content creation app on the iPad, is the range of export options. It’s something that Sketchbook Pro has improved over time, no question about it.

The Export Options

The Export Options

Yeah, quite the list. With the notable absence of Twitter, you have just about all the options you could wish for. It will certainly be interesting to see, come iOS 5, whether Twitter integration comes, or perhaps even iCloud.

In any event, you have no need to worry about your creations being locked into your iPad forever. With some of the choices – namely Dropbox, Email, and iTunes – you have the choice of either a flattened image, or a layered .PSD file. How’s that for flexibility.

In Conclusion

Alright, so there you have it, Sketchbook Pro for the iPad.

As you can see, the features are all there, the UI is intuitive, and uses gestures in a useful and un-obtuse manner. But, I must confess that the answer to the question I posed at the beginning – could it be the ultimate digital sketchbook – is a subjective one. Like art itself, things work for some people, and don’t work for others. Despite my technophile nature, I still take an analog sketchbook and a small watercolor set with me if I have a mind to paint.

But, for those who are already, or have always been, at home in the world of digital art, the iPad combined with Sketchbook Pro truly makes the ultimate sketchbook.


A fully featured digital sketchbook that takes perfect advantage of gestures on the iPad.