Today, from the great wild yonder of the iTunes App store comes the design tool of the century, or at least the next few days. Whatever you call it, if you have an iPhone and like to sketch, you’ll love it.

AutoDesk has released a mobile version of its SketchBook Pro product upon the masses. It’s appropriately called SketchBook Mobile and it is so ready to be downloaded, used and reviewed. That’s exactly what we’re gonna do, plus give you a comparison of the features with similar apps you may like to know about as well.

Update! Since this review, you may be interested to know that AutoDesk has released version 1.1 of their popular iPhone Sketching App. It has a few more layer features, brush resize preview and export to .PSD format with layers intact!! Good stuff. Check it out.

Who Loves Finger Sketchin’?

This isn’t the first Sketch-type app to hit the iPhone, but it is the first attempt a major product development company has made toward porting one of their design products to the popular mobile device. It takes the idea of conceptual sketch design using a large screen and a Wacom tablet and shoves it down into the tiny, yet addictively convenient interface of the iPhone touchscreen.

You sketch with your finger, erase with your finger, tap-tap and zoom with your finger. Hopefully, you have fingers. If you do, it’s a lot like wiping smears off your screen, with color appearing beneath. But, with the brush tools provided you get the sensation that you are using a device to create the most amazing idea that ever popped in your head.

The Marking Menu. A main set of brushes and access to settings, layers and color.
The Marking Menu. A main set of brushes and access to settings, layers and color.

If you’re familiar with Sketchbook Pro, you’ll recognize the Marking Menus, tools and a similar process. It’s all been simplified to make it work within the confines of the screen. That all means there are fewer options, but for what is available, it’s an easily functional tool on it’s first trip into the city. So, the sketch workflow will be somewhat familiar for those who have used illustration programs and the workflow is exactly what we’ll look at next.

The Workflow

Depending on what you design or find yourself sketching on a bar stool at the pub, there are likely different workflows you’ll use. Although working with Sketchbook Mobile is similar to how other software operates, it’s not as exact a process. Probably the quickest way to become familiar with the options and sketching on your cute little screen, is to import a photo of a sketch from your iPhone photo gallery. The Layer function allows you to import a photo to a single layer. After that, it’s time to pick a brush and go at it.

Below is the process I went through to throw a splash of color on a robot I recently sketched. I had already drawn it, so I snapped a photo and slapped it on a layer. At first you’ll go through a lot of Brush size adjustment, figuring out what color and opacity of brush you want. You’ll use undo a bit (double-tap lower left corner). You’ll want to remember two things. You can not delete a layer, but you can clear it (double-tap upper left corner) and look up every once in a while or you’ll go cross-eyed. Here’s how it went down.

Importing a Photo to a layer and creating another layer to sketch on top of
Importing a Photo to a layer and creating another layer to sketch on top
Picking the color you want to use from the Customizable Color Swatches
Picking the color you want to use from the Customizable Color Swatches
Customizing the color you want to use
Customizing the color you want to use
Picking the Brush you want to use from the Brush Palette
Picking the Brush you want to use from the Brush Palette
Customizing the Brush you've chosen
Customizing the Brush you've chosen
Using the selected Brush to trace over an imported Sketch
Using the selected Brush to trace over an imported sketch
Lots of Panning/Zooming in and out to get more detail
Lots of Panning/Zooming in and out to get more detail
After repeating the above many times, the final sketch
After repeating the above many times, the final sketch (Cropped in Photoshop)

The Feature Real

To get a better idea of exactly how it functions, here’s the feature video AutoDesk put together for the launch. There will also be some tutorials available shortly, we’ll be sure to link up when they go live.

Conclusion

If you think sketching on a sheet of paper is difficult, you may not understand why this, or other sketch tools, would be such a popular or useful app. However, Sketchbook Mobile has a utility and fun factor for many designers and engineers that can not be ignored. It lacks a lot of Layer features that are really needed to take an idea to the next level via Photoshop or Illustrator. The ability to export layers via a .PSD file is crucial. Generally, more options for the layers and the ability to save your brush settings would be incredibly helpful.

With the advantage of being the first design tool developed by a product development company for the iPhone, Sketchbook Mobile has strong possibilities of defining a toolset and workflow on handheld device for many future apps. The Marking Menu and double-tap corner commands are evidence of this. It provides quick access to a lot of options. Although a little hard to navigate through the different settings at first, the commands become more familiar, the more you use it. Just like many other iPhone Apps. And like other iPhone Apps, it’s cheap. Only $2.99 at the app store.

The Smack
A lot of cool stuff in this little app, but these are the best.

    • 6 Layers
    • Responsive controls
    • Amazing Brush options
    • Customizable Color Palette
    • Symmetrical Sketching
    • Large Format – 1024 x 682

The Whack
In general, there needs to be a lot more options. These are the top ones needed.

    • Layer Option
    • Pantone color presets
    • Saving Custom Brushes
    • Cropping
    • PSD export

Quick Comparison

As Drawing Apps for the iPhone go, there are plenty. Brushes is nice. Layers is another with a lot of features attractive to those who sketch. While they’re better than Sketchbook Mobile in some areas, Sketchbook Mobile has a much better set of brush options with more responsive actions than the other two. Here is the quick comparison of all three.

Brushes
(version 2.0)
Layers
(version 1.0)
Sketchbook Mobile
(version 1.0)
Export Size320 x 480512 x 5121024 x 682 (3GS)
600 x 400 (Other)
Export Formatto Photosto Photos,
Email JPEG,
Email PSD
to Photos,
Email PNG
BrushesNo presets,
Customizable
10 presets,
Customizable
25 presets,
Customizable
Layers456 (3GS)
3 (Other)
Layer Reorder
Layer Transparency
Layer Duplicate
Layer Rotate
Layer Hide
Layer Merge
Layer Delete
Layer Import Photo
Layer Background Fill
Undo/Redo
Cropping
Gallery
Help/Tips
Eyedropper (ColorPicker)
Pan/Zoom
Sync
Landscape Mode
Price$4.99$4.99$2.99
WebsiteLinkLinkLink

More Resources

The Sketchbook® Mobile iPhone App (iTunes)
The Sketchbook® Mobile Feature Reel
The Sketchbook® Mobile Group on Flickr
The AutoDesk YouTube Channel

Via Develop3D and Core77

Car image: Kevin Richards on Flickr

Author

Josh is co-founder of EvD Media. He engineers and designs, is the Director of Marketing for Luxion, is CSWP certified for SolidWorks training and support and excels at falling awkwardly. He is editor of SolidSmack.com and co-host of EngineerVsDesigner.com, a weekly podcast about design, engineering and what makes it all happen.