January 22, 2009

Autodesk Sketchbook Pro

Time for another quick art software review: Autodesk Sketchbook Pro.

Name: Autodesk Sketchbook Pro
Company: Autodesk
Platforms: Windows, Mac
Brief Description: Professional digital pen software with gesture based interface
Demo Restrictions: 15 day trial
Cost: US$100 download in North America and Japan, unknown elsewhere
Web Link: www.autodesk.com (link goes to product page)

Sketchbook Pro is a simple yet elegant drawing program. Originally made by Alias, creators of Maya, it is now owned by Autodesk, famous for its range of engineering grade modelling software. Like an engineering tool, Sketchbook Pro has a professional aura about it; it looks and feels like the tool an architect would use.

Sketchbook Pro has a very minimalist interface. All the key functionality can be accessed through the tool ring in the corner. Select an icon with the stylus, and a wheel of options can be selected through a gesture. It is elegant to use and lets you focus on drawing. I like how the tools can be moved to either the left or right corner; for left handers like me, its nice to have the tools in the more easily accessible bottom right corner.

The tools available are shown in the screenshot above, but it is deceptive. There is actually only [i]one[/i] drawing tool. The differences all come in the variable presets, of which the tools above are standard. You can define custom drawing tools if you wish, although they will only be accessible through a tool box, not the gesture friendly tool interface. Personally I find all the tools to look a bit same-y. There doesn’t seem to be much difference in feel between the pencil, ball point, chisel tip pen and paint brush.

Unlike ArtRage, Sketchbook Pro is a digital editor through and through, so you get cut, paste and lasso tools as well as moving, scaling and rotating the canvas, as well as layer support.

So, how does it stack up to sketching?

Doodling around with the pencil is actually surprisingly fun. The line algorithm is used in Sketchbook Pro was developed well. Lines feel smooth and crisp, and there isn’t the jerky bumpy quality you get with quick curves in other programs. The actual result might not look as much as natural pencil as with ArtRage, but it feels good to brainstorm ideas with.

Now for a more involved character sketching test…

Sigh. Now you know why I want to improve my art, as well as why I tend to stick to very blobby abstract cartoon designs in vector format. This is another character from the archive from years back. My drawings back then were terrible too, but better than this. Not a fault of Sketchbook Pro, though. This was very easy to sketch up. The ball point pen does not feel quite right as a line inking tool, especially when compared with the oil paint in ArtRage, but it does a decent enough job. The interface is painless to use for sketching.

Sketchbook Pro does not have much other utility than as just a sketching tool. It does not seem well suited for playing with colour in the same way the paint in ArtRage does. But for what it does, sketching lines, it does extremely well.

The main drawback for Sketchbook Pro is availability and price. For those of you in North America or Japan, you can buy a download version for US$100. This is more expensive than ArtRage and other tools more aimed towards hobbyists, but is not that expensive when compared to the full price of art tools like Corel Painter X or Adobe Paintshop Pro. Given that Sketchbook Pro is just a sketching tool, nothing more, you will need to weigh up whether this functionality is worth the price. If you are serious about sketching, then Sketchbook Pro may be for you.

Unfortunately, Autodesk’s online store does not sell to Australians for some unknown reason. For those not in the U.S., Canada or Japan, you need to buy Sketchbook Pro through a local reseller. In Australia, all the local Autodesk resellers aim for the business market, and as such have very spartan websites that do not mention the price of their products; most do not mention Sketchbook Pro at all. My hunch is that Australian business will be selling Sketchbook Pro at the original price - US$179 - plus the usual Aussie import mark up fee, plus business expenses. Given that Autodesk wants me to jump through hoops just to give them money for what is essentially just a unlock code for the demo I already have, I feel extremely disinclined to send them my business. Rule one of business: never make it hard for willing customers to give you money for your product.

In review, Sketchbook Pro is in my opinion a smidgen better than ArtRage when it comes to sketching ideas. If you do a lot of sketching, this may be worth the extra money to get the product. For me, it is not worth the extra effort to figure out how to get Autodesk to sell it to me.

Next up, I will try Corel Painter Essentials. Then perhaps a quick recap of GIMP and Inkscape when it comes to sketching.

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