Ink fails to flow

Spoiler alert! Sketchbook released Ink as a quick sketch program for designers and artists who don’t need the power of Pro, but do need to send out sketches in a wide variety of resolutions. It looks good but feels as though they rushed it to delivery too soon. Three stars.


Since the iPad’s launch a couple of years ago there have been dozens of art apps selling for less than $10, usually that do one or two things well. Sketchbook Pro remains at the top of the list for apps that do many things well, and recently they launched Ink to fill in a gap missing on many iPad apps: the ability to scale graphics without losing quality.

The $2 entry price seems reasonable, but when the price increases I’m not sure it will hold up against other apps in a similar price range which may offer features digital artists may find more useful. Ink shows promise but without work it could become a one trick pony with a trick few people need.

If I wanted to wax nostalgic, I might recall that only a few years ago digital artists would lust over an app that let them work with documents of the size supported by the Retina display, with low memory overhead and a small price. But the demand for large scale graphics grows exponentially, and Ink provides a vector based approach with a bitmap feel that allows graphics to be scaled up with no quality lost.

Ink works similar to Photoshop Illustrator’s vector brushes. They appear to paint like real brushes, but they really produce vector lines and shapes that are resolution independent. The brushes are touch sensitive, which means brush stroke size and density change with pressure to give a more realistic brush fill.

Designers and artists can quickly sketch out a comp, or sketch over a pixel based rough draft to produce vector quality lines. Artists can choose from several basic shapes and adjust the brush width and color to knock off a quick sketch. But they can export the image at five times or more the size of the original sketch.

I have to admit the interface is slick, and watching artists knock out sketches on YouTube is really impressive. But once I took Ink for a spin the app underperformed just enough to be irritating.

Even without layers, you can build simple sketches from a black and white outline to something with more color. But it took me far longer to finish a basic sketch than I would have liked.

Importing and painting over a template is easy enough. You simply load the background image from your camera roll and set the opacity. What you can’t do is scale the background image or crop and zoom to one area. This means you may have to do prep work in another app.

The vector lines are crisp and beautiful. The pen is genuinely pressure sensitive and when it works, it’s a joy to brush with. Unfortunately you can’t easily paint large areas and, even worse, Ink has a hard time keeping track of multiple quick brush strokes. Too often I found myself having to stop and slowly create short strokes I would sketch in quickly with a pixel based brush (or Illustrator brush). At the most I could sketch in three strokes before Ink gave up and stopped applying ink.

The brushes are limited as well. I only found two that really seemed useful, one solid stroke and one fading stroke that allows you to blend inks. The rest had different stroke shapes, but I couldn’t get them to perform consistently.

Undoing takes forever and it gets worse the more complex the sketch.

The most obvious shortcoming was the lack of layers. I know this is a quick sketch app, but layers have become such a standard feature in digital art that I can’t imagine leaving them out for any reason. Users shouldn’t have to wait for an upgrade. This should have been one of the first features in the flow chart.

The vector lines allow you to scale the finished image with no quality loss at all. Don’t expect to edit the beziers in an app like Illustrator, however. Ink only exports native and PNG files.

The problem with building an app around the ability to export a finished product with multiple resolutions is that you want to create something worth exporting. Until Ink creates an app with a better chance at creating that kind of finished product, I’m not sure it has that much to offer. Sketchbook might be better off raising the price and releasing the app with a more robust feature set.

I would like to like Ink, but it feels rushed. This app simply can’t deliver what professionals need to make the export feature valuable, and hobbyists will probably not need the export scaling at all. I can’t imagine them warming up to Ink when so many more intuitive programs are out there.

If you do like the idea of vector freehand sketching, however, I would buy it now. At $2 the price is far more reasonable than 4.

Jenny Manytoes rates Ink

Jenny Manytoes would take a nap next to Ink. It reminds me of that toy that looks great until you have to pull it out of the box and assemble it, only you discover it’s even easier to assemble than to play with. There are moments of absolute fun, and other moments when you want to smash it.

The Jenny Manytoes Rating System


Jenny Manytoes, our polydactyl cat
  • When Jenny makes biscuits on a product she thinks she’s in heaven.
  • When Jenny purrs over a product she’s very happy.
  • When Jenny naps next to a product it’s okay with her.
  • When Jenny bunches her tail she can live with a product, but she has higher expectations.
  • When Jenny leaves it in the litter box….I don’t think I need to explain this one.
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About Phillip T Stephens

Phillip T. Stephens disappeared into the Bermuda Triangle twenty years before he was born, creating a time travel paradox so confusing it remains unspoken between physicists and sci-fi writers to this day. Follow @stephens_pt
This entry was posted in 3 Stars - nap, Art and design, Vector art and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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