If you ever wanted to ditch the old pen and paper and use your Android tablet to draw, sketch or even create complex multilayered collages. Look no further, because Sketchbook Pro promises all this and more.
We took the Sketchbook Pro Android app for a test drive to see how good the experience really is.
On launch we automatically noticed why Autodesk has put "Pro" at the end of the name. Sketchbook Pro's UI is very slick and there is an abundance of features to satisfy even the most demanding artist. Yet all this is hidden away with only a clean white canvas to start with.
A tiny doughnut-shaped button at the bottom of the screen is the only way to enter the menu or even to select a different brush or pen type. In Sketchbook Pro's menu panel you have options for saving a file you're working on, creating a new file, info, redo and undo, brush options, shapes, guide tools, transform tools, text tool, and finally layers options.
The good news is that this can be changed in settings so that Sketchbook Pro always displays the menu bar at the top of the page.
Apart from the top menu bar Autodesk has also designed a clever shortcut panel to allow you to quickly access your drawing tools. All the pens, brushes and even the fill and erase tools are displayed in the middle of the screen around a circle, when you press the menu button. We found this awkward to use at first, but it does work quite well once you get use to it and saves you from making multiple taps into Sketchbook Pro's menu to pick a different tool.
Also clever is the way that in the middle of Sketchbook Pro's shortcut panel you get controls to fine tune your brush size and opacity. You do this by holding the middle of the panel and dragging up/down or from side to side. This was not obvious at first and we only discovered this option while going through the user guide. This is accessible in the menu by an 'i' icon.
Sketchbook Pro: using layers
What really pulls this apart from all the other drawing apps we've played with so far is that Sketchbook Pro allows you to draw on multiple layers. All layers are transparent, including the first one you start with. This is brilliant as you are able to move them in front or behind the previous layer, without obscuring the layer bellow with a background.
We were impressed not only with the ability to create multiple layers, but also to shuffle them in any order, and to adjust opacity and apply blending modes to each individual layer.
There are icons next to each layer which also allow you to turn layers on and off as well as to create masks. Again, a great Pro feature that we welcome for drawing complex images, colouring in specific sections or simply tracing over an existing image.
This takes us to Sketchbook Pro's next impressive feature. The ability to import any images you have saved on your Android device. By taping the import icon in the layers panel, you can navigate to which ever image you choose and it will appear in a new layer. You can then use the transform tools panel to resize, flip, drag and rotate your newly imported image. You can also use the transform tools on any of the layers that you have created. Just keep in mind that everything on that layer will be affected.
We found that the transform tool was awkward to use with our fingers, wasn't always accurate andwould slow down when re-shaping complex shapes or images. But this could be down to the hardware limitations on the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 we used for this test. When it did work, it worked fine.
Finally, when you've finished your multilayered creation, you can save it or even save a copy and continue working on another version.
You have the option to save the image to a Jpeg which will flatten your work. You also have the option to save it as a PNG file which will preserve the transparent background for use with other projects or on the web. The last great feature, and in our opinion the most impressive of all the features in Sketchbook pro, is the ability to save your work as a PSD (Adobe Photoshop file) which preserves the transparent background as well as all the layers that you have created, and allows you to open it on your desktop PC in Photoshop to continue your work.
Sketchbook Pro: what we didn't like
There are also a few things that we found were not very well implemented. The text tool for example is not very intuitive and once you hit the OK button and exit the text preference panel the text is rasterized and cannot be changed. So it's good practice to remember and make a new layer for text before you start.
Also there is no way (or at least none that we found) to open an existing file easily when you open the app. We had to use a workaround, by saving the blank file. Only then were we taken to the apps gallery which holds all the files we previously saved. We hope that this will be fixed in the next update.
Of course the main feature of any drawing app is the ability to, well... draw. We found that this was not always as easy and fluid as we would have liked. This was a problem especially when sketching quickly and colouring in. This again could be a hardware issue, especially the touchscreen itself. As it's not as sensitive as a graphics tablet for instance. And of course all that rendering in real time puts a strain on the tablet's processor.