By Graham K. Rogers
The iPhone has become a necessity for me. I use the iPhone for personal data and like it for its camera. The iPad stays at home usually. I use it for reading, or apps where the larger screen is better suited to the activity like detailed work, including drawing. I have been looking at two drawing apps with different paths to creating images: Pen & Ink; and Tayasui Sketches.
There are a number of rather good drawing applications for the iPad. Not all are the same, of course, and there are different aims. One of my favourites is ArtRage that has an equivalent Mac desktop application. Brushes has quite high level output and was used by the artist David Hockney. Draw for iPad from Erica Sadun is a fairly straightforward drawing app. ASketch is a basic black and white drawing app that uses the idea of charcoal on paper. Moleskine Journal uses the concept of the beautifully-made paper notebooks of the same name, with the reasonably similar Paper by Fifty-Three also having some excellent reviews.
Pen & Ink
The full title of the drawing app from Steppingstone Software is Pen & Ink: A Watercolor Notebook.
The app opens with a blank page. At the bottom of the screen is a selection of brushes. Not all are available, and those that are have limits. These additional features may be unlocked with an in-app purchase of $2.99 which also buys more brushes. A question mark (?) to the left details the brushes. An icon marked < to the right hides most of the panel and other controls (not all).
In the toolbar are Back and Forward buttons, and a files icon. Pressing this brings up a Layers panel. The basic app only has a single layer, a background selector, and a pane for tracing a picture. Multiple layers are available with the upgrade. Access to the Camera or to the Photo Library is possible by pressing this pane or an image icon at the top of the panel. The layers panel also has a background pane allowing a user to select from a number of textures and colours.
When not in use, a brush is greyed out. Pressing a small triangle next to the brush when active, brings up a range of colours that can be used, and some controls. Pressing a greyed-out control reveals the in-app purchase panel.
When a photo is selected, a slider control is also available that cleverly increases or decreases the image transparency from zero (brush out put only) to maximum where brush some outline brush output can be discerned. The slider is the one control that remains visible when the others are hidden.
A Gallery arrow at top left accesses the current notebook. Another arrow within the current notebook leads up one level to the Notebooks collection. Another may be added with one click. A whole notebook may be exported to email (multi-page PDF), to the Photo Library or to a Printer. It is also possible to open a notebook in another app. A number were available on my Pad. As well as the images created, each notebook has links to an app called Graphite (also by Stepping Stone), to Facebook and to Twitter.
A gearwheel icon at top center of an image allows for the selection of other images worked on, as well as export and trash. There are direct links to the same export features as for the whole notebook as well as export to Facebook, Twitter and to a Dropbox account. Initially this was to set up a specific Pen & Ink folder. Once done, the export was direct to that folder.
This is a beautifully made app that has some excellent graphics. Along with the nice app icon, as soon as Tayasui Sketches starts, the user is shown a range of tools in a bright and sharp full-screen display. That gives way to a page that outlines the simple gestures that are used with the app. Miss that and making it work may not be immediately obvious.
The app opens with a blank page after the initial screens. The tools were displayed on the left side. The screens are displayed in landscape mode only. The tool panel could be pushed out of sight to give a clear page. The top right corner showed semi-transparent Undo and Redo arrows.
Six pens and brushes were shown. Pro Mode - an in-app purchase of $1.99 - gives more tools and sizes, a brush editor and a colour eye-dropper. If the Pro-mode features are selected, there is a useful "Try for one hour" feature. More apps that allow in-app purchases should allow something like this.
As well as the brushes, the tools panel has a selector for Fill Transfer - a number of textures that can be applied. There is also a straightforward eraser and a colour selector. A user may add to the colours available using a nicely designed (and simple) colour ring with a slider that controls saturation.
The uncomplicated screen makes it quite easy to draw. Being able to hide the toolbar as well leaves no distractions for the user at all. When an image is complete, a pinch reduces the size and makes other controls accessible. An Information (i) button brings up a number of controls, plus a link to the developer website. This link is not available on the iTunes Store page for the app. Not that there is anything useful about Tayasui Sketches on the site. A number of children's apps are shown, so the best way to contact the developers may be via the email link at the bottom; or using Facebook.
As well as access to Information, a Question mark (?) reveals a 10-page help display that I found useful: the same that is shown when the app is started for the first time. When the smaller image is shown after the pinch, pushing up with one finger begins the export function. This looks like an envelope, and as the image is half pushed in, to the right are a selection of "stamps": for Facebook, Mail, Photo Album and Twitter. A stamp must be dragged to the envelope and then the image pushed further in for the specific process to continue and be completed.
The export is a beautifully designed feature but over-complex for such an app. It slows down the process of exporting and becomes an example of design over usability (see Wade Preston Shearer on design). This is a shame, because it looks so nice but contrasts with the utility of the rest of the app.
The two examples here are reasonable examples of drawing apps for the iPad. Neither installed on the iPhone unlike some other apps (such as Brushes). With the basic setup available in the free version of each, there is some usable functionality with both. The in-app purchases upgrade the apps in different ways.
Of the two I preferred Tayasui Sketches by a small margin for its interesting design and clear graphics within the app. The way it works, with the gestures, makes good use of the touch screen, although I have reservations about certain over-design aspects here. It really scores highly with the one hour trial of the in-app upgrade purchase. Pen & Ink: A Watercolor Notebook also had some excellent points, especially with the feature that allows tracing over a photograph.
As both are free in their basic states, it makes sense to try the app out and then upgrade with the in-app purchases.
Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand where he is also Assistant Dean. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs.