10 April 2008

Tools of the Trade: Sketchbook Pro

In this article, I will review Sketchbook Pro. It is surprising to me how few people know about it, but love it once they learn more about it!
The premise of the program is simple: It's a virtual sketchbook. Right out of the box, the design, interface and ease of use make this a perfect transition tool for traditional artists to digital mediums. This multiplatform (Windows and Macintosh) program is useful, powerful, but not as powerful as high end software such as Photoshop. The worst problem with the software appears to be that it is only available within the US and Canada.

Sketchbook Pro is largely a program suited for use with a tablet and stylus pen. The program has many tools available that simulate real media. The pencil tool is surprisingly supple and mimics using a real pencil just about as perfectly as possible with digital media. The airbrush tool is good for laying down washes of colour, but it can be difficult to achieve small details. The marker, chisel tip pen, ballpoint pen and felt tip pen behave very similarly and as you would expect. The paintbrush tool can be effective, but usually some adjusting is needed to achieve the exact results you may want, usually in terms of opacity. The erasers and smear brushes are both effective and intuitive. The capacity exists to make your own brush, but as of late, my favourite tool has simply been the pencil.

I recommend this very highly to traditional artists who are hesitant in getting into the digital field. It isn't a seamless transition if you are not familiar with using a tablet and stylus, but the interface is certainly less daunting than Photoshop or any open source art packages. Sketching with the pencil tool in Sketchbook Pro is so similar to sketching on paper, that those who own a Tablet PC, Modbook or Wacom Cintiq may switch to a completely digital sketching existence.

One of the best features in the program is the great intuitive user interface. The whole program can be used with just the semi-circle in the corner of the program. All of the tools can be accessed by putting the tip of the stylus onto one of icons displayed on the semi-circle, which pops up a set of other icons. You move the stylus up, down, left and right to select a function. This "no keyboard" process is reflected in all of the most useful aspects, such as the layers and the resize brush. I love how you rename your layers with your own handwriting! Photoshop users will be pleased that many of the familiar keyboard shortcuts are the same in this program. Perhaps the most useful of which is the space bar, which pops up the zoom and move canvas tools.

Disappointment may rise if people think that Sketchbook Pro is a cheaper alternative to Photoshop. Priced at nearly $200 USD, the price of this powerful software is a lot easier to swallow than the $600 USD tag on Photoshop. However, while the program excels at the conceptual aspects of a drawing, finer details, while not impossible, are harder to achieve. The default brushes are set up to have a whispy, sketchy feel to them and a lot of readjusting is necessary to achieve a polished look to your sketch.

Another problem for myself is that a digital download is unavailable for Europe, specifically Norway, from the Autodesk website. I hope this issue is remedied soon. I will be looking into various ways to purchase this software. Readers, if you happen to know a reseller or a method to buy this software in Europe, I would greatly appreciate a comment to let me know!

Overall, I highly recommend this software to anyone who either wants to get into digital art or an advanced digital artist looking to just get in and draw within 30 seconds of opening the program! Below are a couple of videos of artists making use of Sketchbook Pro.

Sketching with Bobby Chiu: http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=Yit95pgZEeo

Bobby is a real inspiration of mine. He is very worth listening to in his podcasts as he is extremely enthusiastic and listening to his podcasts was the big push that made me want to really excel in my own artwork.

Sketching with Jason Seiler: http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=UoQqFyPHW40

Jason is an accomplished caricature artist who also works with Bobby at their studio called Imaginism Studios. Watching him work is a great way to see Sketchbook Pro in action!

Thanks for reading! Have you tried Sketchbook Pro? Let me know how you feel about this program!


  1. i highly recomend sketchbook pro. ive been a beta tester for version 3 (sketchbook 2009) and its got some very good advancements.

    i thoroughly recomend this software for the naturalism it brings to digital art :)

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