SketchBook Pro 1.1

SketchBook Pro 1.1, the first version to appear on the Mac, operates at the shallow end of the steep learning curve facing users of Alias’s flagship 3D program, Maya. SketchBook Pro is a simple paint and drawing tool that works with graphics tablets such as the Wacom Intuos2 (Reviews, February 2002). Such is the unfussy and clean whiteboard interface on show that you can be sketching away within minutes of dragging the application to your hard drive. SketchBook’s simplicity is its major strength.

Initially, the application fills the screen with white. A small, smart artist’s palette well is arched at the bottom-left or right corner and provides quick and simple access to all pens, pencils, markers and brushes. New tools, layers and options can be selected by holding down the pen tool. Lift the pen, and the tool or option is selected via a circular eight-option selection. The unobtrusive palette or “marker menu” frees up valuable screen space, revealing SketchBook’s Tablet PC origins. You can hide the tool palette and menus completely to further maximize screen space. If things become a little minimalist, both the brush and colour palettes can be selected to remain on screen for a more traditional feel.

Drawing is intuitive thanks to a palette free of extraneous tools. Selecting the pens, pencils, markers and brushes on offer feels like drawing with traditional pen and paper. Pen responsiveness is excellent and customizable, with none of the delay sometimes associated with memory-hungry graphics programs. Presented with a large, white canvas you can begin sketching with little or no drawing skills. Indeed, it’s fair to suggest that a young child could happily scribble away – without fear of crayon marks up the walls.

Equally, SketchBook Pro 1.1 has obvious benefits for professionals – especially when time is of the essence. Alias claims a long list of potential users, including illustrators, animators, graphic designers, technical engineers, storyboard artists and even courtroom artists. I would suggest the number of potential users is unlimited – the shallow learning curve and responsiveness being obvious attractions.

The limited tools on display don’t distract from the basics of drawing and visualizing ideas. Additionally, you can create and save brushes, erasers, airbrushes or smear brushes, varying their size, transparency, roundness, slant and stamp spacing.

Additions included in this upgrade include the new-look user interface, 26 new hot-key functions, a new single-layer copy tool, a redesigned brush editor, and general usability improvements. A built-in screen-capture utility lets users take a snapshot in any application, including images direct from a Web browser, ready for annotation via new layers. This again saves valuable time importing images from third-party applications. Non-destructive templates including a library of background images – such as storyboard panels, page layouts, charts and graphs and musical notation – can be downloaded from the Alias Web site. These are useful, and a recommended download as they help to streamline workflow.

The layers option is useful but rudimentary, with none of the blending modes found in Adobe Photoshop. However, unlimited new layers (including imported photographs) can be added, and the opacity adjusted with a simple slider to allow easy-on-the-eye tracing. Notes to clients and art directors can also be added on separate layers, for instance, without the need to duplicate images. Your masterpiece can be emailed directly to a friend, colleague or customer from within the tool – it’s automatically attached in JPEG, PNG or TIFF format within your default mail program. Support for Apple Rendezvous, however, would be a bonus – as well as the ability to save files in the Photoshop-native PSD format.

Colour palettes are initially limited: pre-set colours are represented by a neat pack of digital crayons, adhering to the overall simple look. SketchBook Pro 1.1 makes use of OS X’s Color Picker, which lets the user save additional palette colours.

The program can open or save any size of image up to 8,191-x-8,191 pixels. By default, the canvas-size of new files is the size of your monitor. To change this, go to Preferences, click Custom Size, and type the width and height (in pixels). SketchBook Pro 1.1 uses a best-fit approach when printing, which means that results can look odd. By default, images are created as landscapes – not portraits.

Results opened in other programs such as Adobe Photoshop and Corel Painter appear fine, although a little soft, defaulting to 72dpi. Using the pen tool in Adobe Illustrator and Macromedia FreeHand to trace a sketch done in SketchBook Pro 1.1 was simple and gave impressive results, saving time scanning an image from a traditional sketchbook.


Used as part of the creative process, SketchBook Pro 1.1 is an excellent but not wholly essential additional artistic tool. It won’t replace Photoshop’s limitless possibilities nor Painter’s ability to ape natural media, but it isn’t intended to. SketchBook Pro 1.1 exists to render images and ideas with the minimum of fuss, allowing full artistic flow without the distractions of reading heavy manuals or scaling a steep learning curve. Thanks to a user-friendly interface and a competitive price, the range of potential users is vast. From demanding professionals to those whose only previous artistic venture had stretched to owning an Etch-A-Sketch, SketchBook Pro 1.1 is a worthy addition to any digital artistic toolbox.

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