Sketchbook Pro on the Apple iPad – A Review

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, in a cave on a remote island, not visited or totally isolated from any kind of media outlet, you’ve heard about the iPad.

I’m a loyal Apple fan myself, but I must admit, part of me was willing to wait on the next version of at least a few months to see what new apps and features would inevitably come out of the woodwork – that was until I saw this – Sketchbook Pro for the iPad.

Say what you want about Apple, and the iCulture, the iPad is a really sweet device. Everything is amazing and noone is impressed. I think this Youtube clip pretty much sums up my sentiments about naysayers. Still nothing’s perfect about it and I’ll address some drawbacks later on.

Design –

Stunning as always, Apple really has refined their design language and it’s been nice seeing the progression from early apple products to this portable sliver of a product. I won’t go into too much detail, but here are a few things that stood out to me.

Remember that bezel people were complaining about before they even saw one? Yeah that thing. It actually works well in person when holding one, and doesn’t seem too thick.

The UI feels refreshed even though it is largely based on the iPhone UI. There are popup contextual menus that function as windows in the main window or active application at the time – this is particularly helpful if you’re trying to see what you’re doing while accessing some other function. more on this later with sketchbook pro.

The back’s all aluminum (anodized) with the black Apple logo on the back. Interesting tidbit here – the design is not only aesthetically pleasing, but the black apple logo on the back functions as the wifi “window”. The antenna is mounted there. (ifixit link). Because of the simple and minimal design, it really becomes less about the hardware and specs and more about the experience. Apple is selling an experience with this product – something which I haven’t seen successfully done in my opinion. Agree or disagree, this is a beautiful object.

Function –

The iPad just works. It’s a giant iPod touch, and more. It changes the convention of computer, but I’ll spare you any diatribe or soapboxing on what I feel the future of computing to be. I’d rather cover myself in syrup and punch a hornet’s nest just for fun. In any case, it’s an exciting and refreshing look at portable computing (not that tablets haven’t been done before).

If you’ve used an iPhone, iPod touch or watched minority report (half way joking here) the iPad should be pretty intuitive to use. You turn it on and are presented with a field of icons representing some basic included application. But what really makes this thing sing is the availability of thousands, yes THOUSANDS of decent quality applications through the iTunes App store. Check out for updates on iPad applications.

Not only are there TONS of applications available, but they boot up pretty quickly. It’s nothing compared to an iPhone in terms of speed and runs circles around my 3G iPhone. I can’t say much for the 3GS since I don’t have one :-)

Battery life is also amazing. I’m kind of a power management czar, so I never let it go down tooooo much in battery life, but I haven’t seen it go down below 33% in battery life, and that’s with all day HEAVY usage between my wife and myself.

And lastly, to answer probably one of the most asked questions from visitors to and, there’s absolutely no pressure sensitivity, but more on that later.

Finger or Stylus –

Before I even had the iPad in my grubby hands, I purchased a stylus. I didn’t want to be left without one on launch day when I would venture out and brave the lines to get an iPad.

Pogo Stylus

TenOne makes a series of styluses including a sketch stylus that apparently has a smaller nub on the tip of the stylus. It’s designed to mimic the finger and as such has a weird little nub at the end. I really don’t know what it’s made of, nor do I like to touch it, but hey it works.

When you use it for the first time, it drags a little on the screen. I was anticipating being able to use a lighter touch with the stylus because of my experience with the standard slippery Wacom stylus. However, the pogo sketch stylus took a little bit more pressure to work. In no time, I found my footing (or fingering) and was sketching fluidly.

I must say though, I’m not a “fingersketcher”. I’m always amazed when i see what people have done with just a finger, but I do enjoy using the stylus to sketch with. At times while sketching, I found myself using my finger to access the menus (naturally) or to fill in a larger area on the canvas with a brush.

Sketching on the iPad –

As I mentioned before at the beginning of the article, I was on the fence about purchasing an iPad immediately at launch until I saw a leak of one app in particular – Sketchbook Pro.

I never did get around to writing a review of Sketchbook Mobile for the iPhone. I was a launch tester at the time, but I found it frustrating at times to sketch on such a tiny screen. Sketchbook pro however is no Sketchbook Mobile, and the iPad makes the experience much much more enjoyable, and to quote apple, it does so by “orders of magnitude”

Sketchbook Pro (Autodesk Inc.) Is priced at 7.99 USD for the iPad. Some complained about this, but I think the price is decent for what you get, especially considering and comparing the price of the albeit more robust version for more full featured computers (priced at 100 USD).

When you boot up the application for the first time, you’re presented with a series of instructions on how to use the applications built in multi-touch shortcuts. For example, to pull up the menu at the top of the screen, place three fingers on the screen, or to undo, either double tap in the lower left corner (just like the sketchbook mobile app for iPhone and iPod touch) or swipe three fingers across the screen to the left to undo.

I quickly raced through the instructions and I’ll be honest, in hindsight, I didn’t take enough time to read through the very helpful instructions about the gesture based controls for the UI. I was waaay too excited to site and read instructions. In any case, I played around with a few gestures and finger combinations and before long, I was on my way to sketching.

The Sketchbook Pro UI

It’s pretty minimal, but you may be missing a few things from the desktop version. For example, There’s no popup menu, lagoon, or even lasso tool (which I found a little strange given the larger screen and more powerful processor). But what you do get is a lineup of tools that pretty much get the job done. With that said, I much prefer sketching on the larger iPad screen than the smaller iPhone screen.

When the menu bar is activated, you’ll find a button to see your Gallery, add a new sketch, info about the program, undo and redo shortcuts, brushes, symmetry, brush mode/shape tools, zoom to fit to screen, layer transform and layers buttons.

One thing I do wish however is that the menu could be “pinned” or remain persistent as your sketching. I found it a little annoying to have to keep using the three finger tap to bring up my brushes all the time. Again maybe I’m missing something from the walkthrough, but this process of pulling up brushes or menus got to be a bit laborious after a bit of time.


You get 5 panels of 15 brushes each for a grand total of 75 standard brushes. As far as I can tell however, there’s no way to make custom brushes on your own. Hopefully this will change in a future version.

My personal favorites are the airbrush, ballpoint pen, and the chisel marker for knocking out colors. The other brushes on panels 3-5 seem a little gimmicky, but I’m sure they could have their uses at some point.

Even though you can’t make a new custom brush and save it for later, there are enough settings for each brush that can be activated and modified to get the feel you want. In my testing, I didn’t mess with all of the brushes or settings, but I found that with enough tweaking, you can get a nice faux taper to the lines – handy if you’re trying to mimic pressure sensitivity and taper. It seems to be done in the software, similar to the way you’d taper a brush in photoshop when using a mouse or trackpad.

*Update – there’s a smudge tool if you’re into that kind of thing, but no blur tool in the brushes included.


Layers in Sketchbook Pro for the iPad are activated on the toolbar and show up in a popup menu. It’s not persistent and goes away when you’re done and back to sketching.

Unfortunately (and fortunately) you’re limited to 6 active layers at any given time. I suspect that this is done in an effort to be efficient with memory or processing power. In any case, I didn’t find it too much of an issue for me, and it became more natural as I adapted my desktop/laptop + wacom workflow to this more portable platform.

You can adjust transparency on layers, but there are no blending modes ala photoshop or painter. I do miss that as I tend to use those settings in photoshop and painter a lot.

Layer deletion and changing the layer order are both simple and intuitive.

Other Tools / Info –

Shape tools are included in the package, however, it’s not done with the same implementation as Sketchbook Pro for the PC or Mac. While on a PC or Mac you can sketch on a path using the ellipse or line tools, Sketchbook Pro for the iPad only allows you to draw the shape as part of your sketch. So if you were looking forward to sketching on paths, it’s time to brush up on drawing with your shoulder!

Layer transformation can only be done with the aspect ratio intact. I found no way to skew things to my liking. You rotate and scale by pinching or rotating two fingers on the touch screen.

Symmetry sketching is snappy and works pretty well. I cranked out a couple rough symmetrical sketches in no time. I don’t use symmetry much, but I imagine this will be a godsend for some.

I mentioned the smudge brush before, but again, some people may like this.

Resolution for sketches seems to be limited to the iPad’s screen size – 1024×768 pixels – small and definitely not high enough resolution to print say big 11×17 inch pages, but big enough I imagine that printing on an 8.5×11 inch piece of paper would look decent.


This has been one of my main gripes with not only the program, but the iPad. I’d like an easier way to transfer images to my laptop or desktop. Sometimes it’s necessary, though blogging using the wordpress app on does tie in my completed sketches as long as they are in the right place.

In Sketchbook pro, images aren’t automatically saved to the iPad’s photo library. You are required to access the built in gallery, then export in two ways – to the iPad’s gallery as a PNG file or you can email the file to yourself as a PSD (yes layered!) or as a flattened PNG file with transparency.

Yes, there’s also built in functionality in iTunes to transfer files, but I couldn’t seem to get it to work. I’m no coding expert but I think it has to do with the file names (that pesky colon might be the culprit). I’m sure this will be fixed in an update at some point, as others have had the same issue as well. For now, I’ve just been emailing the files to myself a very slow 5 at a time.

Cintiq or not Cintiq?

I’ll be straight with you here – the iPad is no Wacom Cintiq, but I actually think that’s a good thing. I’ve never been a fan of Cintiqs – the cables, the heat, the external box, and the sheer mass of the larger them has always been a MAJOR drawback for me sketching on one. I gave them a shot, but I always found myself reverting to my trusty Intuos 3 for sketching. I wanted to like it, but I never fell in love with the product as much as I loved the idea.

The cheapest Wacom Cintiq comes in at $999 – $1199 USD while the iPad rings in at half the cost for the entry level model – $499 USD (Price varies with model).

Despite the lack of pressure sensitivity, the choice is pretty clear. I was on the verge of replacing my old Intuos tablet with a new one, until I saw Sketchbook Pro + the iPad. For about $200 USD more I could have highly portable web browsing, media playing, portfolio displaying, sketchbook that is thin and stylish. No longer would I need to have a box, usb plug, large adapter, and dvi cable just to have an on screen sketching experience. It doesn’t get hot and there are no wires coming out of everywhere.

Sure, there are a myriad of tablet PC’s out there, but none, in my opinion, have been executed as elegantly as the iPad. Again – I’m not trying to flame bait here, but I think Apple has a winner here. As Steve said, it needed to do SOME things well and boy does it do them well. People seem to love it or hate it, but that usually changes when you see one in person.

My recommendation is to go see one in person. Go to an Apple Store of Best Buy, see how it feels and works and if you like it, then go for it. It’s a wonderful product that I look forward to continually using in my workflow.