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Wacom Inkling Review

By Rach ~ Thursday, 25 October 2012

I’ve now had the chance to have a good play with my new toy, the Wacom Inkling (thanks John!), which essentially is a really quick way to turn sketches on any paper into digital drawings, and wanted to share the results with you all.

Firstly, form factor

The kit is very compact and nicely packaged, it comes with a clever carry case about the size of a pencil case into which everything (including USB cable and spare nibs) slots neatly. Everything is slotted into this in order to charge (it needed a bit of charging before it was ready to use - a full charge takes about 3 hours). The pen casing is smooth and nice to hold, though I do have to remind myself not to hold it too far down and cover up the head as that blocks the signal to the receiver. The receiver itself, which you attach to the top or side of the page as you’re drawing, is small enough to be unobtrusive on the page.

Sketching

Now, down to the business of actually using it. An initial stumbling block was that the pen is a little temperamental to ‘wake up’. Theoretically, it should activate when it is used, but initially I found myself opening and closing the battery lid as a way to turn it on. I then took out the pen nib (there is a handy way to do this in the carry case using the hole by the spare nibs) and re-inserted it and it seems to be behaving a little better now.

Drawing with the pen feels quite natural and it’s pretty satisfying (if a little distracting until you get used to it) to see the accuracy with which the receiver lights up with every stroke. The nib is essentially a biro, but as it’s mainly for sketching, rather than polished art work, that’s fine by me. One thing to remember as you’re drawing is to make sure you leave a 2cm gap between your sketch and the receiver. You also have to be careful not to change the position of the receiver as you’re drawing - as you’ll see in my example it got slightly knocked at one point and later strokes were a bit misaligned with earlier ones (I blame our adopted cat).

One beauty is the ability to create new layers as you’re drawing - simply press the right hand button on the receiver. This could really be very very useful but needs a little more playing with. In my example I experimented with an initial, very sketchy sketch on the first layer, working up onto more defined lines on the second, shading on the third. I then tried to outline the sketch again on the fourth but found this difficult to know where I’d drawn and where I hadn’t. This approach possibly needs more planning!

Anyway, below is my example ‘analogue’ sketch:

Original sketch of old fashioned street lamp

One final thing about sketching with the Inkling is that it’s primarily a one-sitting job. Squeezing the clip to remove the receiver or turning it off and on again creates a new sketch, though of course it wouldn’t be too difficult to combine sketches digitally.

Software

Before I get to the really magical bit, just a note about the software (the Mac version, I can’t comment on Windows). Yes, it’s pretty fugly and some of the usability is inexcusable as Aegir Hallmundur of Ministry of Type outlines in this post and it does feel somewhat thrown together UI wise, but the beauty is in seeing that paper scribble become a layered vector for the first time when you open up the software. (Note: as The Ministry of Type points out, you can stop Sketch Manager from doing that annoying automatic launch on start by looking in Hard Drive / Library / LaunchAgents and deleting the com.wacom.SketchManager.plist file from there).

So, here is the sketch rendered in the Sketch Manager:

The Sketch in Wacom's Sketch Manager

Here you can see the slight offset as the receiver moved, though it’s pretty amazing considering I was drawing on my knee. You can also see the layers down the side and the “scrubber” which allows you to remove step back and remove earlier or later bits of the drawing, which I haven’t really played with much yet as to be honest I’d probably just use Illustrator to delete unwanted strokes or layers.

It also has a bit of a trinket where you can “play” your sketch from beginning to end, which is quite fun to watch but not particularly useful.

The gripes about the software, however, are minor considering its main achievement, an astonishingly accurate capture of the strokes made with no scanner / live trace etc required. This is very impressive. The pressure sensitivity is a nice touch too.

Of course the one thing that would make this more awesome is if it transferred wirelessly, but how much hassle is plugging in a USB cable really?

Integration with Illustrator

One note before you drive yourself mad trying to export the sketch to Illustrator: it will try to import the sketch as a text file unless you restart your computer after you have installed Sketch Manager, a little annoying I know.

I can’t really comment on how it exports to Photoshop as Illustrator is my Adobe product of choice (along with Fireworks), but it deals with an Illustrator export pretty well. Unlike The Ministry of Type, I quite like that it renders the pen strokes as paths rather than fills (as it would if you did a live trace of the sketch in Illustrator, or exported to svg from Sketch Manager) and while taking the sketch to the level of finished artwork would certainly require some redrawing, I think the sketchy effect could be quite interesting to play with.

Here is the sketch exported to Illustrator:

The Sketch rendered in Illustrator

Another thing to note about the Illustrator export is, if you try to draw anything further on the same layers as the sketch, you will get a thin black stroke around the object, even when it is ‘unstroked’. This seems to be because the whole layer has a Wacom generated graphic style applied to it. You can remove this by selecting all the objects in a layer and switching the style back to a usual one, but it’s probably better to just start a new layer.

I very much like that each stroke is a separate path - that gives a lot more flexibility than the live trace of an analogue sketch would, and makes deleting unwanted strokes a doddle.

For those of you that like to look at paths, here is a screenshot of the layers and paths of a section of the sketch in Illustrator:

Detail of how the sketch is imported into Illustrator

In summary

To be brief, the Inkling has a few things wrong with it, but for the sheer magic and ease of converting quick pen sketches into digital paths, I’d definitely recommend it.

If you’re thinking of buying it, here’s a cheeky Amazon Affiliates link you could use to fund more sitting around drawing and drinking tea.

What do you think, do the pros outweigh the cons for you?