At BrightCarbon we really like the iPad as a business tool, particularly to help you communicate with colleagues, prospects, students, and even friends and family. Visual presentations are a great way to do it, as are interactive polls, and access to all sorts of documents, videos, and web pages. Thing is, what happens when what you need to communicate doesn’t have a corresponding visual? Should you give up?

No, sketch something out instead! And help your audience understand your point. In this article we review some of the sketching apps that you’re likely to come across, and help you decide which is best for you.

Sketch

Well, the name is a good start, Sketch, as this is exactly what you want to do. At first glance, you get a nicely simple, clean interface, with a big drawing area covering the entire screen, and a couple of simple buttons (which you can draw over) to control the functions. The buttons are pictograms, but easy to decipher, with a drawing tool, colour changer, clear screen, and change background colour. You also have the ability to import a photo or save your sketch as an image. Great.

Well, no, actually. It’s terrible, and you’re better off using a piece of paper and posting via snail mail if you need to share something.Sketch

There is a huge lag meaning that you need to draw veeeery, veeeery slooooowly, or your sketch becomes unrecognisable. Even then, it’s still difficult to draw a smooth curve and you get a series of short straight lines. The menu system, while easy, requires a confirmation tap on the Done button every time you select something and want to start drawing, which is incredibly frustrating. And then there are the adverts. Adverts?! It’s so irritating that there are banner ads on the top of your sketch (although they do only appear when you are online). There is a premium upgrade for 69p (99c), but that doesn’t stop the ads, it just gives a few more (and I have to say, rather useless) pen styles to choose from.

Nice name, just a real shame that it doesn’t deliver. So, what are the other alternatives if you want to sketch on your iPad?

Rating – 1/10

Bamboo Paper

For us, Bamboo Paper is the best sketching app available for quick, on-the-fly sketches that you can create quickly to help you communicate effectively. The app works using sketch books. You get one as standard with up to 100 pages, and for £1.49 ($2.49) you can have as many as you like. For most, 100 pages will be enough; you can delete or clear them, so it’s unlikely that you’ll need more, although it can be nice to separate things out (a pure sketching workbook and a workbook with pre-made diagrams for annotating, for example).

The main functions are nice and simple; pen, highlighter, eraser, clear screen, undo, redo, insert photo, and send/save as an image. Tapping the page number allows you to scroll between all the pages easily. On the other side you can jump back and forth to different pages.

Bamboo for iPad

The quality of the sketching is super smooth, with no lag, and allows you to very easily draw whatever sketch you want. Colour choice is limited to just nine, with three pen thicknesses so, while you’re not going to create artistic master pieces, you can achieve what you need to in sketch form very easily. If you don’t want to use the menu, press and hold and the pen options will pop up. The combination of a very clear pen tool and well balanced highlighter means that you can use both together to great effect, and the simplicity of the interface means that you can use it to sketch anywhere. I’ve personally used it on trains, planes, in queues, at the dinner table, in meetings, and on occasion to run modules in training courses.

Bamboo allows you to import images into your note pad, which can be moved, rotated and re-sized at any time. This is great if you want to annotate over a diagram that you already have. You can save any page as an image, or email it direct from the app, so you can provide immediate follow-up from your meeting, with a quick note about what you have discussed and the sketch that you used to explain it.

My only real bug bear is that if you want to use multi-touch gestures to swipe between apps, it sometimes picks this up as an error and suggests that you turn on multi-touch gestures (but they’re already on!). It is the only thing that spoils an otherwise seamless experience.

You won’t regret using this app, and for quick sketches to communicate a point, you probably can’t beat it.

Rating 9/10

Paper by WeTransfer

Just to remind you, that this is a review of apps for sketching. Don’t get me wrong, Paper is a great app, it does some great things, and looks beautiful, but it isn’t quite perfect for quick sketching on the fly. I know that it has a lot of fans, so just remember that this is about sketching, not overall drawing capabilities.

Paper by 53

You get as many pages and workbooks as you like, which is useful. The drawing functionality is limited however, with only one pen and an eraser (although plenty of colours) as standard. The pen is a calligraphy style tool, so don’t expect any uniform lines. The faster you go the thicker the line, but it always starts thin. It’s actually quite a nice effect, but it may not be what you’re after. The sketching function is smooth and responsive, with no real lag, so you can create images exactly as you want them.

Paying for the premium upgrade allows you to buy individual new pen styles, or all of them for £4.99 ($7.99). In a world where people almost happily pay tens or hundreds of pounds for software, this is fine. Yet in the app world, more than a couple of pounds seems expensive. However, if you compare this with Keynote, Pages, or Numbers, then you are getting a reasonably good deal, as the app is powerful, and allows you to create some very neat effects. Having said that, these effects take time, and so while they may be suitable for an artist, they are less suited to a quick sketch to communicate an idea.

Finally, Paper allows you to share your images, using a variety of social networks and also via email. It’s a good app and could be very powerful, but it’s not quite right for quick, informal sketches due to its complexity and focus on more artistic pursuits.

Rating 8/10

Autodesk Sketchbook

This is another powerful graphics app, but note that term, graphics. Like Paper, Autodesk SketchBook gives you the ability to draw and sketch, but it is really designed for a more complete graphic design experience.

SketchBookX for iPad The quality of the sketching is excellent, with precise recognition of your input, with no lag. There are 15 different pen styles to choose from, and then options for each of those on how thick or transparent you want them, meaning that you can create a huge range of effects. What’s more, you have access to a proper colour palette, giving an unlimited range of colours, and the ability to set your own RGB colours, so you can have sketches that match your preferred colour scheme.

The capabilities expand even further with layering options that allow you to move, rotate, resize, transform, and mirror individual objects within your drawing. All of this means that you can have a great deal of creative control. In reality, it’s all just a bit too complex for the quick “let me show you what I mean” informal sketch. It’s a situation where too much choice and functionality is a hindrance, not helpful.

Toolbar from SketchBookX

The final point to note is that unlike the other apps, Autodesk Sketchbook does not allow you to quickly and easily send your sketches, so sharing them becomes a bit more of a chore.

The idea of a sketch is that it is a quick, easy, and informal way to share information. While this app is a great graphics tool, that offers some excellent features, it really doesn’t fit the bill for sketching, unless you can become ultra-proficient and navigate your way around it at lightning speed.

Rating 6/10

Skitch by Evernote

On the face of it, Skitch has a similar appearance to the similarly named Sketch. Fortunately, that’s where the similarity ends! Skitch is a decent sketching app that links in with quite a few applications very easily. You are prompted to sign into your Evernote account, and then select what to Skitch over. Take a new photo, use an existing photo, get a map, or a web page and then draw and annotate all over them. Potentially very useful!

Skitch for iPad

So what about just sketching? Well fortunately one of the options is to start with a blank sheet, which reveals a clean white page with a small but relatively useless menu bar at the top, which allows you to discard, undo/redo, save, and send your creation to email or camera roll. It’s not so much that the functions are useless, but that they take up a large amount of space.

Skitch allows you to draw arrows of any size and direction, standard shapes like squares, circles, and lines, and of course free form drawing/highlighting. You can also add in typed text boxes. There are eight colours to choose from and five size settings for line or arrow thickness. It would be nice to have a bit more variety in the colour options, as some of them are fairly similar to each other.

Skitch works pretty well as a sketching app. The accuracy and quality of the results is excellent, and the free form drawing tools smooth out any rough edges that you may have created meaning that your sketches always look reasonably neat. It’s not quite as good as Bamboo or Paper for pure sketching, but it does have a rather useful feature – the ability to move and resize objects. Rather than having to erase objects, or go to a new page, with Skitch you can select one or several objects and move them around the page, or change their size to give you more space to do something else. Arrows can be repositioned with a new orientation, to point to new things, and form different relationships with the objects in your sketch.

This function starts to put Skitch into line with some of the interactive whiteboard apps available on the iPad, but it is clean and simple enough to still be useful in a quick, informal sketching environment. There are some real possibilities for manipulating new and pre-made sketches and diagrams while having a conversation with someone.

Definitely a good option, and as a free app, certainly worth trying to see if you can cope with its minor functional niggles.

Rating 8/10

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Richard Goring

Director

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