• Price When Reviewed: 114

  • Pros: Boasts a brilliant interface that is as close as you can get to real-world drawing on a computer. You can export to Photoshop to continue.

  • Cons: The tools are limited to basic pens and brushes, and there are no effects. It’s just for sketching.

  • Expert Rating: We rate this 9 out of 10We rate this 9 out of 10We rate this 9 out of 10We rate this 9 out of 10We rate this 9 out of 10 Best Buy We rate this 9 out of 10

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The trouble with feature-rich applications is that they are invariably impossibly complicated. Most people barely even scratch the surface of Word’s functionality, so how developers keep really creative applications usable is a mystery.

However, the company that brought us Maya (a behemoth when it comes to complexity) also produces an application that doesn’t strive to be cleverer than the person sat in front of it. Sketchbook Pro gives artists a drawing environment not a million miles away from good old pen and paper.

Sketchbook Pro attempts to come close to the ideal interface – one that you don’t even notice is there. When you fire it up, the program presents a full screen view of a blank canvas with a top menu and a small widget at the bottom left corner of the screen. From here you can select most of the features of the application including colours, brush types, and file commands though pop-up, icon-based menus. These are arranged in compass-like arrays that disappear when not needed.

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If you prefer palettes, you can have the OS Colour picker float nearby along with Sketchbook’s tool palette for selecting brush types, and there’s also a Layers palette too with its own pop-up compass menu. You need to have the Layers palette open to use the layers features, but other than that you can work in Sketchbook Pro with a very clean and clear interface. You can even reduce the widget to a few icons if you wish, and set the display to full screen without OS menus and window titles.
Sketchbook Pro is not a painting program in the vein of Corel Painter or even Photoshop. There are no oils or watercolours – not even a paintbucket tool. It’s simply for sketching and drawing. There are paintbrushes for filling in large areas with colour, but there’s no natural media simulation apart from that offered via the standard drawing tools <BR>
– Pencil, Ballpoint Pen, Paintbrush, Airbrush, Eraser, Marker and Felt and Chisel-tip pen. A single Smear tool is about all you get in the way of effects.
Custom brush editing is new in version two. You can create your own brush behaviours and save them for later use. SketchBook Pro offers support for pressure sensitive Wacom tablets, and the whole experience is as close to working with a handful of pens and brushes as you can expect from a computer. Version two supports Photoshop PSD format export, so you can further edit your layered work if you wish.
The speed of the application really makes it feel like organic drawing. The brushes work interactively even on huge canvases. Brush sizing is intuitive (via hotkey or the new floating widget) and it’s generally a joy to use.
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