SketchBook Pro 1.1, the first version of Alias’s painting and drawing app available for the Mac, is a simple tool designed to work with graphics tablets such as the Wacom Intuos2 (
). Its clean, unfussy whiteboard interface lets you start sketching within minutes of launching the program. SketchBook Pro’s simplicity is its major strength; it’s easy enough for a child to use.
Initially, the application fills the screen with a white canvas. A small artist’s palette well, located at the bottom left or bottom right corner, provides quick access to all pens, pencils, markers, and brushes. You hold your pen to select additional tools, layers, and options via a circular eight-option menu (see screenshot).
While you can begin sketching even if you have few or no drawing skills, SketchBook Pro has obvious benefits for professional illustrators, animators, graphic designers, technical engineers, storyboard artists, and even courtroom artists—especially pros who need to move through projects quickly.
The unobtrusive Marking Menu palette frees up valuable screen space and makes drawing more intuitive. You can hide the tool palette and menus completely to further maximize screen space. But if this feels too minimalist, you can allow both the brush and color palettes to remain on screen for a more traditional feel. Selecting the pens, pencils, markers, and brushes feels almost 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. You can also create and save brushes, erasers, or airbrushes, and you can vary their size, transparency, roundness, slant, and stamp spacing (a brushstroke property).
Though Mac users have no basis for comparison, Alias has added new features to SketchBook Pro, including 26 hot-key functions, a single-layer copy tool, and a redesigned brush editor. A built-in screen-capture utility lets you take a snapshot in any application, including a Web browser. This feature saves valuable time when you’re importing images from third-party applications.
Nondestructive 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 to help streamline your workflow. The layers option is useful but rudimentary, with none of the blending modes Adobe Photoshop offers. However, you can add an unlimited number of new layers (including imported photographs), and adjust the opacity with a simple slider for easy tracing. Notes to clients and art directors can be added on separate layers, for instance, without the need to duplicate images.
You can e-mail your masterpiece to a friend, colleague, or customer from within the program—it’s automatically attached in JPEG, PNG, or TIFF format within your default mail program. Support for Apple’s Rendezvous, however, would be a bonus, as would be the ability to save files in Photoshop’s native PSD format.
Color palettes are initially limited: preset colors are represented by a neat pack of digital crayons. SketchBook Pro 1.1 makes use of OS X’s Color Picker, which lets you save additional palette colors.
The program can open and save images as large as 8,191 by 8,191 pixels. The default canvas size is the size of your monitor. To change this, go to Preferences, click on Custom Size, and type in your chosen width and height (in pixels). SketchBook Pro 1.1 uses a best-fit approach when printing, which means results can look odd. Images are automatically created in landscape layout—not portrait. You can open SketchBook Pro’s TIFF documents in Photoshop and Painter, but any layers you may have created will be merged.
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; this will save you scanning time.
Macworld’s Buying Advice
As part of the creative process, SketchBook Pro 1.1 is an excellent, though not essential, artistic tool. It won’t replace Photoshop’s vast range of functions or Painter’s ability to simulate natural media. Rather, SketchBook Pro 1.1 can render images and ideas with a minimum of fuss, allowing full artistic flow without the distractions of a heavy manual or complex commands.Selecting the Brush icon brings up a circular menu of eight choices; then selecting the Current Tool icon reveals presets you can customize.