• CGNetworks Product Review

    Alias Sketchbook Pro
    Kirt Stanke, 26 February, 2004

    Any 2D artist will tell you that the most important tool to have handy during any meeting or ideation session is their sketchbook. The ability to take notes and scribble ideas on paper is about as important in any early concept stage as having a consumer base in mind for your finished product. Alias has developed SketchBook Pro as an intuitive and responsive alternative to carrying paper, pencils, and color media around for this purpose.

    As its name implies, Alias SketchBook Pro is a sketchbook for artists who want to quickly and easily record their thoughts and ideas digitally. Closely mimicking working with traditional media, the application doesn’t overwhelm with unnecessary filters, effects or tools. It’s a very light program in comparison to Adobe’s Photoshop or Corel’s Painter, which means fast load times and it won’t bog down your system with memory demands.

    Concept artists, product designers, storyboard artist and even novice artists will enjoy the simplicity of the program. After installation, it was a matter of minutes before I was working on my first illustration with the program. There is no complex user’s manual to read or much of a need to consult the online help files.

    The Artist’s Tools
    Designed for use with tablet PCs and Wacom art pads, Alias SketchBook Pro relies heavily on stylus input rather than pull down menus or keyboard input. The interface is uncluttered and easy to understand with graphic icon representations of all tools and selections. Selecting tools is a simple process of selecting the appropriate icon and flicking the stylus in one of 8 directions (up, down, left, right or diagonal) for the needed item.

    A flick of the stylus selects items from the tool bar quickly.

    A standard selection of drawing tools is available which includes: pencil, ballpoint pen, paint brush, airbrush, highlighter, smear, eraser, chisel brush and felt pen. I was very impressed with the way in which the tools closely mimic real tools. For example, the marker will actually bleed and seep into the digital paper by dragging your stylus slowly across your work canvas. The pencil tool reacts to changes in stylus pressure beautifully with variations in line weight and intensity. Users can also customize the tools to their liking and save them for later use. Adjustments can be made to each tool’s edge, size, opacity, roundness, slant and stamp spacing.

    One disappointment that I found with the tools was that the default selections from the main menu interface were not customizable. When drawing on the canvas and then flipping my stylus over to use the erasure end, I found that the diameter of the erasure tool was much too large for my needs. Since the erasure tool defaults automatically to a set size and there is no adjustment, I found it easier to keep the tool selection window open and select the erasure from there. This, in effect, makes the other end of your stylus useless (unless you want to erase large areas on your canvas).

    If you use SketchBook Pro on a desktop PC you will find that your non-drawing hand is left with not much to do. The software is designed for Tablet PCs; therefore Alias hasn’t included many hot keys for you to quickly select tools. Being an avid user of Photoshop I found myself distress at not being able to ALT-select colors from the canvas.
    Photoshop users will also be a little disappointed with the lack of a selection mask tool for isolating areas of the illustration for editing. The selection tool available in Sketchbook Pro will only select rectangular areas, allowing you to perform move, copy, cut or crop functions on the selected area. I found erasing areas of airbrush overspray to be a task that could have been eliminated with a proper selection mask tool.
    The rectangular area selected can’t be used as an area mask because the area deselects once you choose another tool from the menu. However, I don’t consider this to be a critical item for the purpose of sketching. Maybe something that would be a nice addition to future versions of the software.

    Image by Rich Walters

    Image by Rich Walters

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  • Alias Sketchbook Pro Review - Cont'd   

    Putting it to Work
    Aside from the great sketching tools, Alias has included a few helpful extras that will make on the job tasks easier and save you some time. A particularly helpful feature is the file browsing icons located at the bottom of the main interface. With a quick flick of the stylus left or right you can browse through images in a folder as if you were turning pages in a standard sketchbook. Concept artists who work with several different clients or multiple projects for the same company could organize their folders by company and project names. Then when needed, flip through images for an impromptu and formal presentation.

    With the use of layers, artists or art directors could record their write ups or recommendations over the image. Also included is a screen capture utility that can import the view from any open window onto Sketchbook Pro for annotation. Imagine browsing a company web page, importing the view from your browser into SketchBook Pro and immediately being able to make notes over the page recommending changes to the page format, content or images.

    Remote artists or those who rely heavily on e-mail to communicate with Art Directors and clients will be happy to find an option to e-mail the open image to a recipient. The e-mail option will automatically attach your file in JPEG, PNG or TIFF format within your default mail client. A dialog window prior to the attachment process will calculate file sizes for you in all three formats, allowing you to choose whichever file type is best.

    A variety of templates are also available to download from the Alias website for use with SketchBook Pro. Storyboard panels, perspective guidelines and even lined paper templates are included in the download. Like the screen capture utility, these templates open in a locked, non-destructive layer.

    Overall, SketchBook Pro is a better solution for annotation and quick concepts when compared to Adobe Photoshop or Corel Painter. The lower system resource demands and simplistic user interface gives it an advantage over it's competitors. However, artists will find the limited tools a bit frustrating and inadequate for completing more complex or polished illustrations. [CGN]

    Just the Facts
    Alias SketchBook Pro is designed for Tablet PC devices running the Microsoft Windows XP Table PC Edition operating system and comes bundled with Acer, Electrovaya and NEC Tablet PCs. It will also operate on PCs with the following minimum system requirements:
    - A Pentium II 266 MHz
    - Windows XP or Windows 2000
    - 128 MB of memory
    - 16-bit color display
    - Wacom tablet and pen
    Image resolution is set at 100dpi and the default canvas size can be changed.

    Vital Statistics
    Product:Sketchbook Pro
    Hits:- Easy to learn
    - Intuitive interface
    - Responsive and natural tools
    - Tablet PC portability
    - Easy on the system resources
    Misses:- Lack of hot key shortcuts
    - Selection tool has limited functionality
    - Interface defaults aren’t customizable

    A great application for quick concepts and annotations. A free 15 day full function trial version is available from the Alias website for download.

    Related Links

    Words: Kirt Stanke
    Images: Courtesy of Alias


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