Tooling Around is an occa­sional series of posts talk­ing about art/craft tools – phys­ical and vir­tual. This time we’re firmly in the realm of the virtual.

I recently bought a Nexus 7 tab­let, and the first thing I won­der on get­ting a new gad­get is “can this help me make art?”. The N7 runs the Android oper­at­ing sys­tem, so there were plenty of draw­ing apps avail­able: too many, in fact. So I began to trawl review sites, built a short­l­ist of pos­sible apps and pro­ceeded to test them via the medium of bad draw­ings of ali­ens (you can click through to see just how bad!).

By the way, I didn’t try Adobe’s Photoshop Touch, des­pite it get­ting good reviews, because it’s not avail­able on the N7, pre­sum­ably because Adobe doesn’t like money or something.


Markers

[Link/Price: £Free]

markers_smlMarkers has received quite a lot of cov­er­age on Android blogs for pretty much one reason; the pres­sure sens­it­ive brush. Pressure sens­it­iv­ity is very import­ant to digital artists; it’s the reason people spend thou­sands of pounds on Cintiqs, for instance.

With most draw­ing apps, you’re either touch­ing the screen and draw­ing a fixed width of line, or not touch­ing the screen and not draw­ing a line at all. With pres­sure sens­it­iv­ity, one can press lightly and get a nar­row line, or press harder and get a heav­ier one – in the same way that you could with a real life pen­cil or brush.

Markers does this very well, even though it’s essen­tially ‘fake’ pres­sure sens­it­iv­ity – based on the amount of fin­ger sur­face area in con­tact with the screen. It’s easy (and sat­is­fy­ing ) to pro­duce nice flow­ing cal­li­graphic lines. Unfortunately, it’s a bit of a one trick pony; it’s a simple app with few options. There are, for instance, no lay­ers or zoom cap­ab­il­ity. The app’s pro­ject page describes it as a “Sample app demon­strat­ing use of Android touch APIs for pressure-sensitive draw­ing” and as a fea­ture demo it works bril­liantly, but essen­tially it’s a cool toy rather than a cool tool. It is free, though.

Pros: • Excellent pressure-sensitivity • Completely free • Draw two lines at once via multitouch

Cons: • No zoom • No lay­ers • Limited palette • Few tools


Picassopicasso_sml

[Link/Price: £Free]

Picasso is another simple draw­ing app that’s had a fair amount of pos­it­ive press. In many ways it falls into a sim­ilar niche as Markers – a simple app for quick doodles. Like Markers, it has no zoom, no lay­ers, and not many fea­tures. However, and also like Markers, it does have one fea­ture which I wish other apps would adopt; for Markers this was the pres­sure sens­it­iv­ity, for Picasso it’s the ‘Live Brush Preview’ that shows you exactly how the brush you’ve chosen will look on screen.

Preview fea­ture aside, Picasso is another app that’s more toy than tool, I’m afraid. But if you’re look­ing for a free doodler, it’s worth check­ing out.

Pros: • Great live brush pre­view fea­ture • Completely free

Cons: • No zoom • No lay­ers • Few brushes or tools


Sketcher

[Link/Price: £Free (Lite, Ad-Supported) | £0.69 (Pro) ]

sketcher_smlNow this app is a bit dif­fer­ent; it’s a ‘pro­ced­ural’ sketcher – that is to say the ‘brushes’ are actu­ally algorithms rather than bit­maps. It’s not easy to explain, but for­tu­nately there’s a PC ver­sion of the same (open source) algorithms here, so you can see what it’s like.

It actu­ally gives the image a bit of a ‘nat­ural media’ look, at least from a dis­tance. The down­side is that there’s no con­trol over brush size; you’re pretty much stuck with a single ‘Sketcher-esque’ look.

So this cer­tainly isn’t an end-to-end art app, but it’s not impossible that it could form part of someone’s workflow.

Pros: • Cool, quirky effects

Cons: • Only quirky effects • No lay­ers • Few tools • Free ver­sion lacks many features


Fresco

[Link/Price: £Free (Lite, Ad-Supported) | £1.99 (Pro) ]fresco_sml

After the oddity that is Sketcher, Fresco is a much more nor­mal draw­ing app – and quite a good one at that. There’s a nice range of brushes and effects (at least in the Pro ver­sion), plus the lay­ers func­tion­al­ity that is abso­lutely vital in a ser­i­ous art tool. Fresco’s unique selling point is that you can export your images in .psd format – which means you can open it in Photoshop with lay­ers intact. For artists who use Photoshop as part of their work­flow this could be invaluable.

Pros: • Lots of brushes • Layers • Export to Photoshop • Plenty of tools and filters

Cons: • Interface can be some­what unintuitive


Magic Doodle

[Link/Price: £Free (Lite, Ad-Supported) | £1.22 (Premium) ]

magic doodle_smlMagic Doodle is another draw­ing app that’s had quite a lot of pos­it­ive press. This is under­stand­able – it’s really not a bad app. Very nice selec­tion of brushes, and the must have fea­tures like lay­ers and zoom are present and cor­rect. Particularly wel­come are the smudge effects, which make get­ting nice blends of col­our easy; great for nat­ural media effects.

As we’ve seen, many of these apps have a stand-out fea­ture that dis­tin­guishes them from the oth­ers; in Magic Doodle’s case it’s that every stroke is recor­ded, mean­ing that you can play back your paint­ing as you would a video. It’s pretty cool, but I’m not sure that it’s a super use­ful fea­ture for most of us.

I had a prob­lem with this app – but one that may be unique to me – in that every time I tried to re-open a saved pic­ture, the app crashed. Please try the free ver­sion first, just in case.

Pros: • Lots of brushes • Layers • Blending Tools • Play-back

Cons: • Another unin­tu­it­ive inter­face • Unstable?


Sketchbook

[Link/Price: £Free (Express) | £3.08 (Pro) ]sketchbook_sml

Autodesk Sketchbook is very much the ‘big fish’ of the Android draw­ing app world; the most fre­quently recom­men­ded and well reviewed, plus the only one cre­ated by a ‘proper’ com­pany, rather than the one or two per­son teams behind the other apps.

The res­ult is a very pro­fes­sional product, with all the fea­tures you’d expect (zoom, plenty of brushes, lay­ers) and more (guides and rulers, text, etc).

It really is a great app, but there are one or two little niggles. Firstly, the ori­ent­a­tion is fixed to land­scape – this wouldn’t nor­mally be a prob­lem; after all, there’s noth­ing to stop you rotat­ing the tab­let. However, some of the options have tiny text and sliders that it’s hard to use when hold­ing the tab­let hori­zont­ally, and some of the tools, not­ably the sym­metry tool,  are fixed to the axis — that is they assume you’ll only hold the tab­let hori­zont­ally. This makes por­trait draw­ing unne­ces­sar­ily fiddly. (Incidentally, the other apps in this round up assume a vertical/portrait tab­let, but don’t throw up any par­tic­u­lar dif­fi­culties to use in land­scape orientation).

The other niggle, and this is def­in­itely very sub­ject­ive, is that the entire app feels a little soul­less – it’s very pro­fes­sional, but you don’t get the ‘labour of love’ feel­ing you do with the other apps.

Pros: • Lots of brushes • Layers • Plenty of tools

Cons: • Fixed ori­ent­a­tion • Fiddly interface


Infinite Painter

[Link/Price: £Free (Lite) | £3.13 (Full) ]

infinite painter_smlInfinite Painter is another full fea­tured art app, with layer sup­port, a great set of brushes, and a wide array of tools. But as you’ve seen, there are quite a few apps with sim­ilar cap­ab­il­it­ies, so what’s Infinite Painter’s unique selling point?

I’d say the main thing is the inter­face, which is extremely good. Thumb con­trols in the bot­tom corners of the screen allow access to brush and col­our options, and it’s a mat­ter of a single touch to swap between paint­ing and blend­ing, or between pressure-sensitivity and fixed brush size. Plus, by drag­ging out from these but­tons, brush size and col­our can be adjus­ted. There’s a bit of a learn­ing curve, but once mastered it’s a lot smoother than dig­ging through the menus in other apps.

For the other tools there is a more stand­ard menu, but even there a lot of thought has been put in; a long press will bring up help text, for example, and in the most recent ver­sion there are little labels to help.

All in all, it’s a very well thought out app that’s still improving.

Pros: • Lots of brushes • Layers • Plenty of tools • Great interface

Cons: • Bit of a learn­ing curve


Verdict

As you’ve prob­ably guessed, in my opin­ion, Infinite Painter is the best draw­ing app cur­rently avail­able for tab­lets. Now, that may just be ‘best for me’, so if the inter­face doesn’t win you over, Sketchbook is also worth a look. And if £3-ish is too much, you could save a pound by going for Magic Doodle or Fresco, both of which are fine apps.

But as far as my work­flow goes, I’ve already star­ted using Infinite Painter to rough out pic­tures while on a train into work.

Agree? Disagree? Another app to recom­mend? Let me know in the com­ments, below.

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