Wacom Inkling – First Impressions

Wacom Inkling – First Impressions 1

The Inkling has arrived

The Wacom Inkling has arrived after months of waiting, and so far it’s quite cool.

Essentially, it’s a set of devices – a small electronic clip, a pen, and a carrying/charging case – that allows you to digitize drawings you do on paper, recording your strokes as you draw them, including pressure used. And it does just that, quite magically.

For $200 it really is a wonderful tool for artists, doodlers, and I’m sure many other users. You do have other options, but each of those have their own set of drawbacks.

You could draw on paper – or anything else – and scan it in. Scanning is easy, but somehow still feels like a hassle at times: you have to choose to scan, you’ll probably want to drop out the background (especially when you can see the drawing slightly on the other side of the page), and if you scan at any decent resolution the files are pretty large (without using lossy JPEG compression anyway).

Or you could draw on a tablet like an iPad or a Windows-based tablet; I enjoy drawing on my iPad and do so fairly regularly, but it lacks pressure sensitivity – this sucks. There are some Windows-based tablets that do support pressure sensitivity (and applications like Photoshop and Painter), but they’re not cheap (think $1k or more) and they’re heavy, making them something you wouldn’t always carry with you.

You can get a graphics tablet – this is where Wacom has built its name, and it has a lot of great options. But they all require connection to a computer, and most (outside of the the Cintiq line) mean you draw on the tablet but you see the drawing on your screen – not very intuitive.

Each of these options have their own strengths: drawing (or painting) on paper means you can use anything to make your mark with, from pencils to pens to paint, coffee, or blood; there’s a wide range of drawing or painting applications on the iPad, many of which simulate natural media well and you can make use of those files in other apps (or upload them directly to Flickr or Facebook); a Windows-based tablet is a good art creation tool with access to a lot of great applications and you draw right on the screen; and anyone doing any kind of digital art should have a graphics-tablet for all sorts of tasks.

Where I think the Wacom Inkling fits in here is with portability, cost, and ease of use. While it may be hard to find in the near term (we pre-ordered ours, sorry) it is certainly affordable. And the package is about the size of a large pen case – if I drew daily, I would carry this with me daily; as is, I plan to take it to places where I know I’d end up sitting around for a few hours and I want a creative outlet. And it is certainly easy – you just clip it to a piece of paper, a napkin, or a sketchbook, turn it on and start drawing. When you’re ready for the next drawing unclip it and move it to the next sheet – it knows this is a new drawing. And while drawing if you decide you want a new layer (think Photoshop layers, etc.), click a button and it takes care of it for you. Just that easy. When you want it on the computer just plug it into a USB port and use the Wacom software to export your drawing to Photoshop, Illustrator, or other apps; edit the drawings; or play your drawing back, seeing your strokes build as you drew them.

The Inkling is not without its faults, the biggest of which is the software. It feels like the application that comes with it was rushed. It’s poorly designed, not well laid out, and overall klunky-feeling. It works, and it allows you to do what you need, but it could stand a good few rounds of updating. The nice thing is that because it is software those kinds of updates should be straightforward (and I expect to see it improve over the next several months).

(One thing it allows you to do is plug in the Inkling while it’s attached to a piece of paper and then use its pen as if you’re using a graphic-tablet – almost. Your pen moves the cursor, you click with it, and you can test input sensitivity – when the software starts recording strokes. But you can’t use it with applications like Photoshop or Painter and draw like a graphic-tablet. It’s not really a needed feature but something it’s so close to doing that they might as well add it.)

The Inkling pen feels nice, but it is a ballpoint – good for doodles and quick drawings. I’m sure the choice of ballpoint was intentional to help set expectations (and makes it cheaper for refills). You must hold it about three-quarters of an inch up from the tip and the barrel is a tad thick, and you need to make sure there’s always line of sight between the receiver and the pen tip. It’s reasonably comfortable to hold, and where you hold it – and ensuring the line of sight – is something you get used to quickly.

What’s digitized is pretty damned close to what you draw, too. It doesn’t quite capture the subtleties of what happens on paper – lighter strokes aren’t quite as light, and thicker strokes don’t go as thick – but some of that is to be expected. It is possible to adjust the brush size in the software but I still don’t think you’ll capture the same nuance.

What’s worse, I think, is that the line quality looks low-res (when sending the drawing to Photoshop). The drawing comes in at 600 dpi, and it looks like it should have been a 300 dpi image – you see jaggies on the thinner lines. I don’t know if it is the sampling of the drawing or if it is something they’ll be able to interpolate better in later updates to the software, but for now I would plan on needing to clean up some of the artwork in Photoshop before ever considering it final.

Below are two sets of drawings, side-by-side comparisons between the original (paper scan) and the Inkling version, showing the full view and a detail view of each.

1st Drawing, Full View

1st Drawing, Full View - Click for High-Res image.

1st Drawing, Detail View

1st Drawing, Detail View - Click for High-Res image.

2nd Drawing, Full View - Click for High-Res image.

2nd Drawing, Full View - Click for High-Res image.

2nd Drawing, Detail View - Click for High-Res image.

2nd Drawing, Detail View - Click for High-Res image.

If you click on the detail views of each you can see the low-res jagginess as well as the lack of subtlety. But overall I think it’s a minor issue, and in part I just don’t think you can expect Inkling to look the same as ink – there’s flow issues, paper-interaction issues, the way ink smears and blends and…it is just different.

You can go the vector route and as I’ve only played with both the Illustrator and SVG options briefly I won’t say too much about them besides that you can still see the jagginess there, too. My hope is that through Wacom’s software they will eventually add some sort of smoothing function or other means of increasing the resolution details.

While the software allows you to play back your drawing, it does not (currently) allow you to export a movie of it (you could get around this through screen capture software, but it plays back on a checkerboard pattern). The playback does allow for some editing capabilities which could prove useful, but I haven’t tried those out. Still, the potential is there for a great many things – with updated software.

I mentioned file sizes earlier when discussing scanning your drawings, and here the Inkling is also very cool – when it records your drawing, it stores it in its own format, and these files are quite small. That’s good, because it stores these on the receiver you clip to your sketchbook – even with its nearly 2GB storage, if you draw a lot you could fill it up quickly, but because the files are small you don’t have to worry about cleaning this up regularly.

Additionally, the Inkling gives you up to 8 hours of battery life – this is quite a bit of drawing time. It can take a few hours to recharge a fully depleted battery, but I only see this as a problem on long trips with few charging opportunities.

I could go on, and perhaps I will post a follow-up after a few weeks of use, but I would rather keep this as a (perhaps long) first impression than an actual review.

Here’s the quick highlights:

It’s cool, really!

It’s cheap (in my mind, for what you get) at $200.

It’s portable, and easy to use.

It’s not perfect, but most of the flaws are in the software and I hope to see that updated regularly.

I’m not sure I see myself using it for finished artwork, but I’m fortunate to have good tools around for those needs (see my post on 24 Hour Comic day, or the setup picture with the Wacom Cintiq tablet). It should be a great option for doing a lot of drawings, to encourage me to sketch more, and to use some of these sketches as the basis for something more.

I’ve only had this thing for a day as of this writing, but as of right now I think it’s a great purchase – if you can find one! – for anyone who draws or wants to, and I wouldn’t let any of its shortcomings limit my decision to buy it again.

(Final note: my wife has her own – we pre-ordered at the same time – and I already see it’s good that we each got our own; somethings just get used too much to share.)

1 comments click to show
  • G says:

    This definitely looks like something that would be of benefit to me, with all the sketchbook (etc) doodling I do. I work differently in my Intuos than I do in my sketchbook, curious to see what sort of cross-over this would introduce.

    thank you for the review!

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