This past Christmas my wife surprised me with a really intriguing gift‚ Wacom’s new(ish) Inkling. It’s a pressure sensitive pen that can be used as a normal pen for sketching on a pad of paper. If the included receiver is clipped onto your paper, it will record all your strokes and play them back as either a Photoshop file or as vector artwork that can be edited in a program such as Illustrator.

The Inkling is charged through a mini USB cord (provided) and takes about 3 hours for a full charge and is good for about fifteen hours of drawing. The receiver also stores all the drawings and basically acts like a USB thumb drive when connected to your computer. I haven’t tested it out, but is is reported to hold hundreds of sketches and I have no reason to disbelieve it as the sketch files were rather small.

The pen itself is a standard (though rather fat) ballpoint pen. It comes with a few refills but uses standard ink cartridges so finding cheap refills shouldn’t be a problem.

I was pretty excited to get one of these. We tried to get one last year when they first came out, but they were very, very hard to come by.

Below you’ll see a few tests I managed to find the time to make. I didn’t bother to show the original sketches for a side by side comparison. Quite a few people have already done so, and I want these sketches to stand by their own merit.

Another_Face Face Face_Profile Eye Cat Anime Face

My impressions.

Since it’s release, the Inkling has got some pretty mixed reviews. People either love it or hate it. I personally thinks it’s great, but it does have a few limitations.

The first one, is accuracy. The lines recorded can sometimes float around a bit. It gets worse the further away your line work is from the reciever. This is where most people complain. The Inkling is not a replacement for a Wacom tablet or Cintiq. It’s great for sketching out rough ideas on the go, but people who like very tight, clean lines and are hoping to skip the scanner altogether will be disappointed. People like myself, who like to quickly sketch out ideas and then refine them on the computer will find the Inkling is exactly what the doctor ordered.

I would imagine it would also do well for people who have a fairly loose and sketchy style of drawing.

A few things to watch out for.

As mentioned already, the recording of the line work is not super accurate. Drawing over the same line again and again may produce wildly variable results. Large, deliberate strokes seem to work best.

Also, the pen can go to sleep if not used right away, or if you take a long pause. Once this happens, you might wind up drawing strokes the receiver won’t pick up. A good indication of this is the top of the pen. It should be glowing slightly if the pen is awake. A light on the receiver should also be glowing every time you make a stroke. If you think the pen is asleep, just make certain you give a solid tap with the point of your pen onto your drawing surface. That should wake up the pen. I assume this is to conserve power.

And now for the bad.

The software that comes with the Inkling blows. Big time. The user interface is poorly thought out and hard to understand. Though, the ability to playback little videos of your drawing taking shape was cool. Good luck trying to find that feature though. And to make matters worse, for some reason, the software will automatically boot up on startup. I work on a Mac and it’s not a login item. Instead, it strews out all kinds of files hidden in various parts of the OS. I never could deactivate that “feature” and wound up deleting the software. The good news is Autodesk Sketchbook Pro can open up the files stored on he Inkling device. Even better, Sketch Book Pro has some customizable brushes and it is a simple matter of getting your sketches redrawn using these brushes. Which is more than I can say regarding the Photoshop export option the Inkling software has. All the samples you see in this post were done in Sketchbook Pro.

Before I deleted the offending software, I tried the vector output settings. I’ve never really been impressed with using freehand drawing movements with either a mouse or stylus for vector lines. Vectors are great for geometric shapes or objects with carefully plotted out points. Freehand or more organic shapes, not so much. Pixel based software always seems superior when it comes to that sort of work. The Inkling seems to follow this rule. The vector output was not quite as good as the bitmap (Photoshop) output.

So to recap, the Wacom Inkling is a great sketching on the go tool that can quickly get your sketches on the computer. The software that does all the magic needs lots of work on Wacom’s part to be useful. I’d recommend Autodesk’s software instead. It’s more flexible and has some very interesting drawing tools in its own right. Just make certain that in the program’s preferences you change the canvas size to something other than 100 DPI if you want to work with larger resolution files. The Inkling records everything at 600 DPI.

I definitely, plan on using this guy in my workflow. I can now sketch out my ideas anywhere I want (my specialty), and I can get then quickly into the computer. And depending on the particular style or effect I want, I can leave them exactly the way they are or refine the sketch with more precise drawing tools (the computer’s specialty).

And it also means more time with my wife and future family, and less in front of the computer! [Wacom Inkling Digital Sketch Pen]