Camera and music applications aside, the iPhone and iPod touch hold a lot of potential for creative users. Today, we look at another well-represented genre of creative tools: 15 different drawing and painting applications, ranging in price from free to $6. While they vary in utility and execution, and most are useful only for casual doodling, each allows the user to create art using nothing but the touchscreen and a finger. Some of the programs even offer intriguingly broad sets of tools and novel features such as wireless collaboration. Skip ahead to Brushes, iDoodle2, NetSketch, and Sketches to see the best of the pack.
Blackboard ($1) is a very simple drawing application that provides users with a virtual chalkboard on which to draw, instead of mimicking a sketch pad like many of its competitors. Because the application uses only a single screen and dedicates roughly 20% of the available real estate to controls, it offers the smallest drawing surface of any currently available iPhone drawing application. It offers buttons for selecting the chalk color or eraser, saving the drawing for a replay, replaying the strokes taken to create the last saved drawing, and clear all. The latter three buttons are placed on the blackboard frame.
Users can draw with white, yellow, red, or blue chalk, all of which go on softly — to get a fully opaque line, users need to go back over the same area multiple times, which we see as neither detrimental nor beneficial. The user is not given the option to change the size of the line being drawn, and cannot edit the texture of the line, either. Blackboard’s replay feature works as expected, retracing the steps it took to create the most recently saved drawing. The application does not offer the ability to save a drawing to the iPhone or iPod touch’s Photos app, instead expecting that users will take screenshots. At $1, it’s not expensive, but compared to its competition, Blackboard simply doesn’t offer enough utility to be worth the price. The ability to draw and save full-screen images would be a good start towards improving Blackboard, which currently falls short of our general or limited recommendation levels. iLounge Rating: C-.
Brushes ($5) is a fairly well-rounded drawing application, featuring a built-in gallery and offering users control over the size, texture, and color of the lines being drawn. The application opens to the Gallery screen, with thumbnails of each of the user’s past drawings, along with a button to import an image from the iPhone or iPod touch’s photo library, and another button to create a new drawing. Tapping on an existing drawing lets users view it on the full screen, with buttons for editing the drawing, duplicating it or saving it to the photo library, deleting the drawing, and controls for the built-in slideshow feature.
In edit mode, Brushes offers a button along the bottom of the screen for filling the drawing with a particular color, a brush button to let the user choose from three different brush textures and adjust the size, plus undo/redo buttons, an eyedropper button for selecting a color, and a color box which shows the currently selected color and brings up a color selection screen. This screen includes a circular main color selector and sliders for adjusting the tint and opacity of the color. All of these buttons are hidden when the user is drawing; users can also use pinch and grab gestures to zoom in and out, with the zoom percentage displayed in an overlay.
Although it lacks a wide variety of tools, Brushes is well thought out and offers one of the best interfaces of any iPhone OS drawing app. The addition of more drawing tools, along with a slightly lower price, would be a great way to improve what is already a solid application. iLounge Rating: B.
ColorTilt ($1) and ColorTouch ($1) are slightly different versions of the same underwhelming application. ColorTilt forces the user to tilt the iPhone or iPod touch in different directions in order to select the drawing color, while ColorTouch offers a only slightly less irritating system of changing the color based on where the user’s finger is placed on the screen. Both systems are unnecessarily inaccurate, confusing, and poorly thought out, providing a bad user experience. Once a color has been selected by tapping any corner of the screen—the same method is used to return to color selection mode—the user may begin drawing on any part of the screen, save for a small border that runs all the way around the edges, and changes hue based on the currently selected color. Shaking the device clears the screen.
Tapping and holding in any corner brings up an options menu which lets users choose between drawing and erase modes, set the brush size and opacity, toggle the sound effects on and off, and, in the case of ColorTilt, set the rate at which the colors change when tilting the device. With the same price and virtually the same feature set, the method by which the user sets the color is at once the sole differentiator between these two apps and the main reason they’re so unappealing. Both methods strike us as gimmicky, and detract further from what is already a demo-quality experience. For free, these apps wouldn’t be worth the download; for $1, neither is close to recommendable. iLounge Rating (ColorTilt): D-. iLounge Rating (ColorTouch): D.
DoodleIt (Free) is a simple drawing application. Its main drawing screen uses only a small portion at the bottom for controls, which include a button to select the color, a slider for adjusting the brush size, and a settings button which lets the user save the drawing or load an image from the photo library. On the color choice screen, users can select from 18 pre-defined colors, choose the eraser, erase lines, or erase all.
When drawing, lines will often times begin or end with sharp projections — it’s unclear whether this is due to a lack of smoothing in the software or due to a poor choice of base bitmap for the brush. Otherwise, tracking performs as expected. That’s the entirety of DoodleIt’s functionality. While it is free, it’s hard to recommend given the graphic-related issues users will encounter while drawing, and the superior quality of iDoodle2 lite, another free app. A fix for the graphics glitches, either by way of a different basic shape for the line or a smoothing feature, is the first step towards improving DoodleIt, which currently falls short of even our limited recommendation. iLounge Rating: C-.
Finger Paint ($1) is a very simple drawing app for the iPhone and iPod touch. As the name would suggest, it attempts to provide a finger paint-like experience, and for the most part succeeds. Once the splash screen disappears, users are presented with a black canvas on which to paint and a row of four buttons at the bottom. A palette button allows the user to pick the color from 64 swatches, a large red “X” allows the user to erase the image (after confirming with a warning dialog), a dot representing the current brush brings up sliders to adjust the opacity and size of the brush, and a gears button brings up an options screen where users may, again, adjust the opacity, brush size, and color (RGB) using sliders. Below these lie buttons for saving the image, loading a picture from the user’s library, and dismissing the screen. Users are also brought to the options screen by tapping the “More colors” button on the color selection screen.
Painting is straightforward and relatively accurate; the app doesn’t provide any option for smoothing out the lines, and there is no undo function, either. Still, Finger Paint is priced affordably, and offers more functionality than Blackboard while coming close to matching that app’s simplicity. It obviously can’t compete with the same-priced Paint on features, and it could use some polish, but users (or parents) looking for a simple drawing application could do a lot worse. iLounge Rating: C.
Unlike basically every other application in this article, Gesture ($5) is focused on artistic image manipulation. As such, users are first brought to a screen showing their works in frames, with options at the top for viewing the user’s art or art created and uploaded by other Gesture users, an edit button for deleting drawings, and an add button for creating a new painting based on an image from the user’s photo library.
In the image editing view, users are presented with buttons for undo, zoom in/out, brush size, show/hide the original image, and an action button. This lets the user save the image to his photo library, share it on the app’s user submission area, and pointilize the original image. Since the application is meant as a tool for making artistic interpretations of existing images, users cannot select the line color — the app automatically selects the color based on the original image, letting the user focus on technique.
We seriously considered removing Gesture from this article since it doesn’t allow the user to actually draw anything from scratch; it remains here only due to the likelihood of it being confused with a real drawing/painting application. For what it’s worth, Gesture is a fairly powerful application in its own right, and potentially worth the purchase for fans of Corel Painter. Those looking for a true drawing application, however, will need to look elsewhere. iLounge Rating: N/A.
Based on the popular iDoodle web app for the iPhone and iPod touch, iDoodle2 lite (Free) and iDoodle2 ($3) are fairly full-featured drawing applications. The paid full version adds the ability to use photos as a background, a text tool, the ability to save in-progress images and work on them later, an eyedropper tool, gradients, and adjustable pen softness; the two apps are otherwise equals. A main menu lets users start a new doodle, save the current doodle to the photo library or doodle gallery, open the doodle gallery, edit the background, replay the current doodle, turn the auto-save preference on and off, and access the user guide.
Buttons on the main drawing screen for tools, line, and fill settings actually all lead to the same multi-pane box, making two of the buttons redundant; buttons for zooming in on the image or opening the menu are also found along the bottom. iDoodle offers a number of common drawing tools, including pen, line, rectangle, oval or custom shapes, an eraser, and on the paid version, the text and eyedropper features. Users can adjust the color of the line or fill by picking from 16 pre-determined colors, or by tapping an advanced button that uses RGB sliders to choose the color; the paid version also lets users pick two colors for gradient fills. Softness, opacity, and size are all adjustable as well; when drawing shapes, they appear on the screen in nearly real time, allowing the user to see what is being drawn.
Despite their less-than-slick interfaces, iDoodle2 lite and iDoodle2 offer enough functionality each to make them worthwhile; a nicer-looking, streamlined interface would make them even better. iLounge Rating (iDoodle2 lite): B+. iLounge Rating (iDoodle2): B.
The second application from Big Stone Phone to be reviewed in this article, iGraffiti ($5) differs from Gesture in that it is designed primarily for drawing. The app’s main drawing screen features a small row of buttons at the bottom, including an action button to save the drawing, assign it to a contact, or make a new drawing, a camera button that lets you use an image from the iPhone or iPod touch’s photo library as the background, and a color button. This brings up differently-colored crayons—tap to set the color, hold to set the background color—and an eraser. There’s also a brush button that brings up various sliders and buttons for turning a drop shadow effect on and off, setting the color of the shadow, and adjusting the shape, opacity, and size of the brush. An info button displays a quick tip page.
In addition to normal erase controls, the user is supposed to be able to shake the device once to undo the last stroke or shake back and forth to clear the image; in our testing, we never got the single shake undo to work. Users can also use pinch and drag gestures to zoom in and out. Although it possesses a fairly easy to use interface, iGraffiti is missing several features found in competing applications, causing it to seem even more overpriced than it actually is. Big Stone Phone should immediately bring over the built-in gallery from Gesture to improve iGraffiti, and then consider adding more tools — including a pencil and shapes — to expand its drawing functionality to more closely match its competitors. iLounge Rating: C+.
One of the most interesting drawing applications for the iPhone and iPod touch is NetSketch ($6), a competent application with a killer sharing feature. When the application opens, users are presented with a list of their drawings, each with a small thumbnail and the title listed. A gears button allows users to delete, duplicate, or rename sketches, while an add button lets users create a new drawing by entering a title and selecting whether to share it with the just a certain group, all local users, or not share it at all.
Indeed, NetSketch’s sharing feature allows other iPhone and iPod touch units operating on the same wireless network to join in on the sketch, either by watching what the original user is doing, or by adding to it themselves. A button at the bottom of the drawing list turns the feature on and off, and shared sketches stored on connected devices show up in the list below the user’s own drawings. We could see this feature being extremely useful in situations such as brainstorming sessions, design consults, or just for fun; NetSketch is currently the only app to offer such a feature.
The drawing screen features a navigation bar at the top with buttons for returning to the drawing list and changing the sharing settings; a notification appears below this button whenever a user joins the drawing. Buttons at the bottom allow the user to change the size and color of the brush, use an eyedropper to sample a color, automatically zoom in and out with pinch gestures, and undo, along with an action button for saving the drawing to the photo library, sending it in an email, or uploading it to NetSketch’s site for sharing online. With its unique wireless sharing and capable drawing features, NetSketch is a solid value at $6. As it is, it’s worthy of our strong general recommendation; added control over the brush texture, the ability to use a picture as a background, a lower price, and the ability to draw shapes would make it even better. iLounge Rating: B+.
In another break from the formula followed by most iPhone and iPod touch drawing applications, No.2 ($5) uses an on-screen pencil to allow for greater accuracy when drawing. Drawings are organized into “books,” which can be accessed from the book button on the drawing screen. Each drawing within the book view is displayed as a thumbnail against a wood grain background; the app includes several drawings by default, including an entire section of documentation that serves as a user guide for the app.
The drawing screen also offers buttons for deleting the drawing, undo, and saving the image to the photo library. As mentioned above, users manipulate an on-screen pencil to draw, positioning the pencil with one finger and tapping with a second to begin drawing; another tap of the second finger lifts the pencil. This sounds more complicated than it is, but it’s still less than ideal. Tapping on the pencil itself shifts between drawing and erase modes, and users can zoom in and out using gestures. The pencil emulates the lines drawn by a standard No.2 pencil, hence the name.
While the documentation says that features such as editable page size, drawing rotation, cut, copy, and paste are in development, along with new tools such as rulers, crayons, markers, pens, and stencils, these features have yet to appear, so users are currently only able to use the single-sized pencil. In fact, it is the pencil metaphor that is the app’s greatest advantage and single biggest weakness: it provides a more accurate drawing experience than any of the app’s peers, but brings with it a control scheme that takes some getting used to and severely limits the user’s options. We could overlook these shortcomings if the app were priced a little lower, but as it stands No.2 is simply a good start, not yet a complete app, and thus falls short of our recommendation. iLounge Rating: C.
Paint ($1; listed as iPaint on the Home screen) is a single-screen drawing application that offers users a wide variety of ways to manipulate and create drawings and images. Paint’s single view presents users with a side-scrolling button bar of brush sizes, open and filled geometric shapes, pre-defined, clip-art like images, and buttons for adding an image from the photo library as a background, changing the background color, and saving the drawing to the photo library. A non-scrolling button bar at the bottom lets users undo, select from seven pre-set colors, or tap a color selection button to set a custom color using RGB sliders, along with a tint control.
The sheer number of options in Paint is impressive, although they aren’t presented in the best way possible, and some buttons — such as the computer monitor icon for changing the background color — are less than immediately obvious in utility. When loading a picture from the photo library for use as a background, the selection menu does not extend to the status bar, stopping slightly above the bottom of the top button bar, leaving an ugly gap. In addition, the loaded picture doesn’t cover the entire drawing surface, leaving a several-pixels-wide vertical border on the right side which lets the underlying background show through. Also, when drawing shapes, the actual shape appears only after the user has drawn an invisible line to represent the size of the shape, giving the user no indication of how the shape will look. Apart from these issues, the app performs as expected, letting users draw on the screen by accurately following the movement of their fingers. Shaking the device clears the screen.
While it does have its issues, Paint is the most full-featured drawing app available at its price point. Adding the ability to see shapes as they are drawn, fixing the picture loading bug, and either a brief tutorial or an overhauled interface would do a lot to improve Paint, which is currently worthy of only our limited recommendation. iLounge Rating: B-.
Sketches ($6) is a well-designed drawing application, with a fairly robust feature set and highly usable interface. Upon launch, users are bought to a screen with a navigation bar at the top and drawings represented by thumbnails that have been pinned to the corkboard background. As with several other apps, a number of preloaded sketches serve as a user’s guide, explaining the function of each button in the app’s interface. Buttons in the navigation bar allow the user to delete sketches and create new ones.
On the drawing screen, a navigation bar at the top provides a back button and a zoom control button, while buttons along the bottom allow the user to tap to undo/hold to erase all, pick a color from 24 swatches and control the brush size, pick a shape from a myriad of options sorted into one of six categories, set the background using the iPhone’s camera, the photo library, a solid color, an image from the web, a map (using the user’s location), or one of paper-like patterns, and either export the sketch to the photo library or post it to Twitter. Users draw using one finger, and use two-finger pinch and grab gestures to make shapes; these are displayed in real time as the user moves his/her fingers, giving clear indications of what is being drawn. Shaking the device clears the sketches but not the background; a menu in the device’s Settings app allows the user to turn this on and off. Other options reset the device’s first-run tutorial and present the version information for the app.
While it lacks the interesting and potentially useful wireless sharing feature of the same-priced NetSketch, Sketches makes up for it with a broad range of drawing options, reasonable features, including a built-in gallery, and a smart interface. While it is one of the two most expensive drawing apps for the iPhone and iPod touch, Sketches is largely worth it; a slightly lower price and adjustable brush textures would make it even better. Users seeking the wireless collaboration feature of NetSketch will obviously need to look at it instead, but if you’re simply looking for a good iPhone or iPod touch drawing application, Sketches is currently the best option available. iLounge Rating: A-.
Squiggles ($5) is a highly ambitious drawing application that simply tries to do too much. Unlike many of the other applications in its price range, Squiggles doesn’t offer any sort of built-in gallery, instead letting giving users a main drawing screen and a number of buttons which access options such as saving the drawing to the photo library, creating a new drawing—which replaces the current one, although it asks if you’d like to save first—accessing settings, tools, colors, and brushes, and undoing the last stroke. Users can also clear the screen by shaking.
Squiggles offers an impressive list of tool options, including brush, eraser, clone tool, stamp, overlay image, and text buttons, a variety of basic filters, including brightness and contrast adjustments, and a section for layer control. The brushes/overlay/stamp selections are equally robust, with controls given for the opacity and blend mode for each brush. The settings menu allows the user to toggle the ask on shake, smart shape, load cropped, cursor, and smoothing features on and off, along with a slider to adjust the smoothing and a button that lets the user set a finger offset for more accurate drawing.
Despite all these features, Squiggles lacks simple features such as zoom and multiple undo, and its handling of certain features, such as layers, makes them all but unusable. A re-thought menu system, a more clear way of letting the user know exactly what layer they are on and what will and will not be editable at a given time, a slightly lower price, and a more attractive overall interface would do a lot to make Squiggles better. It’s not terrible as it is, but it’s not outstanding either, and it lacks the polish and ease of use found in its direct competition. With some improvement, it could certainly become a powerful app; it currently falls slightly short of our recommendation. iLounge Rating: C+.
Earlier iPhone Gems columns are available here.