SketchBook Shows Tablet PCs Power

By John Taschek  |  Posted 2002-12-16 Print this article Print

Doodling on paper is about to become a thing of the past. Alias/Wavefront's forthcoming SketchBook Pro takes high-quality art and artists into a new low-cost digital age.

Doodling on paper is about to become a thing of the past. Alias/Wavefronts forthcoming SketchBook Pro takes high-quality art and artists into a new low-cost digital age.

SketchBook, which is in beta tests now, could change art on the desktop as much as Ventura Publisher changed publishing nearly 20 years ago.

Although Alias/Wavefront is not well-known in the enterprise world, the company has a 20-year history. Alias and Wavefront began their existence as separate companies. In 1995, SGI bought and merged them. During the past 15 years, Alias/ Wavefront technology has been used in just about every digital-effects-based movie.

Some of that technology is now free with many Tablet PCs. I tested SketchBook Pro on several Tablet PCs and found that its a sophisticated product with a nifty interface. As a nonartist, I couldnt stress-test it. However, I found it useful and easy to use for all my image-editing annotations.

Compared with products such as Corels Grafigo, which is also freely bundled with most Tablet PCs, SketchBook Pro is a serious art tool. Grafigo is suited to simple diagramming and annotating (I used it to modify scanned architectural diagrams, for example), but SketchBook is by far the best at duplicating artistic tools. There is support for pen brush pressure, opacity and rotation; it also has full control over brush sizes and types.

Canadian artist Nicole Vogelzang sketched this picture using nothing but SketchBook Pro and a Tablet PC. You cant find that capability on a mere notebook unless a digitizer (such as Wacoms Intuos2) is installed.

SketchBook is not for artists only. There are several enterprise applications for it, and theyre not limited to courtroom artists. SketchBook doesnt use a proprietary format, so any image can be shared, annotated, touched up and distributed to a workgroup.

If theres a flaw, its that SketchBook—at least the beta I tested—is not integrated tightly with Windows Journal (the default ink tool). I hope to see tighter integration also with Microsoft Office products, so users can take advantage of the pen. This flaw is apparent in all Tablet PC applications, however, and is not limited to SketchBook Pro.

Although the product wont officially be available until next month or February and pricing has not been set, the company has posted a free download at

As the director of eWEEK Labs, John manages a staff that tests and analyzes a wide range of corporate technology products. He has been instrumental in expanding eWEEK Labs' analyses into actual user environments, and has continually engineered the Labs for accurate portrayal of true enterprise infrastructures. John also writes eWEEK's 'Wide Angle' column, which challenges readers interested in enterprise products and strategies to reconsider old assumptions and think about existing IT problems in new ways. Prior to his tenure at eWEEK, which started in 1994, Taschek headed up the performance testing lab at PC/Computing magazine (now called Smart Business). Taschek got his start in IT in Washington D.C., holding various technical positions at the National Alliance of Business and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. There, he and his colleagues assisted the government office with integrating the Windows desktop operating system with HUD's legacy mainframe and mid-range servers.

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