When we first heard about Wacom’s new Inkling device we got excited: Imagine picking up a pen and paper, drawing whatever you want, and having it magically show up on your computer in a variety of formats. Add to that the ability to create new pages and layers on the fly and we were sold on the idea.
The big question was whether Wacom, which has come out with a variety of sketch-to-digital products, could deliver on its promises. Does the Inkling actually work?
The answer is a resounding and glorious: “Mostly.”
The Inkling is a beautiful device that delivers a remarkably smooth pen-and-ink-sketch-to-computer delivery system. Not only is it a handsome piece of hardware but it’s incredibly well thought-out. Both the pen and reader fit into a small plastic carrying case which also doubles as a charging station and image loading dock. The pen is comfortable in-hand and the controls on the reader are intuitive and make sense.
Where the Inkling falters is in its companion software, which is a maze of strange design choices and ugly drop-downs.
How do we know all this? Wacom sent us an Inkling to review and the Mashable staff put it to the test. This is our story.
The Inkling starts as a compact package that includes the pen, matchbox-sized reader, charging case and even pen-tip replacements. Pop the pen out of the case and then the reader. The reader clips to the top of your drawing paper. Put it in the middle so it can read as much of the page as is possible.
A tap on one side of the reader pairs it with the pen (you know it’s working when the reader’s light shines green). Then you start drawing. Whatever you write on that piece of paper, the device will pick up. A tap on the right side of the receiver creates a new layer within your sketch–you can’t see it on paper, but you’ll be able to access those layers on your computer. The pen has a limited range, meaning most sketches will be limited to a standard A4 sheet of paper but it works like a dream within its functional range.
The device works by using ultrasonic, infrared and pressure sensitive metrics to keep track of where the pen is and how much pressure you use when you’re drawing. In fact, it’s entirely possible to still use the Inkling even if the pen runs out of ink. The receiver’s sensors, however, limit the Inkling’s versatility. Wacom warns against using the reader in direct light, which will hamper the IR sensors and any object blocking the reader will inhibit it from picking up the sensors contained in the pen’s tip. Plus, your hand has to be held high enough on the pen so that your fingers don’t slip down and block the sensors.
The fairly thick pen feels good in-hand. It uses a standard ball-point ink cartridge, which you’re stuck with using (no fountain tips or graphite, sorry).
Importing is where the Inkling slips up. The actual act of importing is easy enough. Plugging the reader into your computer will bring up a software install prompt. From then on, simply plugging in the device will automatically bring up the reader with all of your images. These images, though, are not persistent. If you open up the software when the device isn’t connected, your images won’t show up. This is because the sketches and information are all contained within the reader itself. The software is just a way of accessing the data in the hardware.
The images can be saved in a variety of formats including PNG, JPG, PDF, SVG and more. They can also be exported directly to Adobe Photoshop (although the latest version of Photoshop is required) or exported to Adobe Illustrator as vectors. The latter option lets you further manipulate the individual lines post-sketch.
The software lets you view your finished drawings or select specific layers (which can also be saved as individual images). There is also a neat video option which will replay your drawing as a time-lapse. While this feature may be more of a curiosity for the average user, it is an immensely helpful tool for professionals looking to either review their drawing process or share it with followers.
The software is fine but it’s at serious odds with the elegance and ease of use of the Inkling’s hardware. For example, images have to be moved by using scroll bars, there’s no click-and-drag functionality. This may seem like a quibble but it’s immediately frustrating if you’re trying to move an image diagonally. The omission of simple and expected gestures show a lack of forethought when compared to the well-thought-out hardware it accompanies.
Does It Work?
Yeah, pretty much. The Inkling did a good job picking up fast and slow pen strokes and could register the pressure of the pen press. We did run into some problems with dropped lines, especially if the pen had been dormant for a while. Conversely, some lines turned out far darker in the finished product than in the pen sketch. This is a result of the pressure sensor being independent of the ink cartridge: If the ink stops flowing, the pen still thinks you’re drawing. This is different from similar devices such as Livescribe‘s line of pen-to-computer gadgets. Livescribe pens actually photograph the ink as it hits the paper and plots that based on tiny dots contained on its special paper. Where Livescribe uses paper as a set of axis to plot your drawing, Inkling uses the pen’s distance and pressure (with or without ink) to register your drawing.
Another minor gripe with the Inkling is that it’s difficult to register different line weights and thickness. The ballpoint pen turns out pretty uniform lines so don’t expect any dramatic calligraphic flourishes. The fidelity is pretty darn close, though the ink is obviously more nuanced than its digital counterpart.
Is It Worth It?
Most of the staff that tried the device said they would like to own the Inkling. At $199, however, it’s considerably more expensive than pen and paper. Serious illustrators no doubt already have more advanced drawing tools, and many choose to draw directly on digital devices, like their computers, Wacom’s own digitizing tablets and the Apple iPad. The Inkling is not meant to replace these, but is instead geared toward amateur sketchers who want to record on the go or visual thinkers looking to digitize all their (stubbornly) hand-made meeting notes.
If you can get someone to buy it for you, the Inkling will absolutely not let you down. It is a solid, well-designed device that, if you have the cash, might just get you putting more pen to digital paper.
Sketch in Inkling’s Software
You can see the separate layers on the left. They can be turned on or off or highlighted with different colors for editing.
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