Top drawer

With Alias Sketchbook Pro 2, written to complement Photoshop, it is now possible to produce artwork from quick doodles to complete print-quality material — at an attractive price, says Charles Clark.

If you’ve ever been stuck trying to do some technical illustration or wanting to add some annotation to an existing drawing or image and the traditional software lets you down, help is at hand in the shape of Alias Sketchbook Pro.

The number of illustration packages available is amazing, but this wonderful little application, now in version 2, provides access to the high level sketching tools of the Alias stable for a fraction of the cost. Just $180 buys you an excellent sketching complement to Photoshop or Corel Draw.

The only downside is that you need a Tablet PC or Wacom Tablet type input device to take full advantage of the sketching characteristics. You can’t really sketch (in the artistic sense) with a mouse, and a mouse has no notion of stylus pressure. So light, wispy thin lines are impossible.

According to the manufacturers, ‘Alias SketchBook Pro is a nimble, high-quality paint and drawing application designed specifically for use with a stylus. The product features an artist-friendly, gesture-based user interface built around Alias’s patented Marking Menu technology.’ The stylus allows the user to access tools such as pencils, markers and brushes; pen-driven layers; background templates; and a pan/zoom tool. These are backed up by a 50-brushstroke ‘undo/redo’ option.

Because of the very intuitive user interface the average artist can be productive in a matter of minutes. It can be used it to create anything from quick doodles to complete print-quality production artwork. Also, unlike other digital paint and sketch software. it is designed specifically for a stylus.

Consequently you don’t have to constantly go back and forth between the pen and a keyboard or mouse — not even for file naming and saving. Working with the software feels very similar to drawing and painting on paper.

This kind of software reduces the time spent scanning paper sketches, allowing you to quickly and easily import drawings or images into other software packages as well as manage and archive work more readily. There are also some useful extra tools, such as Alias Snapshot, which allows you to take a picture of anything on your screen.

Images can be sent directly from SketchBook Pro to managers, clients and colleagues, and support for all popular image formats means you can import photographs and other images very quickly, make annotations and then e-mail the marked-up image to a client or colleague. Graphics are also importable, and can be made transparent and traced over to produce new images.

Alias has also fostered a new industry phenomenon among digital artists by running the ‘Expose Yourself’ competition, now in its second year.

This has all the ‘underground’ creative fervour found among graffiti artists, and it produces some amazing images. Over 625 images were submitted by ‘Expose Yourself 2’ contest participants, competing for a chance to win widespread exposure and community recognition. Joshua Maruska, an industrial designer from Seattle, Washington, was declared grand prize winner of this year’s contest at the Game Developers Conference, San Francisco, earlier this year.

The ability to save layered PSD files makes SketchBook Pro a great companion to Photoshop, and compatibility with Maya, Alias StudioTools and others makes it an invaluable ‘front end’ to the creative process. Version 2 is very close to displacing Photoshop from the top spot in terms of digital image manipulation software of choice.

It will probably never replace it, as there is a breadth and depth to Photoshop that Alias would never wish to replicate, but in terms of the first icon you double click it is very close.