I consider myself more of a “doodler” than a proper artist, but even a humbler doodler such as myself cannot ignore the sweet allure of new art-making software. So, when I stumbled upon Concepts while mindlessly browsing the Google Play Store—and then seeing it again on the Microsoft Store—I knew I had to get my hands on it.
The rave reviews didn’t hurt, either. Concepts was one of Google Play’s Best Apps of 2019. It’s even got a high rating on the Microsoft Store. Nothing has a high rating on the Microsoft Store.
I’m sorry to say that it didn’t quite meet my admittedly high expectations. But I’m not uninstalling just yet, either.
What Is Concepts?
TopHatch Inc.’s creation sensation of an art app has attempted to marry vector and raster art, creating the feeling of raster but with the control of vector. It is free, available on multiple platforms, and pleasantly plug-and-play. Being able to just open the app and immediately start drawing definitely appeals to the senses, where mightier programs like Krita or Clip Studio Paint can feel a bit overwhelming.
I personally prefer traditional art and am always looking for digital dupes. Autodesk Sketchbook is my current digital art app of choice.
Yes. Current. Concepts didn’t quite wow me.
Not Good. Not Bad. Just… Bare
I can admittedly be a tough sell when it comes to traditional art dupes. It’s hard to make a stylus on a screen feel natural, especially when you live outside the Apple ecosystem.
In fact, it’s possible that Concepts handles like an entirely different app on iOS. There are more basic brushes available and Apple Pencil compatibility I definitely don’t have with my puny Acer.
But Concepts has its other issues, too. When I first started using it, the interface felt intuitive and sensible. But the more time I spent with the app, the less I seemed to feel like I understood it. Menus weren’t quite where I expected them to be. Clicking on things didn’t always do what I thought they’d do. And sometimes the toolbar would partially disappear or certain elements would block others in ways that did not feel deliberate.
Much like the vaguely unsettling nature of Tom Cruise’s off-center smile, I felt the oddness of how Concepts handled before I really noticed it. But once I did, I couldn’t look away.
I also found myself utterly lost when trying to figure out how to customize brushes. As it turns out, you can’t. Not for free, anyway.
Much of Concepts’ juicier bits lay beyond various paywalls. You can buy brush packs a la carte or make a one-time payment of $9.99 USD for “The Essentials”—things like exporting files as things other than JPGs or infinite layers—or you can subscribe monthly for all of that stuff and additional features as they roll out.
I don’t particularly mind the paywalls—developers gotta eat—and I’d say $10 is perfectly reasonable for what you get in exchange. However, I do find it mind-boggling that an app that advertises itself as at least partially a vector art program doesn’t allow you to export SVG files for free.
I also don’t think it’s fair that iOS users get features that Android and Windows users don’t. But that’s a problem that spans beyond Concepts. Apple users get all the good stuff. Jerks.
Concepts’ Saving Grace Is Its Potential
I find myself at a crossroads with Concepts. It’s possible that Concepts is a very good program, just not for me. But right now, I’d call Concepts a bit undercooked, at least as far as the free version is concerned. It’s meant to be simple but I think it may be prohibitively so.
And while I also notoriously disapprove of paywalls, I respect that Concepts has given users both subscription and a la carte one-time payment options for its upgrades. That kind of inclusive thinking is very reassuring to me.
I’ll probably buy The Essentials pack and maybe a brush pack or two when I’m not quite so broke, if only to support TopHatch. But I’m also going to keep my eye on Concepts. It’s pretty good now; I suspect it’ll be great in a year or two.
Until then, I’ll stick with Sketchbook, which lets me customize my brushes for free.
Rating: 👻👻👻 (but with potential for improvement)
Pros: Cross-platform, infinite canvas and zoom, very cool concept (ah! I see what you did there, TopHatch!)
Cons: Weird or unintuitive interface, all the good shit costs money, Android/Windows missing some brushes