As I enter my fifteenth hour of waiting for Photoshop to install on my laptop (not by choice—I need it for work), I find myself reflecting on all the art software I’ve used over the years. Most programs are quite good, if a bit limited in places, but only one stands above the rest as the best digital drawing experience I’ve ever had: Autodesk Sketchbook.
Like many art and software dweebs, I was first drawn to Sketchbook back in 2018 when Autodesk made the bold and very exciting decision to make Sketchbook completely, 100% free. I downloaded it mostly just to try it out… and the rest is history.
The Closest I’ve Ever Come to Traditional Art on a Screen
Much like Concepts, Sketchbook is designed to be grab-and-go, just like a traditional sketchbook would be. It’s also designed to mimic the way traditional art looks and behaves. Having used both Android and Windows versions, I can personally attest that Sketchbook feels good in a way that other drawing apps usually don’t. There are dozens of different tools to draw with—and dozens more you can download for free—and most of them look and behave like their traditional counterparts.
But Sketchbook has tools and tricks up its sleeve that I discovered while researching for today’s post. My favorite feature is the Steady Stroke (called Predictive Stroke on Android), which acts like a stabilizer, something I sorely need with my notoriously shaky hands.
But that’s only one of the dozens of tools available. Sketchbook has rulers, perspective grids, symmetry tools, and tons upon tons of brush packs and other downloadable goodies. You can even do basic animations with their Flipbook tools, or—if you’re using a mobile version—use the Sketch Scan tool to upload your traditional art for digital touch-ups.
Unfortunately, it’s not so kind working in reverse: There is no CMYK mode, so good luck making print-friendly work.
Artist Beware: Save Your Work
While researching for this post, I learned a lot about Sketchbook and all the wonderful things it offers. I also, unfortunately, discovered its greatest flaw: Lost progress.
Every device you use Sketchbook on saves your work differently. On Android, for example, the sketches are saved locally. So, when you uninstall Sketchbook and reinstall it, all your work is still there. This is NOT the case for iOS users, where work is saved within the app itself. In other words, if you have Sketchbook on iPhone or iPad and uninstall it, you will lose all your work with it unless you’ve saved it elsewhere.
But don’t go sitting on your laurels just yet, Android users. While it’s not an issue I’ve ever personally encountered, one of the biggest complaints in the Google Play Store reviews is that the app is known to bug out and lose progress. It may go without saying but always be diligent in saving and backing up your work.
It’s extremely unfortunate that Sketchbook’s greatest flaw is arguably unforgivable, but I’m not changing my rating. I’ve never experienced data loss; in fact, Sketchbook has saved my work when I’ve forgotten. And the lack of CMYK doesn’t bother me in the slightest. Sketchbook is the only drawing app I use. I’d recommend it to anyone.
Pros: FREE, traditional art-like experience, basic animation capability, all sorts of extra features, goodies, and even tutorials
Cons: Limited export options, no CMYK mode, frequent complaints of lost work from other users
Update: I gave up installing Photoshop. Team Paint dot NET all the way, baby.