News Column

Drawing you into the pen

June 24, 2014

Ed Baig, ebaig@usatoday.com, USA TODAY



When a venerable software company ventures into hardware for the first time, nailing down the finer details is critical.

This doesn't appear lost on Adobe, producer of Photoshop and other creative software, as it launches its first physical products: a battery-powered cloud pen called Adobe Ink and a companion digital ruler called Slide.

These clever digital drawing tools are sold neatly packaged in a white clamshell box that draws inevitable comparisons to the way Apple packages products. A card in the box carries a quote from Paul Klee: "A drawing is simply a line going for a walk."

Ink & Slide looks as if it could have been designed in Cupertino, Calif. At $199.99, it also has an Apple-like premium.

For now, you need two new iPad drawing apps called Adobe Line and Adobe Sketch to use Ink & Slide (requirements: fourth-generation iPad, iPad Air, iPad Mini and iPad Mini with Retina display). By now you may be asking: Aren't there many styluses? Aren't there many drawing apps?

Of course there are, but Adobe is betting on the fact that this is no ordinary pen, and the companion Slide, no ordinary ruler.

The Adobe Line and Sketch apps have some overlapping features and could definitely be more intuitive. Generally speaking, Line is a drafting app that you can use to draw straight lines, perfect curves, geometric shapes and so on. Sketch provides a digital canvas more for your free-form inspirations, which you can then share on Behance, Adobe's online platform for artistic work.

You'll need an Adobe ID and free or paid Adobe Creative Cloud account to use the apps. You don't have to use Ink & Slide with the apps, though there are benefits. That said, some finger gestures inside Adobe Line and Sketch are helpful and cool -- swiping with two fingers to Undo or Redo, using three fingers to scrub "back in time" to see the progression of a drawing.

As you might have guessed by the price, Adobe's pen and ruler are best suited for serious artists.

Still, the beauty of the Ink pen is, well, its simplistic beauty. Crafted of aluminum, the barrel is triangular and comfortable to hold. The fine tip makes Ink not only look like a real pen but behave like one, too. It is precise and pressure-sensitive. That is, the harder you press the pen against the iPad display, the darker or thicker the lines will be.

Via the apps, you can choose different size pencils, pens and markers, plus an eraser. You can also adjust the size and opacity for these virtual pen/pencil tips. Pressing the lone button on the pen barrel summons menus inside the apps for changing brushes, color themes and more

Periodically, you'll have to slip the pen into a magnetic charging unit that doubles as a protective pen cover. Adobe says you'll get a full day of use from a single charge. As soon as the pen is lifted from the screen, it draws less power, then goes into a sleep state after a couple of minutes.

You can set things up so that one end of your pen lights up in a different color than, say, the pen owned by the colleague collaborating with you on a project, thus reducing the likelihood that you'll mistake his or her pen for yours.

One neat thing I did in Adobe Line was import a picture I took on the iPad, and trace against it.

The Adobe Slide ruler is especially nifty, and it doesn't require a battery. You can press Slide against the iPad screen and trace along its edges, with the software fixing imprecise lines or circles.

You can also press a button to cycle through shapes and so-called "stamp packs" that appear on the iPad display, lightly lined sketches of objects that you can add to your sketches. As you press the Slide button, the stamp sketch on the screen changes, from a snake to an alligator, for example. As you move and turn Slide against the glass, the stamp moves and turns, too, letting you position it where you want. Resize the stamp by pinching with your fingers, and double-tap on it to add it to your drawing.

Adobe has made a nice first move into hardware. But it would be even nicer if Ink & Slide were cheaper, and worked with more apps. And for that matter, worked on Android and Windows, too.


For more stories covering the world of technology, please see HispanicBusiness' Tech Channel



Source: USA Today


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