App Review: Inkpad

This review is for an app that I don’t use very often for the Fringe 365 Project, but when I do, it is extremely useful. This is Inkpad, a vector graphics app by Taptrix.

Back toward the start of this project, I posted an entry — #26, Breakfast is the Most Important Meal of the Day. It hadn’t occurred to me that this picture might make a nice print someday, so I really had just drawn it at a fairly low resolution without much of a thought. This is really a no-no. If you have an opportunity to create images at high resolution, you should do so, because hey, you just never know.

Photo Jan 25, 10 36 27 PM (1)

You can’t produce anything that’s print quality at the typical resolution available in most iPad art apps. (Procreate is the only exception that I know of.) At 2048×1536, the standard “Retina” resolution, you can get only a very small print from your artwork. So here I was stuck with artwork at an unsuitable size. There are software solutions for enlarging bitmap graphics, but they are expensive. So, I would have to recreate the artwork at a usable size. I decided to recreate it not as a bitmap, but as a vector.

If you’re not familiar with what vector graphics actually are, here’s a brief overview. Essentially, vector graphics are a formula for creating a picture (as opposed to a bitmap – your GIF or JPG or PNG – which is made up of pixels). With vectors, everything in your artwork – lines, gradients, shapes and colors – is reduced to a formula expressed in code. This means that no matter how small you composed your image, it can be enlarged infinitely without any loss of sharpness whatsoever. Using a program that translates vectors (such as the .SVG file format) into bitmaps, you could theoretically produce a JPG with high enough resolution to create a poster the size of a room!

Adobe Illustrator is the most popular vector graphics program, but it is expensive like all other Adobe products. Inkpad is a great alternative. Having using Illustrator once or twice, I have to say that using a tablet for vector graphics is so much more intuitive – IF the app has a good user interface. Fortunately, Inkpad delivers in this department.

If you’ve never used a vector graphics program before, it’s a different artistic mode than using traditional media (or, their digital equivalents). You need to think of everything in terms of shape and curve and outline, and to mimic effects and coloring created in traditional media, sometimes you need to think in multiple layers too. My recreation of #26 as a vector took several layers (with the original image as a guide), as you can see here.

Photo May 18, 2 26 46 PM (1)

This is more basic information about vector graphics programs, but I’ll include it for those who are newbies to the medium and curious. The beauty of vectors is that if your perspective is off, or you simply need to move an element, you don’t have to erase anything: just reshape it with one of the handles, or grab one of the Bezier curve handles and change the outline. Wrong color? Just highlight the shape and change everything with a tap.

Photo May 18, 2 27 25 PM

Photo May 18, 2 32 07 PM This wireframe view of all the layers together shows that everything is made up of shapes. It seems like this would take forever to do, but I found myself working with a lot of speed in Inkpad because of the positioning of the menus. It’s a high compliment to this app that I would even say that sometimes a stylus is not absolutely necessary for precision work. I can’t even imagine now how difficult it would be to use a vector graphics program without being able to zoom in with my fingers. It just feels so natural.

Inkpad works brilliantly on the iPad 2 running 5.1, which is my older tablet. There’s absolutely no lag, which is not something you can say about every vector app out there.

I’ve posted some screenshots below so you can see the vast amount of option menus available in this app – click to enlarge. (Many of these tools are available as shortcuts on the lefthand menu.) I haven’t used them all yet, but the color blender seems unique.

Photo May 18, 2 32 35 PM Photo May 18, 2 29 59 PM

Photo May 18, 2 33 14 PM Photo May 18, 2 30 11 PM

Photo May 18, 2 31 00 PM Photo May 18, 2 31 21 PM

Photo May 18, 2 33 10 PM Photo May 18, 2 28 18 PM

There are a few drawbacks to Inkpad, so I will mention them. The color picker has a not particularly useful habit of not allowing you to revert to a single (solid) color that’s part of the gradient. That is, if your solid color was green and your gradient color was blue to orange, if you decide you want the solid blue from your gradient, you’re gonna get the green and will have to change the color manually. This involves memorizing the RGB values (percentages) so often I am heard reciting sets of three numbers to myself so I don’t forget them. This could be handled better. You can, of course, save colors and gradients as swatches; and I recommend saving them frequently in the course of a project.

Also, when using the standard Pen tool, unless you consciously drag a newly created control point a bit to create a Bezier handle, the app won’t create one for you (although on the Freehand pen tool, it will).

The biggest drawback to Inkpad, alas, is that it is poorly supported by Taptrix. It has only had one upgrade since its launch in 2011 (not that it really needed any) and Taptrix’s founder is absolutely impossible to contact about anything (at one point, Inkpad users were considering filing a missing persons report). It’s a shame that such a brilliantly realized app has a company that seems uninterested in it, but don’t let that scare you away. There is a small user group on Flickr that can answer your questions (and, you can see what kinds of artwork this app can produce).

(Updated info: Inkpad has gone open source since this writing, and if you click on the Taptrix link above, you’ll be taken to the GitHub repository where you can find the original developer and others who are keeping the app fresh.)

I’m very happy with Inkpad, and if you have any interest in vector graphics, it’s very much worth the price, especially when the desktop alternatives are costly. The quest to enlarge #26 turned out great, and if you liked that one, you can now buy it here.