A common way for designers to start their work is by exploring on papers. Depending on your preferences, the paper may be smooth or ridged, line or unlined; or bound or unbound. While material used for the paper may differ, designers have similar goal, which is to explore concepts quickly and effectively.
Sketching tools for web designers haven’t changed much. Designers often offer rough sketches of the design interface to the client in early meetings. The roughness of these sketches suggests that the design facilitates collaboration and encourages feedback, because they’re not done yet. While sketches are still an important tool, sharing them to others’ is still a challenge. Many sketchbooks are too small and you can’t ask everyone in the room to look at it by huddling together. Because the Web is a digital realm, it’s often essential to have a digital version of all your works. Photographing or scanning your sketches and sharing them to others as a digital illustration may seem like a good idea, but this method is impractical if you make dozens of sketches each day.
Designers should benefit from digital equivalents of paper and pencil. Some tablets, such as Wacom tablets were released years ago, but they still tie Web professionals down to desktops and laptops. Many designers use paper sketches instead because they can do it away from the office. No tweet. No email. No instant message. No distractions.
When the original iPad was released, designers thought that the device might address their sketching woes, but unfortunately early apps and styluses were a pain. In just one year, there were more options to choose from and designers start to consider tablets as a useful physical design tool just like sketchbooks.
Tablets, regardless of the platform, hold much promise as worthy design tools, however there are some limitations you should consider. First, tablets don’t come close to typical sketchpad size. Secondly, unlike pencils, capacitive screen can’t distinguish pressure, as the result you can’t use shading or other common sketching techniques. Finally, apps and styluses can’t match the pencil accuracy. For example, on low resolution tablets, stylus input may fall between adjacent capacitive elements, which make the tablet fails to sense the tip of the stylus. To correct this issue, stylus with larger tip should be used on low resolution devices; however, creating finer lines can be more difficult.
Many Android tablets still don’t have a reliable sketching solution yet, on the other hand, Apple’s App Store offers dozens of good drawing apps and some manufacturers have released decent styluses. Because, designers often use freehand drawing to make sketches on user interface prototypes, you shouldn’t use Freeform or OmniGraffle, both apps have poor support on freehand drawing. You should also rule out SketchBook Pro, because it’s more appropriate for paintings and full-color drawing.
Many designers favor Penultimate and Adobe Ideas instead. If your sketches will include plenty of UI texts and annotations, then you should use Penultimate. However, the app lacks a full screen view. On the other hand, Adobe Ideas feature full screen view and stroke smoothing, however it doesn’t support texts editing as well as Penultimate.
Although choosing the right app is essential, styluses can really differentiate your sketching experience. These are a few things to consider when choosing styluses for tablets
- Determine the type of task you’ll be performing
Some styluses have rubber tip, including Hard Candy, Alupen, BoxWave and Griffin. You may also come across tips made from other materials such as metal (iCooly), plastic (Dagi), foam (Pogo) and capacitive fabric (Stylus Socks). Some designers feel that rubber-tipped styluses work adequately for both writing text and sketching. However, if you prioritize more on sketching, then you should choose the Stylus Socks with its capacitive fabric tip, while plastic-tipped styluses, like Dagi is excellent for cursive writing. You may need to stay away from styluses with foam tip, because they perform poorly for both tasks.
- Choose the one that feels right in your hand
Styluses vary in dimension, grip and weight. For example, the foam-tipped and aluminum-coated Pogo, only weighs at 0.6 ounces, whereas the sturdier, chrome-plated Hard Candy weighs at more than 4 ounces. A stylus that weighs less than 3 ounces should be more appropriate for most designers. Stylus should have a good grip and each stylus offers different solution, for example, Stylus Socks has a paintbrush-like taper, Alupen feels like a chunky pencil and Griffin is generally smooth. You should determine a combination of dimension, grip and weight, so it could be a matter of preference.
- Consider its portability characteristic
Some minor details can be a deal breaker. Many designers want a stylus that can attach to the tablet, so if you’re one of them it’s worth noting that some styluses like Pogo, Dagi, BoxWave and Griffin have a clip. AluPen and Hard Candy styluses don’t offer any unusual contraptions, although Alupen comes with a nice looking case. Some styluses have a regular pen on one end, which allows you to sketch on paper. Hard Candy has a built-in pen, but you need to purchase an optional pen extension for BoxCase.
If you still feel uncertain, you may need to try BoxWave and Griffin, because they have excellent sketching and writing performance. Choose Stylus Socks or AluPen if you sketch frequently or use Dagi if you write a lot. Although each stylus has different drawback, designers will still increasingly rely on tablets, because they still hold promise as digital sketching tool. However, tablets are not perfect yet because:
- We still can’t get consistent precision: The tablet, app and stylus should have similar accuracy. If one of the three has precision issue, then you may experience tedious zooming or unnaturally slow sketching.
- We still can’t get versatile stylus: Obviously, having a multi-purpose stylus would convenient. A stylus should be appropriate for all creative tasks. Variables such as tips, grips and lengths could make choosing a stylus feels complicated.
- They are expensive: Within three years, you may spend less than $150 for sketchbooks, pens and erasers; on the other hand you may need to spend $700 for an iPad 2 and a stylus. Android tablets are cheaper and usable, but they are still inadequate for some sketching tasks. You should consider whether the benefits of the tablet worth the extra money expended.
Additional improvements are not far off, since early tablets were released; these touchscreen devices have improved significantly. For example, Apple patented an improved and more precise stylus that included an accelerometer.