Wacom's Inkling pen has caused quite a buzz in the creative community. A ballpoint pen with a tracker in it that records your strokes to a small box you can carry with you, it's been described as the ideal digital tool for artists who prefer real pens to digital substitutes. We were offered the chance to have sneak peek at the device at the W Hotel in London, so we brought illustrator Lizzie Mary Cullen with us to put it through its paces and see if it lives up to the hype.
Inside the 200g chocolate-bar-sized Inkling carry case is the Inkling pen, the matchbox-sized receiver, a series of five replacement nibs and a mini-USB to USB cable. You clip the receiver to the top or side of your paper or note and start drawing away. Each stroke is recorded separately onto flash storage on the receiver, and a button on its top allows you to separate series of strokes into layers. To start a new drawing, you just turn the Inkling on and off, or just unclip it from the paper and insert a new page.
When you're back in your studio, you plug the either the receiver or the case into your Mac or PC over USB (both the pen and receiver connect into the case so you can charge both). The files are quickly imported into Wacom's SketchManager software, where they can be converted into layered bitmap images for use in Photoshop or Autodesk Sketchbook Pro, or as vectors for Illustrator or SketchBook Designer. Pressure sensitivity in the pen means that the thickness of strokes is reflected in the digital artwork.
Lizzie hard at work with the Inkling
As a hand-drawn artist who works primarily with pens, but uses an Intuos tablet with Photoshop for preparing scan of her drawings for output, it's fair to say Lizzie was impressed. She describes her first impression of the Inkling as "like I had stumbled into a sci-fi movie. Brilliant idea, and very user friendly. Simple to use. And very small!"
The Inkling pen is the same size as a traditional Wacom Intuos stylus, but with a ballpoint. It uses standard removable ballpoint nibs that you can pick up from any art or stationary store, and changing them is a doddle using a hooked hole built into the case. It's heavier than most ballpoint pens, and with a rechargeable battery in its top, its balance is a little top heavy. However, Lizzie acclimatised to it very quickly.
"It's a biro pen and I'm more of a Rapidograph girl," she says, "but it was amazing at how I got into it, and forgot that I was effectively digitally drawing on a piece of paper.
"The line was certainly not as crisp as it was hand-drawn," she notes. "The layer function is amazing but when uploaded some of the layers appeared to have moved ever so slightly. The line simply isn't as true as a scan, and that is exactly why it's for brainstorming, sketching and rough drawings as opposed to polished artworks.
A photo of Lizzie's drawing
Lizzie's drawing as a rasterised file ready for Photoshop
Lizzie's drawing as an Illustrator .ai file (though obviously rasterised again for the web)
It's not difficult to see the potential of the Inkling. We expect to see a wider selection of pen nibs in the near future. Lizzie says that she would like to see a fibre tip and a pencil, though as Wacom's Guido Moller pointed out to us, pencils would be very hard to incorporate as wearing of the lead in use would mess with the tracking. He didn't discount the idea though.
One other addition coming in the near future is based on the SketchManager's ability to play back each stroke as they're laid down. A forthcoming update will allow you to output these as a QuickTime movie, which could be great for creating learning materials or for designers to detail concepts.
Overall, Lizzie is a big fan of the Inkling.
"I could definitely use it anywhere," she enthuses, and that's the beauty of it. It's so tiny and compact, and removes the the process of scanning your sketches in, which actually take up quite a bit of time when you add it all up. It holds 1000s of sketches, and what i love about it is it's not trying to stamp out hand-drawing, it's offering another way of getting your drawing onto the screen."
The Wacom Inkling will be out in October and costs £125 plus VAT.
One key thing to be said about the Inkling is that it's not a replacement for traditional drawing pens. The captured digital files are not a full quality representation of a drawing. But then Wacom have stated clearly that the Inkling is for sketching, even if that has been drowned out a little by the overstretching enthusiasm from some online commentators.