I like to do drawings (Digital drawing)

I wonder if the use of simple sketches has decreased since the proliferation of the personal computer. We all know that drawings are great tools for problem solving, creativity and communication. If you’d like some references, see anything by Dan Roam:

The Back of the Napkin by Dan Roam (Amazon) Unfolding the Napkin by Dan Roam (Amazon)

Or Sunni Brown‘s incredible stuff from right here in Austin.

I’ve always been a sketcher. And being a nerd I can remember getting excited about “digital ink” (before the buzzword even existed) back in the  late 80’s. I wish I could remember the name of the very first drawing program my parents bought me for the PC. (Yup, I’m old.) We even got a digitizer with one of those pucks because we had a farm land mapping application which used it to digitize maps of fields to be planted. (Yup, grew up on a farm.)

DrawingBoard VI™ by CalComp

Before Wacom tablets

All of this was expensive stuff. And I was disappointed every time.

Over twenty years later (who says technology moves quickly??) we finally have decent drawing tools that are beginning to rival a pencil and napkin or Moleskin.

The trick has always been to equal the speed and ease of traditional drawing tools. The arrival of the iPad has ushered in a new era of digital drawing. Once we have useable “digital ink,” it offers exciting advantages over analog tools: instant and multi-level undo/redo, collaboration, portability, minimal storage requirements, green footprint.

Here are some of the digital drawing tools I’m now using to realize my dream of digital visual thinking and communication.

Bamboo Stylus for iPad

Wacom Bamboo Stylus for iPad

Made by Wacom. The only iPad stylus I’ve tried but its gotten good reviews and I have no complaints and am A LOT more precise with it than I with my digit. The weight feels right and it matches my iPad 2’s look perfectly. Do not expect iPad2 to completely “keep up” with your fastest writing speeds, regardless of app or stylus. There will be a bit of a lag. $30.

iPad Drawing Apps

Bamboo Paper

Bamboo Paper (iTunes - App Store)

Speaking of Wacom, this is a fairly limited app (e.g. only one notebook) but looks great and is very smooth/responsive. I’m not sure if it is “custom-tuned” to the Bamboo Stylus, but its great for quick notes and sketches. No Dropbox sync. Free.


Penultimate (iTunes - App Store)

This is a great app that offers a very smooth drawing experience and other features like multiple notebooks, multiple paper types (even more available through in-app purchase) and wrist protection without sacrificing its minimalist focus on note-taking. It seems universally respected in this crowded app space. No Dropbox sync. $1.99.


ShowMe (iTunes - App Store)Here’s where traditional pen and paper start to get left even further behind in the dust. Designed for educators but super-helpful for just about anyone, this app lets you narrate your drawing as you draw it. The process is super-simple: record, upload, get back a link to the video to share. Free.

SketchBook Pro

Sketchbook Pro (iTunes - App Store)By AutoDesk, the makers of AutoCAD, this app has a ton of advanced features like layers and tons of brushes and effects. It is overkill for sketching and notetaking, but is great for more advanced drawing. Dropbox Sync (and many others). $4.99.


Sketches are great for problem solving and brainstorming as a group. However, you often need to step beyond sketching to the more formal diagram. I’m really itching to try out OmniGraffle for Mac and iPad from the makers of the amazing OmniFocus, but haven’t ponied up the money…yet.


For diagrams you will often not only want to share the finished product (e.g. a jpeg graphic file) but you’ll want others to collaborate with you. LucidChart, a web app, really excels when you want to involve others in drawing. No software is needed, just your collaborator’s email address. Recently LucidChart announced iPad compatibility through the built-in web browser. Watch this video. The shape recognition is amazing and where I’ve wanted to see digital drawing go for quite some time now!

What tools do you use?

About Kye Hittle

I’m tall, enjoy traveling, running and the company of good friends. Lover of [square brackets]. (OK, parenthesis too, which I overuse, and {curly braces}!) Professionally I am the Director of IT for a nonprofit and do freelance higher-ed, small biz and other nonprofit tech gigs. I heart technology used for personal and societal good.
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