Autodesk SketchBook is a painting and drawing app that’s been designed to get your ideas down on “paper” as quickly as possible. It’s an expressive drawing app for doodlers, artists, and designers looking to rapidly capture their inspiration and design ideas.
In 2018, Autodesk made the full version of SketchBook free to all. Previously the software used a subscription model, but now all you need is a free Autodesk account.
In this article, we take a look at the app, what it can do, and what makes it so unique.
What Is SketchBook?
Autodesk SketchBook is a drawing app available on desktop and mobile. It’s a bit like Photoshop and its many alternatives since it’s a raster image editor, but what makes it unique is its heavy focus on drawing, painting, and rapidly creating artwork. Unlike Photoshop, SketchBook isn’t aimed at image manipulation or photography.
Instead the app includes a wide range of tools aimed at artists and designers—from drawing and line-work tools, to brushes, textures, gradients, and blending modes. The app makes full use of layers, so you can group and rearrange various elements with ease.
In addition to the basics, SketchBook includes some more specialized tools. These include a range of guides and rulers, perspective guides, distort transform, brush blending, easy gradients, and a separate “Flipbook” animation mode.
SketchBook Is Now Completely Free!
SketchBook was previously a “free” app that relied on a subscription model. Once your trial period ended, you’d need to cough up a few dollars per month to remain an active user.
Now all fully featured versions of SketchBook are free for individual use. It is not clear whether or how Autodesk intends to monetize the product going forward, but Autodesk’s FAQ states that development will continue:
“SketchBook is not being retired. We will continue to develop SketchBook and SketchBook for Enterprise with a focus on adding functionality to enable designers, architects, and animators to capture conceptual art and designs. While not all functionality will end up in both SketchBook and SketchBook for Enterprise, you will continue to enjoy the robust capabilities of SketchBook and benefit from ongoing enhancements, free of charge.”
Download: SketchBook for Mac and Windows
What Can SketchBook Do?
SketchBook aims to speed up the drawing process through the use of a simple interface, and some powerful drawing tools. There’s pretty much something for everyone here, whether you’re designing T-shirts or sketching concept art for your dream house.
In order to understand what makes SketchBook the choice of many hobbyists and professionals, it’s best to look at some of the included tools and what they can do.
Brushes and Drawing
SketchBook comes with a good library of brushes, with many more available for download inside the application. The brush library includes the basic pencils, felt tips, and paint brushes you’d expect from any raster editing app. There are also categories for pastels, textures, synthetic paint brushes, shapes, smudges, and colorless brushes for blending.
Autodesk also includes several drawing and painting modes, in addition to the basic “what you draw is what you get” default. You can enable Steady Stroke which gently “drags” the tool tip in order to smooth out you lines, or Predictive Stroke which attempts to fix your mistakes after you’ve drawn them. Both of these tools make freehand drawing with a mouse or trackpad a more predictable experience.
Guides and Rulers
Another useful feature is the inclusion of rulers and guides. When you place a ruler on the page, whatever you draw will follow that line. Move the ruler, draw another line, and carry on. Turn off the ruler to get back to basic drawing mode. There are similar tools for ellipses and circles, and a French Curve tool too.
The real stars of the show are the perspective and symmetry tools. Perspective Guides are ideal for maintaining straight lines when drawing architecture or other true-to-life subjects. Drag the ruler to match your desired perspective and the tool will make sure your lines adhere to it.
Symmetry is an intuitive tool: place a line somewhere on the page, and everything you draw to the left of the line will be mirrored on the right. You can add several points of symmetry for quickly drawing mandala-like patterns in seconds. It’s great for designing logos, or quickly drawing subjects from a head-on perspective.
Transform and Distort
There are two transform tools: basic transform and transform distort. The first allows you to grab a selection then cut, rotate, move, and skew it as you see fit. The second is a form of perspective distortion, just like Photoshop’s perspective tools, which applies to the entire layer you’re currently using.
This allows you to design elements of your image as they would appear to the naked eye, then distort them to wrap them around another subject like a tattoo on an arm, or a sticker on a car. It’s a powerful tool to have access to, and it forms a vital part of SketchBook’s rapid workflow.
Gradients, Blending, and Color
Autodesk SketchBook is as much about coloring as it is about drawing. Brushes interact by blending, provided they are the right type and on the same layer. It works like you’d expect a paintbrush to work, with some added smudge tools and colorless brushes that are designed purely for blending.
Gradients are also handled with an intuitive three-point approach. Set your colors and then drag the points to adjust the severity of the gradient. Using these tools it’s possible to match gradients across different sections with relative ease.
The app includes a robust color mixer, with a Copic color library for matching digital colors with real-world standards.
Also included is Flipbook mode, accessed via the File > New Flipbook menu item. This mode is used purely for creating short animations. You can have up to 1000 frames in a single Flipbook, and make full use of layers to separate main subjects, moving elements, and static background elements.
Despite the frame limitation, animations can be exported to MP4, GIF, and other common animated file types. It’s not exactly a professional animating application, but there’s a bunch of handy tools including an “onion skin” mode for showing a faint outline of the previous frame.
Support for Graphic Tablets and PSD Files
SketchBook has robust support for graphic tablets and other input devices. This includes “software” tablets like AstroPad which uses your iPad as an input peripheral. Check if your device will work on Autodesk’s list of supported auxiliary devices.
Another feature that Photoshop users will appreciate is PSD support. This works both ways—you can import artwork that’s already in PSD format, or export your SketchBook project as a Photoshop file complete with layers. It’s a nice way of future-proofing your new work, or putting old projects to new use.
Tons of Free Brushes
You can expand SketchBook by downloading as many free brushes as you like within the app. Head to Window > SketchBook Extras to peruse the selection. There’s everything from clouds to textures, and brushes for manga, fur, and industrial design, to name just a few.
Design on the Go, Finish at Home
In addition to the fully featured desktop version of SketchBook, the mobile version for iOS and Android is also free. The mobile version of SketchBook doesn’t pack as many features as the desktop version, lacking things like free brush downloads, predictive stroke, textured brushes, and some symmetry guides; but it’s still a great way to get your ideas down on paper wherever you are.
Get Started With SketchBook!
Practice makes perfect, and, since SketchBook is now free, there’s no harm in downloading it and trying it out for yourself. For an extra helping hand, Autodesk has also produced a series of videos to help get you started with the app as quickly as possible:
You can also head to SketchBook Support where you’ll find in-depth tutorials that teach you how to use all of the included tools.