Wacom Inkling Review: A Great Concept With a Few Kinks
At a Glance
Wacom’s image recording Inkling pen is fun to use, but it isn’t powerful enough for serious artists.
The Wacom Inkling ($200 as of December 5, 2011) is a device designed to record initial drawings and then quickly and easily transfer those images from the paper to your computer. Getting your art into Photoshop can be irritating, and a device that simplified that process would be a godsend for artists and designers. Unfortunately, the Inkling's limitations make working with it no easier than using more-traditional methods.
The Inkling consists of a pen that transmits its position on the page (along with pressure data based on readings at up to 1024 levels of sensitivity) and a receiver that clips to the top of the page and uses ultrasonic and infrared technology to collect data from the pen. The Inkling saves all data as vector drawings; this makes editing the line work simple once you've imported your drawings, and it also minimizes the storage space that each drawing occupies. Inside the device, Wacom provides 2GB of memory for storing thousands of drawings in vector format.
The Inkling has a number of nice touches, such as a small button on the receiver clip that lets you easily start a new layer. Creating a drawing with the Inkling is much like creating one on a digital tablet: You simply draw.
In practice, though, I ran into various problems with the pen. Most notably, the Inkling requires you to use its Sketch Manager software to transfer drawings from the device to your computer; and Sketch Manage has a number of irritating shortcomings that make for a frustrating experience. For one thing, Sketch Manager doesn't load automatically when you plug in the Inkling--even though the Sketch Manager isn't used for anything else and the Inkling can't import without it. The Sketch Manager interface in general seems hastily thrown together and is as hard to figure out as the Inkling hardware is intuitive.
Furthermore, Sketch Manager lets you preview your drawings, but you can't actually edit them until you import them into another application. Ultimately, the only managing you get to do in the software consists of choosing which drawings you'd like to import.
The hardware, while much better than Sketch Manager, has a few problems of its own. The Inkling pen, receiver, and USB cord are all designed to fit in a portable carrying case that can also charge the pen and receiver simultaneously. But the plastic case feels cheap and takes up twice the space of the pen and receiver. Since the Inkling can operate for 8 hours between charges, you'll probably decide to leave the carrying case at home and take just the Inkling pen and receiver clip out with you for the day. The pen itself feels sturdy and easy to draw with.
The Inkling most serious drawback is its temperamental behavior as an input device. While drawing, you may accidentally block the transmitter on the pen with your hand, leading to strange gaps in your imported drawings. Also, in my tests, the Inkling sometimes registered my lines as wandering off in odd directions. To get the Inkling to reproduce my drawings with a fair degree of accuracy, I had to fiddle with the settings in the Sketch Manager software to increase the pen's input sensitivity without making it so sensitive that it recorded lines I hadn't drawn.
When the Inkling works properly, it reproduces drawings with impressive fidelity. But I couldn't always tell when it wasn't working. Unlike a traditional drawing tablet, the Inkling doesn't provide immediate feedback to tell you whether what you see on the page is what you'll get when you hook the device back up to your computer. Wacom tries to rectify this omission via a green light on the device's receiver clip, which turns on when the receiver is picking up a signal from the pen; but even when I paid close attention to the receiver, the system fell short of absolute fidelity. Knowing that the pen is transmitting information isn't the same as knowing that it's transmitting accurate data.
Artists traditionally transfer their work to a computer either by drawing it directly on the computer via a powerful digitizing tablet, or by scanning a drawing in and then modifying the linework. The Inkling isn't powerful or accurate enough to act as a full replacement for either option.
In the end, the Inkling seems to be more of a proof of concept than a full-featured addition to a digital artist's set of tools. I wouldn't be surprised to find a device that looks a lot like the Inkling in the bag of every illustrator within a few years, but for now the Inkling doesn't do the things that serious artists need it to do well enough to replace their tried and true methods.