ArtStudio in Review – the glass canvas

Yeah, I is an artist (had help though)

You know, when Steve Sprang demoed the iPad version of Brushes at Apple’s Jan 27 event, I swallowed a filthy lot of inundating and excited ohmygawdthatsgreat saliva. All that screen real estate. All that room for erasing mistakes. But brushes is simple, meant for attacking a little creativity. Lucky Clan’s ArtStudio sends in the calvary to strike more advanced enemies: transparencies, layers, and needem’ filters. In many ways, it is the best drawing app for the 3,5 inch screen. Feel free to discuss this review of ArtStudio in our forums.

If you’re here for a casual colouring contest, have fun, but you really will miss the best points. ArtStudio is the most basic and fundamental building blocks of the desktop Photoshop, but shrunk way down. Here is the feature list:

  • 25 brushes including pencils, brushes, eraser, smudge tool, bucket fill (simple and smart mode), glow, tube, airbrush and many more…
  • advanced settings offer 8 different parameters and real-time preview for all brushes
  • simulated brush pressure
  • line smoothing, antialiasing, zooming with filtering
  • 3 drawing modes: free draw with smoothing, free draw without smoothing, lines
  • very comfortable interface; screens can be displayed in simple or advanced mode.
  • quality and performance unmatched by any other app in the app store
  • 5 layers with options: add new / delete / reorder / duplicate / merge / clear / transparency / visibility
  • multi-touch navigation with unlimited zoom
  • advanced color editing with customizable color swatches
  • 6 levels of undo / redo
  • drawing lessons (animals, human, 3d, perspective)
  • filters: blur, sharpen, edge detect, sepia and more…
  • load/save/export to iphone gallery / import from gallery / get from camera / send by e-mail
  • additional “shake menu” with the most frequently used functions

PhotoForge is another great app, but the two seem to have different focuses. ArtStudio is a Photoshop in your pocket app, but it is aimed more at finger painters, like Brushes on acid. What I love is great layering support with full control over transparencies and layers. Forsooth, even the tutorial system is EXCELLENT and can be completely gone through in a couple of hours and about 3 coffees (of course, that is assuming you do colour work afterward).

While the iPhone’s screen isn’t the most helpfully large piece of glass, ArtStudio can really gets you INTO the action. It has great preview screens with many adjustable parameters and each is pretty easy to suss out after a few tries. Additional settings are stuffed in their own menus, but most of what you need is in specific toolbars, or at your finger tips.

Lucky Clan pack a great pan/zoom in/out engine: pinch and spread to move in/out of your image, and to pan, just keep two fingers on the screen and move in any direction you want. To activate the colour picker, just hold you finger down on the screen till a target icon appears, then voila! attack the image with colour as you see fit. This system is grade A+ goodness.

Navigating menus is nearly good, but not perfect; ArtStudio isn’t richly decorated with helpful icons. Instead, there are a lot of unartistic text blocks which open option dialogues. Tasteful? Maybe. Helpful? Surely. But it’s like the dead husk of OSX, reliant on Jobs’ pride and joy: typography; but just one step removed from true inspiration.

Not that it matters when you can get real artsy fartsy – as long as you approach ArtStudio from a painting mindset, there is just so much you can do. Colours, RGB swatches and profiles and simulated brush sensitivity make it a compelling platform, as do filters and antialiasing. But where ArtStudio’s design aspects (including a great line-drawing engine) rock, its editing capabilities are not just shy of impressive. Sure, you can grab images/photos from the Photos app, but they don’t export to impressive resolutions. You cannot clone or stamp or remove items from the background unless you are very, very good at tracing because there are no selection tools and apart from lines, no shape-drawing engine. And, while layer transparencies are tastefully implemented, there are just too few options to easily help you rid of photo blemishes.

Otherwise, there is very little to complain about: lots of creative potential and a great navigation system. Its price, too, is nothing to complain about; I’d pay more for what is packed under the bonnet. But, just as things get interesting with ArtStudio, waste matter works its way out of the woodwork: is this an art or editing app? If the former, I’d really like better resolution options and a longer undo/redo pipeline. If the latter, essentials such as clone/stamp and selection tools are sorely missed.

Still, it’s hard not to be impressed; Lucky Clan have shown yet again that the iDevice can be a good platform for creativity/productivity even for visual designers/artists. Sure, it lacks a few features and its half-apped approach to designing/editing leaves a few scratch marks on my crown, but hell, it costs less than 400 pennies and returns them all in overall utility.

App Summary
Title: ArtStudioDeveloper: Lucky Clan
Reviewed Ver:1.1Min OS Req:3.0
Price:$3.99App Size:1.3 MB
  • Great navigation/interaction UI
  • Are those transparencies? WOW!
  • Speedy editing
  • Feature-packed for the price
  • Lots of import/export options
  • No hi-res support?
  • Half-apped support for editing/shape drawing/selection features


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