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Sketchable review: drawing on the Surface Book becomes a pure joy

Sketchable often features in Microsoft's Surface marketing, but is it actually any good?

Yes. In fact, it's rather amazing.

As a long-time Surface user and part-time doodler, I've always wondered how easily I could transition from pencil and paper to digital ink when it comes to sketching. I'm by no means a hardcore artist. I use Adobe CC for work, but I've found Photoshop's professional-grade complexity to be a tad inaccessible. Simpler, but powerful apps like Clip Studio Paint are good, but they can also be pretty expensive if you're only looking to draw occasionally for fun.

Say hello to Sketchable. Accessible and cheap enough for a part-time hobbyist, yet powerful enough for hardcore artists.

Surface book sketchable drawing

Surface book sketchable drawing (Image credit: Windows Central)

Your digital canvas

I set about drawing a Final Fantasy Malboro for this app review, given the 15th installment's launch this week on Xbox, and I wasn't disappointed. I don't draw often, and when I do it has been strictly with pencil and paper. I have tried making the jump from traditional mediums with previous Surface devices, using apps like Fresh Paint, but I never felt like the experience was close enough to what I was used to.

Sketchable has changed all that. Its intuitive interface, powerful tools, and accessible features provide a welcoming glimpse into how digital art works, without overwhelming you with unfamiliar tools and features. Of course, those more powerful features do exist, but they're streamlined and stowed away in menus for when you're ready.

Sketchable saves every drawing into a digital sketchpad that can be easily browsed using swipes, clicks or pen flicks. It even has a 3D page turning animation for those of us who still feel the pull of traditional mediums.

Sketchable is designed for use on devices like the Surface, but it can also be used with an external digitizer like those from Wacom. Unlike traditional drawing tools, Sketchable makes all of its features and functions configurable using the pen alone, which is a far cry from more mainstream tools which often rely heavily on switching to mouse and keyboard shortcuts.

Sketchable simply lives and breathes Surface.

A tap on any of the tools in Sketchable opens up a config menu which allows you to easily control the opacity and size of each brush by moving the pen up and down on the brush preview panel. There's no need to reach for a mouse or keyboard with Sketchable, but the ability to manipulate the canvas rotation, zoom, and other regular features are available via the left menu, in addition to standard touch controls. Sketchable even has an exhaustive list of keyboard shortcuts listed via the hamburger menu, if that's how your workflow is set up.

Sketchable is also among the first apps to utilize the Surface Dial for additional radial menus and other fine-tuning. I didn't get to try this out for myself yet, but it's plain to see how the Dial would enhance the overall usability of the program. Sketchable simply lives and breathes Surface.

In Practice

Using Sketchable on the Surface Book is as much about at the hardware as well as the software. Sketchable feels as though it was designed to be used on Surface devices, and in that endeavor, Sketchable is nothing but triumphant.

To draw my Malboro, I used a combination of Sketchable's tools, using the Pen tool as my primary method, supplemented by the Marker and the Tortillon tool. The pen tool responds really well to the Surface Book's pressure sensitivity, making it easy to create fine details, switching between tones for highlights and shadows using the on-screen color pallet. The marker came in handy for changing the shadows in larger areas, and the tortillon tool made blending shades easy.

As noted, Sketchable makes it quick and easy to adjust the opacity and the size of each brush with a simple tap and drag, but you can even assign tools to the Surface Pen's rubber, and even your finger to further streamline your workflow. I assigned the Tortillon tool for smudging shades for example, which feels like something you might do using traditional mediums like charcoal.

The Surface Book can detect your palm resting on the screen when you're inking, preventing you from making erroneous taps. Sketchable goes one step further, though, allowing you to toggle touch off completely, to ensure that the screen will only register pen inputs. Still, if you make a mistake, it's easy to cycle backward through your actions. There is a limit on the amount of undoing you can do, but I never hit that, which appears to be quite generous.

Ditching paper for good

The Malboro drawing was the first time I'd really attempted to draw properly on any of my Surface devices, but Sketchable made the transition easy.

Sketchable has evolved immeasurably since its debut on Windows 8, and has taken its place in the spotlight as one of the Surface line's greatest apps. It showcases the power of UWP and the quality of the Surface inking hardware. I think I can finally ditch pencils and paper for good.

Surface Book 2

Surface Book 2 (Image credit: Windows Central)

Sketchable is available on the Windows 10 Store for free, with a very reasonable in-app purchase to unlock premium features. Sketchable has a crazy amount of features, far too many to list, but here are the main ones from the Store page:

  • Create the highest resolution journals possible on your device with personalized names, covers, and sizes ranging common screen sizes, hard copy sizes, up to 4k on the x64.
  • Color Picker - make adjustments to hue, value, and saturation while navigating to your ideal color or simply use the dropper to select one.
  • Customize UI – Settings controls allow the user to manipulate the size and color of the UI.
  • GPU accelerated tools and canvas fuel smooth interactions.
  • Photoshop PSD Export - Move your mobile work into an industry standard desktop application.
  • Layers (Premium Feature) - Add, Place, Paste, Rearrange, transform, and merge layers. Now up to 32!
  • Stroke Preview (Premium Feature) - Make quick adjustments or delve into the numerous controls of each tool.
  • Masks (Premium Feature) - Select a shape and mark off a section of the canvas that cannot be edited.
  • Stencils (Premium Feature) - Snap to a selected shape for crisp lines and curves.
  • Paint Bucket (Premium Feature) - Quickly fill an area of your canvas
  • Transform (Premium Feature) - Position a layer with scale, position, rotation.
  • Symmetry (Premium Feature) – Choose between one or two axis and position them anywhere on the canvas.
  • Canvas Rotation - orient the canvas to accommodate the angle of your wrist movement.

If you're looking to make the most of the drawing capabilities of the Surface Book without forking out for Adobe CC and other expensive tools, Sketchable is your best bet.

Download Sketchable from the Windows Store (opens in new tab)

Jez Corden is a Senior Editor for Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by caffeine. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his Xbox Two podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!

  • Ha, you're such a fanboy :) Very positive review..  
  • Jez is right though. This is an amazing app. I love it. The devs are also responsive. I recently pointed out a bug on the new revamp UI release, and they quashed it pronto. Its the first digital drawing experience I like. My experience matches the Jez's exactly.
  • They made me a fanboy by being awesome! Thanks for reading. :3
  • I have been using this app and it keeps getting better. It should get the Drawboard treatment and become a feature product for showing off the capability of Windows.
  • Hmm...will have to try this out. I'm very reluctant to leave SketchBook Pro however I'd much rather pay 20€ once and have something that is getting updated to things like the Surface Dial than to keep paying $30 without that. 
    So let's see how well this behaves with a Surface Pro 3.
  • I need to give Sketchbook Pro a try for comparison's sake.
  • Can you also give Mischief a try?
    For comparaison...
    I love it on my SP 3 with pen.
  • Still missing stroke stabilization.
    I mostly use clip studio. I like the SketchBook app but I have no credit card and so I can't pay for the full version here in Germany.
  • I've mainly been using Sketchbook Pro, but this definitely looks like it's worth checking out.
  • I have used both and I'm drawn more towards Sketchbook. For me the Sketchable interface is not very friendly. I keep on hitting stuff on the left menu items. Sketchbook on the other hand gives me more of a paper pencil feel than Sketchable. But, I'll give it another try.
  • What about Mischief! This is an excellent drawing software with plenty of features (infinite canvas, export to Photoshop, layers, plenty of brushes and fine tuning etc)... I am not a pro at sketching, but I have been using it on my SP3 for some time and it works wonders with the pen... The free version is already quite powerful, but you get the fully featured pro version for only $25!... Highly recommended... This is a brilliant tool and way better than any other sketching apps I know of (especially for the price!).
    Can Jez review Mischief as well? That would be quite interesting...
  • Just went to download this and it has a score of 3.0 from 6 ratings, of which only 3 have written poor reviews. This article makes it seem great but the consumer response doesn't suggest the same.
  • Dial integration is probably a major thing for this app. If someone is using it woyhout the Dial, then I imagine it wouldn't be quite as nice
  • a lot of complaints about having to purchase things.
  • I use Sketchbook Pro & Corel Painter. My interest is piqued with this but I'm also inches from the edge of getting a Surface Book to go with it.
  • Wow great sketch! That's awesome
  • Hello...Off topic but what about rumours of Pegatron making SP for testing?
  • Wicked drawing, Jez :D! But if you were able to make this with the Surface Pen (Imagine it is the same the SP4 uses?) then I have a feeling something is horribly wrong with the Surface pen I use, because mine stutters (make dots instead of lines sometimes) and lags and is too inprecise to make something like the details of those fangs on the Malboro =/
  • Hmm, does sound like there's some issue either with the pen or the screen. Give the screen a good clean, maybe try changing the battery in the pen, make sure you've got the latest OS and app updates installed, give it a reboot, and then if it's still playing up I'd get on to Microsoft asap!
  • First up, really nice art! Nicely done. :) I'm hopeful with Microsoft's renewed focus on creatives we'll start to see a lot more articles looking at the creative side of Windows. There's a lot to love, and Surface in particular has led the charge from Mac for a lot of people I know. I remember really wanting the ModBook Pro back in the day, haha! Now we've got something better in the Surface line! I recently downloaded Sketchable following the new version that got released around the same time the Surface Studio got announced. Have only had a little time to play with it but it seems like a great app and there's clearly a lot of depth to it, looking forward to seeing what I can do with it over the next year. I see myself buying the premium version soon though. I've had an odd workflow the past few years for my comic. Pencils using the Sketchbook app, ink and colour using Clip Studio, and then composite, letter, and export using Photoshop. I keep waiting for one that does all those things as well but in one app but that's yet to happen. If anyone has any program/app recommendations for comic book lettering please let me know, haha!
  • Is this actually available for Windows 10 Mobile. The store page says its available on Mobile, but says requires x86 or x64 architecture and 2GB of Memory. What phones support those architectures?
  • When I try to search in the Store it won't come up on my 950XL; I haven't tried searching on the Web & then clicking on that, to see if it launches in the Store on my 950XL. I bought and installed it via the Store on my Surface_Pro_3...
  • Hello! This is for phones too? I just can´t install it on a lumia 950 xl? It says that I need more than 2 gb memory, and I think in 950 xl I've got 3 gb...
  • No. It's Desktop only...
    They may release to Mobile, but it won't make much sense till W10M has Digitiser/Ink etc. support.
    Surface devices are for serious drawing/sketching, W10M device aren't there yet.
  • Surface pen technology is currently one of the worst in the bussiness, being just marginally better than Synaptic. If Onenote iPadpro becomes just a bit more feature rich than I will migrate to iOS wholesale. Only thing Surface pen is good for marking up PDFs in drawboard. I am a Handwriter and for anybody who has to take up art or calligraphy as a career choice should think twice before wasting money on Surfacebook. SP4 & SB are just eye candy. It's the windows that's the real deal and you can make a desktop rig of your own, hook it up with Wacom mobile studio pro 13. And use ipadpro when on the move.
  • As a Mac user strongly considering jumping over to Microsoft (yikes) for the Surface Studio, I'm intrigued. Hoping it can come near to the Procreate's excellence on my iPad Pro with the Apple Pencil for initial layouts. From there I jump into Astropad and work right within Photoshop, still through the iPad Pro. It's been fantastic... but so hard to resist the completeness of the Surface Studio. Anyone other Mac wafflers? Anyone tried Procreate as a comparison? Sicunder36 , though, leaves me concerned about the pen. Hmm.
  • Sicunder36 , though, leaves me concerned about the pen. Hmm.
    Why, he sounds utterly clueless*, he merely leveled a fanboy-like sling. Why would you let yourself be so easily influenced by a vacuous post, THAT'S more of a concern. Test stuff out for yourself, that's the ultimate answer... Cheers. *displayed no in-depth understanding if the various techs & their strength/weakness, thus buttressing his claim
  • Hello. Sorry, with SP I was referring to Surface Phone