Wacom Inkling: worth the wait?

Not long after Redbubble launched their Uncommon iPhone case products, I entered their artists competition to design a cover. Not only was I flattered to be voted into the top 10 designs by fellow Redbubble artists, but lucky enough to be picked by Redbubble as a runner up! My prize? Two cases made up of my prize-winning design, and a Wacom Inkling! I was pretty chuffed to say the least, but was in for a long wait before I actually got my hands on the prize….

Worldwide stock of the Inkling is still low – I’m not sure whether Wacom is a victim of its’ own success having created a winning product, or it’s just that (as has been suggested) making the Inkling is a little bit more complicated than anticipated. I suspect it may be a bit of both, but either way, supply doesn’t seem to be meeting demand just yet, so if this mini-review whets your appetite and you want to go out and buy one, I hope you won’t have to wait as long as I did!

So what’s all the fuss about? Well, unlike Wacom’s other stylus-based input devices that rely on a tablet/stylus combination, the Inkling is best thought of as a regular ballpoint pen that digitises whatever you sketch on normal paper. With the Inkling, you can sketch anywhere you like – it doesn’t matter whether you get inspired in the park, on the train, at the seaside or even up a mountain, digitised versions of your inked drawings are stored on the receiver, ready to be transferred to your computer when you get home.

The product itself is not only well made, but very well thought out as well. The design is minimal, but perfectly executed – I particularly like the way the clip-on USB receiver unit, mini USB cable, replacement ink cartridges and the pen itself all fit neatly into a folding case that’s perfect for sticking in a pocket or bag to take with you on your daily travels. In fact, the case itself reminds me of a typical fountain pen presentation box, both in size and heft, except of course, the Inkling is much more versatile!

The pen itself is perfectly weighted, with a nice grippy surface, and it writes nicely too. It’s also pleasing to note that when the 4 refills included in the pack have been used up, I’ll be able to buy standard replacements from the local stationery shop – it’s a nice touch, where it would have been easy to force the use of potentially expensive Inkling-specific refills.

The brains of the Inkling is the receiver, which you simply clip to whichever piece of paper you’re going to draw on (up to A4 size) and press the power button before starting to sketch. There is a second button on the top of the unit that when pressed creates a new drawing layer, allowing you to build up your sketch and extract layers when you come to work with the digitised version on your computer. Rather cleverly, the action of opening and closing the paper clip on the receiver creates a new document too. Neat.

The software for the Inkling is pre-loaded onto the USB receiver which behaves exactly the same way as a memory stick does when attached to your computer – it allows installation of Wacom’s Sketch Manager software, and has enough free space to store hundreds of sketch files in the proprietary Inkling format. The software is quite basic, and doesn’t look or feel like a Mac OS X application (also rather annoyingly it launches at login, and I’ve yet to find a way to prevent it from doing so!). Niggles aside, once Sketch Manager is installed, your drawings are available to view and transfer to your computer. You can tweak a few settings such as stroke width and filter out unwanted layers before exporting your artwork in a variety of formats, including JPEG, TIFF, PNG or PDF, or you can just open your layered sketches directly within Photoshop or Illustrator.

The Inkling isn’t designed to replace a professional tablet, but rather be a complementary tool in your creative workflow. It will definitely appeal to those artists and designers who prefer to flesh out creative ideas on paper first, giving them the added benefits of instantly vectorised sketches compared to a more traditional sketch-and-scan approach, as well as the freedom to work away from the computer.

Well thought out and beautifully presented, the Inkling isn’t as accurate as a traditional tablet and the software is far from perfect, but at the end of the day it does what it says on the tin – it allows you to carry on making those quick sketches and jot down ideas whenever (and wherever) the inspiration takes you, whilst speeding up the process of turning those preliminary ideas into polished artworks. It’s not for everyone though, and it’s just a shame that for something that’s been so well conceived and executed, many will conclude that the ‘tin’ in this case is the best thing about the Inkling.

More information on the Inkling can be found on the Wacom website.

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