Creating sketchnote joy with Inkflow by @Qrayon

Qrayon does it again! You may remember Air Sketch (which is still super awesome, by the way), the app that lets you wirelessly broadcast your iPad drawing to other devices on the same network while you draw it. This week, I happened upon another tool by Qrayon: Inkflow.

I am in love. Inkflow is a wonderful tool to blend digital and paper sketchnoting. You can use the app itself to take notes and organize them into books. You can also add typed text, images, and photos of notes you have taken on paper — which then become objects on the Inkflow page that you can move and scale with no loss of quality. Look at me, I’m so excited I’m jumping all over the place! Let’s get organized here and look at how Inkflow is for sketchnoting, the vector/bitmap comparison, a few key features, a list of what’s missing from my point of view, and whether or not I’d recommend it as a visual notetaking tool.

Sketchnoting in Inkflow

Writing and drawing in Inkflow is a beautiful thing. The flow is smooth, there’s no lag, and the canvas is large. Since I’ve only just begun to play with it, I’m using it as though it were Brushes, which is causing me some angst. But I can see that with a little practice I’ll get used to the way it works and do much nicer work. To test it out, I did a little visual notetaking while listening to the TED talk How Great Leaders Inspire Action by Simon Sinek.

Sketchnotes of Simon Sinek's TalkMy visual notes of “How Great Leaders Inspire Action” by Simon Sinek.
Click for a larger view.

Don’t let the non-white background alarm you; you can choose different styles. I just used the default for this one. You can actually change it after the fact, which rocks, and there’s a plain blank white one. It has a palm blocker too, so if you prefer a stylus you can pull up the palm guard to cover the bottom part of the screen.

One thing to note: A lot of the features I’m describing are only available in the paid version, which at the time of this writing costs $7.99. Definitely worth it.

Vector vs Bitmap

Inkflow is a vector drawing tool, which means that what you draw is stored as resizable objects. However, it behaves a little like a bitmap drawing tool (like Sketchbook Pro), which means that it feels like you’re painting with a brush. The lines are smoother and more even than I’m used to, and I can’t quite get the same variable quality of line that I love in Brushes (which is also a vector tool with a brushlike feel). The trail-off at the end of a stroke is different, too, which makes my lettering look a bit sloppy to my (self-critical) eye.

However, one of the coolest features of the vector-based Inkflow is that you can select, move, and resize parts of your drawing (or the whole thing). You can enlarge small things and they won’t get fuzzy, or shrink big things and they won’t get muddy. Oh, and if you need to rearrange your notes as you go, you can! File the selection tool under A for Awesome.

Adding Text or Photos

If you don’t feel like writing, you can type instead, and then draw or write alongside the typed text. You can also drop in photos or illustrations alongside your work, or annotate them. The stationery feature lets you pull in images to use as custom backgrounds (did someone say templates?).

Adding Paper Notes

I love this part. I have a bunch of notes I took on copy paper (you know, analog) for different meetings for whatever reason. I’ve been carrying them around in a folder and trying to decide what to do with them — I’m in an awkward place between using a paper notebook or my iPad at work, so I have notes in both places. Yuck.

With Inkflow (the paid version), you can take a photo of your paper notes and they get pulled into your Inkflow notebook. They become a vector image, so you can resize them up or down, move them around, select part of them, erase the little smudges around the edges… it’s totally cool. Now I have a work notebook that includes my loose notes, plus I can add as many pages as I need to for notes during meetings. Whoa.

What’s Missing?

The things that are keeping Inkflow from being absolutely perfect for my needs (I know, like it’s all about me, right?) are, in order of importance:

  • A lack of layers. This is the biggie, because I want to be able to draw outlines and color them in later, with the color underneath the outline. I also want to be able to experiment with stuff and get rid of it easily if it doesn’t work out. Update: Qrayon says they are working on a ‘draw-under highlighter’ that might help with this. Yay!
  • No quick way to zoom out to 100%. This was pretty frustrating while I was recording the sample. I do a lot of quick zoom outs to check size and placement of elements, and it’s annoying to have to do the pinch thing several times to make sure I’m looking at the right view.
  • Limited sizes and shapes of the brushes. Three brush shapes plus an eraser is actually okay; I can live without the airbrush. But the settings for tip size aren’t fine-grained enough for me. For instance, on the paintbrush, you can pick 24, 32, 48, 64… you get the idea. Nothing in between. I also miss being able to easily draw a dotted line. I use that a lot.
  • A limited active color palette. This is annoying, but it isn’t a show stopper. You have access to lots of colors, you just can only pick eight of them to use without mixing at any one time. Update: Qrayon responded to let me know that you can swipe the palette sideways for more colors, which I hadn’t realized. Definitely helps with setting up colorsets.
  • Zoom only goes to 12%. This bothered me a lot at first and then less as I learned to work with the app. I wanted to zoom in further, but I found that if I just worked at a slightly larger scale it was actually okay. I still would like a little more zoom action for that extra precision I like in my lettering. I love that the screen stays at full resolution even when I’m zooming.

So, Overall?

Overall, I love Inkflow and I’m looking forward to using it to take notes in my next meeting. It effectively combines several of my favorite features from other sketchnoting apps, it’s easy to use, and I love that it’s vector-based so I can move stuff around. Easily 4 out of 5 stars, and adding layers would kick it up to a 5. If you’re looking for a notetaking tool that’s simple but versatile, I can recommend it.

Updated 5-3-2014 with some news about color palettes and an upcoming draw-under tool.

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