When Wacom hinted that they were intent on reinventing the creative process for sketching, I was ecstatic about the possibilities, as it might help answer the question of how you can still work without being near the desk (or for that matter, the computer). After what seemed like an eternity I was finally able to go hands-on with their vision firsthand with the Inkling Digital Sketch Pen, which has been described as a light companion to Wacom’s growing family of professional devices. It makes sense if you think about it, as graphic tablets are meant for the home or office, which are capable but stationary. And the Inkling prides itself on being purely portable – after all, how much more portable can you get than having a single pen?
Ever since it’s initital reveal a little while ago, the Inkling’s minimalistic design has been eye-catching. Utilizing clean angles and only the most minor curves make up the compact carrying case. It’s certainly stylish on any merit with a glossy black strip and embedded Wacom logo being the only real aesthetic feature on the outside, if you ignore the mini-USB port and charging indicator lights (for the receiver and pen). The included ballpoint pen isn’t exactly light and feels more like your average Wacom stylus with larger dimensions all around. It’s fairly functional in your hand and fits tight into the specialized spring-loaded holder with conductive gold-tips on top for charging.
Speaking more on the case, the elegance in appearance is further amplified when you open the clamshell hood, as you’ll soon discover that the carrying case is also one of the trendiest assortment you’ll have the privilege of gawking at. Essential components of the Inkling are housed within the compartment itself as a secondary mini-USB connection charges the receiver internally, with a single Mini-USB cord added for consideration. Four spare ink cartridges are also included and required when the stylus does eventually run out of ink. Fortunately the pen/stylus can be replaced with universal ink cartridges from 0.8mm to 1.4mm in ballpoint diameter. Frankly speaking, the exterior is ambitiously artisan and probably meant to accompany a boutique Moleskine planner — lavish and expensive, if nothing else.
The premise is simple: you place the clipping receiver on any 8” x 11” (A4 or smaller) paper and draw whatever you can imagine with the ink pen, and both the pen and receiver picks up your artistic lines through corresponding sensors and retains the vector data later for editing on a PC and/or Mac. I’m generalizing, of course, but there’s a little more to it than that. To synchronize the attachments, simply press the power button on the receiver and draw to your heart’s content. For well-thought out flexibility, new layers can be created by pressing the secondary ‘file’ rocker button that’s also located on the receiver.
Handling the Inkling was about as excepted. You’ll use the pen within radius of the active transmission and it should read the data (ink tracings) laid on the canvas. You’ll know everything is working when a green light pops up on the receiver and the top handle of the pen. The idea may be solid, but the execution can vary wildly due to a number of factors. Depending on how close you hold you drawing hand to the actual nib (ballpoint/sensor) of the pen, the sensor may not read your lines properly. And simple human error with acute shifts of your paper or sketchbook can affect accuracy as well. The line consistency for the everyday illustrator is negligible, but the Inkling will annoyingly jump and stutter when it’s outside of its 2.5 millimeter sweet spot, effectively ruining your labored rough drawings.
For broad and less-demanding concepts, you might be able to forgive the blunders. But intricate designs require a more delicate hand, and this was initially a major hindrance for me, as I had to conform to the Inkling’s defined limits. For those still concerned with precision, the pen is capable of 1024 levels of pressure, though this advantage never seemed to play that much of a role during our testing.
Coping with the occasional spasms in sketch readouts is one thing, but the included (and required install) Sketch Manager software is another fault entirely. Honestly, there’s nothing glaring about it other than the fact it seems unnecessary when it comes to fully utilizing the Inkling. Connecting either the receiver or executive-class case (with everything bundled) will bring up your creations through the proprietary program, with the ability to view images and export them to compatible files (BMP, JPG, PDF, PNG, SVG, and TIFF) or send them directly into Adode Photoshop or Illustrator for editing, with options for changing preferences of the device itself. The software is clunky overall, but still manages to be flexible where it counts, just not as much as I would have liked it to be.
So where does the Inkling stand? As a proof-of-concept device, this digitizer is really intriguing; a accessory that theoretically provides serious artists would ever need in digitally streamlining hand-drawn magic. In reality, it’s a well-intentioned product with undeniable faults, most notably in performance and integration, which makes for an inconsistent and often frustrating experience. Issues like these are expected with version 1.0 tech, and I’m confident Wacom will iron out the kinks eventually. In the meantime, designers willing to break from tradition might like the Inkling, but others can wait on this unique tool before diving in.