A Beginners Guide to Sketchbook Express

Let’s be honest. When we think about free drawing image programs, two things come to mind: the free options that are too basic to be of much use and the professional grade tools that are just too expensive or too complex to be practical for the day to day use (I am looking at you, Photoshop and GIMP).

So, what kind of software would be best for you, if you want the freedom to free draw without too much complexity?

One option is a piece of free software, called Sketchbook Express. This software provides the user with a set of basic professional-grade tools and brushes to allow the user to make images that will be suitable for a variety of applications, including desktop publishing.


Creating a new image

Once you open the app, you are ready to create a new image. However, chances are the default image size is not the size you want. If you need an image of a specific size, you will need to adjust the canvass size.

To change the size, simply click on “Image -> Canvass size“. You can then change canvass sizes by percent, pixels, inches, centimeters or millimeters. Once you are done, click OK. You will notice that as you adjust the canvass size, the amount of memory taken up by the image will also appear. This is good news if you are worried about load speed on a website.


Free drawing on your image

Sketchbook Express has a basic pallet of tools that will give you different effects on your digital paper. There is a range of tips that are available. That range includes pens, pencils and brushes. There are even some tools that are hybrids of the two, which makes for some interesting tool options. Just keep in mind that if what you are looking for is a wet paint effect, Sketchbook Express cannot help you out at all. That is a feature that you may have to find another tool for.

So, how do you toggle between the tools? Like any good piece of software Sketchbook Express makes it easy to switch between the most basic of your tools, the brushes. By default a pallet of brushes should show up on your screen, but if you dismissed it to clear up canvass space, retrieving it is simple. Just click on the image of the brush and pen on your top bar and you will have the pallet back. Now you can select your tool of choice.


Let’s say that you like your tool, but it is too fat, or too thin, or too solid. On the brush pallet you will see an icon with a set of slider bars. Just click on that and you will be taken to brush properties. From here you can adjust the thickness and opacity of the tool, and you can even see a real time preview of what the tool will draw like, which is handy if you were on the fence about what settings to use. Then, just click on save and you can use your newly customized tool to draw to your hearts content.

Drawing with Your Tablet

Sketchbook Express works well with drawing tablets (not the iPad tablet), which is a good news if you prefer to draw by hand, or if you just feel like the look of more traditional digital art is too sterile for your needs. When that hand drawn feeling is essential to your project using the tablet is the right way to go.

This software is tablet ready. Just be aware that if you have a newer drawing tablet with advanced support for assisted gesture based interfaces, you may need to turn them off in your tablet software options, or you may end up drawing in places that you did not mean to.

Working with Layers

This software will let you work with up to six layers during a single session. Just be aware that once you click on Save, the automatic compression feature will take over, and you will end up with everything saved as a single layer.

If you want to work with your layers, simply go to “Window -> Layer Editor“. This will give you access to your layers. This will open a pane that will let you toggle between and change some basic features of your layers.


There you have it. Your basic guide to using Sketchbook Express. Now, all you have to do is save it in the format that you need. In order to do that, click on “File -> Save as“. Once you have named your file, we can select the correct format. Next to the words File Format you will see a pull down box. Just choose the format that you need. In this application your choices include: .tiff, .jpg, .png, .bpm and .psd. In some of these formats, you will see more choices. Click on the word Options when it is highlighted and you will be able to make more in depth selections for how you save your images.


Sketchbook Express is available as a free download in the Mac App Store, iPad App Store and Android market.

Katie Gatto

Katie Gatto is a technology writer with seven years of experience, and a native Mac user. She has previously written for Apple related site such as Appletell and Mac Apper.

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