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SketchAR puts virtual images on paper to let you trace drawings from your phone

SketchAR puts virtual images on paper to let you trace drawings from your phone

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There’s a lot of tracing naysayers out there who say it’s “cheating,” or that it doesn’t actually help you learn to draw, but I beg to differ. The best way to learn to draw is by doing, and if it takes using a lightbox or a projector toy to get started, so be it!

SketchAR is the latest iteration of the augmented reality drawing concept that hit the App Store yesterday, and will soon be coming to Android Tango and Microsoft HoloLens. It works by laying out a virtual image on the paper you’ll be drawing on, which is displayed on your phone screen. It’s pretty difficult to use it as shown in the promo video — i.e., holding the phone in one hand while tracing over the virtual lines with the other — so using a tripod would be ideal.

I gave SketchAR a try, and found it surprisingly easy to navigate the app and set up the whole process. The app comes preloaded with sketches you can draw, or you can convert photos from your camera roll into easily traceable images. Once you’ve picked the drawing you want to have virtually displayed on paper, the app asks you to draw five circles on your paper — three on top, one on the left side and one on the bottom. The camera recognizes your canvas when it detects and aligns with the five circles you’ve drawn, at which point the virtual image will be displayed on your screen. The rest is up to you to trace, draw, and make art.

The opening setup tutorials.
The opening setup tutorials.
Image: SketchAR

We’ve seen interactive AR drawing in various forms before, like this real-time texturing of coloring book characters from Disney Research, but SketchAR is the first drawing app I’ve tried that actually seems useful. It also gets bonus points for being available for download now and not just being a “research purposes”-only pipe dream. The app only works on A4 paper for now, but SketchAR has plans to expand to bigger canvases. For its upcoming version on the Lenovo Phab 2 Pro with Project Tango, it plans to use the phone’s built-in sensors to detect its physical location, so get those mural designs ready!

GIF: SketchAR

You can download SketchAR from the App Store here.