Earlier this year, I tried out a bunch of digitizing products like Livescribe’s line of Smartpens and the Moleskine smart writing set. Equipped with camera-barrelled pens and special dotted tracking paper, they all worked flawlessly to transcribe my handwriting from paper into digital text, and converted over some doodles, too. Still, I fantasized of a product that was made specifically for artists, one that would work like a graphics tablet but let me draw on real paper. After trying out the iSKN Slate, which promised to do just that, I was left thinking: "Why did I want this?"
The Slate is a tablet that digitizes your drawings on paper, using magnetic rings that you fit onto a pen or pencil. The tablet tracks the ring’s movements using magnets to create a digital replica of your drawing onto its native app, Imagink, which works for iPads, PCs, and Macs.
Originally launched as a Kickstarter in 2013, French startup iSKN (then called iSketchnote) released the first Slate in 2015 after raising close to $350,000 — 10 times its original goal. But alas, like most Kickstarters, what appears to be an ingenious idea in theory doesn’t always produce the most polished results. Scrolling through the backer comments page, you’ll find complaints about the Slate’s bugginess, blind spots, and problems with pen detection. Since then, the company’s updated its product with the new Slate 2, which will retail for $169 when it begins shipping November 21st. Unfortunately, I ran into a lot of the same problems when I tried out the new Slate.
To begin, here’s a photo of a sketch I drew with pencil on paper.
And here’s the same image as it appeared on my Imagink app screen.
You can see the places where the pencil stops and "drags" on the paper, so you’re not necessarily creating an exact replica of your drawing like a scan would. Because the technology utilizes magnets, the Slate is pretty fickle — it warns you to keep magnetic objects away from it during use, and even discourages users from drawing on a metal table. The magnetic ring, while a novel idea that allows for it to be fitted onto your own pens and pencils, currently only comes in one size, so you’re out of luck if your drawing tool of choice is too thick to fit a ring. The ring also has to be placed at exactly the right position on the pencil so the app knows when to create lines. At times, I encountered some issues with getting the tablet to recognize when I was drawing. There’s also no pressure sensitivity, though drawing quickly will result in thicker lines. And the Slate comes with two clips to hold your paper in place while you draw — so if your paper moves, your drawing on the screen might turn out a little... sketchy.
The Imagink app can export your drawing to JPG, PNG, SVG, PSD, and MP4 files (it can replay your drawing process), and there’s a nice little feature that lets you store drawings on the tablet, and have it show up in the program later. But you can’t use the Slate with any other programs like Photoshop or Illustrator yet.
So who is the iSKN for? Possibly kids whose parents don’t trust them with iPads, or hobbyists who want slightly different digital copies of their paper drawings. For professional artists who want the closest experience to drawing on paper as possible, using a Cintiq with a textured screen protector is still their best bet. Or just get a scanner.
To see a demo of the iSKN in action, watch our Facebook Live below!