DrawScribe filter for Illustrator for amazing drawing and dynamic sketch and manipulation of curves plugin
The filter works in CC CS6 (with recent updates) CS5, CS4, CS3 - PC and MAC OSX / MacOS. I am using the CS5 PC version for the purposes of the review - there are no differences between the OS versions
Dynamic pen tool
I have to say I am came to this review without a manual and using the trial version (which I assume will be much the same as the release version plus a manual, and I am certain a very good manual). On loading, two new tools are added to the toolbox. Both fairly similar looking icons which does cause a slight bit of confusion. Selecting the icon and double clicking, the preferences appear and wow, a lot of settings. Personally, I would prefer the settings to be spread over a few tabbed dialogs as my immediate response was - where do I begin? Lots and lots of options and settings, and without a manual or a first class brain, some of the settings are daunting such as 'define out handle' 'constrain distance by factor'. Certain they are obvious, but not to me. Actually a little unfair as you can use the filters without too delving too quickly into the preferences but it definitely does helps to understand the preferences to get the best out of the toolset.
Anyway, additional functionality can be found (and it took me a little to realize they existed) via the window > DrawScribe > panels. They also are packed with a number of settings, powerful not doubt, but not immediate obvious without a little initial reading of the manual or checking out the HD movies. Some of the settings appear to have no tooltips which would have helped a little but as this is a trial version, I suspect all the tooltips will be rounded off with this company's usual professionalism.
DrawScribe tool all work fine and bring yet more useful ways of manipulating paths and drawing paths and brush strokes. Can't bring myself to say new, as the filters do much that is readily available in the application itself, but the tools add a different and perhaps more intuitive way of manipulating curves as well as offering a lot more control than you will find in the main application, for beginners as well as gurus.
Installation of the filter set was also easy with a quick and easy installation process automatically installing the filters into the correct folders for CS5. You can find out other reviews about Astute Graphics' plugin such as Astute Graphics' MirrorMe plugin for symmetrical effects in Illustrator review and Vectorscribe path and remove brush tool and shapes plugin set from Astute Graphics review
The first new tool in the toolbox is Scribe tool. This tool manipulates curves (and a whole lot more) but that is the immediate and obvious functionality. It can do a whole lot more and this is controlled via the Scribe panel.
You can draw a straight segment, curved segment, apply smart remove points, smooth point, corner point, close paths - this involves the creation of paths as well as manipulation of existing selected paths. The tools work well and though they take a couple of minutes to master the basic settings, many different and unique path designs as well as modifications of pre-created paths can be achieved in seconds. I have to admit that I have always found application's path / curve tools cumbersome at best, and in comparison, IS brings a new level of sophistication to the manipulation of handles and points.
Manipulating an existing path is a much easier with IS than any of the standard tools. A simple rectangle path can be turned into an amazing curved design in seconds. Moving points and curves around with the IS filter is pure joy.
The smart remove point feature is very powerful (accessible via the panel as well as annotations), far more so than the equivalent subtract point tool. You can also smart remove multiple selected points which is a neat option. The end result is generally a much cleaner design and more effective curve than anything the main application generally produces - and a feature I will find very useful for my work as quite often I get people contacting me asking why some of my earlier curved creations seem to have too many points. So a big thumbs up for that feature alone.
Smart smooth is a really nice feature also with a very intelligent corner to smooth point conversion using the handles and a nice 'S' indicator when the point becomes smooth. Again, a feature that is hard to achieve in the main application in such a quick and easy manner.
Really loved the small little red icon display as well as other annotations, such a great touch and one I would love to see in the application. Not only that, the preferences, allows for the modification of the little toolbox and that is something I would love to see in the AI main toolbox.
As mentioned, as well as manipulating existing paths, the IScribe filter can create new paths and these new paths can be made of corner points and smooth points. Exploring the preferences, you can find a whole world of constraint settings for the path creation which add a lot more control to and ease of path creation than you find with the standard tools. You can define paths with points at every 10mm or 20mm, a feature that I found very useful in the creation of many different types of path / shape construction, and will use it a lot to create many of my future shapes packs (of that I am certain). As the design is a dynamic effect, you can always go back to the design and continue to work on the path and add more corner points (or smooth points). You can apply brushes as well as width profiles and continue to add to the dynamic IS drawing.
One feature I would love to see in this filter - symmetry or a mirror feature (something that I often add to my own filter). Changing a curve in one part, mirrored on the other side of the path (two, three, four way symmetry) based on the center of the path. Perhaps something for version 2? Also, perhaps a way of capturing all the point manipulation applied to path X and then copying that to path Y and Z and so on - so changes to a path can be either applied to another path (the end result might be a wonder to see or a total mess, I might add) - of course, certain that all users of any filter would just love to see features that work wonders for them but would probably be ignored by others.
The filter set also includes an interesting and useful drawing tool, and you can't have enough of those. As a comic book (wannabee), I love to draw and I love drawing and most of the time I end up playing with paths / brush strokes / width profiles to create the exact path I want for my drawing. The dynamic tool brings yet another way of creating high impact brush strokes for my artwork.
There is a lot to this filter. It works wonderfully with CS5 and the beautiful strokes (or width profiles). Another feature I really like is the intelligent joining of brush strokes and paths (toggle intelligent path joining on and off via the panel) as it is really useful to take an existing path and quickly join the brush stroke (without using something like the path finder tool or toolbox features) so a brush stroke is never really finished, you can always just add to the path at any point. Found this very useful for curly as well as race tracks. Combine this with brush profiles and artistic brushes and you have a very useful tool.
The brush stroke / dynamic drawing is 'live' and the strokes can be changed numerous times but they lose their dynamic features if transforms such as rotations are applied. You have to be careful with the settings as sometimes the dynamic tool will suddenly re-adjust itself or vanish as new paths are added (this can be toggled on and off) and though this sounds unusual, the live editing is understandable and controllable via the panel.
The drawn path is quite decent but it can be tweaked by applying width profiles, artistic brush strokes different stroke settings such as round joins / round caps (which for some reason it doesn't seem to be set with the initial brush stroke) though adding brush width profiles destroys the dynamic nature of the drawing.
There is a feature for gestures within the tool and the best I could do, without resorting to a manual, was to draw a round shape. Not immediately obvious but if you draw a rough path a couple of times with the dynamic tool, the end result is perfectly formed and not a rough shape at all - all very impressive. Round shapes are often the bedrock of many designs so it is a nice and quick and easy way of creating rounded designs.
The dynamic stroke can also be turned into a straight path as you draw (by holding down the ALT key), which doesn't sound much but it is a useful feature that for some weird reason is lacking in the main application. One minor issue with the straight path, the path is straight but it can be applied at any angle but there appears to be no way to constrain the path to 45 degrees or horizontal (? might be mistaken on that one as there are numerous preferences)
There are many different settings such as drawing speed, pressure, tilt which all depend on an art pad that feeds this information back to the filter. It was therefore impossible for me to test some of these settings as my art pad really only works well with pressure. The filter comes with a selection of different graphs to use for the creation of the brush profile, you can also create your own graph control path (it seems you cannot copy a normal open path and use as the weight / pressure graph though you can save the graph settings for future brush strokes)
Expanding the stroke via the expand appearance command results in the excessive points but these can be quickly removed with the smart remove tool in the IScribe filter.
The filters can work separately but you can also use the IScribe filter to further manipulate the dynamic brush strokes. In some ways, the combination can be used to improve the quality of the paths as well as create even more interesting path designs. If you have some of the earlier filters from Astute, they also work well in combination with DrawScribe.
Overall.. 9/10. This is a powerful filter set and one that will be an invaluable toolset on actual release but I have to admit, without a manual, some of the functionality for me was hit and miss until I checked out the useful HD movies from Astute (definitely recommended as you might miss a lot of the great features in this tool). The smart remove point feature was a winner and probably worth the price alone when it comes to my own shape creations; smart smooth, path point constraints and more - all make the filters even more powerful. The filter is well priced and is definitely worth getting for a tool set I am certain I will use and use to create even more shapes and artwork for various projects. I also suspect that I have only touched on a tenth of the filter's functionality and the combination of the two filters along with Astute's previous filters (Volume ectorScribe and Phantasm)
Loved this tool.
To find out more details about the product, Astute Graphics main website for all their plugins and tutorials
You can find additional tutorials on many subjects such as WareTo ScopeWorks for Kaleidoscope as well as tutorials on brushes / drawing tools for Illustrator such as how to create Illustrator brushes from Photoshop brushes (converting / vectorize them) and how to create calligraphic brushes in Illustrator tutorial and how to use the Illustrator wrinkle tool and a quick review of all the Astute Graphics' plugins such as InkScribe and Phantasm etc