Sketch, Create, and Brainstorm with Adobe Ideas

I’ve never heard anyone criticize cheese for not tasting like shrimp, or condemn a car for not being capable of flying like an airplane (although it’s 2010, and I still want to know when we’re going to get our flying cars).

Adobe Ideas, a nifty digital sketchbook app from Adobe, isn’t a full-featured sketching application in the vein of SketchBook Pro or Brushes . . . but it’s not trying to be. Instead, Adobe Ideas encourages you to doodle, brainstorm, sketch, and toy with concepts. In this regard, Adobe Ideas really shines.


Let’s go ahead and get this out of the way: Adobe Ideas is a free digital sketchbook that’s not trying to be the penultimate sketchbook app. It’s missing plenty of features and its interface has a few issues.

It’s also easy to use, effortless to figure out, and elegant in its execution. As the name implies, Adobe Ideas primarily wants to help you start something: a rough sketch to be fleshed out later, a wireframe for a website, a conceptual design to help a client understand the direction your heading. Its many uses are only as limited as your imagination.


Samples of Artwork Created with Adobe Ideas

Though it’s possible to create a surprisingly polished work of art in this app, Adobe Ideas has been tooled toward getting your initial conceptions recorded for future use. It is because of this rather focused ambition that Adobe Ideas isn’t as feature-rich as other sketchbook applications.

Jumping In

When you launch Adobe Ideas you’re presented with a blank screen that will eventually be populated with thumbnails of the different concepts you’re working on. From this screen you can choose to start an idea from either a blank canvas or an image file stored on your iPad.


Welcome Screen


Image Picker

Starting with a blank canvas is pretty much what you’d expect: a white background that allows you to sketch anything you’d like.

Starting with an image places that image on a separate layer from the drawing layer, allowing you the flexibility to turn off either layer at will. This makes it a snap to add artistic flair to an existing photo or to trace over your images, transforming them into works of art.

Less Can Be More

Once you’ve decided how to proceed, you’ll either be staring at a blank canvas or your image. There are only two tools available to you at this point: a vector brush and a vector eraser. There is no option to add text, shapes, or additional images (the app only allows one image per “idea”).

The brush tool allows for the adjustment of several parameters: size, color, and opacity.



The eraser tool allows for size adjustments.

If it’s starting to sound like the options for creation are pretty sparse, there’s a reason for that: they are. So how well does it all work together?


Because the options are so limited, the interface gets out of the way and allows you to create and experiment. The ability to trace an image will likely motivate you to play around with the brush options in order to best replicate your images.


Original Image

I’m a graphic designer, but I rarely sketch anymore thanks to tools like Illustrator and Photoshop. Last night I broke out Adobe Ideas and worked on a watercolor-like portrait of my wife. Though I certainly don’t think it will be featured in the Guggenheim, I was pleased with what I was able to whip up in about 20 minutes. (side note: gentlemen, for what it’s worth, I highly recommend showing your wives/girlfriends that you worked up a sketch of them . . . unless you do a really terrible sketch . . . in which case you should probably never mention it)


A Quick Portrait of My Wife

I found having less options than apps such as Brushes or SketchBook Pro made the process more enjoyable; I worked with the limited tools I had knowing I wasn’t missing out on obscure features buried too far into menus to find.

My one complaint here is how many clicks it takes to change out the colors/sizes/opacity. There is a lot of wasted sidebar space that could be made use of in order to clean up the interface.

Minor complaints aside, a feature that really can’t be celebrated enough is Adobe Ideas’ stroke smoothing. Whenever you draw a line with your finger, it is bound to look somewhat jagged. Adobe Ideas’ vector rendering smooths out the lines you draw, giving the finished project a much more polished look than some competing programs.

Once you’re ready to export your project, choosing the envelope icon will allow you to email your idea as a PDF, complete with layered vectors intact and editable in Adobe Illustrator.

The Wonderful World of Color Palettes

Adobe Ideas has a unique way of handling colors. When you first launch the app, “Colors” is one of the options you can choose from the bottom panel. From the next screen you can choose an image from your iPad’s library and Adobe Ideas will automatically create harmonized color themes from your photo. These color themes can then be used for your brushes when you create new “ideas”.


Palette Picker

Though you have the option to choose any color you’d like for your brushes from the color picker, using the themes is helpful for roughing out website ideas, interior design concepts, or any number of other projects that use unified color schemes.

I found Adobe Ideas to be a little inconsistent on which colors it chose. It maxes out at five, but occasionally it seemed to completely skip over the dominant color in a given photo. It’s nice that it gives you visual feedback by showing extraction circles on your image of the colors it chose, but it would be even nicer if you could adjust those circles to have it pick five colors of your choice.

Below are a few images I ran through the app to test its palette creation ability.


Bear Scare




Ella the Dog


Our Friend Grace

Final Thoughts

It would be easy to make a wish-list of features for Adobe Ideas to add: multi-layer support for artwork, the ability to add text to projects, video output, a “snap-to-end-of-line” feature, etc. However, it wouldn’t take long for a wish-list to change the app’s identity from concept-driven to a full-blown sketchpad. I can’t help but think Adobe Ideas would lose some of its appeal if it became overly bloated.

Though I’m sure Adobe will be adding more features and improving the interface as they release new versions, I’m hoping they’ll stay focused on the simplicity of this app’s goal as they move forward.

Adobe Ideas is available for free through the app store. It doesn’t taste like shrimp, it doesn’t fly, and it isn’t a full-featured professional sketchbook app; it’s simply great at what it does.


Its interface could be more streamlined and additional sketching layers would be welcome, but Adobe Ideas rises above its shortcomings to take its place as a solid sketching app for both the iPad and iPhone.