With everything going digital, many artists (including myself) feel that analog is still the best way to make an idea into something tangible. The best drawing tablets in the world cannot replace the feel of pen on page. The natural feel of a hand interacting with the real world to create something isn’t easily duplicated. To help me cross the barrier of pen-to-pixel, I’ve been using the Bamboo Spark, an image-capture device that records pen strokes as they are made, then sends them to your Bluetooth-enabled device.
This is the Bamboo Spark with a tablet sleeve. There are two other models, one for smaller devices and one that houses an iPad Air 2. The left flap might vary, but the important bits are all identical. The Spark houses a lightweight tablet behind a pad of paper. The tablet captures your pen strokes and stores them. Sync the tablet to your device, and it pushes your images to your device. Voila! Your images are now in the app, ready to download or share however you like.
The magic of the Spark is in the pen. The special ink cartridges are required in order for the tablet to capture the stroke. This works pretty well for notes, especially in fast-paced offices when you might need to share notes or graphs drawn during a meeting. I shared the Spark with my brother-in-law recently, and he enjoyed using it. His opinion of the Spark became instantly clear with his notes:
Intuitive, Simple, No-brainer. Says it all, doesn’t it? Using the app, you can export the image as an image, PDF, or WILL file. The app even has a utility, which is still in Beta, which allows you to export text. I ran his second note through the text exporter, and it gave the following text:
? NO BRAINER
INTUITIVE ? SIMPLE
As you can see, the “cloud” obscured the text, and the word order was a bit muddled, but it’s still in Beta, and I’m sure we’ll see great improvements soon.
Here you can see my impulsive drawing of some stark, leafless trees. On the left is the Spark’s capture. On the right is a scan of the actual drawing. As you can see, it pretty faithfully traces lines and pressure. Its lines are always slightly heavier or lighter than the original line, but part of that is the way I use the pen. Filling space with ink doesn’t always require pressure on the nib, as ink on the outside of the pen can still spread without full contact. The capture, transfer, and output are much higher than I expected from a service designed to take and share notes.
Unfortunately, if you’re not working on a table, the reliability of the capture tanks. On the left, you again see the capture. On the right is the actual drawing. The diagonal lines are made with a straight edge, but even a slightly unsteady surface tanks the drawing quality. Do I often draw like this? Heck no! Honestly, I’m impressed it did as well as it did. After all, this is not my best piece of 5-minute art. The wavy lines and the words migrating were expected and not a big deal. But I was surprised to find over a dozen “extra” strokes.
After creating a few dozen images and pages of notes, I’ve found that the tree image is about the most reliable the Spark gets. At near-perfect capture, I cannot complain about a pixel. The birds and lines are the worst I’ve seen, and nothing else has come close.
Tips for use:
- Don’t press the capture button too often. It clears the page, and further changes made to the page will become a new image.
- Use the Spark for illustrations by inking your final piece on the tablet for crisp lines.
- Keep your battery charged. If you’re mid-page and the battery runs out, you’ve lost that page’s capture.
- You can take more than one set of notes on a page. When you reach the end of the page, hit the button to capture the page and start writing over that page again. It renders the paper note useless but saves paper.
- Use any size paper you want, but remember that the tablet is designed for A5, so you have to keep your capture within that space. Wacom also makes refills.
- Pads thicker than ~45 pages will not fit well and won’t work at all. Keep a slim portfolio to ensure clean capture.
- Get creative. The Spark is not a uni-tasker. Use it often. You can always get ink refills, so go nuts!
Verdict: The Spark is great at what it’s designed to do: taking notes at a desk or table. It is more than passable for image creation, but a stable work surface is a must. My Bamboo Spark lives on my desk and sees regular use.
Disclaimer: Wacom provided a unit and images for review purposes.