That may be the first time I’ve ever written that term before — and it may be the first time those two words were ever really combined — but it’s the best way to describe one of the most interesting aspects of Colors! 3D, the latest app from developer Collecting Smiles for the Nintendo 3DS.
The downloadable app lets users create 3D artwork on the portable, using a simple array of tools that can be stretched and modified to create a fairly malleable workspace. Beyond just the creation of art, it’s also extremely social, encouraging connection with other users and sharing of work. There are several ways that the developers have provided to do this, spanning the gap from initial sketch to final presentation, that create a completely fun and unique experience.
Trying to sketch in 3D can be a bit daunting to me, so the app’s integrated online gallery is a wealth of inspiration. Once users upload their artwork, the community can comment on, like, and even download each other’s work. The app saves every stroke that a user makes on the screen, which is then converted into a video speed painting and attached to each image. Collecting Smiles’ artists have already uploaded a few sketches, and watching the strokes step-by-step is a sort of tutorial video to help me in creating my own wannabe masterpieces.
Being able to see the work of others is so, so valuable to building a strong community behind the app. Where would the fun be if I couldn’t see what other people are doing, or show off what I’ve been working on? The comment system itself is a valuable asset, as I’ve already noticed a few users giving pointers to each other on improving their pieces.
Another cool feature is “Paint with Friends” that connects two users locally through wifi to work on the same canvas at the same time. In one instance, I worked on a sketch’s linework, while the other user did the background painting. In another, I was able to hold a quick brainstorm session about a project I was working on. As I sketched a concept, my friend added notes on a separate layer (in color) to annotate where he was suggesting changes. We even used it as a game board, playing a couple rounds of simulated Hangman and Draw Something.
But it’s not just the sharing aspects that I liked. The app is robust enough for a user to really get some nice artwork done. Sketching and painting uses a few brushes that can be modified in thickness, opacity, and even brush firmness. The only issue I was having was the need to switch to a separate sub-screen to access the tools & color palette. This would interrupt my flow, and I would even inadvertently back out of the sketch or app and lose my work. It doesn’t auto-save until the particular sketch has been closed within the app, so minimizing it with an image in progress to check StreetPasses would leave me losing potentially several minutes of work. A quicker hot-key for changing stroke size or opacity (hold the A button and swipe up or down?) would be huge for maintaing workflow.
Another annoyance comes from something that maybe more seasoned digital artists will notice: no simulated pressure sensitivity. Tools like the iPad and iPhone allow for speed of strokes to determine their simulated pressure and stroke thickness. Missing out on this forces me to erase and undo more often than I’d like to.
Once I get past some of these issues, sketching in 3D creates stunning results, even with minimal work. Through the app’s 5 layers (one of which can even be used to import stored photographs or live shots from the 3DS’s camera) creating depth is easy. The images can even be adjusted with the 3D slider to determine the desired depth when uploading to the ColorsLive servers and shared with others. Users of most modern image-editing tools like Photoshop or Painter will already be used to working with the layers, but now the added 3D effect makes for something completely fresh. I just wish that I could adjust the position of the layers (slide them around vertical or horizontally) to line them up however I’d need to.
Colors! 3D isn’t going to replace an iPad or Wacom tablet for sketching, but it’s certainly better than almost anything on mobile phones. And, when combined with the social features and terrific 3D effect, it becomes that much more fun and enjoyable.
Artists and designers take note: the 3DS just became a terrific little sketching tool.
This review is based on a copy of the app sent to SideQuesting by the publisher. The app was used both offline and online. It is available now via the Nintendo 3DS eShop for $6.99