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Pencil Tool Improvements


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  • Staff

Apps: Designer
Platforms: macOS, Windows and iPad

We have made some further improvements to the pencil tool.

Firstly we are now using a new curve smoothing algorithm which we believe gives general better, smoother, results when using the pencil tool.

Secondly as has been commonly requested we have now changed the "Auto-close" method so that when you have that option checked in the context toolbar the curve only closes when you are near to the start point of the curve being drawn. You will now get an indicator when you are in range of the start position of the curve so you know when a curve will be auto-closed.

Managing Director

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MacBook Pro (16-inch, 2021) / Apple M1 Max / 64GB / macOS 12.0.1

iPad Pro 11-inch 3rd Gen / iPadOS 16.2

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  • Staff

Known Issues in this feature
A list of unresolved issues for this feature, reported by users

  • AF-2783 - Nodes are removed when smooth curve is used on a curve with a bump/arm
  • AF-2785 - Pencil Tool's Auto Close should not fill the shape if Use Fill is unchecked
  • AF-2874 - Toggling Ctrl/CMD whilst drawing a curve with Pencil tool will show nodes on last curve draw

Released Fixes
A list of issues for this feature, available in the current beta build

Upcoming Fixes
A list of issues for this feature, which will be available in a forthcoming build

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The new smoothing algorithm looks good! Works really well with a mouse as well. :)

Left = Old
Right = New

image.thumb.png.0175162a1024aafb1e06b6bf52b15c1a.png

 

I tried the new Auto Close and while I do think it is useful and creates more natural looking closed shapes, I still would like to have the old functionality still available. The gap is very narrow to be able to close it and not having the option to increase the spacing for the closing to happen removes my ability to create elongated shapes quickly. Not to mention that I can't make sharp straight lines when it closes. I would suggest adding a slider value for how much distance is required before Auto Close kicks in, with an alternative to have it always activate regardless of distance.

image.png.acc21d9d932485a93602cca77f07a3f1.png


I can no longer get a closed shape out of this:

image.png.94050f03015ec2c21c9809a1bf6a43bf.png

Here's an example of a type of shape I want to continue making:

 

image.png.05b7615b6439bd0453799e1e211cdb13.png

 

Good update besides that! I hope we also get the option to auto-boolean our selection by either adding or subtracting from the shape in the future. It would be incredibly handy for silhouette paintings.

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The new smoothing algorithm is fantastic! It's such a pleasure to use now, and with almost (I'm just being very fussy) no clean up required. The new implementation of the auto-close settings is really intuitive. Well done. I'll report back any issues I find with it, but just wanted to acknowledge what an improvement this is.

Addendum: Okay, now I know this is going to sound whiny, but is there anyway to reduce or turn off the smoothing? It's now very difficult to draw a rough, hand-drawn line. I do LOVE the new smoothing algorithm, but there are times where I want my lines to look a little rougher.

Edited by Bryan Rieger
Now it's too smooth…
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39 minutes ago, Frozen Death Knight said:

…I still would like to have the old functionality still available. The gap is very narrow to be able to close it and not having the option to increase the spacing for the closing to happen removes my ability to create elongated shapes quickly.

I think being able to set the tolerance of auto-close feature would be helpful so folks can tune it to their liking, or set it to ‘maximum’ where it would always auto-close regardless of the distance.

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2 hours ago, Bryan Rieger said:

but is there anyway to reduce or turn off the smoothing? It's now very difficult to draw a rough, hand-drawn line. I do LOVE the new smoothing algorithm, but there are times where I want my lines to look a little rougher.

This please!

MacBookAir 15": MacOS Ventura > Affinity v1, v2, v2 beta // MacBookPro 15" mid-2012: MacOS El Capitan > Affinity v1 / MacOS Catalina > Affinity v1, v2, v2 beta // iPad 8th: iPadOS 16 > Affinity v2

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1 minute ago, loukash said:

turn off the smoothing

(Also, I'm in fact still eagerly waiting for exactly the opposite: a roughen effect à la Illustrator… :86_crying_cat_face:)

MacBookAir 15": MacOS Ventura > Affinity v1, v2, v2 beta // MacBookPro 15" mid-2012: MacOS El Capitan > Affinity v1 / MacOS Catalina > Affinity v1, v2, v2 beta // iPad 8th: iPadOS 16 > Affinity v2

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7 minutes ago, loukash said:

…still eagerly waiting for exactly the opposite: a roughen effect à la Illustrator… :86_crying_cat_face:)

Yeah, I miss that effect a lot, but I'd prefer it to be more of a non-destructive vector effect (sort of a mix between the contour tool and layer FX) so that you could always go back and edit the effect as and when needed. Also see 'pucker, bloat, splatter, block shadow, offset, etc'. Roughen also isn't an effect that should be limited to the pencil tool, as using it with paths/curves/shapes drawn with the pen tool, shapes and fonts would also be desirable.

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Below is a video showing drawing with the pencil with Sculpt and auto-close enabled. As you can see when sculpt mode is active, auto-close doesn't work. Also having the pencil turn into a 'node manipulation' tool is kinda weird. I like the '+' aspect of the cursor, but the pointer doesn't really match the action. Perhaps using the pencil icon with a + symbol when sculpting/adding to/continuing from a path/curve makes more sense?

 

 

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47 minutes ago, loukash said:

([…] roughen […])

41 minutes ago, Bryan Rieger said:

a non-destructive vector effect […]

Of course! But it was off topic anyway, hence in parentheses.

 

MacBookAir 15": MacOS Ventura > Affinity v1, v2, v2 beta // MacBookPro 15" mid-2012: MacOS El Capitan > Affinity v1 / MacOS Catalina > Affinity v1, v2, v2 beta // iPad 8th: iPadOS 16 > Affinity v2

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4 hours ago, Bryan Rieger said:

xAddendum: Okay, now I know this is going to sound whiny, but is there anyway to reduce or turn off the smoothing? It's now very difficult to draw a rough, hand-drawn line. I do LOVE the new smoothing algorithm, but there are times where I want my lines to look a little rougher.

No, that's a very fair point. There goes the workaround for those who have missed a roughen tool (using sculpt mode).

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So, the pencil tool improvements are great, and after a few hours of using them I'm finding that they enable me to stay in the flow while longer drawing as I'm not having to constantly shift to the node edit tool to clean up extra nodes and reshape curves. However, the one thing that keeps pulling me out of flow now is sharp corners, as there is no way to specify one while using the pencil tool, so once again, I have to grab the node edit tool in order to make those changes.

I was hoping that if while drawing I slowed and stopped for a second at a corner it would take that as an intent to create a sharp corner/change of direction, from which I could then continue drawing. Adobe Illustrator on the iPad uses a similar technique when using the pencil tool where when you slow and stop for a moment it displays a small pulse animation at the location of the corner to provide feedback that it has created a corner node, from which you can then continue drawing. The other thing that Illustrator on iPad does that's insanely helpful is they provide a small contextual toolbar while drawing that enables you to quickly move between the pencil and the node tool and modify nodes and curves as you go (as well as access common features). It's a great feature, but unfortunately the rest of Illustrator on the iPad is a dog's breakfast.

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When using Pencil tool, If user draw a Square and Hold, it becomes a perfect geometric shape, is like Procreate does, in the video below sample

One of the thing that I feel like it could be really nice for the pencil tool experience.

Sculpt Mode,
is if you Hold Shift the cursor will turn into a Radius that you can Press to Relax the Nodes, is acts like sculpt the lines.

This will be perfect to Polish some curves and vector drawings that still get not an organic flow.
This is a feature that we use in Sculpting to smooth the polygons in 3D, in 2d this also can be really useful

image.thumb.png.422153c706d3d7f30c8958601694c550.png
 


 

image.png

image.png

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I noticed some weirdness with the auto-close feature when zoomed in (see video below). It gets harder to not only see the 'close loop', but to also trigger the auto-close feature the more you zoom in. This is especially noticeable on the iPad, to the point where I didn't think auto-close was working at all. I routinely work at zoom levels of 400% or higher, and this appears to be the point where the auto-close feature begins to get wonky.

 

 

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11 hours ago, Bryan Rieger said:

It gets harder to not only see the 'close loop', but to also trigger the auto-close feature the more you zoom in.

The feature seems to be working 'by design', as Serif would say.

The auto-close threshold is a constant distance in screen space rather than document space, and so it becomes smaller in relation to the object's displayed size as the zoom increases. Notice that the red loop symbol is about the same length as the pencil pointer at the moment it first appears, regardless of zoom.

The 'harder to see' is simply the poor contrast of red on the black of the stroke. As you zoom in, the black becomes more expansive until the red loop is never being presented on white.

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The following feedback about the new pencil curve algorithm is provided under the assumption that the new pencil curve algorithm also powers the Smooth Curve tool, which needed enhancement. In my opinion, the Smooth Curve should convert an original curve into a simplified version with the fewest nodes necessary, while maintaining a perfect overlay with the original at a 1:1 ratio. This approach not only reduces file size but also optimises curve management, making it easier to modify (add or delete nodes) and use in boolean operations, ultimately improving both functionality and appearance.

I conducted two tests using the 2.5 beta versions of Photo and Designer, starting by creating a sharp shape with the pencil tool. I manually converted some nodes from sharp to smooth and attempted to simplify them using the Smooth Curve Tool. After selecting all nodes (both sharp and smooth) and activating the tool, a section containing sharp nodes was inadvertently removed, which was unexpected (please see left section of attached image)

Although the tool effectively smoothed the remaining nodes, I had to click it approximately 10 times to reduce the node count. This repetitive clicking, necessary in the previous version to simplify the curve, was much more improved in this beta, as fewer clicks were required to achieve a marked reduction in nodes.

However, to further optimize the curve, an additional 15 clicks were needed, which did not always yield the desired nodes. I also noticed some closely duplicated nodes remained, and the altered shape of the curve no longer matched the original at the expected 1:1 ratio. This indicates that the nodes left are neither minimal nor optimal for accurately drawing the original curve.

I am hopeful that refining the curve algorithm will be a priority in future updates, particularly enhancing the pencil tool’s Smooth Curve and Line Width Tools. I look forward to these improvements and the eventual capability to accurately simplify curves with minimal manual intervention.

designer2.5_testPencil_1.png

designer2.5_testPencil_2.png

photo2.5_testPencil.png

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Speaking of smoothing algorithms, or rather lack thereof, it would be nice if there was a hard edges only option where there are no curves created whatsoever when drawing. Personally when I draw silhouettes I prefer having hard edges because it makes it easier to create interesting shape language that can be easily modified with curves in places afterwards when needed. I know the Pen Tool can do that, but I like the chaotic nature of the Pencil Tool since it is full free form drawing at a faster speed that I am more comfortable with.

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1 hour ago, Frozen Death Knight said:

a hard edges only option where there are no curves created

 

1 hour ago, Frozen Death Knight said:

the chaotic nature of the Pencil Tool since it is full free form drawing

 

These two goals are basically opposites of each other.  When you draw with the pencil tool you are providing a continuous set of points with no real stops to indicate which ones are "important" to you, leaving the software to guess.  How would it know which ones to straighten into a line segment and where it should make a turn to start a new one?

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34 minutes ago, fde101 said:

 

 

These two goals are basically opposites of each other.  When you draw with the pencil tool you are providing a continuous set of points with no real stops to indicate which ones are "important" to you, leaving the software to guess.  How would it know which ones to straighten into a line segment and where it should make a turn to start a new one?

Not really. It's the same effect as selecting all the nodes and using Convert to Sharp, except it is done automatically when drawn with less steps. It would be even nicer if it was possible to toggle between curves and hard edges with a shortcut while continuously drawing, but that might be asking too much. :)

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On 4/19/2024 at 7:40 PM, Bryan Rieger said:

The other thing that Illustrator on iPad does that's insanely helpful is they provide a small contextual toolbar while drawing that enables you to quickly move between the pencil and the node tool and modify nodes and curves as you go (as well as access common features

Have you tried pressing down ctrl/cmd to temporarily active the Node Tool when using the Pencil Tool? You can move your nodes around and also change the node type and do other commands by R clicking the nodes while it is active.

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10 hours ago, Frozen Death Knight said:

Have you tried pressing down ctrl/cmd to temporarily active the Node Tool when using the Pencil Tool? You can move your nodes around and also change the node type and do other commands by R clicking the nodes while it is active.

I tried that a couple of days ago, and found weird behavior on. Windows in V1 and V2.

I drew a curve with the Pencil Tool, then drew a second curve with the Pencil Tool. While drawing that second curve I pressed Ctrl to make the nodes visible so I could adjust them, and the nodes of the first curve highlighted. I haven't finished experimenting with that yet, nor posted it as a bug, but it seems weird.

-- Walt
Designer, Photo, and Publisher V1 and V2 at latest retail and beta releases
PC:
    Desktop:  Windows 11 Pro, version 23H2, 64GB memory, AMD Ryzen 9 5900 12-Core @ 3.00 GHz, NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3090 

    Laptop:  Windows 11 Pro, version 23H2, 32GB memory, Intel Core i7-10750H @ 2.60GHz, Intel UHD Graphics Comet Lake GT2 and NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3070 Laptop GPU.
iPad:  iPad Pro M1, 12.9": iPadOS 17.5, Apple Pencil 2, Magic Keyboard 
Mac:  2023 M2 MacBook Air 15", 16GB memory, macOS Sonoma 14.5

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