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User Ratings: 3
Our Review: Scroll Down
The Sonar Pen is mightier than the thumb
Version Reviewed: European
Note: Special thanks to Sasha Stowe for acting as consultant for this review. You can find her art on Instagram and Twitter.
A fair few ‘applications’ have made their way to the Switch, usually just stuff like YouTube, Calculator,
Netflix, that sort of thing, but now we have a full-blown digital art program in the form of Colors Live. Far from just being a clone of MS Paint, it also has an ace up its sleeve in the form of the Sonar Pen, which we’ll talk about more in just a moment. But can the Switch really provide a suitable hardware environment for such a piece of software?
In a nutshell, Colors Live is a fairly simple and straightforward art creation suite, and a follow-up to Colors! 3D on the 3DS. You have brushes, a rubber (or eraser, if you prefer to measure butter by volume), and honestly that’s about it as far as usable tools go in terms of actually affecting the canvas. Blending modes, polygonal tools, textures, gradients, none of these are present meaning it all feels rather ‘back to basics’.
This simplicity initially felt like a massive limitation at first, but after a short while we were surprised at how far we were able to get without them. In a way the lack of tools forced a different kind of creativity from us, and made us have to think more like we were using traditional media.
You’re not stuck without digital quality of life improvements entirely, though. There’s a pleasingly robust layer system that supports 10 layers in total that can easily be switched between on-the-fly, the expected undo and redo buttons, zoom, opacity sliders for each individual layer, all wrapped around a surprisingly generous 2560×1440 maximum resolution canvas (as viewed through the Switch’s 720p screen, of course). You can even watch back the entire drawing process of your artwork in video form, allowing you to see the creative process from start to finish.
So things are looking pretty fine right about now, although one thing that isn’t fine is the lack of a bucket tool. The inability to quickly fill in an area feels like a huge gap in the already limited toolset, and one that we realistically can’t think of a reason to be omitted. It’s true that you don’t have such luxuries with any traditional media, but you also don’t get the other additions we mentioned above, making the exclusion all the more perplexing.
But digital tools be damned, what about this physical tool we mentioned, the Sonar Pen? Well, in short it’s a stylus with a clear, conductive disc on its tip that allows you to have relative accuracy (and see what you’re doing) on the Switch’s touch screen. This technology has been around for a while, but where things get really interesting is the big honking cable coming out of the top and plugging into the headphone socket, and as a natural result of this there’s no audio in the entire app, so you might want to whack out some smooth jazz on another nearby device to give your ears something to do.
Through clever trickery, the Sonar Pen is able to use sound to gauge the pressure you’re exerting on it, and communicate that with the application appropriately. The end result is that the pen is pressure sensitive, which is something most people wouldn’t expect from something on a games console, but it works far better than we would’ve expected. Palm rejection is also employed, and whilst it worked for the most part it’s clear that just like the pressure sensitivity it’s only possible due to a workaround. It’s laudable, but it doesn’t have the reliability of its pressure-based cousin, so we ended up using the tried and true hover-hand technique to get by.
The main controls act as hotkeys for the various features on offer, which can speed up the workflow extremely well. What’s more, everything can be mapped for right-handed or left-handed users, and even completely remapped to whatever you so desire. It’s a small inclusion, but one that gets top marks from us from an accessibility standpoint. The pen itself also has a button on it, but in truth it feels rather cheap and can be strangely tough to press, meaning we spent most of our time relying on the console buttons instead.
In terms of modes, you’re essentially stuck with just two, one of which is going to surprise many of you by just being the bog-standard painting mode. The other, called Colors Quest, gives you a series of challenges to overcome in an artistic sense. Sometimes you’ll have a limited colour palette, a limited toolset, or even just a theme and a partly-created picture that you’ve got to finish. It’s a nice little inclusion, but what’s baffling is that it actively locks you out of any subsequent challenges you might want to complete for a full day upon completing just one. You can adjust the date on your console to get around this but it’s not something you should have to do if you want to complete more challenges.
On a brighter note any paintings you create can be uploaded to Colors Live’s own server and gallery, letting you share it with the world or simply export it as an uncompressed PNG to any device with an internet browser (and the ability to download images). You can use the system’s screenshot functionality, and whilst it is more convenient, it’s also going to reduce the resolution of your artwork and make it crunchy and riddled with JPEG artefacts, so don’t do that.
Oh, and if you try docking it it just runs as standard but without any meaningful way to control anything.
All in all Colors Live is a useful art application with some strange limitations. The Sonar Pen and layers are absolutely welcome in our eyes, but the lack of a bucket tool, restricted brush styles, and many other staples left us a bit wanting. Having said that people have already been creating tremendous artwork showing that any medium is only as powerful as the artist’s skillset. We’d have liked to see a more complete digital art package, but for someone who already owns a Switch and wants to try doodling on a screen with something more than their finger, Colors Live provides a simple and easy entry point.
About Alex Olney
Alex is the man responsible for the daily videos you’ll find on our YouTube channel. Excitable and fuelled by coffee alone, his floppy hair has charmed many a sceptic into subscribing.
Hmm this doesn’t sound that good to me suprisingly. 😐
From the review it looks as if some of the free / cheap artist apps on Android are better for this purpose.
Like SKETCHBOOK for example.
I backed this and I regretted it immensely, it was a colossal letdown.
Oh man, the sequel to MS Paint? Ported to Switch? Nice
Now that we have Calculator and Paint, let’s hope we get Notepad in the Direct!
There are too many better options out these days, even a cheap Galaxy tablet with S-Pen support could be had for under $100, I just don’t see why you’d spend the money on something so gimped if you are wanting to take art even slightly seriously. Maybe if you could only have one device on you and you already take the Switch everywhere, I guess, or if it’s for your young kid who you don’t trust with a tablet.
As someone who makes art I don’t think that having this is a good option, really at all.
Oh boy no fill… that’s why I rather love to use my iPad. For now. If Colors live 2 will do better, please do… or maybe a software update will do. I love to draw (even got somethings published on tv and a comic magazine) but no option to fill colors with a price of 50 euro’s is just to much.
@Clarice they should do a update with missing features. then it might stand
@BloodNinja Wasn’t there already that app Notes too?
@Poodlestargenerica I must have missed that. In that case I can’t wait for Switch Explorer, along with Switch Media Player.
I just going to stick with the REAL version on the 3DS.
I need this for drawing images in AC and Game Builder Garage.
What I want to know is, how does the pen perform with a screen protector on your switch? Does it compensate for that? I feel like the bucket option could be easily patched in. Would like to add this to my library, but I’m not taking my screen protector off.
I already have Clip Studio Paint on PC and ArtFlow on my Galaxy Tab, so I don’t see much need for this personally. I might have felt compelled to mess around with it if it at least had blending modes and a bucket, but alas.
Sounds neat for a ‘my first digital drawing tool’ app though; if I had young children with Switch systems, I’d certainly consider it. Too many digital tools can become crutches, so the simpler, limited approach is probably better for learning.
I wonder if this is the only compatible stylus? Considering the digital fee, the included pen is $20 and I have a capacitive stylus that would of course lack some accuracy and visibility…
the way i see long term use out of this is with people who really have limited uses for drawing software, the same way i never had a laptop or tablet as a kid, so id spend hundreds of hours drawing on colors! on the 3ds
now that im older i have better means to draw. im no longer the target audience for this but i can still see kids getting this and being introduced to digital art the same way i was
this game has the bare minimum of tools you cant even select, move, copy and paste. And theres only 5 layers available. Theres so many better applications for free on smart phones.
@reporterdavid they should but I feel the damage has been done already if you can’t convince the target demographic from the get-go. 😐
@Broosh Any stylus that can be used on the switch is compatible, they just won’t have the pressure sensitivity option or the button (though I found both of those features to be more trouble than they were worth most of the time, and just ended up using a regular stylus for the most part).
This is a neat hardware hack for sure, but the software is just not enough. An art app made in 2021 needs to give me more than a brush and an eraser. I have far more robust drawing programs on my phone already.
And while this might be good for small children, I’m not letting a small child use my Switch.
I really wanted to get this and try imitating bob Ross while watching him do his paintings. But a few people with the game said it’s not doable in this game. 😔😔💔💔
A game like this needs to score full marks or at least a nine.
To create the best art you need the best tools. I understand the Switch is not an iPad, but…..
@StardusterEX Thanks for clarifying!
@moodycat Same. Honestly I loved the 3ds version but this one feels unfinished to say the least.
@Chronodude333 It works fine with a screen protector.
@Chronodude333 touch sensitivity is really good.
if you use the switch input option to increase touch sensitivity it actually becomes too sensitive.
we also recommend using a screen protector, as the soft switch screen was not designed for using a stylus.
@Freddyfred that’s outdated information from the 3DS version, the switch version supports 10 layers(more layers and layer options coming in a future update) and has a selection brush that lets you lasso-select, move, and resize.
@JasmineDragon @reporterdavid there will be updates to add more tools and options, you can also suggest new ones in the colors!live discord if you think something is missing.
a fill tool is planned, but it takes some work and needed a bit of feedback on how it should behave.
@thedicemaster thanks for the info! Im thinking of getting it for an artist friend of mine and for myself, just to play around with. Do we really need it, probably not, but we could probably have some fun with it, at least until another sequel to Mario paint comes out! 😜
@thedicemaster yes. becouse there IS potential! It can really be one of the biggest drawing apps ever for a Nintendo system. A fill tool is planned: GREAT!
So a filled tool is planned! Awesome! Makes it worth the bucks.
when i started drawing 3 yrs back i started making my own sketchbooks and started drawing and kept on practicing. I started with pencil and then slowly I used a drawing tablet. my drawings don’t look like a full commission but it’s the best I can do. You gotta practice your art and keep at it.
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