Scribbles: Simple, Intuitive Drawing for Mac

Loren Brichter of atebits has become a highly acclaimed OS X/iPhone developer in recent years as the man behind Tweetie, but that’s not all he’s worked on in the past. Today we’re going to delve into another atebits application – Scribbles.

Put simply, Scribbles is a lightweight tool for drawing on your Mac. It reminds me of Microsoft Paint, but with all the power and flair you’d expect from an OS X application. Deceptively simple at the outset, the power behind what you can do with Scribbles is remarkable.

The Basic Canvas

When opening Scribbles, you’re presented with a large blank canvas. Gone are the array of palettes and tools you’d see in a professional illustration program; Scribbles screams simplicity. Four different tools are located in the top right of the screen – draw, transform, move, and zoom/scale. Towards the bottom of the window you can alter the chosen brush, or manage the layers in your document.

The Basic Canvas

The Basic Canvas

This simplicity is fantastic, and one of the real selling points of Scribbles. The interface also uses animation to subtly enhance interaction, and all your editing is done in a vector format. This means it’s easy to resize, scale and export large resolution versions of your drawings with no reduction in quality.

Scribbles also has a great full-screen mode for really getting into your illustration. This is brilliant on a large monitor, and completely immerses you in what you’re drawing. It reminds me of the feeling given by WriteRoom, but for drawing rather than writing.


As you’d expect, drawing and painting with a mouse is difficult at best. To really appreciate Scribbles, you’ll need to use a graphics tablet – something I was unfortunately unable to test with. I have been informed by others that it works well with pressure sensitive tablets.

A basic range of tools and brushes are available – nothing ground-breaking, but everything you would really need:

Drawing Tools

Drawing Tools

Resizing a brush can be done by scrolling your mouse wheel, or dragging the slider at the bottom of the window. Selecting colors is enjoyable, and can be done either via the color picker (which can select a color from anywhere on your screen), or through a more traditional color palette:

Picking Colors

Picking Colors

The ability to pick a colour from anywhere on your screen is welcome, and something I’d like to see done more often in other graphics apps.

Handling Layers

Layers are dealt with through a wonderful interface, visually placing one on top of another. You can add, remove, and re-arrange layers easily, and adjust the transparency of each layer individually:

Dealing with Layers

Dealing with Layers

Accuracy isn’t a priority here – if you’re looking to set a transparency of exactly 15%, you’re out of luck. Sliders are big, chunky affairs that are great fun to use, but not necessarily suited to high-end illustration.

A Flexible Canvas

One of the most impressive features of Scribbles is the way in which you move items and interact with the canvas itself. Because each layer is a vector, they can be scaled, rotated and moved with remarkable ease. Entering the “transform” mode displays several circles. Placing your cursor in a different area of the circle will perform a different action on the image:

Pan, zoom, rotate and resize

Pan, zoom, rotate and resize

The canvas itself is not a fixed size, and you aren’t constricted by the boundaries of the window. Resize the Scribbles window, and your canvas also resizes. Zoom out, and the canvas expands to fill the window. Everything feels fluid, natural, and easy to use.

Showing Off Your Work

When you’ve finished, an illustration can be exported in a variety of formats (PNG, TIFF, PDF and JPEG to name a few). You can also choose the resolution at which to export – either 1x, 2x, 4x, 8x or 16x.

The app integrates with the Scribbles Gallery, for publishing and sharing your illustration with others. It’s great fun to browse through some of the “favorites” in the gallery, hunting for a little doodling inspiration:

Scribbles Gallery

Scribbles Gallery


Scribbles is a great application for drawing, sketching and doodling on your Mac. It isn’t perfectly suited to professional illustrators, but really goes a long way towards making drawing fun. Just trying out the app for an hour or two has inspired me to consider buying a graphics tablet.

It’s a good example of OS X software done well, making the most of the Core Image functionality available to developers. The way in which brush strokes are smoothed and rendered can help to make even a terrible illustrator’s scribbling look acceptable.

Scribbles is free to try out for as long as you’d like, then you can purchase a license for $19.95.


Add Yours
  • It looks really cool!

  • Its something Mac should have as stock, a la windows paint, but better.

  • Scribbles is such an amazing application! And as you say it does indeed work very well with pressure sensitive tablets, including the eraser on the other end.

    I love having a bit of a doodle in Scribbles some times. :)

  • Wow, that looks like a lot of fun, and convenient. That could definately be worth the money.

  • Scribbles was certainly amazing when it appeared two years ago, but has subsequently fallen to pitiful neglect.

    Sadly, Loren Brichter appears to have abandoned development of this promising application in favor of his trendy little social networking gimmick iPhone app.

  • Great App and I love to draw on it. Perfect combination with a Wacom.

    Unfortunately, although it uses vector based to draw it doesn’t have an export as any vector format option. That’s its only flaw, but still a big one.

  • Thats an interesting article – your blog is really good i keep coming back here all the time keep it up!

  • Yeah, nice article! This is definitely a great blog!

  • I tried the free Scribbles demo today and instantly decided that I must buy the program. Its simplicity is, as you said, its selling point. I don’t have to go through a lot of steps just to start sketching. I particularly do not miss having to resize my image to fit my drawing when I run out of room; the flexible canvas is amazing! This is definitely going to be my “digital sketchbook” and serve as my starting point when I want to draw. :-)

  • Perfect combination with a Wacom

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