Napkin: The Simplest Way to Sketch Your Thoughts On Your Mac

What’s the best way to quickly annotate a picture or sketch out an idea graphically on your Mac? A couple years ago, most of us would have quickly responded “Skitch“, but after Evernote bought out the popular image annotating app and redesigned it last year, it’s not quite the exciting and useful app it used to be. There’s always Preview, but it’s a bit too structured (and limited) for free-form idea sketching.

Aged & Distilled has entered the fray with their new app Napkin.  It’s a totally new way to communicate visually on your Mac – using the old metaphor of sketching an idea on a napkin – that’s good enough to already be listed as the Editor’s Choice in the App Store.

The Napkin, Reinvented

Launch Napkin, and you’ll be greeted with a blank workspace, complete with a Mac-style toolbar (one with color icons, which is a special treat in 2013) and a skeuomorphic napkin background. For once, we’ll forgive the app for being skeuomorphic, since for the most part it’s just a well designed app that makes it easy to sketch your thoughts.

Ready to get started? You can drag-and-drop any image into the Napkin, or take a photo from your camera or a screenshot of any app or portion of your screen from the built-in options. Or just click and drag to draw an arrow, or keep going to select a part of an image for a call-out, or hold CMD while drawing to make a shape. Click anywhere and start typing to add your thoughts; a cursor won’t show on the page until you start typing, but Napkin will start typing right where you last clicked.

You’ll have full control over how your words look, too, with all of your Mac’s font and color options right in the app, and can set iWork-style borders and shadows on text boxes and images. You’ll even be able to keep your stuff organized with standard arrangement and grouping settings that you’d expect from an image or office app. Want your images the exact same size and lined up? Just select them together, and a quick tap on Arrange will get you the options you want.

A picture’s worth a thousand words? Well, a few extra words won’t hurt, either.

Explaining how to do things on the computer, or trying to point out what you want changed in a design, can be an exercise in frustration sometimes when the text in screenshots turns out too small to see. Napkin makes it simple, however, with easy-to-use call-outs that let you zoom in on just what you want to show in a screenshot or picture. You can move the call-out over the part of your image you want to focus on, then click to lock it, and move the call-out anywhere you want on your napkin. You can even change the shape of the call-out or change the zoom level. And if anything doesn’t make sense with the call-out or any of the other tools, just tap the purple question mark to get a quick description of what you can do with that tool.

Learn by doing … and just get your points across quickly

Napkin is designed for sharing info, but sometimes there’s info that you don’t want to share: private emails, unreleased app names, pictures of random people that were behind you at Starbucks when you took that nice Camera shot in Napkin. Napkin is ready for the challenge. It can automatically hide faces it detects in images, if you want, and you can double-click on any image to be sent to an editing screen where you can mark out sensitive info. Tap done, and your sensitive info will be hidden – even in call-outs you’ve already made.

Away with sensitive info!

Saving and Sharing Was Never Easier

Your idea’s now down on (virtual) paper, and you’re ready to share it. You’ll just need to save it, then export it in the correct format, and choose how to share…

Wait. Not anymore. Napkin makes it a ton simpler to save and share your ideas. There’s a PNG button in the top left that you can drag-and-drop to anywhere on your Mac to save a picture of your sketch or open it in another app. Really: you can click-and-drag that button to, say, your desktop, or into a new Mail message, and the file will be saved or attached as you’d expect, as though you were dragging it from a folder in Finder. Sharing is equally easy, thanks to the Mountain Lion-style sharing – with a twist. You can share to Twitter, Facebook, Email, and more, as you’d expect, but you can also share to iCloud. This gives you a short nap.kn link where you can see your napkin for 14 days in a CloudApp-style share page, and is the easiest way to quickly share the things you’ve sketched up.

Napkin’s iCloud sharing is one of the most unique iCloud uses yet

 

Being a Helpful Little Napkin

Typically, I get frustrated by welcome screens that automatically open when you first run an app. Even the iCloud Open window gets rather old when you see it for the dozenth time in a day. But Napkin actually did a good job with their welcome screen, enough that I thought it was worth mentioning. Their app is a bit unusual, so they need to make sure people know how to use it, and the welcome screen does just that.

With a quick video explaining how to use Napkin’s most important features, small pop-over hints in the app that help you know what each feature does as you’re using it, as well as extra video tutorials linked in the app’s Help menu, Napkin includes just enough to get you up and running without feeling like the app is too complicated. That’s far more than you can say for the Help manuals for most apps.

A getting started screen that’s actually useful

That Idea Might Cost You…

Napkin is a polished app that’s great for graphically explaining what you’re talking about, and is just about the best Skitch alternate you could ask for. With the innovative iCloud sharing, slick interface and animations, the best Call-out feature I’ve ever seen, and more, it’s quite the fun and useful app to have around. I’d wholeheartedly recommend it for anyone that ever needs to explain what they’re talking about with images, screenshots, quick diagrams, and text. I’ve already found it useful for explaining how to redeem codes from a recent AppStorm giveaway while using the review copy of Napkin.

However, it is on the expensive side for an App Store app, coming in at $39.99. That’s right in the middle of, say, the price of Keynote and 1Password, and is definitely not too expensive for an app that you’ll use in your daily (or even weekly) work. I’d personally say it’s worth the price, but it’s enough to make you stop and make sure you’ll use it before impulsively downloading it from the App Store. If you have to annotate images, make simple diagrams, share multiple screenshots together, explain how to do anything, or anything along those lines, though, you’re bound to find Napkin an indisputably useful part of your workflow.


Summary

A new way to communicate visually from your Mac, Napkin makes it easy to put images, screenshots, notes, and more together on a virtual napkin.

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  • MichaelTheGeek

    Big bucks but I’m sure it’s quality software. How would you rate this to skitch?

    • http://techinch.com/ Matthew Guay

      For me, the current version of Skitch isn’t much different than Preview’s editing, tied to Evernote.

      Napkin is a whole new world, more like a blank Keynote slide designed for screenshot/image annotation + sharing.

  • Thiago A.

    I rely on Voila for lots of annotations, it even has an iPhoto style browser I use to organize my shots. A comparison article would be interesting, as I don’t know yet how I would benefit from Napkin.

    • http://techinch.com/ Matthew Guay

      I’d say it’s more straightforward about just making individual pages with pictures/notes/annotations, rather than being an app to catalog and edit screenshots.

      I’ll try to see if we can get a comparison done too!

  • Maja

    Great job Matthew. Now, how would it compare to Curio 8 ? Thanks.

    • http://www.christophergrant.net Christopher Grant

      +1 on comparison to Curio 8 as it has a good set of screen snappin’ tools.

  • Steve Castaneda

    Does anyone know if Napkin allows you to annotate PDFs? Would love these tools to highlight important details when sending out quotes to clients.

    • http://techinch.com/ Matthew Guay

      No PDF support, at least for now. You’d have to convert the PDF to an image (simple in Preview, for instance), then add it to Napkin and go from there.

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