Keep Your Digital Inspiration Organized with Sparkbox

A big part of design is inspiration. Graphic and web designers don’t work in a vacuum, they browse around to see what’s come before, and use other designs as references and starting points. Collecting these little pieces of inspiration and reference can quickly crowd your browser’s bookmark folder or your computer’s pictures folder, so the developers of Sparkbox sought to create an easy tool for capturing and organizing these images. Let’s find out if Sparkbox can really help organize your digital inspiration!

Sparkbox has two main functions: collecting images, and organizing them. Let’s take a look at the collection process first.

Collecting Images

There are a couple of ways to get images into Sparkbox, you can of course drag and drop images from elsewhere on your computer, but the idea is to keep your downloads folder empty, so the focus is on capturing images directly. If you’re snapping pictures from a webpage, you can use either the app’s built-in browser, or use a Safari plug-in to send any site to the app for clipping.

Built-in Browser

Sparkbox’s built-in browser is pretty rough around the edges, and is about as minimal as a browser could be: it’s pretty much just an address bar. Notably absent is any kind of navigation: no forward or back button (you have to right-click to navigate) and no bookmarks. Once you’re on the page you want to grab an image from, you have a couple of options.

The Dribbble homepage as seen in Sparkbox's minimal browser

The Dribbble homepage as seen in Sparkbox's minimal browser

You can grab an entire webpage (not just the visible portion ) by clicking the camera icon beside the address bar, grab a screenshot of a specific area by selecting the option from the menu-bar icon (which is a bit of a pain), or click the ‘thumbs’ button to view all images (both images in the HTML and background images) on the page. The ‘thumbs’ feature is pretty handy, especially when you’re trying to figure out how something was done on a webpage (“Is that a background image or some really clever CSS?”) or when you want to grab a bunch of images from a page, like from someone’s Dribbble project, or from a showcase blog post. You can filter by images, background images, and image size (though I found these a bit glitchy).

'Thumbs' view showing all images on the page

'Thumbs' view showing all images on the page

Snapping From Elsewhere

You can grab screenshots to add to Sparkbox from any app through the menu bar. The menu bar icon gives you the options to get a screenshot of the entire screen, a portion of the screen, or an application window, just as you would using the built-in Mac screenshot features. I find it odd and a bit irritating that there are no keyboard shortcuts for this, and I’m really hoping for future versions to include this. It would also be cool if Sparkbox would just grab any screenshot you take using the system keyboard shortcuts while it’s running.

Organizing Images

Once you’ve got your images into Sparkbox, you can organize them any way you like. Adding tags, changing names, assigning star ratings, and marking items as favourites are easily accomplished from the Organization tabs (‘Categories’, ‘Tags’, ‘Favourites’ and ‘Colors’), and you can create categories and smart folders for your images. Bring up an information panel on the image with Cmd+I and zoom in and out using pinch and spread multi-touch gestures. In addition to organizing by tags, categories, and favourites, Sparkbox also lets you filter through your images by color, similar to the color-sort feature in Dribbble. Though the selections might seem a bit inaccurate at first, you can adjust the variance and minimum color levels from the Settings gear icon.

Category view on the left, color view on the right

Category view on the left, color view on the right

Viewing Images

When you select an image, you can zoom in and out using your pinch and zoom to get a closer view. When you zoom in further than the size of the viewport, you get a map to help you navigate the image. This can be helpful when zooming in on an entire webpage, but it’s frustrating that you can’t scroll around the image like you’d expect to be able to.

Adding a comment to an image

Adding a comment to an image

You can add comments to specific areas of the image by selecting ‘comment’, then dragging on the area you’d like to comment. The developer says they’re planning to add more editing tools in future versions, but for really marking up images to share with people, I’m happy to use Skitch. You also can add a description of the entire image from the info panel, and edit tags. You can move between images using arrow keys or the thumbnails at the bottom of the screen, as well as by swiping (but the swipe gestures will feel backwards if you’re using the ‘natural’ scrolling in Lion).

The Competition

Sparkbox has one very obvious competitor in LittleSnapper, the much-loved screenshot manager from Realmac. I’ve used LittleSnapper before, and while it’s an impressive application, it does have room for improvement, and the $40 price tag is a bit steep. Though Sparkbox lacks many of LittleSnapper’s impressive features (better browser, editing tools, cool screenshot features), I find Sparkbox has a more intuitive basic interface, easier image organization, is less resource-intensive, and has a much more palatable price tag ($20). There’s no doubt that at the moment LittleSnapper has more features and is much more refined, but Sparkbox is a very new app that could become a serious competitor.

The Future

Sparkbox is brand new and obviously a bit rough around the edges, but has a promising future. The developer has given me a few clues about future development, including:

  • support for more image formats (including .psd, .eps, .ai)
  • improvements to the websnap feature
  • image editing features
  • iCloud integration
  • integration with services like Dribble
  • an iOS version

I’m hoping future versions also include some refinements to the interface and complete keyboard shortcuts, and also hope the Mac app doesn’t take a back seat to iOS development.

Conclusion

Sparkbox is only in it’s infancy, but I think it has a lot of potential to be a powerful tool for designers, and serious competition to LittleSnapper. Sparkbox definitely has it’s shortcomings: the interface is a bit clumsy at times, the browser is feature-less, and the websnap feature needs a lot of improvement. Despite these shortcomings, Sparkbox has a lot to offer designers looking for a simple but powerful organization tool, and I’m looking forward to big improvements in future versions.


Summary

Sparkbox is a tool for designers that simplifies the process of gathering and organizing digital inspiration

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  • http://www.andreas-heiberg.com Andreas Heiberg

    Funny how I told the developer about all your complaints and more before he released, and he choose to ignore it all. He did infact use some of my changes, but as you can see theres still no back/forward button, no scrolling in the image viewer, no clickeable urls in the right info panel, theres still graphics flaws and so on. I thought the idea whas great, but I stopped using it after a bit since it has so many caveats.

    I think is funny how the developes site states “We are dedicated in bringing you beautiful and effective applications built for the Mac OSX Operating System. Like Apple, we want to provide you with only the best there is.”

    Then why don’t you listen to your beta tester, when they give you some serious flaws in your program?

    • Mike

      Hi Andreas,

      Thanks a lot for your comments, and we’re sorry about the shortages and bugs in the current Sparkbox. However, I’m sure all the feedback are passes directly to our developers to review. And we’ve upgraded Sparkbox few times after its releasing. Of course there are lots we need to improve for this little app, and we’ll try our best to finish it sooner than later.

      Regards;

      Mike
      Icyblaze

  • sysscore

    The features of SparkBox sounds good and the price is much cheaper the competitive product LittleSnapper. I’m a satisfied LittleSnapper user for many years.

  • Fernando

    I love this application since it went into public beta.

  • http://mac-software-tutorials.com Neena

    This app definitely looks promising.

    It’s funny because I think I was looking for something like this – without even realizing it.

    I had just signed up for a Pinterest account – which I know is more for designers (not the web variety). But I was thinking that it would be an option to collect my clippings for inspiration.

    I haven’t had a chance to explore it yet – but I will check out Sparkbox too.

  • phunkidude

    I already have this. It’s called ‘Evernote’.

    • http://www.stygyan.es stygyan

      It’s not the same at all. Evernote can’t catalogue by color automatically. Though I lack some options in here, as automator actions or folder-watching.

  • B30

    It claims to be “a neat and clean image library for your Mac”, but doesn’t support GIF-files!!!
    That’s lame.

    • Mike

      Hi,

      We’re sorry the .gif file is not supported at the presesnt due to the preview issue for aninmation images. However, we’ll try to add that into Sparkbox in the future.

      Best

      Mike
      Icyblaze

      • http://hdofu.me hdofu

        Thanks, I was wondering about the why for that, I’d also like to voice a call for gif if it is possible, even if it doesn’t displays the first image of the gif.

      • Peter Holly

        And what about .*raw extensions, do you plan to add it?

        Regards

        Peter

  • http://appcrunch.co.uk Josh

    Extremely buggy, beta software. Shouldn’t be on the MAS in its current state imo.

    • Mike

      Hi Josh

      Any feedback and bug report are welcome to us, please feel free to contact us at support at icyblaze.com we’ll pass the bugs to our developers and fix them as soon as we could.

      Best

      Mike
      Icyblaze

  • Josh

    I like the interface and the features

    The things I do not like is it’s RAM usage. After 5 minutes usage I had over 1GB usage just to Sparkbox. I also don’t like how I cannot use my existing library of images instead it copies to a new folder.

    If those two dislikes are fixed I will buy it but until then :P

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