Concepts (app review): Sketching with Vector and Infinite Canvas

Concepts is drawing app based on vector, designed with touch interface in mind and is available on iPhone, iPads, Windows and Android devices.


I'm a big fan of the app and have been using it for several years. This app is easy to learn because it's a simple and straightforward app. This app is great for people who like sketching, visual journaling and vibrant colours.

Price

Concepts is based on the freemium model. The app is free to use with certain features locked behind the paywall.


There are two ways to unlock all the features.

You can unlock some of the features with a one-time purchase of the US $10 Essentials pack. This will unlock infinite layers, tap+hold selection, transforms, more export formats which includes lossless PNG, SVG, DXF, PSD and CONCEPTS native. This is the best deal because it unlocks infinite layers and gives you the option to export your artwork in lossless file formats.

Additionally, there are many other one-time purchases available, such as various brush packs, more file formats and object templates. On average, each purchase is around US $2, or less when purchased as a bundle.

Unfortunately the one-time purchases are not synced across Concepts on different OS platforms. For example, if you have Concepts on Android and Windows, you have to purchase the same brush pack twice.

The second way to unlock the features is through subscription at US $5/month or $30/year. Subscription will provide all the tools on all OS platforms, including team collaboration and sharing functionality not available through one-time purchase.

For personal use, it makes more sense to get the Essentials pack first, then take your time to explore the app before you decide to buy other stuff. Buying the Essentials set will give you most of the Concepts sketching experience.

Difference between Concepts on iOS, iPadOS, Android and Windows

There is a long list of differences in features for Concepts on iOS and iPadOS vs Android and Windows.

Just to summarise the differences below.

The file format on iOS and iPad is .CONCEPT, and the file format on Android and Windows is .CONCEPTS.

The files created on iOS and iPadOS cannot be opened by Concepts running on Android and Windows.

The files created on Android and Windows cannot by opened by Concepts on iOS and iPad.

And even though Android and Windows use the same file format, sometimes the files are not interchangeable, e.g. mismatch of versions.

Tophatch, the company that created Concepts, said they are currently working on convergence for Concepts across all platforms. Can't wait for that to happen because Android/Windows versions are lacking in many features available on the iPad version.

The version of Concepts I'm using for this review is iPad version 5.10.12 (May 2022) and Android/Windows version 2022.04.8.

What is vector?

Artworks can be classified as raster or vector.

Raster artworks are made up of pixels. Each pixels takes up storage space.

Vector artworks are based on math formulas. These math formulas create the pixels and colours.

For example, with a vector line, you can change the thickness, colour and direction of the line easily. To make changes to a raster line, you will have to re-draw or re-colour the line.

Vector file sizes are usually small and this is great for tablet users with limited storage.


Vector artworks are usually associated with clean lines, flat colouring – gradients are possible too, but not with Concepts, yet.

Difference between Concepts and Adobe Illustrator and Affinity Designer

Concepts, Adobe Illustrator and Affinity Designer are all vector based apps.

The main difference is Concepts is made for sketching. It's difficult to create artworks that require precision, e.g. logos, typography, graphic design, poster design, web design, which are all much easier to create with Adobe Illustrator and Affinity Designer. You can sketch with Adobe Illustrator and Affinity Designer, but their drawing tools and brushes are limited.


The other difference is there are way more functionality with Adobe Illustrator and Affinity Designer. The file above was created with Adobe Illustrator. I created the human figures with shapes, which is also possible with Concepts. The black outlines (left) were created by combining the separate shapes, something not possible with Concepts, so with Concepts, the outlines have to be draw separately. It is also not possible for Concepts to edit individual points that form the paths that create the shapes.

Concepts behaves very much like a drawing tool. Adobe Illustrator and Affinity Designer are for designing, and can be used to create illustrations too.

Drawing tools


Concepts has a limited but useful set of drawing tools and brushes. More brushes are available for purchase but the default brushes work just fine.

Concepts brushes support pressure sensitivity, tilt sensitivity and palm rejection. The pressure sensitivity doesn't feel as sensitive compared to other apps though. More specifically, other drawing apps can detect minor changes to pressure more easily compared to Concepts.


User interface of Concepts is minimalist. This app works great on small tablets too.


There are the tool wheel, palettes for layers and guides, and a top bar for settings.

You can set up to 8 tools, e.g 8 pens with different colours, on the wheel.

The colour system is based on the Copic colouring system, and this is a really beautiful and interesting looking colour wheel. Downside of this wheel is the limitation of darker versions of vibrant colours. There's no way to make your own colour since you cannot adjust the RGB or HSV.


Concepts features an infinite canvas. This means you can draw for as much as and won't run out of canvas space. This is especially great for sketching panorama scenes.


And because the app is vector-based, you can zoom in as close as possible and still retain the sharpness and details.


The textured brushes look really good. If I see a sketch like the one above created by someone else, I won't have guess it's from a vector-based app.


Another feature I like is you can easily apply different styles to the same artwork to get a different look. In the sketch above, I could select the solid lines and apply the pencil brush to get the textured look under 5 seconds.


I really enjoy using this app for sketching. It's also a fantastic app for visual journaling.

Limitations

There are numerous limitations with Concepts. And many of the limitations comes down to the lack of features that you commonly find in other drawing apps.

There's no Fill Bucket tool
To fill an enclosed shape with colour, you have to draw the shape with the Fill tool. This takes more time compared to using a fill bucket tool. And drawing a shape properly so that it acts as a filled colour is challenging if you want to fill an irregular shape.

You can't combine shapes
There's no way to combine different shapes using Boolean tools, a common feature with vector apps.

No easy or fast way to arrange depth of objects
You cannot move one object on top of another. The workaround is to put the objects on different layers and arrange the layers.

There are no blending modes with layers

I usually create shadows on its own layers and apply a Multiply blending mode so that the shadows blend with colours beneath.

So my workaround to creating shadows is to use transparency instead. I use black for shadows and make the shadow layer 50% transparent. It does not look as good as Multiply mode though.


The way Concepts adjust layer opacity is not like other software. With Concepts, when you adjust opacity of the layer, you are adjusting the opacity of each object and not the opacity of the layer. For example, if you adjust a Concepts layer to 50% opacity, two objects will have transparency overlay and I cannot get the shapes (in this case the shadow shapes) to combine into a single shape the overlap look.

Also note that in the above example, there's no Fill bucket tool so I had to redraw the shape to fill the colour, and it's difficult to draw precise shapes and as a result colour overflows out of the lines. This isn't a problem for my style of art which is loose and sketching, but the lack of a proper Fill Bucket tool affects productivity.

Concepts on iPad has more features than Android/Windows
Concepts on iPad has several useful features not available on Android and Windows.

With Android and Windows, there's no way to create custom colour palettes, no text tool, transform tool is limited, and more.

Backups


Backup of files is handled differently on iPad, Android and Windows.

On iPad, the iCloud is used to backup everything, including files created within Concepts. If you use iPhone or iPad, you use iCloud. If you don't have iCloud, do yourself a favour and subscribe to the iCloud plan. If something happens to your iPad, all files will be restored by iCloud.

On Android, a Google Drive is needed to backup the files. There's only backup but no sync. Meaning if you have multiple Android devices, your artworks will not appear on all Android devices. If something happens to your tablet, you will have to manually and tediously import the Concepts files one by one back to Concepts.

On Windows, backup is handled by whatever backup service you have. I use Microsoft OneDrive to backup my whole computer and that includes the Concepts files. If something happens to my computer, all files will be restored by OneDrive

Conclusion

It's a wonderful app for simple or detailed sketches. The $10 Essentials pack to unlock selected tools is worth the money. And this is definitely an app worth checking out.

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