The Daily App: Skitch — Mark It Up Clearly

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The Daily App: Skitch — Mark It Up Clearly

A few weeks ago, my friend started to plan a surprise birthday picnic for his girlfriend at a nature preserve. It was a nice idea, but the lead-up began to resemble a screwball comedy.

On day of the surprise, he realized a big event was being held at the park, forcing him to change locations. As guests started to arrive, their phones began to blow up with frantic texts: “Changing location guys, we’re moving to the lawn.” Then a few minutes later: “Hold up on that, moving to the smaller meadow in the back of the park, use the south entrance.” And finally: “Okay, finally settled on the main field, we’re right in the middle of a grove of oak trees in the center of the part of the perimeter that faces the main entrance.”

To be helpful, he sent a wide shot of the park, groves full of trees everywhere you looked — pretty, but not exactly helpful.

Needless to say, when the girlfriend arrived, only half of the party was there to yell, “Surprise!” “Sorry,” one the others sheepishly said, after arriving five minutes late. “We were wandering over in that grove,” he added, pointing to a group of trees in the opposite direction.

For the first time, my friend finally looked annoyed, his patience finally stretched to the limit. “Guys, I said oak trees. Those are maples.” Then he stalked off to cut the birthday cake, looking like he’d rather just be done with the entire affair and go home as soon as possible.

What’s the App?

My friend could have used Skitch to help them out of the birthday debacle. It’s kind of like old-school MS Paint updated for the Internet age, with some extra fancy touches. True, he used texts, Google Maps and other great digital tools give detailed directions. But it would have been less confusing if he’d just sent a park map with a bright yellow arrow pointing to the exact location.

With Skitch, you can edit a screenshot, a photo you’ve already taken, or just add captions and other annotations to a photo you take right then and there with a snapshot. The free app, for Mac and Windows desktop, iOS and Android, lets you annotate graphics and documents with arrows, highlights, text boxes and other markers for fast, efficient visual communication. You can leave comments directly on large PDFs, for example, clearly marking feedback and comments. The Mac version is a little more expansive, as you can resize and crop images. But you can also send screenshots and photos, pixelating out sensitive parts if needed, and maps with arrows and marks telling people where to meet — instead of relying on tree-identification skills.

The app is simple to use. Just pick your image: choose from photos, maps, screen captures from the Internet or a simple blank canvas. You can also snap photos directly in the app with a basic camera function — sorry, Instagram fiends, no fancy filters here — or you can import them from your camera roll. You can also access maps from the app too, and “snap” a picture of it to work on. To annotate PDFs, you’ll need to connect to an Evernote account to store them in its file service, but the process is easy, since Evernote created Skitch.

Once you have the image or PDF loaded, start marking it up. A pared-down toolbar docks to the side, featuring arrows, markers, text boxes and other simple tools to add annotations. Just swipe left and right to use or hide it. Tap icons to change the tool and color. Simply tap where you want to place the mark.

When I first worked with it, I ended up tapping the screen in places you don’t intend to, but it’s very easy to undo and redo work if needed. It’s also easy to move elements around once they’re placed on the canvas. I found Skitch easier to use on the larger iPad screen, but it was still pleasant on a smartphone. The toolbar and simple navigation are actually quite ingenious, making the most of the limited screen space.

I tested it by taking a screenshot of a map and adding captions and arrows to give directions, and the resulting image was very clear. You can share images on Facebook and Twitter, so giving directions is a breeze. Saving the final Skitch is easy if you integrate with Evernote — it’ll auto-save your work for you. And if you’re not linked, you can save images to your camera roll or e-mail them, but you can’t work on files any further. It’s an obvious move to get you to use Evernote, but it’s still a hurdle that may rankle some.

Overall, Skitch is simple. There aren’t a lot of bells and whistles, but ease-of-use makes up for its lack of features. The minimal layout makes the most of a cramped screen, and the app itself is lightweight, running without a hitch. It’s a valuable tool for any mobile workplace, creative project or collaboration, helping you share ideas faster and more efficiently.

You’ll Want It If…

You’re a mobile worker who collaborates and shares documents on-the-go. The availability on multiple platforms is a big advantage, since Evernote lets you share Skitches between desktop, laptops and tablets. But Skitch is also valuable for anyone who needs to share information. Students and researchers will find it useful, as well as creatives who share work back-and-forth with clients. And with increasingly tech-integrated classrooms, teachers may find a place for it when preparing presentations and class materials.

It’s Not My Thing — What Else Ya Got?

If you need a wider variety of marks and more robust sharing, Skitch won’t cut it. And if you need to mask or layer, you might need to throw down some extra cash. Screen-capture desktop app SnagIt, though, is a better fit, since it can capture anything, including videos, giving you a mind-boggling number of ways to mark and change it up.

And for mobile, Picsay for Android and MockItUp for iPad offer more features for all your image-capture and annotation needs while still retaining ease-of-use.

But if you’re planning a surprise birthday picnic and don’t exactly trust your guests’ nature-identification abilities, Skitch comes in handy in a pinch.

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