I’ve been playing recently with a new App for iPad called Perl Art. I prefer diagrams to photos in my tutorials, and up until now I’ve been using some free software called Inkscape. It’s a generic vector diagramming program, and although I’ve got the hang of it now, after a bit of reading around I thought it might be worth giving Perl Art a try. I loved the idea of something formulated specifically for beaders, and of working on the iPad so I don’t have to fight for access to our home laptop. Well, after some initial hiccups I’ve been really pleased with it – I would say at the moment it won’t replace Inkscape for me, but I will be using it for simple designs, and enjoying it.
I thought some of you might be interested in how I’ve got on and why I’m saying that I like it, but can’t use it for everything, so I’ve jotted down some pros & cons:
- Available on the iPad. I love my iPad a lot.
- Optimised for touch, and I believe you can use a mouse with an iPad if you find touch tricky. If I had an iPad Pro with a stylus it would be extra brill, but let’s face it they are horribly expensive.
- Perl Art is a specialist application just for beaders – nothing else cluttering things up, and a lot less to learn than Inkscape or similar.
- Nice simple user interface.
- Key bead types available ready rendered, accurately sized/shaped. I have to build each bead myself in Inkscape, guessing at the rough size in comparison to other beads, select a rough colour and then add a custom colour gradation to make them look 3D. This takes a while, and there is no way my Inkscape rivolis, bicones and fire polished beads look like these Perl Art ones:
- There are a good range of bead sizes and types – add on packs (some free, some pay) available. More about this in the Cons though.
- The developers use manufacturer’s colours, sizes and other specifications, so you’re getting an accurate digital rendering of real beads – realistic enough to look good, but not so realistic that they clutter up the diagrams.
- Lovely responsive development team – always respond to queries and comments quickly and seem very keen to collect and act on feedback. Lysann Lamontagne, the creator is a beader herself, and her tech team seem very good (Alexandre has been very helpful!).
- Fantastic grid function – click on a bead and select a couple of settings and Perl Art will draw you a grid of beads in Peyote (1 or 2 drop), RAW, This is really, really useful – one comment would be that they haven’t counted the rows out quite right on Peyote – I would say that a row is one way either right to left or left to right, they say a row is both ways – right to left and then back to right again, so you can effectively only add what I would call 2 rows at a time. But it is super easy to delete the unwanted beads so it’s not really a problem, just slightly confusing initially. In the example below I was able to very quickly make the peyote sections, and then simply delete the beads either end of the shorter rows to get the required shape. Much, much quicker than manually creating a grid. So if you’re doing flat peyote or flat RAW pieces this will beat Inkscape hands down, and I’m looking forward to using it for that!
- Only available on iPad – not iPhone (although this would be fiddly on the small screen), and not as far as I know on other platforms.
- You can’t build your own beads – so if the bead type you want isn’t on there, or in one of the extension packs, and you can’t use a similar bead type instead, then you are stuck. That said, I’ve asked for 8mm Swarovski chatons via the feedback function and they’ve said they’re all coded up ready now and will be in the next pack, which is super service.
- I’m still struggling slightly with getting a thread path that I’m happy with – in Inkscape I can adjust quite carefully, so it’s easy to show complex thread paths which go back on themselves, or round and round, and I can also add arrows intermittently along the thread, rather than just at the end.
- I also can’t quite seem to get the thread to hug the centres of the beads in the way I’d like, but to some extent I think I can live with this if I stick to simple designs.
- I like to highlight the beads being added in that step – in Inkscape I do this by increasing the width of their outline (see Inkscape example below), and I’ve seen other beaders use coloured outlines. There is no option to do this in Perl Art at the moment (as far as I can see), this would be top of my list for enhancement requests.
- And finally, and my second enhancement request, there is no option to fade out layers of beads – in Inkscape I can use the layers function to make previous layers of beads more transparent so that they fade on the page, and allow the beader to gauge the location of the old layers but focus on the current one (see above). Additionally I can fade individual beads at say the edge of an area to give a 3D impression, although this is less important. For single or maybe two layered pieces this lack of control won’t be a problem, but for complex multilayered pieces, and anything truly 3D I will need to stick to Inkscape.
In the end I think Perl Art is largely aimed at amateur beaders looking to share their designs, rather than pros, which makes sense in terms of the functionality they’ve included. I’d obviously be very pleased if they are able to build more functionality in over time, particularly adding the option to highlight beads added in a step, and to fade out previous layers, but even without it for now I still think this is a splendid effort and I would definitely recommend it for simpler designs. I used it to chart my Hollow Dodecahedron, and it only took a couple of hours – for a first attempt that’s pretty good, and probably much faster than Inkscape.
I bought it using an offer from Beads Direct, making it £17.99, which although it feels expensive for an app compares very well with some of the bead charting software currently available (which is no use to me anyway since I don’t really go for charted work) – I’m not sure if the offer is still on, but just in case the link is here. When I clicked through the link from the Perl Art website to the App Store it showed as £17.99 anyway.
So if you fancy having a go at drawing up your designs, or already do and want to try a new way, I’d recommend giving Perl Art a try.