Charcoal - Review

I’ve always been a big fan of Linea for the iPad, despite possessing absolutely zero artistic ability. Despite the fact I really like the app, the aforementioned lack of talent means I very rarely use the app.

Back in December 2019, the Linea team at Iconfactory posted an update announcing that their app will soon move to a subscription model, costing 99p a month / £9.99 a year. Before I go any further, I just want to make it clear that I have absolutely no issue with this decision and I’m all for subscription pricing for apps (when it’s suitable). A single one off cost for an app that is constantly updated, improved and kept in line with all of the latest iOS / iPadOS enhancements is not sustainable. In this situation, a subscription really is the only option to make such an app viable and I am, again, 100% for this. That being said, however, I am trying to keep my subscriptions to a reasonable level and I likely don’t use Linea enough, combined with my lack of actual ability, to justify an ongoing expense to use it. This left me looking for another app I can keep around for the occasional ‘as and when’ moments that inevitably come up when the mood takes me, or usually when I need to entertain my little one for a few minutes.

Enter Charcoal by Lars Augustin. Charcoal positions itself as a streamlined and clean app to visualise your ideas. It is, essentially, a drawing app like Linea, but one that is laser focused on keeping things simple, so you can focus on getting your ideas or sketches onto the page.

The apps UI is very clean, and any unnecessary UI clutter that could interfere with putting ideas to paper have been removed. There are no layers, property panels or really any of the features you’d expect from a professional drawing app. While, to some, this may feel too barebones, I find it works perfectly. This isn’t a Linea replacement for people that needed the feature set of that app. It is, however, a perfect app for jotting down ideas or the occasional doodle.

When you open the app you’re presented with a clean interface with an option to add a new page. You can choose from simply vertical, rectangle or square. No dimensions, just that basic shape. You then have a spare tool set consisting of a pen, pencil, highlighter, smudging tool, ruler, and knife (to cut and move drawn items around the page). You can then choose a colour and away you go. That’s really all there is to it.

Once your masterpiece is complete you have an option to then share the image, via the share sheet, to other apps as you see fit. The images can also remain within the app itself, of course. There doesn’t appear to be any syncing available between the iOS and iPadOS versions of the app, which is a bit unfortunate, but completely expected. The files are also not stored into iCloud / Files, which is again a bit of a shame.

Despite being very minimalistic, Charcoal is a very good iOS / iPadOS citizen by supporting all of the latest features of the OS’s such as multiple window support and dark mode. It truly is a very beautiful app.

As I’ve said before, Charcoal won’t be for everyone. True artists and creators would be serviced best by Linea or more feature rich counterparts. If, however, you’re looking for an incredible simple, clean and focused app for quick sketches, doodles, and mind dumps Charcoal is well worth a look. At the ridiculously low price of FREE you really can’t go wrong. I’m a big fan of the app icon too, which goes a long way in my book ...