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visual recording on the iPad, illustrated

This week I’ll be giving a talk at IFVP 2010 on visual recording with the iPad. While I was preparing my notes, I discovered how easy it is to make Quicktime movies of your notes with the Brushes app, so I made a little movie. Then I got carried away narrating it and adding in other images and … well, it’s almost 13 minutes long now, and if you watch it, you can skip my talk. Though I’m better in person, and there are a few things I didn’t put into the movie. Ah HAH.

(Note: In the movie, AirSketch is attributed to “Grayon,” but the company’s name is actually “Qrayon.” My bad.)

How’d I Do That?
I started with a sketch of the outline of my talk:

scribbles on paper

initial sketch for my talk

While making the outline, I tried four different apps (Adobe Ideas, Qrayon’s AirSketch, Brushes by Taptrix, and Autodesk SketchbookPro). I made a quick, entirely subjective list of pros and cons for each one, using each app to make its own list:
Adobe Ideas Test Sketch
AirSketch Test Sketch
Brushes Test Sketch
SketchbookPro Test Sketch

Next, I transcribed my notes using Brushes, which automatically records the strokes as you go. I then sent that file to myself via email, opened it in the Brushes desktop application, and saved it as a Quicktime movie. This became the base content for my how-to video.

While watching the animation play out in Brushes, I recorded the narration using Audacity. I broke it into pieces so that I could match it up more easily with the different sections of the movie. I also filmed myself making the test sketches, using my Flip Mino camera mounted on a mini Gorillapod. Finally, I put all of this into iMovie, which let me split up the video from Brushes, add freeze frames to allow the narration to catch up with the drawing, speed up the drawing as needed to keep pace with the narration, and so on. I threw in a couple of still images and some lovely, Creative Commons-licensed music (Somewhere by Robin Grey), and there you have it.

Here’s the final image from Brushes:

talk notes

Visual Recording on the iPad (in Brushes)


  1. Andy Rush says:

    Thank you, Thank you. This is just what I’ve been waiting for. It reminds me of the RSA Animation stuff. Thanks again for sharing this.

  2. ninmah says:

    Thanks, Andy! I love the RSA Animation stuff and I’m totally flattered by the comparison. This movie was fun to make. Plus I just love messing around with my iPad :-)

  3. Thank you so much! I love my iPad, and have been toying with using it as a way to explore visual reporting for my own note-taking at work meetings. Your overview of tools and process is incredibly helpful.

  4. Bob Schumaker says:

    Excellent presentation — it’s definitely the introduction I’ve been looking for. I still think you’re prescient when it comes to allocating space, but that may just be practice :-)

  5. Nick Payne says:

    Unbelievably helpful Rachel. Thank you! As I can’t be at the IFVP this year, one question… do you recommend any particular stylus? I’m sure your presentation will be a winner.

  6. ninmah says:

    Thanks for commenting, Elizabeth, Bob, and Nick! I’m glad you found the overview helpful.

    @Bob — it’s mostly a matter of luck ;-)

    @Nick — I wish you could be here — you are missed! I use the Pogo Sketch stylus when I use one, but I prefer to use my fingertip. The Brushes drawing above was made with my finger, despite the fact that I’m using the stylus in the brief clip embedded in the video. With SketchbookPro I find it too hard to swap brushes and tools with the stylus, and I don’t like the tip (it’s cylindrical and squashy, not tapered like a pen). I haven’t tried any others besides the Pogo Sketch so I can’t make any comparisons. Let me know if you find one you like!

  7. Rob Anderson says:

    nice work… I haven’t worked with Brushes yet, so it’s nice to have a sample of what it can do… Great creativity

  8. Hi Rachel, I’ve just been experimenting with my tablet and sketchbook pro trial and wanted to say thanks for your advice and demos last week – I’ve been battling with photoshop, illustrator and corel trials for ages, with limited success – but this is just the ticket. I’ve just got working with layers and I’m really excited – who knows, I might even get an ipad :D Thanks again!

  9. ninmah says:

    Thanks, Rob and Rebecca! Glad it was useful for you.

    @Rebecca — have fun with that iPad if you get it! ;-)

  10. […] read about how I made the movie on my blog: Filed under: IT-News Etiketter:Ipad, Nice, photos Comments […]

  11. […] Or read about how I made the movie on my blog: […]

  12. […] read about how I made the movie on my blog: iPad heading to China on Friday Apple is launching its Wi-Fi iPad in China on September 17. The […]

  13. […] Vizability (albeit very slowly) at the suggestion of Rachel Smith at the NMC aka @ninmah who does amazing visual captures of meetings and talks and generously shares not only her work but how she does it as […]

  14. […] been messing around with visual notes on the iPad. This blog post by Ninmah Meets World has a nice video of her creating visual notes. I’m best at stick […]

  15. Great post! It’s the best illustration on visual recording in ipad I’ve come across so far. Very helpful! I hope you continue to post more useful information like this!

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  17. […] Or read about how I made the movie on my blog: […]

  18. Tony Patterson says:

    Thanks! I love the work you do. The explanation of how you create your work and insights into how you created it on the iPad has been extremely helpful. I see from your more recent posts you’ve settled in on Sketch Book Pro (SBP) more than the Brushes or Ideas apps. I like the fact that Brushes has the recording capability, but it’s not compatible with Windows and personally I like SBP better. So something to consider is jailbreaking the iPad so that you can use an app called “Display Recorder” to record SBP drawings (or any other iPad app) as they are used. I also keep stock images on the iPad to integrate into Recording / Facilitation in-lieu of drawing it out.

  19. ninmah says:

    Thanks for your comment, Tony! I do use SBP more often, although I’m working on adding to my how-to video collection and I’ll use Brushes for that. Thanks for the jailbreak tip — not sure I’m up for jailbreaking my iPad, but if I ever do I’ll look into Display Recorder.

    I have been working on a collection of stock images that I can pull into my drawings. One thing I’m looking forward to trying is using the Grove’s digital Graphic Guide templates. I have the disk but haven’t taken the time to get the images onto my iPad yet. I’ll post when I do with some notes about how it goes.

  20. […] read about how I made the movie on my blog: If you enjoyed this article, please consider sharing it! Tagged with: ipad • […]

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  24. Hi Rachel,

    I’m an iPad enthusiast as well, and also into scribing. There are some notes on iPad note taking apps on my website at:

    I also mention my favorite stylus, which I’ve switched to from the Pogo. But, I have one question, was the above video all done in ONE Brushes document? Or did you use multiple documents and combine them in a video editor? It seems like the resolution for one Brushes document is just too small to get all of that on there.

    Thanks for feedback. :-) You are welcome to email me directly if you like…

  25. Candace says:

    This is cool, but you could also do this with a laptop + tablet. Not as portable as an iPad, but possible.

  26. […] White and my conference & twitter friend from Northern B.C., Grant Potter suggested I check out Rachel Smith. I was absolutely blown […]

  27. ninmah says:

    Hi Candace,

    Thanks for your comment. You’re right, you can do this with a laptop and tablet, and a lot of visual practitioners (including me) do. We use that method for web conferences and other situations where the audience is dispersed, and some of us also use it for making digital graphic recording movies (a little like the fabulous RSA Animate videos you can find on YouTube, but entirely digital).

    However, I can say from experience that the iPad is much better for capturing digital notes during a conference. If I’d had to drag my laptop and tablet from session to session, set it all up each time, and then try to take notes, I would have missed the beginning of each talk. Not to mention how tired I’d be from lugging all that equipment around! The iPad is also less expensive than the laptop/tablet setup, and more approachable for people who aren’t as comfortable with technology. It just depends where and when you want to do the capturing — it’s a matter of picking the right tool for the right job, just like anything else.

  28. ninmah says:

    To answer Chipp’s question — which I also answered on his blog, and I recommend taking a look at the link he posted for another style of iPad notetaking — the video is a single Brushes document, not multiple ones joined together in a video editor. The only editing I did was to add the stills, music, and voiceover.

    I did a lot of zooming in Brushes to get the level of detail you see here. The recording doesn’t show the zooming, because Brushes doesn’t include it. So even though it took a lot longer to draw and I zoomed in and out and used “undo” a fair bit, you only see the drawing happening at full resolution (and the “undos” get dropped out completely — yay!).

  29. […] Or read about how I made the movie on my blog: […]

  30. […] technical notes: Rachel Smith is my iPad drawing hero. She recommends using your finger to draw but I cannot for the life of me […]

  31. […] Or read about how I made the movie on my blog: […]

  32. Tahseen says:

    Hi Rachel,

    Woww!! Cool work! but have a quick question,

    I am more into a recording lectures (the khan academy formate; on iPad. Traditionally they are done with a laptop/PC and a tablet (e.g Wacom Bamboo tablet) but I am trying to find some suitable apps to do it on iPad.

    Amongst the 4 apps your explained, Brushes suits good, giving me the advantage of simultaneous recording and exporting on YouTube but with the biggest disadvantage of voiceover as a post recording editing and then combining them with video editing softwares; this doubles the work. Is there any (non jail-broken) iPad app which can record the iPad screen activity along with the voice using the iPad native microphones? The whole idea is to record a lecture/talk with handwriting/drawing/illustrations (like in yours) but with voice recorded at the same time.

    Thanks once again for your delighted work!

  33. ninmah says:

    Hi Tahseen,

    Thanks for your comment. I don’t know of any app that does this. I did a quick search and couldn’t come up with anything. It looks like the only way to do it without jailbreaking the iPad is to connect the iPad to your computer and use screen capture software on the computer. Anyone know of any app that does screen capture/video/audio recording on the iPad?

    Update: I just found this post by @digmo that explains the process he uses to create helpful little how-to videos that cover basic iPad use. It’s a far cry from a single app that does it all, but he’s got a workflow that does the job.

  34. Tahseen says:

    Thanks for your update Rachel, but digmo’s method; as he pointed himself is very complicated with lots of hardware and software involved.

    I think I can come up with a much easier solution from your presentation i.e. to record the video via brushes and the voice via the inbuilt voice recording app on iPad/iPhone simultaneousness at the same time when I am recording the video. Now I have two files; the video from brushes and voice from voice recorder. Import and synchronize both the files on any video editing software like movie maker on windows or iMovie on Mac.

    Simple; and this is something I learned from you :-)

  35. […] Or read about how I made the movie on my blog: […]

  36. Mike says:

    Have you tried ShowMe? It’s a relatively new iPad app that is much more simplistic than Brushes but does allow you to include the narration and sketching all at once and they allow for playback. There are not many controls, but might be worth looking at for basic needs.

  37. I AM SO HAPPY YOU DID THIS! I knew someone must have developed something like this, I just couldn’t seem to find it. Thanks for your hard work and your willingness to share the fruits of your labor with others!

  38. ninmah says:

    @Aaron — you bet — so glad it’s helpful to you!

  39. […] and her helpful HOW-TO’s: – Specifically: Link to this post! This entry was posted in apple ipad and tagged IPad, Nice, photos by […]

  40. […] For details about how Rachel made this video, please see this blog post: […]

  41. Hi there
    Which stylus would you recommend for drawings with Brushes?

  42. ninmah says:

    Hi Magnus,

    I don’t use a stylus myself — I just use my finger. However, I do like the Wacom Bamboo stylus and also the Jot Pro stylus. If you’re doing artwork, the Nomad Brush stylus is great for painting, but it doesn’t work for visual recording. It looks and feels just like a paintbrush with bristles.


  43. Sarah G says:

    Hi Rachel-

    Thanks so much for your great how-to guide on learning to use an iPad for visual recording. My question is how to export the Brushes video to Quicktime file? I found the guide on the site to be less than helpful.

    Thanks again.


  44. ninmah says:

    Hi Sarah,

    Thanks for your comment! To get a Quicktime file from Brushes, you need to mail the Actions file to yourself (you can do this from the Brushes gallery). Then, install Brushes Viewer on your computer — you get it from the Brushes website. It only runs on a Mac, I believe. Next, save the actions file to your computer (the one you emailed to yourself). Double-click it to expand it, because it’s a .gz (compressed) file. Then change the name so that it has the extension .brushes (for instance, if it was called Painting 1, name it Painting 1.brushes). Double-click that file to open it in Brushes Viewer, and then use the Export menu to export it as a Quicktime movie or as an image.

    Hope this helps!


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  48. Es says:

    Dear Rachel,

    First off, thanks for such a neat little post on VR– I think you do such a great job explaining some of these things in a real simple manner.

    Quick question: I downloaded Brushes 3.0 today, but Brushes viewer is not available for 3.0. Does this mean I can’t use Brushes anymore if I want to play something I recorded back in Quicktime? What would you recommend as a substitute for a movie-style playback in its stead?

    Thanks so much!

  49. ninmah says:

    Hi Es,

    Thanks for your comment, and I’m glad the post was useful for you. From what I understand, Brushes creator Steve Sprang may be working on a new version of Brushes Viewer for Brushes 3, but it isn’t out yet. Brushes 3 is a totally different app from the Brushes that I mention above (rather than just an upgrade), so its features and functions are also a bit different. I don’t have any inside info or anything; I just read about it here:

    Hope this helps. I don’t have experience with other playback drawing apps, so I can’t point you to another option. If I find one, I’ll post about it (probably on my other blog,