When I was first approached by the folks behind TabletPCMouse a couple of months ago, I was frankly perplexed. The utility developed by Japanese developer Takashi Yamamoto creates a virtual trackpad on your Windows tablet's display (see demo video, right). 

We all know that desktop touch targets can be very small and difficult to hit accurately, especially on complex professional programs. Controlling the screen pointer with the virtual trackpad is indeed easier than attempting to tap with a finger. But whenever I'm in tablet mode, I'm seldom without my pen, so whatever the added accuracy, I find it's much faster to tap the pen tip directly onto the target.

The software also enables users to access a large array of customizable two-, three-, four- and five-fingered gestures which can be very "handy." (Pun intended). 

I thought this latter feature was very useful and I intended to write a note about the utility at that point, but it was a complex enough utility that I felt I couldn't do it justice with the time I had available, so it quickly fell off my radar.

The developers persisted and contacted me again this week to offer a peek at the upcoming version 2.0 beta. My interest was piqued when I learned that this new version offers an ArtDock alternative called "Artist Pad." Development of the free utilities Toolbar Creator and RadialMenu, which I've covered extensively, has slowed in recent months, so it's nice to see a new option on the horizon.

Once installed, TPCM makes it extremely easy to create customized Artist Pads with your favorite keyboard shortcuts. The layouts are saved as .ini files that you can load in and out as often as you like. I created the Photoshop Artist Pad here (see left) after only a few minutes of getting familiar with the utility.

TabletPCMenu is free to download from the Windows App Store, but to unlock all its features, you'll want to pay the $10 premium. At this writing, the software is on sale for $4.99.

What's odd about the tool is that the app doesn't do much without the presence of the desktop add-on. It's this confusion about the way the two programs interact that kept me from writing about it earlier.

In case you'd like to give the utility a try, below is a step by step guide to getting the program up and running. (Apologies if the layout is weird. Squarespace's Layout Engine is giving me fits with this post!)

STEP 1. Download the Tablet PC Mouse Manager App from the Windows Store.

STEP 2. Run the App and select Get Desktop Program

STEP 3. Download the desktop program. At the moment, this downloads the 1.9x version. When you register your email address, you will get the 2.0 beta and eventual update.

 
 

The settings (above) also offer customization of the pointer and virtual keyboard, but for the remainder of this post, I'll focus on customizing the ArtistPad.

STEP 4. Install the desktop application.

STEP 5. Access the TabletPCMouse settings from the notifications tray.

STEP 6. Insert your Bonus Code to unlock commercial features.

Once inside the settings menu, TabletPCMouse offers a wide and potentially confusing array of options (click on any of the images below to see larger versions).

My advice is to take your time with each screen, testing the settings one at a time until you're comfortable with the options.

To access the ArtistPad, tick it in the Current Mode (left).

Side Float and Full Screen settings (below) allow you to set up customized gestures. This is a really great feature that should be part of the OS. The developers state that TabletPCMouse is compatible with Windows 10, so this may end up being a lifesaver if Microsoft removes a gesture from 8.1 that you've grown to love.

In one of the oddest design choices of the utility, selecting the Layout settings (left) only offers the opportunity to edit the layout in the Modern app (below).

By default, the layout screen opens up the Float trackpad (above). I wasn't able to load the Artist Pad from the Layout pulldown, so it took a little trial and error by loading the Artist Pad on the desktop and then selecting "Edit layout with store app" (above left).

Once the Artist Pad is available in the Layout window, save a new .ini file in case you want to go back to the original settings.

Customizing your Artist Pad is very simple: just click on a button (below left), enter its keyboard equivalent and modifier keys and size, position and rename it. In the example below, tapping the Open button will send the Ctrl-O shortcut.

By default, the Artist Dock buttons are 15 units tall, but in order to add many more buttons, I reduced the height to 7. At present, it looks like Artist Pads are limited to two columns.(CORRECTION: The pad can contain more columns, but I haven't figured out how to do so.)

You can drag the buttons around as you like, but they don't snap consistently. Just pay attention to the x and y coordinates to keep your buttons evenly spaced. It would be nice to be able to move multiple buttons at once or add graphical separators to keep the items better organized.

When you have a button you like, just Clone it to add a similar one.

Once your Artist Pad is completed, save the .ini file and load it in the desktop settings. (I told you the bouncing back and forth between apps is weird and a little tedious).

When the Artist Pad is loaded (left), it has a hamburger menu icon in the top left that allows you to quickly load settings or jump to the layout app. The blank area next to the hamburger menu allows you to click and drag the pad around the screen.

You can set the Artist Pad's opacity in the Settings tab and the Minus icon will minimize it.

For a beta product, TabletPCMouse is very robust. It works with both Wacom and N-Trig devices. Be aware that on N-Trig tablets like the Surface Pro 3, the pen's proximity to the screen will disable touch. On Wacom tablets, touch is only disabled at the moment that the tip touches the screen. In any event, this means that the keystroke can't be held down as you use your pen. 

TabletPCMouse mitigates this limitation somewhat by toggling modifier keys like Alt and Shift. For those shortcuts, once they are tapped they will stay depressed until they are tapped again.

This is a very worthwhile utility and the developers are eager to get feedback from the SurfaceProArtist community. The first 20 commenters on this post will receive free licenses in order to provide more feedback and advice on the beta. For more details visit TabletPCMouse.com

Posted
AuthorRick Rodriguez
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UPDATE: If you'd like to try the latest beta of Toolbar Creator 2.2, the developer has just released it publicly. http://forum.tabletpcreview.com/threads/toolbar-creator-v-2-1.63014/page-12#post-415712

Keyboard shortcuts are an absolute must for artists who are in the "zone." But sadly, docked keyboards and tablet pcs don't play well together in comfortable drawing positions. I strongly recommend that everyone who draws on a Windows tablet invests in a compact bluetooth keyboard, but even they can be poor substitutes for easy-to-reach Expresskeys or on-screen buttons.

The latter was possible on the Surface Pro 1 and 2 thanks to ArtDock: artist-customizable sets of on-screen shortcuts powered by a clever utility called AutoHotkey. Microsoft's switch to N-Trig with the Surface Pro 3 meant that handy utility was no longer compatible. And for a while, it looked like no one in the art community could figure out how to make Autohotkey scripts work with anything other than Wacom devices.

But in recent weeks, I've been experimenting with a handful of AHK-based solutions that show a lot of promise for users of any touch-capable tablet pc.

First up is Toolbar Creator by lblb, a teacher and researcher in organic chemistry at a liberal arts college who prefers to remain otherwise anonymous.

Rather than post his own ArtDock or toolbar, lblb set out to harness the power of Autohotkey and make it accessible to anyone. The screenshots below are from version 2.2 of the software, which is currently in beta.

While the number of options may seem overwhelming, Toolbar Creator is very logically designed and should be easy for any digital artist to understand, regardless of technical knowledge.

Despite claiming to be busy with his day job, the author is very active on the TabletPCReview forums where the software is maintained and he promptly responds to questions and suggestions from users.

When you first run the utility, you get a blank toolbar with number buttons. This is the first of two sample toolbar layouts. You can drag this toolbar around by pressing and holding the 1 button in the upper left corner. The only other functional item is the 2 button, which loads up the program's main menu.

When you first run the utility, you get a blank toolbar with number buttons. This is the first of two sample toolbar layouts. You can drag this toolbar around by pressing and holding the 1 button in the upper left corner. The only other functional item is the 2 button, which loads up the program's main menu.

The main menu provides a taste of the wide range of system control that toolbars can provide. To begin creating your own toolbar or to customize the sample, tap on Toolbar Options.

The main menu provides a taste of the wide range of system control that toolbars can provide. To begin creating your own toolbar or to customize the sample, tap on Toolbar Options.

In the General settings window, you can create, clone, delete and rename toolbars. In this example, I'm creating a new toolbar called PhotoshopTest, which I've designated as my default.

In the General settings window, you can create, clone, delete and rename toolbars. In this example, I'm creating a new toolbar called PhotoshopTest, which I've designated as my default.

Tapping "Design a new toolbar" in the previous windows brings up the Toolbar design window. Here you drag and drop the buttons that will make up your toolbar. You can populate up to 20 columns by 20 rows. I recommend you start slowly (perhaps with only two columns by two rows) until you're familiar with the workflow. If you drop a button into the wrong slot, right clicking it will delete it.   A lot of forethought is required for this step because once a grid is defined it can't be edited except by editing a large text file.   lblb is working on a more flexible design for a future update. Clicking Save will allow you to name your new toolbar.

Tapping "Design a new toolbar" in the previous windows brings up the Toolbar design window. Here you drag and drop the buttons that will make up your toolbar. You can populate up to 20 columns by 20 rows. I recommend you start slowly (perhaps with only two columns by two rows) until you're familiar with the workflow. If you drop a button into the wrong slot, right clicking it will delete it. A lot of forethought is required for this step because once a grid is defined it can't be edited except by editing a large text file. lblb is working on a more flexible design for a future update. Clicking Save will allow you to name your new toolbar.

This is the layout I created and called Photoshop Test. It consists of four columns by nine rows. One of the advantages of Toolbar Creator is that you can label your buttons directly, so dressing them with bitmaps can come later (if at all). Since I come from the Softimage mindset, I prefer a simple text button to a hard-to-decipher icon, but that's entirely up to you.

This is the layout I created and called Photoshop Test. It consists of four columns by nine rows. One of the advantages of Toolbar Creator is that you can label your buttons directly, so dressing them with bitmaps can come later (if at all). Since I come from the Softimage mindset, I prefer a simple text button to a hard-to-decipher icon, but that's entirely up to you.

In the Active toolbar settings - 1 screen, you set the transparency of the toolbar (useful for Option 8 mentioned above) and the button height and width. The default size is 50 but to make the buttons impossible for fat fingers to miss, I've resized them to 100x100. Selecting the program ID (in this case Photoshop) ensures that button presses are always sent to the correct program, even when that program is not in focus.

In the Active toolbar settings - 1 screen, you set the transparency of the toolbar (useful for Option 8 mentioned above) and the button height and width. The default size is 50 but to make the buttons impossible for fat fingers to miss, I've resized them to 100x100. Selecting the program ID (in this case Photoshop) ensures that button presses are always sent to the correct program, even when that program is not in focus.

Another very helpful feature of Toolbar Creator is seen on the Active toolbar settings - 2 window. Here you can determine the file format of your button images. The program defaults to .ico files which are great for scaling. But if you'd rather work in .jpg, .bmp or .png formats, those are supported as well. While designing your toolbar, I recommend selecting Type 2 activated icons, which don't require an additional set images. The solid bright blue is also easier to see as you're testing your work.  

Another very helpful feature of Toolbar Creator is seen on the Active toolbar settings - 2 window. Here you can determine the file format of your button images. The program defaults to .ico files which are great for scaling. But if you'd rather work in .jpg, .bmp or .png formats, those are supported as well. While designing your toolbar, I recommend selecting Type 2 activated icons, which don't require an additional set images. The solid bright blue is also easier to see as you're testing your work.  

The Toolbar Visibility window offers 13 options for your toolbar's on-screen appearance. In the couple of versions of ArtDock we previously published, the toolbar would disappear when the pen approached it. Option 2 is the closest to that setting, but I find that the toolbar will pop back into place too quickly after the pen stroke is registered. In Option 8, the toolbar is nearly transparent until the pen approaches it. To draw beneath the toolbar, I will either shrink it or move it out of the way with my free hand. One advantage that Toolbars have over ArtDocks is that the pen tip can be used as easily as the finger to tap buttons.

The Toolbar Visibility window offers 13 options for your toolbar's on-screen appearance. In the couple of versions of ArtDock we previously published, the toolbar would disappear when the pen approached it. Option 2 is the closest to that setting, but I find that the toolbar will pop back into place too quickly after the pen stroke is registered. In Option 8, the toolbar is nearly transparent until the pen approaches it. To draw beneath the toolbar, I will either shrink it or move it out of the way with my free hand. One advantage that Toolbars have over ArtDocks is that the pen tip can be used as easily as the finger to tap buttons.

In the toolbar customization window, the toolbar you just designed shows up in the lower left. Selecting any button on the toolbar (highlighted in blue) brings up its properties on the right side of the window. In this example, I set the upper left button to run the predefined Rollup Toolbar function, which collapses the large toolbar to a single button.

In the toolbar customization window, the toolbar you just designed shows up in the lower left. Selecting any button on the toolbar (highlighted in blue) brings up its properties on the right side of the window. In this example, I set the upper left button to run the predefined Rollup Toolbar function, which collapses the large toolbar to a single button.

The Main menu window allows you to select the commands available when a button is assigned the Predefined action Show Menu (see below). Our colleague Alex Cheparev, who designed the icons in the SurfaceProArtist ArtDock, has also contributed some icons to Toolbar Creator. Alex is at work on his own set of toolbars which we hope to share with you soon.

The Main menu window allows you to select the commands available when a button is assigned the Predefined action Show Menu (see below). Our colleague Alex Cheparev, who designed the icons in the SurfaceProArtist ArtDock, has also contributed some icons to Toolbar Creator. Alex is at work on his own set of toolbars which we hope to share with you soon.

Adding or subtracting items from the Menu list is a matter of moving items from one column of the Main menu window to the other.

Adding or subtracting items from the Menu list is a matter of moving items from one column of the Main menu window to the other.

When loaded, Toolbar Creator generates a system tray item. Those menus can be edited in the Tray menu and icon window.

When loaded, Toolbar Creator generates a system tray item. Those menus can be edited in the Tray menu and icon window.

The shortcuts available in the tray menu can be edited in the Shortcuts menu window seen below.

The shortcuts available in the tray menu can be edited in the Shortcuts menu window seen below.

Shortcuts menu

Shortcuts menu

Toolbar Creator even allows you to remap the Surface Pro 3's top pen button or redefine its double click action. The Surface Pro 3 remaps window also allows you to assign new actions to the Windows and Volume hardware buttons.

Toolbar Creator even allows you to remap the Surface Pro 3's top pen button or redefine its double click action. The Surface Pro 3 remaps window also allows you to assign new actions to the Windows and Volume hardware buttons.

lblb may want to remain somewhat anonymous, but his Herculean effort here deserves at least a little bit of Internet fame. Check out Toolbar Creator for yourself over at TabletPCReviews and stop back here to show us what you're able to create with his toolkit.

As soon as Alex Cheparev comes up with his Mudbox and ZBrush toolbars, we will post them here.

Next up, we'll be looking at a new utility that brings the Wacom radial menu to N-Trig pens. Stay tuned!

Posted
AuthorRick Rodriguez
CategoriesTips
13 CommentsPost a comment

UPDATE 12/13: We've already published a new version with improved icons. Check out the details here.

ORIGINAL POST

When I published my review of 3d apps on the Surface Pro last week, many of you wrote to suggest I check out ArtDock. This fascinating utility creates a touch toolbar with common commands that can be used in conjunction with a pen. While we're waiting for developers to embrace touch and tablet oriented interfaces for their programs, this useful tool is the next best thing. 

I first encountered a sibling of ArtDock shortly after I launched this blog. The ArtRage Pen-Only Toolbar seemed pretty geeky at the time and not very necessary, given the relatively simple UI of ArtRage.

But the continued frustration with Photoshop forced me to take a closer look. It turns out that using and modifying ArtDock isn't as difficult as it first appears. The biggest challenge is to cobble together the various files needed to make it work on the Surface Pro.

To make sure credit is given where it's due, below are the sources I referenced when researching this topic. These links are not essential to getting the Surface Pro Artist ArtDock up and running, so you may want to skip ahead to the installation instructions links below.

These customized toolboxes, or docks, are made possible by an ingenious program called AutoHotkey, which enables users to assign common keyboard, mouse and touch commands to onscreen icons.

The AutoHotkey script  RawInputControlTest.ahk was first written for the Asus Eee Slate EP121. 

The script was then adapted for the Samsung Series 7 Slate here by tbaldree and dubbed Paintdock.

Konartist3D further modified the scripts at his DeviantArt page, creating GUIs for Photoshop, ZBrush, Maya and others and dubbing the program as ArtDock.

Over at TabletPCReview, DoctorBunsonHoneydew adapted the Konartist3D ArtDock for the Surface Pro.

Enter The Surface Pro Artist ArtDock

Although Dr. Honeydew's script is minimalist and very Surface-y, I found it to be a little inscrutable and not really aimed at artists. Therefore, I decided to go back to Konartist3D's work.

Because it was developed for a larger screen tablet, I decided to scale all his icons up 150%. The buttons are now a nice size that is difficult to miss. I also made all the toolbars 100% opaque because I wanted to make sure that the small type on some of the icons was readable.

Konartist3D also included a lot of desktop controls on his ArtDock that I couldn't make work on the Surface Pro, so I removed those. I also deleted Topogun and MyPaint controls because I didn't have those programs to test. Lastly, the original ArtDock includes a program called TGuard that toggles touch on and off. This is supposed to guard against stray marks, but I find it's very dangerous to use on the Surface Pro because it disabled both touch and pen control while I was experimenting with it. Needless to say, I deleted that as well.

Here is the resulting launcher.

Launcher.png

The ArtDock will open in the top left corner of your display. To move it, just drag the top left icon with your finger. The middle top icon minimizes the dock and the X closes the dock.

This first pass includes toolbars for Photoshop, Sketchbook Pro, Paint Tool SAI, Maya, Silo, ZBrush and 3DS Max.

The deleted icons for Topogun and MyPaint are included in the archive if you'd like to restore them.

Tapping any program icon loads the appropriate dock.

 
PhotoshopAD.png

Photoshop

To drag any of the program-specific toolbars, just tap and hold the program icon. Tap the Left Arrow to return to the launcher.

Several icons have multiple commands. Tapping the Tab button will clear menus, but tapping and dragging left or right will bring up the Save As or Load file requesters.

The Undo button becomes a Redo if you tap and drag left.

Holding down the move button will allow you to drag a selection with your mouse. Holding down the shift button will allow you to add to a selection.

Dragging up and down on the magnifying glass will zoom in and out. You can scroll through various transparency amounts with the Opacity button.

The icon on the left changes the size of the brush nozzle and the one on the right toggles between brush and eraser.

Hold down the eyedropper to sample a color and hold down the hand icon to pan around your image with the pen.

The remaining buttons are cut/copy, Esc/Enter/Delete, Lasso/Wand and Select All/Deselect.

Below are the other toolbars included in the Surface Pro Artist ArtDock.

 

 

Sketchbook Pro

 

Not all programs benefit from having a custom dock. I've included Sketchbook Pro because it was part of Konartist3D's original archive, but I don't think it make much of an improvement to an already well designed program.

Not all programs benefit from having a custom dock. I've included Sketchbook Pro because it was part of Konartist3D's original archive, but I don't think it make much of an improvement to an already well designed program.

Paint Tool SAI

Paint Tool SAI's crowded UI really benefits from the custom dock, but I'm not certain these are the most appropriate functions to include. Your suggestions are welcomed.

Paint Tool SAI's crowded UI really benefits from the custom dock, but I'm not certain these are the most appropriate functions to include. Your suggestions are welcomed.

The Maya buttons dwarf the standard icons.

The Maya buttons dwarf the standard icons.

The precise selection and placement of commands is very flexible. Please send along suggestions if you think other tools should be added to the dock.

The precise selection and placement of commands is very flexible. Please send along suggestions if you think other tools should be added to the dock.

ZBrush is a little less intimidating with its custom dock.

ZBrush is a little less intimidating with its custom dock.

Installation instructions

First off, you need to install AutoHotkey, located here. 

Then download and unzip the Surface Pro Artist ArtDock here.

Copy the artdock folder to your C:\ drive.

Create a shortcut of the file ArtDock.bat and pin it to your desktop or taskbar.

Start the ArtDock and then your desired program (Photoshop, etc.). Tap the corresponding ArtDock program button.

Move the launcher by holding and dragging the top left icon. Move program toolbars by holding and dragging the program icon.

Next Steps

I've only tested the Photoshop toolbar thoroughly. If you encounter problems with any of the other toolbars, please let me know so that I can make corrections. I'm also not certain that Konartist3D has chosen the most appropriate commands for each of the programs. If you think there are more important shortcuts to include in the docks, please let me know. The toolbars can be shortened or expanded as necessary.

I'd like to add controls for additional software like Softimage and Mudbox, but I can't commit to doing so right away. If you care to contribute icons or program controls to your favorite software, please do so and share your work with the community.

 

If you're interested in learning more about AutoHotKey, RawInputControl, Paintdock, ArtDock and the rest, please visit this great thread over at TabletPCReviews: http://forum.tabletpcreview.com/artists/58400-artdock-guide-compatibility-links.html

To learn more about how to edit RawInputControl, download this pdf created by lblb: http://www.mediafire.com/download/hb2x1oj644jy33o/Instructions_RawInputControl_v3.pdf