Nintendo 3DS

Colors! 3D: A Digital Canvas In The Palm Of Your Hands


Colors! 3D is a painting application for the Nintendo 3DS, released as a download app via the Nintendo eShop in North America today. European and Australian releases are pending.


The moment I turned on Colors! 3D, it shuffled me off into a quick tutorial on all the basic functions of the application and it struck me what I was using. What I found was, in my hands, I basically had a miniature Photoshop program.


Colors! 3D is a streamlined painting application that specializes in creating layers. This may sound familiar to Photoshop users, but what’s special about these layers is that they also function as the app’s title suggests—you can segment your art into different layers and view the paintings in 3D.


The main function Colors! 3D provides is, of course, drawing. The application provides you with the basic tools you need to create most art—the brush with a size and opacity adjuster, 3 different brush types, zoom, layer control, scrolling, eye dropper, and a color palette like the one from Corel’s Painter. These are handled mostly by the D-pad and the circle pad (for example, pressing the circle pad left or right adjusted the layers, and up and down adjusted the zoom), and while the controls take a bit of getting used to, constantly using the accustomed me to them right away. The buttons aren’t used at all because your right hand will be holding the stylus to draw.


Don’t worry if you’re left-handed, though. You’ll still be using the circle pad, but the buttons for the brush pressure, scroll, and eye dropper are moved to the buttons on the right. That being said, while the app does accommodate different handedness, if you’re not comfortable with these controls, you’re out of luck.


(video available here)


The first step to creating a new painting is choosing your canvas size. Colors! 3D provides three different options—portrait, landscape (with the 4:3 bottom screen ratio), or widescreen (with the 5:3 top screen ratio). The widescreen one is recommended since that’s where you’ll be viewing the image on the 3DS, but if you’re exporting the image to an SD card and viewing it on a computer later, then you may want to use the other options too. More on that later.


Once you’ve chosen a size, the application immediately brings you to a blank canvas. The default setup is for a solid background and 4 different layers. You can’t delete layers, but you can easily switch between them, copy them, or clear them very easily.


If you prefer not to use a solid background, you can upload any image you have on your SD card to use as a reference or a background instead. Colors! 3D can’t access your system data, though, so to use your 3DS’s camera photos, you’ll have to upload them to the SD card first. Once you’ve selected a photo, you can choose to use it as an overlay, which only shows up in the bottom screen (meaning that it won’t appear in your actual drawing); as a background, which you can draw on; as a space filler for the upper screen (which serves I-don’t-know-what purpose); or you can hide it entirely.


Pressing the L button brings up the main menu. I like how Colors! 3D accommodates whether you press or tap the button because it will respond accordingly. The color palette comes up with the sliders on the right and different brush types on the left. The brush size and opacity gauges are self-explanatory. The different brush types available are a solid one, a soft brush, and textured brush.


With all of this, you’re set to paint almost anything you want. However, as I got to work, I realized that there were several functions that I missed. For example, I know I would have loved to have a lasso tool, but that’s lacking. Layer handling is also a bit awkward. It’s possible to copy layers and merge them, but it should only be done once you’re sure you want to do so since it’s impossible to separate them again. Luckily, mistakes are easily handled with the press of an R button.


Also, because layers function both as layers (in the graphic design sense) and as 3D layers, I found myself wishing for more than just 5 layers. It’s possible to change the view of the program such that you can see what’s on each layer in one of the menus, and you can also choose to “always show all layers,” “hide obstructing layers,” and “only show current layer,” but you can’t hide just one single layer while keeping the others open. Colors! 3D isn’t that flexible in this aspect.


(video available here)


Still, though, the program provides enough tools to give you a very solid drawing tool, and considering that it’s portable, it’s like having a digital sketchbook. Once you’re done with your drawing or you want a break, pressing either Start or Select automatically saves the painting. It takes a while, so I don’t think doing so when the 3DS battery indicator is flashing red is a good idea. 


The best part about Colors! 3D, hoever, is its community and its extra functions.


For example, Colors! 3D provides you with “inspiration,” in case you’re down with an artistic version of a writer’s block. It provides you with over 20 different paintings and drawings by 3 different artists from the existing Colors! community that you can view. And even though the application just came out, there’s already plenty of drawings on the Gallery because Colors! was also available for the iPod Touch, iPhone, and Nintendo DS.


One of them is a series of lineart, which you can use as a coloring book. This lineart is also really handy in that you can’t color outside the lines. The brush simply won’t register. (For once in my life, I can color within the lines!)


The other paintings come in two types. One is 3D, and these really are very beautiful, and you can use it to see one way to make use of the 3D layers. The other type, simpler but beautiful in its own way, is good ol’ 2D paintings.


You can also connect online and visit the online gallery, where people upload their drawings, 3D and 2D alike. If you find one you like, you can download it to your program for later viewing. You can also leave comments and ‘Like’ a drawing or rate it.


The best part of all of these, though, is the playback function. Colors! 3D allows you to view a video of the artistic creation behind these paintings from start to finish. It’s like downloading a tutorial on painting, and you can use it to take tips or just watch a new painting be created. I really loved watching the drawing for the 3D inspiration paintings that come with the application.


(video available here)


Playback works with your own art as well, and you can also pause the playback at any time. When you do so, you have the option of copying the drawing and duplicating it at that point in time. For a drawing tool with limited layering controls, I think this would be something very handy.


Finally, once you’re done, you can upload your drawings to an SD card. You can also upload anything you’ve downloaded, too. This way, you can view the drawings on a computer or share them with friends who don’t have Colors! 3D.


If they do have Colors! 3D, you can have a joint drawing session with your friends using local wireless connectivity, although I didn’t get to try this feature out myself. Overall, though, I really love having Colors! 3D as a doodling pad wherever I go. Although there were some functions and controls I had to get used to, it’s just a matter of adapting to the tools handed to you. I loved the playback option and I feel there’s a lot I can learn just from watching other people’s art being painted.


Food for thought:

1. Once downloaded, the pictures may alter a little. For one of my downloaded paintings, the background was removed and replaced by the original lineart. I’m not very sure what determines what gets removed or not, but rest assured the actual drawing was still intact. I think the background was a photograph, but I can’t remember for sure…


2. You can export your paintings to the SD card in either normal resolution at 800×480 or HQ resolution at 1600×960 for widescreen paintings. The resolutions for landscape and portrait paintings are comparable.


3. When you export, you have to set your desired 3D level by first setting your slider until you’re satisfied with your painting works. 3D matters a lot in this program, since too much 3D moves everything out of place. If you want 2D, just keep your 3D slider off.