Modlock, Stroke It, and ATNSOFT Key Manager- 3 programs you'll need to smoothly run Paint Tool Sai on a Tablet PC

Over the last year I've gone through a lot of art programs- Artrage, Sketchbook Pro, Painter 11 and 12, and now Paint Tool Sai. Sai has it's issues (it's seemingly abandoned by its developer, it has a few bugs), but it does something that I've had a terribly difficult time doing in other programs without going through backflips-- it easily creates varied and interesting textural elements in a painting without bogging everything down. As such, it's what I now most often defer to.

Of course, nothing comes easy, and since I'm using this on two tablet pc's (currently a convertible x200t and an le1600 slate) that means, of course, there had to be some bumps in the road. This post is all about how I've set things up on both machines. Later, I might try and make a post about how I actually use the program itself to get the results I'm looking for. In essence, I've gotten both machines to do a lot of what I want through three cheap or free programs- ATNSOFT Key Manager for the le1600, and Modlock and Stroke It for the x200t- that allow me to use the limited screen space of a tablet pc to its fullest potential. Basically, I can work 70-80% of the time in Full Screen mode with the help of these programs, because I don't need to be seeing all the menus and tables, etc.

ATNSOFT Key Manager-
First, the le1600, because it's the easiest one to summarize. As I went over in this post, the le1600 is old and underpowered, but Paint Tool Sai runs very light, and so the two combined together work very good as a digital sketchbook. You flip the slate around (upside down) and get the buttons on the left. Now, go to Control Panel> Tablet Pc Settings, and set the keys to shortcuts that a keyboard can recognize (letters, numbers, arrows, etc). Next, install ATNSOFT Key Manager for 40$ (or try the free trial for a month), and using it you can set each each button to do different things depending on the program in usage. Wonderfully useful and ergonomic. It's amazing how nice it is to press a button and open menus without having to move your pen everywhere. One hand focuses on key input (zoom in/zoom out, undo, tab, f11, resizing the brush or eraser, as well changing tools), and one hand just focuses on using the pen.

However, the le1600 is underpowered, and more importantly it has no keyboard, and so it's ended up not being my main computer. For that, I've decided to stick with the x200t Superbright Outdoor, as it fits more of my typical usage patters- typing, surfing, outdoor work and, yes, art too. On this computer, where I don't really have buttons to use, I've cobbled together a reasonably smooth workflow using two basic programs- Modlock and Stroke It.

Modlock is a very simple Auto Hotkey setup that gives you a selection of up to 6 small buttons that you can place on the screen that are activated with your pen. You determine what three of the buttons are, which is nice. I use F11 a few times every time I use Sai, so that's one of them, for example. What makes it really great though is that you also have the ability to hit one or more key modifiers (Ctrl, Alt, Shift, and Space) and then you can set how many seconds you want each one to stay pressed for (usually something short like 1-3 seconds). This allows you to do things like go *tap tap* on the Ctrl and Alt keys respectively, then immediately drag your pen to resize your brush, as both of the keys are still "pressed." This has some clear usages and benefits.

Stroke It-
Stroke It is a free gesture based program that works just like the gestures in Windows 7. What makes it nice is that you set up what the gestures do in each program, so its specific to the needs you have in each one. I use it in Artrage, for example, but also in Paint Tool Sai.

However, I discoverd that getting the correct setup between Stroke It, the Wacom ISD Tablet settings, and Sai's button settings was very difficult. But by pure luck actually, an accident, I now have it working. The path of buttons to choose is kinda absurd though, and makes no sense to me, but here it is, for others who might like to try it and are having problems.

First, in Stroke It itself, you have 3 options under Edit> Preferences for what button you'll need to push to start a gesture-- Left, Middle, or Right. I chose "Right". Now, normally this means I would use the primary (lower, pen-tip end) button on my pen to start input in an art program, like Artrage, which is exactly what it does in other programs. In Sai though, this starts the eye-dropper tool, no matter what I do. Still, you set Stroke It to Right Button.

Second, you go to your ISD Tablet Properties, which is in your Control Panel. This is where you set what your upper and lower pen buttons do, the firmness of the pen tip, etc. Here, you set the lower button to Right click, like normal, and the upper button to Middle click, even though you don't actually have 3 buttons. Anyways, set it to middle click.

Thirdly, you go into Sai. Under Others> Options, you can set both the upper and lower buttons to Right Click. And magically, if you do this, it works. Do the gesture you have set up using the upper button (set to Right Button in Stroke It, Middle Click in the ISD Tablet Properties, and Right Click in Sai), and you'll get what you want.

I can now work in Full Screen mode 75-80% of the time on both tablet pcs. I set up what my different brushes are doing, and with a quick flick of the pen I can switch to any of the tools (pen, eraser, grabber, brush, blend, etc), as well as zoom in an out, as well hit the "Tab" key with a flick to bring the menus back instantly. With Modlock used in conjunction, I can do things like have f11 set as a button to enter and exit true Full Screen mode easily, as well as hit Ctrol + Alt to resize my brush on the fly. I bring back the "normal" screen with a gesture set to click Tab if I need to do more detailed, less common things like change color, make a new layer, shift the texture of a brush, reduce the opacity of a brush, etc. Then flick Tab again, and I'm back in Full Screen mode. A very nice work flow.

Just thought I'd share how I'm doing this.