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Flow - a paintbrush with real bristles for use on touchscreens


April 20, 2011

The Flow is a capacitive paintbrush, that allows for the feeling of using a traditional paintbrush when creating art on a touchscreen device

The Flow is a capacitive paintbrush, that allows for the feeling of using a traditional paintbrush when creating art on a touchscreen device

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Anyone who has finger-painted, sketched with a pencil and painted with a brush will tell you that the three activities feel different when you're doing them, and that feel influences the look of the finished piece of artwork. It would seem to follow that if you were trying to simulate the experience of using a paintbrush when creating art on a touchscreen device, you would use a brush, and not a stylus or your finger ... that's the thinking behind the Flow, a capacitive paintbrush designed for use on the iPad and similar devices.

Created by Chicago engineers Anthony Cerra and Russ Hakimiyan, the Flow looks just like a regular paintbrush. What makes it special is the fact that the whole thing conducts electricity.

"The way a capacitive touch screen (iPad, iPhone, Android devices) works is by recognizing the conductivity of your finger and translating that into a position on the screen," Cerra told us. "We're extending that conductivity through the Flow to the screen. Because the bristle fibers of the Flow are so fine, they aren't individually recognized by the device. But when combined in the bristle tip, it functions exactly like your finger would function on the screen – but with a much better experience."

Cerra and Hakimiyan also point out that when finger-painting on a touchscreen, sweat from the user's finger can cause friction – not a problem with the Flow.

The pair have created a working prototype, and are now promoting the product through their Joystickers company, while trying to drum up funds to take it to market via the Kickstarter business development website. They expect to sell the paintbrushes for about US$30 each.

Before they're even out of the starting gate, however, Anthony and Russ are facing some competition. In January, architect and artist Don Lee began selling the Nomad, which is also a capacitive paintbrush for use on touchscreen devices. It is available through the product website, for US$24. Proporta's $33.95 Quillit 3 in 1 Stylus Pen includes a small brush tip, while also in development is the Pengo BrushPen.

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth
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