Pen that Scans and Draws in Millions of Colors Finally Arrives on Kickstarter

Ever bought a king-size box of colored pencils and marveled at all the names? Burnt sienna, cerulean blue, tuscan red. The world is overflowing with colors, too many to count or name. What if you had a single pen that contained them all?

The Scribble color matching pen (or stylus) uses a color sensor and LED illumination to sample and upload colors (say from your wall or a piece of clothing) to a mobile device or computer, and then reverses the process, allowing you to draw in any color.

The pen works like a handheld printer, using its ARM 9 microprocessor to digitize colors and mix the inks in an onboard CMYK cartridge. Scribble can reproduce over 16 million colors—100,000 of which can be stored on its 1 GB onboard chip. It runs on a rechargeable lithium ion battery and connects by Bluetooth or micro USB.

Scribble not only offers multiple colors all in one package, it also offers multiple stroke weights with its replaceable nib and six tip sizes. The pen works with iOS, Android, PC, and Mac and is compatible with Photoshop and Corel.

It should probably be noted this isn’t an entirely new idea. It’s been floating around for awhile—see this conceptual design by Jinsun Park, for example. But no one (as far as we can tell) has yet succeeded in making it into a tangible product for sale.

Though the Scribble team has a working prototype, they needed Kickstarter to fund creation of the final product. If all goes to plan—and often it doesn’t, as nailing down a manufacturing process can be a sticking point—it’ll be available late next spring.

The team has big expectations, saying in their first press release Scribble is “cutting edge technology that’s on the verge of becoming a household gadget.” They may be right. The Kickstarter was funded in five hours and is currently closing in on $300,000 with more than a month left in the campaign.

But going from Kickstarter to household gadget won’t be easy. For one thing, $149 (more than an 8GB Kindle Fire) isn’t cheap. And refill cartridges ($15 to $30 each) will add to costs, maybe appreciably, depending on how quickly users run out of ink.

Scribble may be too expensive for kids or technophobic crafters. Also, the pen can store lots of colors, but how easy it is to find and switch them isn’t clear. Is an external device required every time you want a new color? What’s the pen’s interface like? Depending too much on a nearby computer or mobile device might limit some of its perceived utility.

For half the price, the stylus which lives more exclusively in the digital world (and no ink required), might be better value. Designers could sample colors for clients on the spot or match mystery paint on the wall. The color blind could use it to identify colors. These presume a degree of accuracy, but they seem like reasonable applications.

At the same time simple color scanning functionality can already be found in free smartphone apps. Maybe they aren’t as accurate, but such apps using smartphone cameras are available for Android and iOS. And smartphones may soon come stock with new visual sensors. Google Tango or this new Microsoft Research device show that the visual powers of mobile devices are poised to move beyond simple cameras.

Will Scribble become a household device? Or will some of its powers be usurped by smartphones? We don’t know. In any case, it’s still a cool example of miniature tech going mobile and miniature sensors providing a two-way link between real and digital.

Jason Dorrier
Jason Dorrier
Jason is editorial director of Singularity Hub. He researched and wrote about finance and economics before moving on to science and technology. He's curious about pretty much everything, but especially loves learning about and sharing big ideas and advances in artificial intelligence, computing, robotics, biotech, neuroscience, and space.
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