Cupixel is a new app that uses AR and AI to help anyone realize their artistic potential. You’ve probably heard that line before, but you probably haven’t seen it done like this.
One of the first articles that I wrote as an official contributor to ARPost was about AR apps for aspiring artists. There’s a reason I haven’t done another article like that in the last four years.
Those apps “worked” but they had severe limitations. Rigging the phone just right was a nightmare. The paper had to be the exact right size and shape. For some of them, you had to physically draw a pattern on the paper for the app to recognize it. Even for all of that work, if the paper moved even slightly, that was the end of the project.
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Further, these apps were limited to libraries of pre-loaded images and they were limited to tracing black lines onto white paper. There usually wasn’t accommodation for colors, blending, or even shading. And, there was no instruction. So, I was naturally skeptical when Cupixel crossed my desk.
“If you think about it, it’s our first language as human beings – and it’s disappearing!” founder and CEO, Elad Katav, told me in a video interview. “We’re not promising we’ll make you a great artist, we’re promising to give you the opportunity to learn the language of art.”
From the start, Cupixel looks like a lot of the AR drawing apps that I reviewed in 2018. An image viewed through the camera with adjustable transparency that you trace on paper. But, there’s one major difference apparent from the very beginning: Cupixel projects are led by expert artists that walk you through the whole process.
“This is not a YouTube channel. These videos recorded in our studios have something special,” said Katav. “The artist leads with examples. She gives you everything you need to do. How to blend the paint, everything.”
If you hadn’t picked up on it, Katav is sincerely passionate about this project. He started it through a need that he experienced himself.
“A couple of years ago, I tried to paint for fun – I’d never picked up a brush before. It was a horrible experience,” said Katav. “When you look in the art space, you find that it’s really hard to produce art.”
Katav went through a journey very similar to mine, exploring all of the solutions that technology had to offer. Only, he didn’t just write a report and move along. His path to launching Cupixel included a number of technological innovations, but he also incorporated a human element, attracting over a dozen artists that have already created over 100 sessions for the app.
Since its launch, Cupixel also secured a $5M seed round led by craft store JOANN.
“JOANN is committed to bringing our customers the best tools and assortment available,” JOANN Executive Vice President and Chief Merchandising Officer, Rob Will, said in a release shared with ARPost. “We believe that Cupixel is at the cutting edge and is providing users of all skill levels with the unique and significant rewards that come from creating art.”
That’s all well and good, but what does using the app actually look like? I got a brief demo during my call with Katav, but I also installed the app and took it for a spin myself.
Installing the App and Getting Started
Installing the app, for both Android and iOS, is free and doesn’t require an account – though not all content on the app is included in the free version. There is free content in categories for making greeting cards and “sticky note” sketches – but remember, the app doesn’t actually care what shape or size paper you use so that “sticky notes-sized sketch” can be pretty big.
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Because the free sessions are largely intended to be introductory, the artist begins with explaining how to set up your phone and situate your workspace. For example, if you are on a white desk, you might want to put a dark paper between your desk and your drawing surface. I used a light-tone wood desk and it worked fine.
“We found the most foolproof experience that works all the time,” Katav told me. “We can recognize white-on-white, but it’s not a foolproof experience, so we don’t support it.”
There are actually a number of tools that the developers decided not to include in the final version of the app. For example, an early version of Cupixel allowed the artist to view the camera feed of the user – but the feature was deemed too invasive and was removed. Some features were also done away with for artistic reasons.
“We knew when users made mistakes, when they missed a line, and we alerted them,” said Katav. “We removed that because it’s stupid. We don’t want to tell people they’re printers.”
In lessons on the app today, the artists encourage users to use the trace as a template while making the work their own.
Making Art With Cupixel
There are three sticky note sketches, as well as almost a dozen greetings cards and three acrylic sessions. I started out slow with one of the “sticky note” sketches – though the paper that I used was larger.
Even users with the paid version are encouraged to start with the sticky note sketches because they serve as a handy introduction to the app, including how to use the menus and settings. Each experience also includes a list of materials required. Sometimes, this is as simple as a sheet of paper and pencil. They also recommend a coffee cup to rest your phone on.
There aren’t any hoops to jump through in getting the app to recognize and track your paper, and automatically scale the stencil to match. Cupixel also continues to track the paper when your hand is between the camera and your work surface – which Katav said was one of the trickiest aspects of developing the tech.
Shifting the paper (or moving your phone to drink the coffee in the cup that it’s sitting on) is a non-issue. The tracking is great – like some of the older apps that required special paper or drawn-on codes, but without all of the extra work.
I know that I couldn’t finish my sketch in the time that it took the artist to finish hers, but it’s easy to pause, rewind, or fast forward the video. That’s another benefit of starting off with on-demand experiences.
Benefits of Membership
There are hours of artistic fun to be had with the experiences available for free, but it is limited. Paying $13 per month for membership unlocks over 100 on-demand art experiences, as well as live experiences done with the artists, and the ability to upload custom photos. The subscription plan is called the “family plan” but there aren’t any set categories for different artists.
“There aren’t categories for advanced or beginners. Everything is for everyone,” said Katav. “It’s all a matter of how much time you’re willing to spend.”
Membership also includes discounts on art supplies purchased through Cupixel or select items purchased through JOANN stores. You also get an actual phone stand, so you can save the coffee cups for drinking.
You don’t need a membership to buy Cupixel art sets, which range from $10-$50.
Get Your Brushes and Follow Along
There are a lot of exciting developments on Cupixel’s roadmap, with more experiences, partnerships, and hardware updates coming in the near future. There’s a whole world of art to explore through AR.