RISC World

Penulator Graphics Pen

Paul Brett tries out a cheap alternative to a graphics tablet..

When APDL took over iSV Products one of the products they inherited was the Penulator graphics pen. iSV had been out of stock of these for some time and so it was quite a surprise to find out that APDL had them on the shelf, and had an updated driver as well!

What is a Penulator?

For those who don't know the Penulator is a large size pen, rather like a large magic marker, with a very small mouse built into the tip. So as far as the computer is concerned it acts like a mouse, but as far as the user is concerned it feels like a pen. For your money you get the Pen, in a rather neat cardboard storage box, as well as two discs. One is the RISC OS driver, and one the PC driver. So you could use this device on both types of machine if you wished.

The Penulator graphics pen

The pen itself shows its PC origins in a number of ways. Firstly it need to plug into the serial port on your computer. This can be nuisance if you have only one serial port and your modem is already using it. Also it only has two buttons (Select and Adjust), holding down both together, if you can manage it will give you Menu. This is far from convenient, but luckily the supplied driver software allows the mouse buttons to be mapped onto the keyboard using the Shift key. With Shift+Insert giving you Select, Shift+Home giving Menu and Shift+PageUp giving Adjust. It would have been nice to have been able to re-map these key presses, but the choice of the driver software isn't un-reasonable.

The driver software loads into the left hand end of the icon bar and allows you to switch between the mouse and the Penulator with a single click. Helpfully the drivers icon changes to show you which one is currently selected.

The two icon bar icons

The driver also has a number of other options that can be found by clicking on the icon bar menu. These include controlling the mouse pointer with the cursor keys, wrapping the mouse pointer around the screen (no so useful) and setting up the freehand drawing mode.

The Penulator Driver

Freehand drawing

This may well one of the Penulators main selling points, it allows you to perform freehand drawing in almost any application, including !Draw. Freehand drawing is activated by holding down ALT and F you then move the pen around your mouse mat and freehand drawing starts, to end drawing simply release ALT and F. You can also perform accurate free hand drawing in Paint, indeed providing your hand don't shake too much you can easily draw perfectly straight lines.

I have tested the Penulator with a number of applications and so far it has worked faultlessly with every one of them. I have also tried it on an A7000+ and a RISC PC and again the Penulator worked on both, provided I remembered to load the correct driver as the A7000 version is different! The only problem I did discover was that the Penulator was very sensitive about the type of mouse mat used, indeed it wouldn't work at all on some shiny mats, preferring the cheaper cloth variety. (The best mat to use is the wrong side of a 3M Precision mouse mat, although I have no idea why - ED)

The new driver

One of the problems with the Penulator in the past was the driver software clashing with other modules in the computer, Martyn Fox's iClear module being a prime example. APDL have obviously taken this problem on board and the new driver software hasn't caused a single problem with other modules so far. It does make a pleasant change to see software development continuing after the original distributor has ceased trading.


Anyone who is thinking the Penulator will replace an expensive graphics tablet will be disappointed. Although the pen is commendably accurate given its low price you won't really be able to trace hand drawn artwork using it. The Penulator is a great way of producing hand drawn artwork on a computer at very low cost. If you are prepared to accept the Penulator for what it is then at only £25 inclusive, more than 10 pounds cheaper the old iSV products price, it really is a bargain. For once a product that does exactly what you expect it to. I'm not going to return my review Penulator, I'm keeping it.

Product details

Product: Penulator
Supplier: APDL
Price: £25.00 inclusive of VAT and postage and packing
Address: 39 Knighton Park Road, Sydenham, London SE26 5RN
Tel: 0208 778 2659

Special Offer - See the Index page for a Reader's Offer on the Penulator.

Paul Brett