Okay, I have to be completely honest with you. This is a pretty cool post. Since I've been so bad about posting lately I figured I owed you all something special! I found this fantastic app that lets you use the iPad (or the iPhone) to draw on real things! Of course I had to try it with cookies.
The app is called the Camera Lucida (named after a traditional drawing tool) and it works by opening up the rear camera on your device so you can see your work surface when looking at the screen. (since the app uses a rear camera you can't use it with a first gen iPad) The app then superimposes your reference image into the screen so you can see your reference image and your cookie together. Essentially all you have to do is trace! The app is available for purchase from the app store for $4.99.
Update on the Stand:
You have to use a stand of some kind to hold the iPad/iPhone between you and your work surface. While a vase or even a stack of books will work in a pinch, the best stand would have a pedestal base so you can work easily under the camera. On the developer's blog you can find a post about making a nice and inexpensive stand to hold the iPad. My stand is about the same except the base is from a lamp. Plus mine is an eye sore, heh. The iPad sits on the stand just forward enough not to block the rear camera so it's nice and stable and won't slip. I had the iPad about 9 inches off the table and that was a good height for working under it. I think a tall cake stand would work really well for this too or you could even use the bowl from your stand mixer.
When you open the app you can choose a reference image and then touch the center icon to enter the drawing mode. The little slider will adjust the opacity of the reference image so you can get a good view of both the reference and the cookie. Trace the reference onto the cookie using a food color marker or a graphite pencil. Graphite is non-toxic and I think it's easier to use a mechanical pencil than a food marker but maybe that's just me.
Once you have traced the drawing onto the cookie you can just decorate as usual. For this Om Nom cookie I outlined the drawing in black piping icing and once that had fully dried I filled him in green. Super Easy!
When you first start using the app it does take a little getting used to because you are looking at the screen of the iPad and not your cookie. There is also a little depth perception issue because the camera is basically like looking through one eye. I would suggest just drawing with the app for a while with pencil and paper and you'll get comfortable using it.
Another neat function of the app is that you can take reference images of your work surface from within the app. When I design cookies I usually trace around my cutters and then draw the designs freehand. If you take the photo of your design you can then use it in the drawing mode of the app to transfer your design to the cookie. Since you are using the iPad at the same height that you took the picture you don't have to re-size your images and they will fit perfectly on the cookie you cut from that cutter!
Of course since the app was designed for drawing you can use it to draw your designs too. The app has a whole bunch of built in filters and zoom functions to aid in the drawing process.
UPDATE: You can now size the photo up or down from right within the app! We no longer need to go to an outside program to make the picture small enough for cookies. The super cool developer of the Camera Lucida app, Pete Moeykens, has been working with cookie community and developed this function special for us! Be sure to download the latest version of the app and give it a good review!
If you'd like to see the app in action I made a video. It's the first video I've done and while it's probably not so awesome I think you'll get the idea!
Unfortunately the Camera Lucida app is not currently available for Android devices. There is an app called the Artist's Eye and while it doesn't have all the functions of the Camera Lucida app it should still be of some help.
I know this a lot of information and I've just barely scratched the surface with what you can do with this app for cookie decorating. If have any questions please ask!!