Sketching in immersive 3D virtual reality (VR) environments has great potential for a variety of interactive 3D design applications. Precisely sketching the intended strokes in mid-air, however, can be a challenge. In this paper, we present a set of controlled studies to analyze the factors affecting human ability to sketch freely in a 3D VR environment. In our first study, we directly compare traditional sketching on a physical surface to sketching in VR, with and without a physical surface to rest the stylus on. Our results indicate that the lack of a physical drawing surface is a major cause of inaccuracies in VR drawing, and that the effect is dependent on the orientation of the drawing surface. In a second experiment, we evaluate the extent to which visual guidance can compensate for the loss of sketching precision in VR. We found that while additional visual guidance improves positional accuracy, it can be detrimental to the aesthetic quality of strokes. We conclude by distilling our experimental findings into design guidelines for sketching tools in immersive 3D environments.
Data & analysis code is available here.