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Whip out your Apple Pencil and try out the 11 best iPad Pro drawing apps

Although nothing can truly replace a good piece of paper or sheet of canvas for an artist, the iPad Pro comes incredibly close to bringing digital art up to the same level as analog art creation. The larger screen opens the iPad Pro to new levels of artistry and turns a fun sketching tool into a serious creative tool. Designed from the ground up with the Apple Pencil in mind, the iPad Pro is the ultimate digital canvas and the Pencil is its most versatile tool.

Related: Oil, watercolor, or pixels? Why artists will flock to Apple’s Pencil

Luckily, there are scores of drawing apps on the App Store, and many of them have already been optimized for the Pro’s big screen and pencil’s fine-point tip. Here are 11 of our favorite iPad Pro drawing apps, and some we’re looking forward to using soon.

Astropad ($22)

Astropad panels left

Astropad pairs your iPad Pro with a Mac and turns your tablet into a dedicated drawing slate. It’s meant for professional creatives who use applications such as Photoshop and Illustrator. The app is even optimized for the iPad Pro to showcase improved image quality, reduced latency, a custom pressure curve specifically designed for the Apple Pencil, and support for tilt with the stylus. The latest update offers advanced stroke tuning for removing stray points and providing strokes with the Pencil, which means you only see what you intend to draw. It’s the ultimate drawing app for professional illustrators, comic book artists, and anyone who’s ever wanted a Wacom tablet. It does cost $20, but that easily beats the price of professional drawing slates.

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iTunes

Animation Desk Cloud (free)

animation-desk-cloud

Animation Desk Cloud isn’t a new app, but what is new is the software’s compatibility with the Apple Pencil. As the title suggests, Kdan’s Animation Desk probably isn’t for you if you’re simply into sketching — what it is good for, however, is animating. It’s a relatively basic app, to be sure, but one that comes at a price of zero dollars and zero cents if you don’t opt for the in-app purchases. If you’re looking to try your hand at animation, Desk Cloud is the app to do it with.

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iTunes

Pigment (free)

Pigment

Pigment is the ultimate adult coloring app for adults and kids alike. It actually feels like you’re using a coloring book and colored pencils. It supports the Apple Pencil — which makes it extra fun to color inside the lines — and offers more than 200 professional illustrations, along with eight different kinds of pencils, markers, and brushes. Your color choices are unlimited, and when you finish your masterpieces, you can instantly share them with family and friends or print them out to pop on the fridge. Plus, there are paid add-ons for those who want more options and coloring designs.

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iTunes

Concepts (free)

concepts

Like Animation Desk Cloud, concepts is built with a specific purpose in mind — design. Home design, industrial design, you name it, Concepts can help you envision it. The app includes many of the tools you would expect from a design app, including support for infinite layers (or at least as many as the iPad can handle), and the ability to export in both SVG or CAD formats. Don’t take our word for it, though, the reviews speak for themselves. The current version of the app has a cool 5-star rating on the App Store, with all versions of the app boasting a still-noteworthy 4.5 stars. Like many other apps on this list, the app is free, with in-app purchases.

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iTunes

uMake (free)

Screen Shot 2015-12-22 at 12.48.59 PM

This app is great for modelers and designers who make 3D objects or plans. With uMake, designers can draw in two dimensions on an axis to render 3D images on the iPad Pro. You can make sketches revolve or extrude for a recursive effect. Once you’ve sketched out the design in 2D, you can alter the 3D rendering to meet your exact specifications. When finished, uMake offers the ability to export your creations in PNG, IGES, and OBJ file formats. The app is free, but to get the full feature set, you’ll need to pay $15 a month or $150 a year until December 31. After that, it’ll rise to $20 and $200, respectively.

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iTunes

Pixelmator ($5)

pixelmator

Pixelmator may not be free, but it also isn’t a bad app. From cropping to retouching, sketching to blending, Pixelmator does it all, and the results speak for themselves. The app includes a host of tools and pays close attention to how you use your Apple Pencil. In fact, dozens of the brushes included in the app feature full support for the Apple Pencil, meaning it could possibly replace the professional toolset you may have used before the iPad came about. Sure, the app is $5, but it also doesn’t have any in-app purchases. It’s also important to note that Pixelmator places its emphasis on its robust toolset rather than its simplicity, at least according to some of the app comments. If you’re willing to take the time to learn how to use the software, however, this might be the app for you. If not, it might be better to look elsewhere.

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iTunes

Procreate ($6)

Procreate

Procreate is perhaps the most professional and well-rounded drawing app on this list, but it will set you back $6. It comes equipped with a full set of drawing tools, which expertly imitate real creative implements, such as soft pastels, oil pastels, charcoal, graphite pencils of varying hardness, acrylic, oil, watercolors, and more. Whatever the medium, Procreate’s digital tools will give you the full effect and appearance of the real thing. You can even smudge, blur, and manipulate your strokes just as you would on paper or canvas.

Its 64-bit painting engine Silica is lightening fast and responsive, and on the iPad Pro with Pencil, drawing or painting on Procreate feels even more natural. You can add a number of layers and decide how high-res you want your canvas to be. On the Pro, it can go up to 16K resolution with 64-bit color, and you can export your artwork as PSD, PNG, JPG, or Procreate files. The app also helps you build a portfolio and share your work, if you so desire.

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iTunes

Paper by FiftyThree (free)

Paper

FiftyThree’s Paper has long been one of the best iPad drawing apps, but it’s become even more versatile in the past year. The app now has diagramming and note-taking tools in addition to the standard creative tool suite it’s always had. Yu get a watercolor brush, calligraphy pen, pencil, marker, ballpoint pen, eraser, paint roller, scissors, and a ruler. You can even import or take pictures, and mark them up with text or drawings.

All your creations are easily shared to FiftyThree’s creative community Mix, your camera roll, other apps for further edits, messaging apps, or to the social network of your choosing. Of course, using Apple’s Pencil and iPad Pro with the app is seamless, as FiftyThree worked closely with Apple to optimize Paper on the new hardware.

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iTunes

Adobe Photoshop Sketch (free)

Adobe

Adobe’s entire iOS app suite works extremely well on the iPad Pro, but we’ll highlight Sketch in particular as our favorite drawing app of the bunch. You can create expressive drawings and paintings on it without opening a sketchbook. Artwork can be sent as layered PSD files to Adobe Photoshop CC or resized up to 4x in Illustrator CC to print high-resolution copies.

The app includes 13 tools, a digital ruler, and graph guides. You can import your own images or stock photos to work on top of, too. Using the Creative Cloud connection, you can send a file to Photoshop CC or Illustrator CC on your PC or share your art with the Behance creative community.

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iTunes

Forge (free)

Forge

Forge is more like a sketch pad for ideas, a brainstorming tool, and an inspirational white board for visual thinkers than a full-on drawing app. Artists and designers can work through ideas and iterations in the app, as well as bring in photos from Dropbox and the default photos app on iOS to help inspire your sketches. There are only six simple brushes to choose from, but you can control color, gradient, and other key aspects of the drawing.

Forge also has layers, so you can save each layer to look back on later, change, or delete entirely. You can create multiple portfolios and view your sketches on a wall to get an idea of where you’re going. The iPad Pro’s large screen makes it even easier to spot patterns or just admire your work. Pencil’s precision and lack of lag really shine here, too.

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iTunes

Tayasui Sketches (free)

Tayasui

Tayasui Sketches looks simple and clean, but it offers a number of different brushes for free and a clutter-free space to draw. You get a pencil, rotring, watercolor brush, felt pen, and eraser for free. You can import photos, too, if you want, and it’s really easy to share your sketches on social networks or via email.

It’s great for illustration and quick sketches, but if you buy the in-app purchase, it can become a professional drawing app with surface pressure, layers, types of paper, more brushes, and the ability to change brush sizes. The app lets you try the pro features for an hour, so you can decide if it’s worth the $5 price tag. Regardless of whether you pay for pro, you can organize your sketches and creations into different notebooks in the app, which makes it easier to keep track of everything. Thanks to the backup feature, you won’t have to worry about losing your work, either. 

Although these are our favorites, there are many more apps to choose from, and Adobe’s app suite alone gives you half a dozen options. We’ll update this roundup with more drawing apps soon, but let us know if you have any favorites in the meantime.

Download now from:

iTunes

This article was originally published on December 26, 2015, and updated on April 20, 2016, by Christian de Looper to include Animation Desk Cloud, Concepts, and Pixelmator.