From casual doodling to professional level designing and fine art, the iPad Pro lends itself to many creative pursuits. But to truly take advantage of the responsive screen and endless creative potential, you need the right apps.
Drawing apps for the iPad Pro feature optimization for the Apple Pencil, endless coloring tools, excellent resolution, and fine-tuning features that are worth the investment. Of course, we’ll cover budget-friendly and free apps for emerging artists, too.
Ibis Paint X
Ibis Paint X is an appealing, multi-faceted drawing app that offers a variety of tools. This versatile app offers 1,000 fonts, 312 brushes, 58 filters, 46 screen tones, 27 blending modes, stroke stabilization, radial line and symmetry rulers, and the ability to record drawings. The free, ad-supported version facilitates smooth drawing at up to 120 fps with brush types like dip pens, felt tip pens, digital pens, airbrushes, fan brushes, flat brushes, pencils, oil brushes, charcoal brushes, crayons, and stamps. Brush parameters feature starting/ending thickness, starting/ending opacity, and initial/final brush angle. Sliders enable brush thickness adjustments and opacity previews. You can add unlimited layers and set parameters for each layer individually, such as opacity, alpha blending, and adding, subtracting, and multiplying. New filters for the latest version include Lens Blur, Hexagonal Pixelate, Square Pixelate, Triangular Pixelate, Ripple, Twirl, Fisheye Lens, and Polar Coordinates.
Trace is an architectural design app that lets you develop ideas as you work through various phases of the design process. Made for architects, designers, interior designers, illustrators, and other creatives, Trace lets you conceptualize your designs by drawing on top of PDFs, maps, photos, drawing sets, and background templates in high resolution with tools, brushes, and pens. An AR perspective finder sets grids in real space. You can draw and measure or draw over any site to scale, auto draw to vanishing points, mark up and share drawings, move paper as you would with paper tracing, and access photos from your camera or the cloud. A scale pen gives you smart line weights for precision drawing. The basic app is free but various pro-level subscriptions range from $5 per month to $20 per month.
MediBang Paint is an easy-to-use painting program that may remind you of Photoshop, in that it allows you to work with layers. It has a very good brush editor and offers the ability to add styles to your layers. This program has so many tools that it feels more at home on the larger iPad Pros, but it is also compatible with the fourth-generation iPad and above, or iPad Mini 2 and above. If you like to draw comic books, this app gives you a lot of comic book fonts to get the professional look you want. You can save your projects locally or to the cloud. Recent versions implement the Eyedropper tool in the long tap, added a reference window, and implemented Unsharp Mask.
The main idea of ArtRage is to make the painting experience as realistic as possible on the iPad. You can mix different paints as though you were blending them on a real canvas with a palette knife, airbrushing, or daubing oils. This app works with layers, so if you’re already familiar with Photoshop, you’ll feel right at home with the blend modes. ArtRage also allows you to record your strokes for later viewing on your desktop. It not only supports the Apple Pencil, but also Wacom, Adonit, and Pogo styli.
Even if you’re not a professional artist, you’ve probably heard about Autodesk Sketchbook. It’s one of the most popular apps for artists and the rest of us. The layout is everything when it comes to design programs, and Sketchbook’s toolbars are organized in an easily accessible way — and you can even pin them to the screen. Great features include import and export from and to Photoshop, and the ability to zoom in as much as 2,500% to let you work on those fine details. It supports the Apple Pencil, along with some of the better styli available for other tablets. Recent versions feature 1-, 2-, and 3-point perspective guides, a snapping toggle, vanishing point lock, horizon line visibility, and curve ruler. Grid tools can be customized, infinite, or constrained.
Graphic is like having Adobe Illustrator on your iPad. This app, which used to be called iDraw, is also available for your Mac, letting you switch back and forth between your desktop and your iPad for designing and drawing. It features different brushes and full support for the Apple Pencil, but it also lets you create vector-based technical drawings. If you’re into graphic design, you will be amazed at how Graphic can push the capabilities of the iPad.
Adobe Illustrator Draw
Similar to Graphic, Adobe Illustrator Draw allows you to create vector-based designs. This app is simple, with a non-intimidating user interface. It’s geared toward someone who wants to dive in and start working on ideas right away without a steep learning curve. The app lets you take your work on the go, and you can easily transition your latest project to Illustrator on your desktop or laptop when you’re back in the office.
Inspire Pro ($10)
This is one of the most intuitive apps for drawing and sketching. Taking advantage of the iPad’s multicore CPU and OpenGL, it can draw and render images quickly, which is one of the things you want when you’re drawing on a tablet to help it mimic real drawing. The app saves your favorite colors for quick access and fully supports the Apple Pencil. The app also supports Siri shortcuts in iOS 12 from Settings > Siri & Search or the Shortcuts app. That opens Inspire Pro to a new canvas so you can get started painting immediately. The updated version offers full support for the new iPadOS, including all multitasking features such as Slide Over and Split View as well as enhanced performance to leverage Apple Pencil’s new lower latency for a smooth, precise artistic experience.
Making stickers, icons, and other graphics with Assembly is easy. You can create crisp and professional-looking work in no time at all with a vast selection of shapes, symbols, and stickers for you to manipulate and layer. You can save your work as a high-resolution JPG or PNG, as well as in vector formats like SVG and PDF. The latest version has reworked the app’s approach to color with general enhanced accuracy and efficiency throughout. The app now features real-time color updates, full-screen color sampling with the eyedropper tool, hex color code support, easy toggling between Fill, Stroke and Shadow settings, and custom color palettes with up to 16 colors. The working color palette now keeps track of all the colors in your project and you can more precisely adjust opacity, access colors directly from the Shapes Tab, and get one-button access to remove color attributes. The app is free, but a Pro subscription that costs $3 per week, $5 per month or $30 per year is available for added themed shape packs, a text engine and fonts, and the ability to combine and intersect fonts, or import vector images.
Sketch Club ($3)
Sketch Club has something somewhat unusual going for it — a community of artists with whom you can share your art. You can comment on everyone’s work and find some inspiration. The app lets you create up to 64 layers in total, and you can create your art on canvases that are up to 4K in resolution. With a wide selection of brushes and vector tools, this is a full-fledged drawing app. It has full support for the Apple Pencil and the ability to record in a video in 1080p.
Brushes took the stage when the Apple iPad debuted back in 2010 and showed the world that an iPad could be a tool for artists. The app won an Apple Design Award, David Hockney used it to create paintings, and Jorge Colombo used it for New Yorker covers. Since then, the app has grown to support the iPad Pro. Written exclusively for the iPad, the app supports OpenGL and takes advantage of the tablet’s 64-bit processing. Not only is it swift, but it has the familiar iOS interface design that iPad users appreciate. It has layers support, but unlike other more robust professional apps, you can only create up to 10 layers.
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. There’s also 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. Recent versions have re-engineered the data flow from your Mac to iPad to push data more efficiently. Now, pixelation is significantly reduced when connected over Wi-Fi or USB. It costs $30.
Animation Desk is great for animating, storyboarding, and sketching, and is compatible with the Apple Pencil. It’s a relatively basic app, but one that will cost you nothing if you don’t opt for the in-app purchases. Recent versions have added rotoscoping and the ability to import video and files from iOS Files. If you’re looking to try your hand at animation, Animation Desk is the app to try.
Pigment is the ultimate adult coloring app for grown-ups 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 stick on the fridge. Paid add-ons are available for those seeking more options and designs. The new version debuts the Blur brush, new Vapor and Jewel Haze color palettes, and a dynamic new fill tool animation. You can now move the brush controls to the left- or right-hand side of the screen or hide it completely. The company also has a Jim Henson Company partnership and color books and pages from the Dark Crystal, Labyrinth, and Farscape. You can now disable finger drawing when using Apple Pencil and turn on or off two-finger undo.
Concepts is built with a specific purpose in mind — design. Home design, industrial design — you name it and Concepts can help you envision it. The app includes many of the tools you would expect from a design app, including support for numerous layers and the ability to export in both SVG or CAD formats. Recent updates enhance the behavior of the Shape Guides for more precise sketches and designs. You can now rotate the shape guides precisely via the angle metric in the status bar. When you have a shape guide active, tap and hold on the angle value at the right end of the status bar, then enter your desired angle or choose from the presets offered. No need to toggle snap on and off anymore to get your lines and rectangles aligned! You can now disable rotation and scaling when adjusting the guides with the drag handles. This allows you to control the shapes much more precisely. The shape guides are included in your subscription or are available for purchase in the store with Essentials. The app now shows a notification when a selection is duplicated. This allows a more precise workflow. If you use a keyboard with your device, there’s a new set of keyboard shortcuts. Hold down your command key while on canvas to see the current list of what’s possible, both with and without an active selection. The app is free but offers in-app purchases.
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. New versions let you use the fillet/chamfer tool on 3D objects with planer (flat) surfaces. Support for 3D surfaces will be available in the future. An updated What’s New screen makes it easier to keep track of changes in the app and discover new features. The app is free, but to get the full feature set, you’ll need to pay $16 per month or $96 per year.
Pixelmator is a solid photo editor that can also handle painting. sketching, and graphic design. From cropping to retouching, sketching to blending, Pixelmator does it all. 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 Apple’s stylus. Recent versions sport an optimized interface and support for the double-tap Apple Pencil gesture.
Procreate is one of the most professional and well-rounded drawing apps on this list, and it will set you back $10. It comes equipped with a full set of drawing tools that expertly imitate real creative tools, like soft pastels, oil pastels, charcoal, graphite pencils of varying hardness, acrylic, oil, watercolors, and more. Whatever the medium, Procreate’s digital tools 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 fast and responsive, and on the iPad Pro with Pencil, drawing or painting on Procreate feels natural. You can add a number of layers and decide how high-res you want your canvas to be. With 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.
Paper has long been one of the best iPad drawing apps. In addition to the standard creative tool suite, the app offers diagramming and note-taking tools. You 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 Paste, an app for creative teams. Using Apple’s Pencil and iPad Pro with the app is seamless. A subscription-based Pro version offers extra features and tools. This release makes it easier to customize your journals with a cover image. For those who take organization seriously, you can also now choose the color of the band on each journal. A new feature for picking a page template for an entire journal — grid, lined, or storyboard presets will be automatically applied to each new page.
Adobe Photoshop Sketch
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. 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 4 times in Illustrator CC to print high-resolution copies. The app includes 14 tools, a digital ruler, and graph guides. You can also import your own images or stock photos to work with. New versions let you control the Apple Pencil double-tap gesture, switch between brush and eraser, activate the color picker, and zoom in and out. You can also send your work directly to the printer from within the app.
Zen Brush 2 ($3)
With Apple Pencil support, Zen Brush 2 lets you create beautifully drawn art that features the look and feel of the East Asian ink brush. The app lets you choose from a large collection of backgrounds to showcase your art or calligraphy. The app also allows you to share your work right to your Facebook or Twitter feed. If you don’t have an iPad Pro and Apple Pencil, no worries. This app is also compatible with the Wacom Intuos and Adonit Jot stylus.
Tayasui Sketches looks simple and clean, and it offers a number of professional brushes 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 easy to share your sketches on social networks or via email. It’s great for illustration and quick sketches, but if you make 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 $6 price tag. Regardless of whether you pay for the pro, you can organize your sketches and creations into different notebooks in the app. Thanks to the backup feature, you never have to worry about losing your work.
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