Monday 5 July 2021

What's the best drawing software for iPad (Pro)?

An Adobe Draw piece I exported as a PNG; all flat shapes, no soft edges. 

Once you've gotten your spiffy new iPad, you have to decide what software you're going to dabble with, and that largely depends upon what you want to create.

Want to create Manga? There's apps specifically tailored to making it. I looked at some, but they seemed more like starter software. If you're new to doing digital art, are specifically focused on Manga, need a little extra support as you're getting into it (templates, etc.), then these programs may be for you. I would imagine, however, that over time you'd want to move on to more versatile programs.

Want to animate? There's apps for that too, including the aptly named Animate. Note that some drawing apps do have limited animation capability (such as Photoshop and ProCreate). 

I wasn't entirely certain what I'd do with the iPad Pro when I got it; I wanted to play around, see what was possible and what I actually liked doing on the device. 

Top activities, off the top of my head:

1) Life draw. I usually do 5-10 minute poses, in pencil, ink, watercolour or pastel. They're very rough, usually line work with washes or ink blotches. Not super sophisticated.

A traditional media life drawing, done in pencil

I think these were both a little longer than usual poses (10-15 minutes?)

2) Paint portraits. For this I wanted a reasonable simulation of paint, particularly oil. I wasn't hoping for much in the way of watercolour. Wet into wet often produces happy accidents and I doubted digital could pull of a reasonable approximation of the process or result. 

3) Illustrate. This is a little different, in that it would have commercial application, and would have to be part of an end-to-end work flow, from creation to (possibly) print. Output would have to be compatible with layout programs. It'd have to support CMYK (for print) as well as RGB (for screen). There'd also need to be a decent number of brushes and support tools (basic shapes, etc) as well. 

4) Create comic books. This one gets even more complicated. It'd need to have type tools (my comics always have text for dialogue, sound effects, narration and commentary), basic shapes and (a nice to have) perspective grids. Anything to help ease the process and eliminate busy work.

I also wanted it to be easy to use, compatible with other software I'm familiar with, economical.

Animation wasn't a top priority for me (I use Adobe After Effects for that).

What'd I try?

WARNING: Subjective review. I don't think I explored several pieces of software enough to really give them a fair shake (Concepts and Graphic).

Adobe Photoshop

This one is a bit of a cheat. It doesn't run on an iPad, but you can hook up your iPad to your laptop/desktop and then use the iPad as a tablet. You get to use Photoshop! Alas, the lag was so bad as to be unworkable. 

If you want to do professional illustration / art, the CINTIQ may be the better option. Everyone I know who's professional level uses the CINTIQ (although the hard core also have an iPad Pro). Most need to be attached to a computer, but some can be used independently (such as the Mobile Studio Pro, which will set you back about a cool $4,300 CDN). 

The great thing about Photoshop is that it allows end to end production: print, web, you name it. It's industry standard for a reason.

You can turn off anti-aliasing of text, for example, which you need to do if you're going to go to print. Certain other programs are not capable of this (as we shall see) and as a result you need to rely on other programs to prepare your work for printing. 

Of course, Photoshop is subscription and a rather pricey proposition at $20.99 per month (plus tax). 

If you're using it for commercial jobs, that's reasonably economical (once you've swallowed the cost of the CINTIQ). If you're an artist, on the other hand, it may be a little pricey. 

Adobe Draw

Adobe rolled out Draw a few years ago as a tablet based alternative to Adobe Illustrator. I've complained before how I don't like the way bezier points are laid down in Illustrator with a stylus. 

Well, they licked that problem with Draw. What you draw with the stylus is what you get. 

The art work is vector based, which means it's all plotted out using points connected by lines that may be curved by pulling anchors on your bezier points. 

Raster images are composed of hundreds or thousands of tiny dots of colour; when you enlarge those, they become fuzzy. 

Vector print files tend to be significantly smaller than their raster equivalents, and they are resolution independent (you can infinitely scale up or down). The down side is that it did not have a wide variety of brushes to select from, or a lot of effects.

An Adobe Draw doodle. Crisp shapes. Handles your brush marks well, and with the ability to export vector format could be powerful. 

Still, it was supposed to export EPS files that could be opened in Illustrator. Since I've done a LOT of work in Illustrator in the past (all of my illustration work and graphic novels to date were done in the program), I thought this one would be a really good bet. 

Unfortunately, I did not realize you need an active Creative Cloud account to vector files out of Draw. You can export a PNG, but that's not what I wanted to do: I wanted to send clients finished vector artwork, or pull the material from Draw and use it as the basis for comic book elements on the desktop. 

I own earlier versions of Adobe Illustrator from before it became subscription based. They fulfill my needs, and I haven't had cause to update yet. I use the modern version of the program at work, but we don't have Creative Cloud, and it made no sense to me to pay a monthly subscription fee just for the right to export the file in vector format. 

I found that restriction off putting. 

After a couple months, Adobe then blocked me from opening the program, demanding that I input a Creative Cloud account. It was not subscription when I bought it, and since I have no such account and was unwilling to pay to export files, I stopped using the program. 

That's just as well: Adobe recently sent me a letter saying they are no longer supporting Draw and that Fresco is replacing it. 

Draw is dead, baby. 

I prefer, when I'm working on the iPad Pro, to just open my programs and work, not have to leap through hoops and demands for additional info or accounts or whatnot.

Draw was good, but not that good.

Fresco is, from what I have heard, very good and has many wonderful features. After my experience with Adobe Draw, however, I'm not really interested at this time. 

I imagine it's a professional level tool though, and worth looking into.


A friend recommended this one, and it's got a ton of features. Too many. I wasn't keen on the interface. I The initial hurdle was too great and I didn't bother to explore it as much as it probably deserved. 

Concepts offers you the basics for free, but if you want more functionality, you have to pay a subscription fee. 

That I wanted to avoid.

I would not recommend this as casual or beginner software.


This is a vector based program, touted as a stripped down version of Adobe Illustrator, so it seemed like a possible fit. Unfortunately, I didn't like the way it laid down the bezier points, and sometimes my lines would just vanish after I drew them. Obviously I was doing something wrong, but... I wasn't compelled to figure it out. 

I did a few sketches in this I didn't like and dropped it.

Others I can't remember

I deleted a few off my drive that I tried and really did not like. I can't even remember them now. 

So much for thorough research! 


This is what I ultimately settled on: it's compatible with both newer and older versions of Photoshop (meaning that layers in your ProCreate file transfer, along with live text, perfectly to Photoshop, without incident), has lots of brushes, is easy to use, inexpensive (no subscription fee), well supported and popular. 

It is not vector based, but raster art has its advantages (especially with textures), and that was appealing. I'd been doing vector based art for so long, I thought it was time for a change.  I didn't like any of the vector based alternatives. 

Of the programs I tried, it felt the closest to traditional media, and the interface is mostly invisible, it doesn't get in my way or (for the most part) frustrate me. I like interfaces that are like picture frames: they enhance the picture but don't distract.

I found myself gravitating to ProCreate when I went life drawing, over Draw, Concepts or Graphic. It was just so much easier to use, and even so it was challenging to move off traditional media and into this digital contraption.

I'm now very comfortable in ProCreate. It's a tool that allows me to do a lot of want I want to do, and doesn't get in my way. 

That doesn't mean I know how to use it well: I struggled with the brushes, especially at first, not being sure how to properly employ them. Then again, I struggle with a lot of traditional media as well.

There are videos and tutorials online, but not the process type stuff I was specifically looking for. 

I wound up mostly learning trial by error. 

I use ProCreate for my own limited, applied purposes: life drawing (with aplomb), painting (I think, I need to get better at painting, period), and even illustration (with major caveat regarding the RGB limitations). 

I admit I am still struggling to find my groove when it comes to illustrating using the iPad Pro and ProCreate.

Comics was the most complicated option. When I first looked into software for doing a graphic novel, ProCreate did not yet have a text tool. A few months later, it was added. By that point I was familiar with it thanks to the life drawing, so I just kept rolling forward with it. 

It does not, however, allow you to turn off anti-aliasing on your type (Anti-aliasing makes type smooth and easy to read on the screen, but if you print it, it'll look fuzzy). It does not have the ability to create CMYK files either (only RGB for screen). 

ProCreate is NOT an end-to-end production tool. 

I had to convert files to bitmap to remove the anti-aliasing on the faux ink line work, which meant I needed to port it over to my desktop and bring it into Photoshop

If I didn't have an old copy of Photoshop, I'd have had to rely on my publisher to do the final print prep work, or buy a subscription just to do print prep.

Next: I'll post some life drawings (and attempted paintings) using ProCreate, then some illustration explorations, and finally some comics pages.

No comments:

Post a Comment