Choosing an iPad app for your artwork

Apple's iPad is a powerful and versatile creation tool that allows artists to use their tablets as portable art studios. Here's a rundown of some of the best art apps available for the iPad today.

A multitude of apps

When Apple first unveiled the iPad to the world, it was categorized as nothing more than a glorified media consumption device.

Yet in the months that followed, app developers and creative users proved that the Apple tablet could also be a powerful and versatile creation tool.

A little more than a year later, artists are using their iPads as portable art studios for everything from sketching ideas to painting digital masterpieces. But if you are new to finger painting—or digital art in general—it may be difficult to figure out how to proceed. So in the spirit of getting started, let’s simplify the process of creating artwork on the iPad with a rundown of some of the best iPad artwork apps available today.


Brushes ($8), by Steve Sprang/Taptrix, was the first iPad app that I downloaded and the main reason that I purchased my first iPad. I really enjoyed using the iPhone version of this app, so I knew that with the extra screen space and faster processor, the iPad version would be fantastic.

The Brushes interface is easy to get used to: a simple toolbar at the bottom of the screen controls everything. All of the options that you would expect to see are there, including a color wheel, brush menu, undo/redo, and a layer menu. The app offers fast brush stroke performance, and smooth pinch zooming, navigation, and auto save. All of the artwork that you create is stored inside the built-in gallery.

Most impressively, the Brushes app automatically records the process of creating each painting and allows you play back the process later, right inside the app. It even gives you an option to export your actions as a file, which can be converted to a video using the accompanying Mac application, Brushes Viewer.

SketchBook Pro

SketchBook Pro 2 ($5) is a mobile version of Autodesk's desktop digital artwork application of the same name. At first glance, the interface has a very similar feel to that of Brushes, but as you begin to delve deeper into SketchBook Pro's menus you will discover a whole range of extra sliders and settings that will make pro users feel right at home.

Ironically, SketchBook Pro offers a broader range of brush options than the Steve Sprang/Taptrix Brushes app, but the extra choices at times are overwhelming and can slow down the process of creating artwork. Having said that, in the latest 2.0 release by Autodesk there are now customizable side pallets for brushes and colors, which help speed up and simplify your creative workflow. Plus the new version is less expensive than the original.

The toolset in SketchBook Pro is impressive, with options for drawing straight lines and geometric shapes, and adding text to your artwork. If you are using an iPad 2, there's also an option to work at the higher resolution of 2048-by-1536 pixels. Another benefit of using SketchBook Pro is that you can export your finished artwork containing up to 12 layers in PSD format, allowing you to continue working in a desktop application such as Adobe Photoshop.


ArtRage ($7), by Ambient Design, offers a very different approach to painting on the iPad with tools that aim to replicate rather than replace traditional painting techniques—and with stunning results.

The oil paint brush behaves exactly as you would expect, with strokes that have a natural and textural quality to them. Using the pallet knife, you can easily spread paint around the canvas and blend colors together in an incredibly realistic way. There are simulations for watercolor paints, an airbrush, pastels, and a range of other impressive tools to choose from.

Unfortunately though, as with SketchBook Pro, the added functionality does make ArtRage at times complicated to use. For the oil paint brush alone there are seven variables to consider, including the size of the brush, the level of pressure applied when painting, the amount of thinner in the paint, and the quantity of paint loaded with each brush stroke. Not only do you have to understand what each of these settings does, but also how and when to use them effectively in your artwork.


Lucky Clan's ArtStudio for iPad ($5) brings some of the best features from across a range of painting apps into one place and is probably the most desktop-like app that I have used on the iPad. It has a broad array of brushes including an airbrush, wet brush, and a useful scatter brush for creating patterns and textures. There are hidden panels of options for brushes, colors, and layers that give you extra choices, when needed.

A great feature of ArtStudio is its filter panel for making stylized adjustments to your painting, such as Gaussian blur, sharpen, noise, and colorize. Unfortunately, the user interface suffers because of the number of tools available. Despite that, I found ArtStudio a quick app to navigate and easy to get used to working with.


Procreate, ($5) by Savage Interactive, is a painting app built with performance in mind. It is incredibly responsive and has a beautifully simple user interface. It features a fixed menu around the outer edges of the canvas, offering immediate access to sliders for adjusting brush size and opacity, as well as undo and redo buttons. The full brush, layer, and color menus are accessible and well-presented with large visuals.

Procreate’s functionality is similar to that of the Brushes app, but it has some useful extra features including a customizable smudge tool that allows you to blend colors together—and for the first time—a tool for creating your own custom brushes.

Adobe Eazel

Adobe Eazel for Photoshop ($5) is Adobe’s first attempt at a painting app, and an exciting demonstration of how the iPad can be used in conjunction with desktop software. Eazel features an interesting liquid-paint simulation, which can produce natural looking, loose paint work. Adobe has implemented a unique five-finger interface for Eazel, which literally places its tools at your fingertips. This simplified interface is fun to use, but can be irritating at times, as it requires a certain degree of dexterity to navigate successfully.

As an extension of Adobe Photoshop CS5, Eazel is worth a look, but as a standalone painting application, this version lacks basic features such as brush choices and layers.


So far, all of the apps mentioned are intended for artists who like to sketch and paint, but recently Steve Sprang/Taptrix, the developers of Brushes, released a new app called Inkpad ($5), which is a full blown vector illustration app. Using your fingers you can tap and plot Bézier curves with the pen tool, draw geometric shapes, and make path adjustments as you work.

Inkpad has an incredible depth of functionality with a well-thought-out user interface. There is a floating toolbar for the main toolset and pop-up menus for layers, color swatches, and path adjustments. Overall, Inkpad is a brilliantly executed iPad app and a mouth-watering prospect for any vector artist.

Which one is best?

If you are new to iPad finger painting or digital painting in general, Brushes and Procreate are by far the easiest apps to learn. They both have really clean interfaces and don't overly complicate the process with too many settings.

ArtStudio or SketchBook Pro may be better choices for more experienced users who are looking for an app with the same amount of options as a desktop package, while ArtRage is the obvious choice for artists looking to achieve a natural quality in their work.

There is no perfect iPad art app. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses—I often work with several different apps to complete a single piece of artwork. I consider Brushes to be my main iPad art app because it offers a good balance of features and usability with the option to playback and export your steps later. For me, that is a killer feature.

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