The iPad Pro and its Pencil accessory have reminded us how great tablets can be at creating real art. But it's not just the hardware, it's the apps you'll use with it. Mobile device owners have a plethora of art and drawing apps to choose from, and it's tough to separate the gems from the fool's gold. Here are 15 of our favorite drawing apps, ranging from free and easy to use doodling tools, to high-end professional suites that can turn your mobile device into a handheld art studio.
The first Astropad app did a fantastic job of turning your iPad into a video graphics tablet for your Mac, making for an excellent companion for anybody using Adobe Photoshop and similar software. Astropad has since upped its game with the new Astropad Studio, a subscription version of the app aimed squarely at graphics professionals using the iPad Pro and the Apple Pencil. Designed to work through Wi-Fi or a USB connection, Astropad Studio boasts improved responsiveness and features, shortcuts, gesture controls, and more. The app comes with a free 7-day trial, after which it will cost you $11.00 per month, or $79.99 for a year's subscription.
Pixelmator's iOS port delivers a powerful image editing and digital painting tool to mobile devices that syncs well with its bigger OSX version. Pixelmator on iOS supports editing images of up to 100 megapixels in size, with numerous color correction and manipulation tools and effects, as well as handy presets for fast edits. On the painting end, the app comes with more than 100 different brushes, simulated paint effects, layers and layer effects, and support for a variety of active stylus devices like the Apple Pencil. You can import and export Photoshop files, JPEGs, PNGs, and other popular image and photo formats, and iCloud support means your projects can sync across devices and to your Mac.
The Sketchbook app (Android, iOS) has all the power and ease of use you could need, as well as a unified the experience across Android and iOS. Sketchbook comes with a variety of drawing tools and brushes, all of which you can customize on the fly, pinch to zoom, a gallery organizer, and support for saving and storing your works to Dropbox or iCloud. In addition, users can create a free Sketchbook account to gain access to more features such as layer and symmetry tools. A premium subscription unlocks more pro tools such as an expanded brush library, and more powerful layer and selection tools.
Adobe Photoshop Sketch is a free app that provides users with a set of expressive drawing tools. Users can choose from utilities that mimic a graphite pencil, ink pen or marker. The app supports a variety of Bluetooth styluses on the market such as Adobe Ink, Pencil, and others by Wacom and Adonit. Sketch aims to replicate the analog drawing experience, augmented with a few digital flourishes such as a color picker and an undo history. Users can import in assets from other Creative Cloud tools such as custom brushes and colors, and your creations can also be exported into Creative Cloud as layered PSDs to Photoshop, or flat images for Illustrator.
Adobe Illustrator Draw is a versatile vector graphics drawing app that can be further enhanced with Creative Cloud integration. Users can mess around with five customizable pens, stylus support for popular devices such as Adobe Ink, and the ability to create up to 10 layers to create images on the app. Users can import in assets from Color CC and Shape CC, and can export drawings straight to Illustrator CC on the desktop, or PNG files to Photoshop CC, allowing you to begin a creation whenever inspiration takes you, and then flesh it out fully on a desktop rig.
Pixel art has hit something of a renaissance, used in everything from retro art to computer games. Rizer's Pixaki turns your iPad into a full-on pixel art studio, loaded with a ton of features you'd expect from a proper professional art app. Don't let the retro look fool you, though: Pixaki comes with drawing, shape, selection and palette tools, and support for up to 50 layers, with the option to import images and photos as layers for you to draw over, as well as animation features. Images can be exported to a variety of formats, such as PSDs, GIFs, PNGs, sprite sheets and more.
Concepts by TopHatch is another really cool mobile art app that combines the ease of pen-and-paper-style drawing with the powerful tools of a vector graphics app. The free version is already a perfectly serviceable drawing tool, coming with five-layer support, an infinite canvas, vector brush tools, and support for a variety of Bluetooth active styli from Apple, Adonit, Fifty Three and more. A $7.99 in-app purchase unlocks the Pro Pack which adds a ton of new features, such as CAD-style tools, import and export options, transformation tools and a variety of object libraries that simplify work.