Tablet As Canvas: 13 Tablet Artistry Apps, Tested

Software for Windows Tablets: ArtRage

ArtRage has a much simpler layout, and well arranged; tap bottom left to change tools, tap bottom right to pick a color both from an arc of options that use the space on screen well. The color picker is particularly intuitive; pick a new color from the arc of hues and it uses the intensity of the current color but you can tap in the color detail area to change that, and you can swipe the metallic picker to add luster. There’s an eyedropper to reuse a color from the canvas plus selection, skew and text tools and glitter and ‘gloop’ paints which you won’t find on the iPad version.

Undo and redo button are handy in the toolbar at the top and you can pinch to change the brush size or tap on buttons for settings and preset combinations (like switching from a marker pen with a hard tip to one that acts as if you left the top off and it dried out slightly for that ‘scrubby’ feel).

There are more buttons for stencils and shapes you can trace around, stickers you can stamp onto your artwork, layers and options for loading a photo to trace from (either as inspiration or with the option of picking up the original colours in your brush strokes) or pin on screen as a reference image. These buttons do get in the way of your painting area but they’re easy to hide and restore. The color and tool pickers hide themselves if your brush gets near them so you can paint into the corners.

There are presets for many of the brushes – for the watercolor brush that includes the ever-useful ‘just water’ for blending colors on the page, so you can follow standard painting techniques. You can also make your own from the current brush settings, which also give you a wide range of options from the basics like brush size and pressure to how much paint is loaded, how much the color bleeds into the paint on the paper and whether the paper is wet or the ink dries at once.

Paint with the watercolor brush – especially with the Nomad Brush on a capacitive screen – and it really feels like you're actually using paint and paper; the emulation may not be as precise or give you as much control as with Painter but  the effects are excellent - the strokes look like they come from a brush. The same is true of the crayon and pastel and oil paint and felt marker. If you mix oil paint with the palette knife you can see the ridges in the paint as the colors blend. This is all much more responsive than in Painter.

What’s not like painting with real paint isn’t just that you never have to clean the brush or top-up your palette. You can quickly undo a stroke with the undo and redo buttons at the bottom or use layers to protect your work, and you can keep saving versions – that means you don’t have to undo dozens of stroke if your idea for a color wash over a pencil sketch doesn’t work and you can experiment with variations starting at different stages in the picture.

That really frees you up to experiment – even if you're sure you can’t paint and could never learn, it’s surprising what you can achieve, because being able to just play around and experiment is hugely liberating.

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  • Bob55
    Thanks so much for this rundown on tablet painting and for reminding us that tablets are supposed to replace paper. I think they will replace paper in more ways than they currently do, quite soon.

    I'm not an artist, but I am curious. How do iPads etc., compare with Wacom's Cintiq or pressure sensitive tablets? Can an iPad or Android tablet, with a 'brush stylus' totally replace them, if the tablet is used as a painting peripheral? If more is needed, what is it? If little separates the two types of tablet for PC/Mac painting, I suspect that the Cintiq's days are numbered.

    Who knows what the primary digital painting machine will be in the future - I doubt it will remain what it has been.
  • marybranscombe
    iPad or Android is a lot more portable than a Cintiq or Wacom tablet, but you're running tablet apps rather than the full PC/Mac programs - which are more powerful. You don't get true pressure sensitvity on an iPad but you can approximate it nicely by painting lightly with a Nomad Brush or rubbing repeatedly with your finger for smudging effects. What you don't have and won't get without some very expensive hardware is the full range of info that a Wacom tablet/Cintiq can get from the pen - not just pressure and positions but angle (tilt in both the x and y axis) and the ability to sense how that rotates, plus additional information like the setting of a dial on the side of an airbrush. That's ten variables of information that can be used to simulate a complex tool like an airbrush... Software can give you controls to rotate a flat brush sideways but you have to change a setting for each stroke, so the interface for that is hard. Plus full natural media simulation is hard work for even a Core i5 (some oil paint simulations were written to test high-performance computing platforms!)

    That said, you can achieve fantastic results on the iPad and other very portable devices. I suspect we'll keep a range of deskbound and portable devices but it's really exciting how things are developing!
  • Tablet can't compete with Cintiq at this time. An iPad is a good sketch book on the go, but it's definitely not a professional hardware for drawing and painting.