Tablet As Canvas: 13 Tablet Artistry Apps, Tested

Software for iPad: ArtRage for iPad

ArtRage on the iPad has a simpler interface still, slightly fewer tools and you’ll certainly notice the difference in performance – especially if you've used it on a Core i5 Windows tablet like the HP EliteBook or the new Asus Slate. That doesn’t mean the iPad version isn’t enormously capable and it strikes a great balance between having the tools and options that a serious digital artist will want to get exactly the right effect and having good enough presets and features that you can produce interesting art without having to be an expert.

Keeping track of the color, viscosity, wetness, drying time and stroke information is demanding for the software; expect to have to close other apps you’re running to get enough memory for really complex images where you’re blending multiple paints (although we didn’t find the memory warning on screen actually caused any problems while painting).

The missing stickers and stencils make the interface less cluttered and settings are hidden too; tapping on the brush to get settings instead of a separate button is very intuitive. The color picker is even more of a pleasure to use; swipe along the color arc to pick a new hue and you get a sample pen stroke that's really easy to see on screen. While you can save colors from the picker there’s also an eyedropper handy at the bottom of the screen to re-use a color from your painting. You get many of the same presets for brushes - although ‘just water’ didn’t work as well as in the PC version, because it sometimes added color as well – and you can still make your own.

Choosing color on ArtRage

There are other differences; with the palette knife you have to put down dabs of oil paint separately on the iPad, but you still get a very natural experience for painting and drawing, especially with the best styluses.

On the iPad you also have to get the hang of using two fingers to move the canvas around otherwise you paint when you wanted to pan; you can zoom in and out for detail but remember the brush size will need reducing too.

If you think you can paint but believe you can’t draw shapes, you can use reference images – either pinning them to the canvas to copy freehand or using them as a layer you can trace over. Painting over a reference image and picking up colors is rather confusing and doesn’t work as well as on the PC; but using it as a layer to draw over can give you confidence to get started.

ArtRage is definitely more powerful on the PC, but this is a superb painting package on the iPad as well that makes it far easier than you expect to paint something impressive – and the iPad is far more portable than most PC tablets.

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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.