Tablet As Canvas: 13 Tablet Artistry Apps, Tested

Software for iPad: MyPaint (Free)

You don’t expect much from a free painting app, but MyPaint is rather like a box of felt-tip markers – what you can draw with them is really up to your skills and abilities and the software doesn’t help you (or conceal your artistic failures) nearly as much as some of the other tools. The controls are basic and you don’t get the natural painting effects of more complex software; you can set the size of the brush and the transparency of the paint, and the color picker has 35 pre-set colours plus drag bars for adjusting the red, green and blue values rather than the more sophisticated hue, saturation and value options. You can also press and hold to select a color from the painting that you've already used; nice if you like the effect you get where colors overlap.

As for painting, all you can really do is draw and erase (there’s an option to use a photo as a reference image but we found this wasn’t reliable), or zoom in and out to work on different areas. The lines you draw aren't as smooth as we’d like, especially with a thinner brush. But just as markers are fantastic tools in the hands of a talented artist, you can still do some great art with MyPaint if you draw carefully; the gallery has some good examples of how good or bad the results can be. The rest of us might find natural media tools more inspiring – and forgiving.

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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.