Tablet As Canvas: 13 Tablet Artistry Apps, Tested

Software for iPad: Adobe Color Lava and Eazel

Photoshop CS 5.5 has some natural media style brushes for painting and the iPhone and iPad apps for Photoshop help with that. Adobe Color Lava is like an artist’s palette for mixing paint on screen; you put dabs of colours from the six basic colors on the painting area and start mixing – which works well with your fingers or a stylus. There’s a water ‘pool’ in the top left corner that you can rinse your finger in if you don’t want to transfer color to a new area – so you can go from mixing green and blue to mixing red and yellow. Every time you lift your finger or stylus off the screen the last color you touched is saved as a sample and you can save them as a color set to use in Photoshop. This is a nice way to record color inspirations you see when you’re out and about – the mix of colors on a peeling paint wall or in a store window arrangement.

Adobe Eazel is actually a painting app, although it’s not as sophisticated as other iPad tools; you can pick the color, brush size and opacity to paint with but there’s only one style of brush and paint – watercolor, implemented so paint bleeds into the colors it touches on screen unless you leave it long enough to ‘dry’. Eazel works better with fingers than with a stylus because it uses the iPad’s multitouch to assign different functions to each finger – you press all five fingers and thumb on the screen to bring up the controls and leave the fingertip that matches the control you want on the screen to activate it. Your thumb is for undo and redo, your index finger sets the color (you can preset a palette of five swatches), your middle finger sets the size, your ring finger controls opacity and your pinkie brings up the settings (which are just for saving your art).

This is very clever and it’s nice to have an interface that’s never in the way when you’re painting, but it can be a bit confusing, even with the ‘ghost hand’ that appears to remind you how it works - and while Eazel works very well with the Nomad Brush stylus, you have to go back to your fingers to change the color every time. Eazel is designed to work with Photoshop (it looks for a copy of Photoshop 5.5 running on a computer on the same Wi-Fi network as your iPad) but you can also save the pictures you create on your iPad so it would work as a standalone painting tool. It’s fun to paint with but you don’t get multiple undo levels or an easy way to save versions at different stages. It doesn’t have anything like as wide a range of effects as ArtRage or Inspire Pro and you need a little more skill to produce effective artwork.

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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.