Tablet As Canvas: 13 Tablet Artistry Apps, Tested

Software for iPad: Brushes, Art Studio, iPocket Draw Lite, iDesign

Brushes became a popular app after it was used to create several New Yorker covers and we’ve seen some amazing artwork created with it. It has a clean and simple interface (the way you can press and hold to select a color from your painting is particularly welcome) - and some excellent brushes for drawing with) and it’s a great simple app to start with, but it’s missing many of the features in ArtRage and Autodesk Sketchbook Express (available for iPad, Windows Tablets, and Android, which is the format we reviewed on the next page) – in particular there are no tools for blending or smudging colors. The $7.99 price isn’t exactly expensive, but ArtRage and the similar Art Studio are both cheaper.

If you want to work with regular shapes rather than freehand drawing, vector art software is ideal – and remember that you can move an image from one app to another on the iPad (even if you can’t open a file directly, you can usually import it from the photo galley to work on it) so you can draw those straight lines and regular shapes that are so hard to do freehand and them move them into an art package. iPocket Draw Lite is a free vector drawing app on the iPad that’s better for drawing shapes than it is for doing real CAD work; you can’t save but you can always grab a screenshot with the iPad of course.

As well as basic lines and shapes, iPocket Draw let you create polygons a point at a time, with straight or curved lines; you can add multiple layers, and type in text (you can also add labels for various measurements – this is confusing if you're trying to be accurate but gives you a rather nice artistic effect if you’re creating the blueprint look. You couldn’t create much just in iPocket Draw but it’s handy as an extra tool. If you want a more professional approach, buy a copy of iDesign ($4.99); this would be much better if it had a freehand tools, or options for aligning and distributing objects, and we found the gesture interface quite confusing initially, but you can draw shapes on multiple layers and open anchor points in lines to edit shapes once you’ve created them.

It’s nowhere near the power of Illustrator, say, but if you’re used to creating vector drawings you can get accurate and detailed images.

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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.