What's the best digital painting app

The 9 best drawing apps for iPad and Apple Pencil

Stefan von Gagern

Drawing with the Apple Pencil is one of the main reasons to get an iPad Pro. But hardware is only as good as software. Reason enough to test the most important drawing apps and present the creative possibilities with them.

The Apple Pencil and the drawing capabilities are one of the main reasons I looked forward to the iPad Pro. Background: I've been drawing for as long as I can remember, earlier comics, later scribbles for websites or storyboards for films, and privately watercolors and oil paintings. I also like to draw digitally.

In the past, Wacom was the reference with its graphics tablets and later so-called pen displays (a combination of graphics tablet and monitor). But as described in our test, the iPad Pro with its pressure levels and the excellent Apple Pencil comes very close to the feeling of drawing on a Wacom model - and combines the whole thing with perfect mobility.

The only thing missing is good software: How good are the drawing apps that can be bought in the store? Our overview of the nine best apps for Apple Pencil and iPad.

Procreate

The app appeared almost parallel to the first iPad Pro, has now won many awards and is still causing a sensation today. Certainly not the cheapest drawing app, but still a bargain for the range of functions at around 10 euros. If you want to get a quick impression of what Procreate can do, it is best to open some of the demo drawings provided or visit the portfolio on the homepage. One of Procreate's strengths is the tidy surface. Actually there are only two sliders on the left for the opacity and the brush size. Otherwise you switch between the application of paint (brush), smudging and erasing - done. Otherwise only the color selection field and the layer palette will disturb the rest. The basic principle is quickly internalized and so you can concentrate on drawing.

The variety only becomes apparent when you dig deeper: there are over 200 brushes in the categories for sketches, ink, calligraphy, airbrush, textures and even more unusual ones like “retro”. If you miss something, you can design and add your own brushes or load or buy more via the lavishly equipped marketplace. The brushes react without delay, excellently to pressure and in most cases convincingly like the real models. There is also a layer palette that is not only reminiscent of Photoshop, but also masters masks, blend modes and layer groups and can import PSD files complete with layers and blend modes. By the way, every drawing session can be exported as a time-lapse video. When uploaded to Facebook or Instagram, friends can watch the drawing.

Procreate can undo 250 brush strokes. Experimenting with every imaginable drawing technique is possible. Templates can be imported as photos and imported into layers with reduced opacity for drawing off. The default settings are exemplary: A quick menu can be configured here or, for example, set so that a finger is always recognized as a swiping finger. By the way, Procreate is not just for the big screen: With Procreate Pocket it is possible to put many functions from the big app into your pocket with the iPhone.

Conclusion: Procreate inspires with drawing and with its simple but very professionally equipped operation. Clear recommendation for demanding digital artists!

AdobePhotoshop Sketch / Adobe Illustrator Draw

Adobe has two strong drawing apps at the start: Photoshop Sketch is responsible for sketches in pixel optics. The main thing here is to scribble an idea quickly and intuitively, so Sketch only shows five tools. However, there are still many variants hidden under the hood, such as pastel chalk, acrylic brushes and many more. The tools look particularly real here. Even the simple pencil looks so real that you tend to forget to even apply digital lines and shadows. The gesture control is also cool: swiping to the right with two fingers means "undo". It's easy to internalize and really practical.

Anyone who knows Sketch can also draw in Illustrator Draw, but here with vector curves. This is a completely different, but often much more elegant look for great logos and symbols that can also be transferred to the desktop PC / Mac and Illustrator and refined there. Incidentally, both apps are free of charge and only require you to create an Adobe ID. Both apps will be replaced or supplemented this year by a new addition: Project Gemini is to simulate much more realistic watercolor and oil techniques, as well as combine vector and pixel in one app.

Conclusion: Two strong drawing apps with simple operation optimized for mobile devices, but strong results.

Autodesk Sketchbook

Sketchbook is a tip, especially when it is not the number of tools that counts, but a few and therefore all the more convincingly implemented: The realistically simulated pencil alone looks so real that it is worthwhile to sketch with Sketchbook over and over again. Graphic artists appreciate the equally convincing copy markers and the finely applied airbrush. For artists there are realistic tools like a fan brush. The palette can be equipped on the left edge with the digitally implemented painting tools based on the models. Then Sketchbook lets you concentrate fully on the work of art. The layer palette also works very intuitively, as it shows small miniatures of the respective layer - so you can hardly confuse them.

It is noteworthy that Sketchbook, as a free app, gives you plenty of time to try it out. If you want, you can get the full range of functions for 5.49 euros with the professional tool extension.

Conclusion: The outstanding quality of the simulated drawing and painting tools is enough reason to load Sketchbook. But otherwise it is perhaps the strongest drawing app because it focuses on drawing and sketching instead of trying to be a mixture of image editor and painting program.

Tayasui sketches

Here comes a slightly different drawing app, true to the company name, which in Japanese stands for "simple and simple". Sketches shows extremely minimalist only a few sketched tools in a flat look on the left and a few colors at the bottom. When drawing, they make realistic noises. That seems a bit surprising at first, but it's actually fun and shouldn't hide the fact that you can conjure up real art with this app. And often faster than the competition. The quality of the drawing tools is also right: whether calligraphy brushes or watercolor, the colors flow convincingly onto the paper. Here, too, it is possible to record the screen while drawing - even with sound. This is how entertaining drawing videos are created. The app has a lively fan base who mostly draws in the manga style and shares their pictures on the community page. The basic version of Sketches is free of charge for iOS; all professional tools can be activated for € 5.99. Sketches are also available for the Mac and iPhone. Tayasui from Paris also have other exciting apps on offer, such as coloring books for adults or drawing apps for children.

Conclusion: Tayasui Sketches is addicting with its minimalist operation, but great fun factor immediately and without much getting used to.

Artrage

If you want to get creative with traditional brushes and colors, Artrage is the place for you. Here you will also find tools such as a spatula for applying paint or smudging, a paint roller for applying paint over a large area and pasty paints straight from the tube. The interface is kept simple with a toolbar on the right and a color selection in the left corner. The tools come in an almost old-fashioned realism look, which makes them self-explanatory. Artrage is particularly convincing with the oil paints and is instantly fun. Unlimited layers and many options for applying paint with each tool give Art Rage a huge range of possibilities. In addition to oil, the watercolors and airbrush also impress with their very realistic paint application. The tools on board are good enough to create really realistic paintings without much adjustment work. That is also Artrage's mission: Instead of getting lost in tool settings, one should paint. It's not just the brushes that are interesting: it is also possible to work with paper textures or canvas.

Art Rage is also available on the desktop. With Script Recording it is possible to record the painting session and send it to the Mac so that it can be played back in large format.

Conclusion: Anyone who wants to work with oil, watercolor and “real” tools cannot avoid Artrage. Also a real bargain with a price of around 5 euros.

Artstudio Pro

Artstudio Pro doesn't just want to be a drawing app, it also wants to edit photos. You can see this approach on the surface, which is strongly reminiscent of a stripped-down Photoshop. As expected, the brushes and tools are based on the big model, as well as many filters, layers and cross-fading modes on board. Otherwise, the interface is more inspired by a desktop app with menus at the top of the screen. Nevertheless, it can be easily operated with large color fields and sliders in a bar at the bottom. The brush tips in Photoshop style can be extended with your own with a brush editor. They are grouped according to areas of application such as sketching or painting.

By the way, Artstudio Pro is the successor to the well-known Artstudio app. In the Pro version, the developers have implemented a major update with support for Metal, iCloud Drive, the Apple Pencil and 64-bit multi-core processors. This is noticeable with the liquid application of paint and Artstudio Pro even allows you to open several documents at the same time - each with an unlimited number of layers. You can then switch to a document overview, but the app remains in full-screen mode. With all the similarity, it's a bit of a shame: Artstudio Pro can export PSD files but, unlike Procreate, cannot import them. In terms of price, Artstudio Pro is in a similar range, but does not look as lavishly equipped as the competitor.

Conclusion: If you are looking for an app in Photoshop style, would like to use similar brushes and, above all, would like to edit images, Artstudio Pro is the right choice.

paper

Paper is simple and versatile - actually a note-taking app that aims to capture thoughts and ideas as quickly and easily as a notepad. She can do this with photos, notes, but also with great drawings. When it comes to tools and general operation, Paper is based on real models. This is very practical for beginners, because everyone knows what will come out if you tap on the pen, the felt-tip pen or the roll. When painting, you can quickly create beautiful sketches and pictures with ink, brush or watercolor.

Zen Brush 2

The swing of calligraphy brushes is supposed to calm the mind. Even if you don't have any special drawing talent or experience, you will have fun with the minimalist app surface of Zen Brush 2 and the cool effect of the 3D brush floating above the paper. This is clearly the focus here and shows as a wire frame model the inclination of the Apple Pencil. In just a few seconds, a somehow nice logo is almost always ready! By the way: the effect when deleting is also fun. Try out!