10 Apps to Turn Your iPad Into a Bad Ass Drawing Tablet

By on Feb 10, 2020 in Tutorials
10 Apps to Turn Your iPad Into a Bad Ass Drawing Tablet

iPad drawing apps are a dime a dozen. There are a million of them out there, ranging from the really great (such as Paper by FiftyThree) to the downright terrible. What if you want to get some real work done on an iPad though? In my view, to really turn my iPad into a professional drawing tablet, I need an app to do one of two things:

  • Allow me to work directly in Photoshop or Illustrator - If we're talking real work, then I almost don't even want a new app. Let me use the iPad's awesome technology and UX to draw with the professional tools I already use, just like a Wacom tablet.
  • Give me vector or give me death - If a professional drawing app wants to live solely on the iPad, that's fine, but it has to churn out vector art that I can export to Illustrator. This means a Pen Tool, editable shapes, boolean commands, the whole nine yards.

If you're interested in creating mixed media art with your iPad, we have a great step-by-step guide here.

Great Mirroring Apps

First up are the mirroring apps. There are quite a few of these to choose from, but they tend to get pricey so you want to make sure your money is well-spent. I used to be an AirDisplay man, but AstroPad is definitely the new app to beat in this category.

AstroPad

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AstroPad is the newest entry into this category, and in my experience, easily the best. It gives you the ability to draw right in Photoshop or Illustrator on your Mac, with cool custom shortcuts, and almost no lag. This app offers the best quality of graphics on the market, and it costs $24.99 to purchase. One of the best parts about AstroPad is that it uses an up-to-date LIQUID technology that ensures you never lose the quality of the image you're working with. Astropad also offers a student price for interested buyers, as well as a free trial.


AirDisplay

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From the company Avatron comes AirDisplay, which is a great iPad app choice for any artist looking for an effective mirroring app. It offers the chance to mirror what you see on your tablet on up to 4 monitors at once. The app works using connection via wireless Internet connection, removing any annoying cords or USB cables and making for a comfortable and convenient drawing experience. Right now, AirDisplay is available for Apple devices, Android devices, and those that run Windows and can be purchased for $14.99.


AirStylus

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Avatron also makes Airstylus—an extension of AirDisplay that offers the ability to use their mirroring techniques on iPads as well as on iPhones and the Galaxy Note. The program allows artists to draw on their tablet via a stylus. Since it is very pressure sensitive, it's perfect for work that requires accurate lines and fine, minute details. The stylus links wirelessly to your display, so there are no clunky cords to deal with. While Avatron has announced that they're moving away from AirStylus in the near future, older versions of the AirStylus app are available in the App store for the iPad for $14.99.


SplashTop Remote

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SplashTop remote is one of the most popular apps that allows users to control their computer from afar. The app offers the ability to control your computer from your iPad, and allows users to access things like videos, music, and more from your computer. Users can use their favorite art and drawing software from their computer via their iPad with SplashTop, which makes it a good choice for artists interested in convenience or moving around away from a desktop while they work. This app is currently offered for free when using your computer's local network, but if "Anywhere Access" is purchased it will only cost users $16.99 per year.


iDisplay

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iDisplay is currently available for free on Mac OS X and Windows, and is a popular app that allows people to use their iPad as a second display. This app has it all for someone looking to draw via a table and offers more screen space because it is able to be connected to several wireless devices all at once. It's also easily customizable when used with different devices.

Drawing Apps

Now for the drawing tools, which are actually pretty impressive.

Procreate

Procreate has quickly become a favorite for illustrators and letterers all around the world. The app allows you to sketch and draw hyper-realistic artwork on the go, with a suite of tools that features digital brushes, an advanced layer system, and multi-touch gestures. You can export layered PSD files and even time-lapse videos directly from the app.

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Since Procreate allows you to use custom brushes, many independent designers at Creative Market have created textured brush sets that will make your illustration workflow much easier:

iDraw

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iDraw is one of the best vector drawing apps on the market, and it combines the convenience of an iPad with the power of a desktop. It has a pen tool, layers, boolean commands, grids, snapping, effects, just about everything you could want. The app is easy to understand and is consistently top rated by all users. It's simple to share edit designs between devices (like Mac and iPad). The app has some especially exciting functions, like core text editing, Photoshop import and export, and an In-Place Color Picker.


InkPad

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One great free vector drawing app for the iPad is InkPad, which was designed to work specifically on the device. It comes highly recommended by those who use it for its ease of text, images gradient fills, etc. Its selection of tools is close to that of Illustrator, and it is easy to use, even for beginners. If what you're looking for is a powerful drawing tool and the lowest price possible, you can't get better than this.


Intaglio Sketchpad

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For a vector artist that is looking for something straightforward that functions really well, check out Intaglio Sketchpad, a tablet drawing app creating by Purgatory Design. The app has a full set of drawing tools, and it utilizes multi-touch technology.


TouchDraw

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Elevenworks has created TouchDraw, which has all of the expected options of the 2D Vector drawing app and more. In fact, the app has most of the features of a desktop vector drawing app, and it can be used in conjunction with TouchDraw for Mac. TouchDraw has been rated as being one of the best vector apps available and is priced affordably at only $8.99.


iDesign

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iDesign is currently one of the most popular vector apps on the market today and allows you to create 2D vector drawings on the iPad, iPhone and iPod touch. The interface of iDesign is simple to use and offers a huge selection of advanced, in-depth features. Some of these features include a full screen board view so your image isn't obscured in any way and has offset handles for moving the screen, so your finger never gets in the way of what you're trying to see. iDesign can be downloaded from the app store for $7.99.

Update: Adobe Capture CC

Adobe released a new app to create brushes from your iPad in late 2014. Head here to read our step by step guide.

Tell Us Your Workflow

Do you do professional drawing work on your iPad? Tell us about your workflow. Do you use a mirroring app like Astropad, a vector drawing app like iDraw, or something else? Leave a comment and let us know.

Other Cool Add-Ons for Your Ipad

Creating color palettes as you go can be a great resource for illustrators and all kinds of designers. Check out this add-on to create bright schemes wherever you are.


Products Seen In This Post:

Free lettering worksheets


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23 Comments

  1. hellobrio

    Wow, I am really intrigued by Astropad! I'm guessing it also does pen tool and stuff like that since it's Mirroring. I'm going to check that out!

  2. vecster

    Amazing post! I got a couple of questions. First - who already using Astropad? Is is good? Does this work with Wacom tablet pen? I just checked App store. And I dont see free trial. I wanted to try it before buy. And second - iDisplay. Its not free too. Does this work good? Anyone use it? Thanx.

  3. tickyboom

    I have used Astropad, and I really like it. It works super good with Illustrator. I am intrigued to try AirStylus.

  4. KateEngland

    It depends a lot on the project. First I use my iPad as a sketchbook, I bring it to life drawing sessions, make mood boards on it, brainstorm and do preliminary sketches. Experimenting with apps can spark ideas, and the iOS apps are so inexpensive compared to desktop apps. For vector art I use iDraw and for painting I use Procreate which allows you 300 dpi output for up to A4 size. Next I export my artwork to my desktop computer where I assemble it. For patterns I'll use Illustrator to create the repeats with the parts I made on my iPad. I might use Photoshop to add textures and other final touches, or Illustrator for its effects and precision.

    Icons and other artwork that need a kind of numeric precision and snapping to grid, is the only artwork that I create on my desktop these days. I might still do the sketches for them on my iPad.

    I teach and do public speaking around iPhoneography and painting on the iPad and I've written a few guides on apps for various art areas on my Marmalade Moon blog. If you'd like to take a look, you'll find the app guides under the tab for "guides and tutorials". http://www.marmalademoon.com

  5. secondfret

    @Kate England very cool. I use iDraw all the time for vector work and Fifty Three's Paper + Pencil for doodling. I really like Adobe's new drawing apps too but I can't for the life of me figure out how they can stamp the name "Illustrator" on a product that doesn't produce vector artwork. Blasphemy!

  6. Gainmore

    @MilanFarkas Astropad have a recommendation for a pen that works on the iPad 2. it uses the IPad microphone to mimic pressure sensitivity. Some say it's not as accurate as true pressure sensitivity but if you visit the astropad home page you can find more info which might help you.

  7. KateEngland

    Oh how Interesting to hear how you work, @Josh Johnson ! I have Fifty Three's Pencil too, but use it in Procreate since I need more brushes, colours and higher resolution than Paper offers. Paper's gimmicky undo function drives me nuts and makes it so slow to work for me, so although I made my first professional grade artwork with Paper - watercolours that I vectorised for a surface pattern for fabric - I was glad to find first Sketches, which lets you undo without doing a little dance on the screen. Sketches has an iPhone companion and similar but in my opinion better brushes than Paper, and also allows for changing the size of brushes, and expanding the palette here's the link http://tayasui.com/sketches/theApp.php and then later Procreate.

    Yes, Adobe's mobile apps are a big disappointment and there are many other alternative apps from indie developers that are superior in functionality. You also have to subscribe to the cloud to even be able to access your own work from your desktop. Although there is a Photoshop for iOS there are many other photo editors for iOS that perform much better. I think though, that the two Adobe apps that offer unique and interesting functions are Adobe Shape and Adobe Brush.

    Autodesk's iOS apps are excellent, in my opinion the best iOS apps coming from one of the established software companies.

    The iOS system opened up possibilities for new, indie developers, who quite often truly "think differently" than the established software producers. This in itself I find inspiring!

  8. KateEngland

    Oh, on the topic of styluses, rumour has it that there's going to be a new iPad Pro this autumn. It would possibly come with the first Apple made stylus and iPad artists are hoping this will solve the whole pressure sensitivity issue once and for all! Here's a link for further reading: http://www.macrumors.com/roundup/ipad-pro/

  9. secondfret

    @Kate England my bet is that Apple will be building in a high level of touch sensitivity with the next iPad. You see them experimenting with this tech already on the recent Watch and trackpad with Force Touch. I have a really hard time believing Apple will ever make a stylus though. They might make it easier/better to use a third party stylus, but I really think they want to keep the core iOS experience something that happens purely with your hands. Just my two cents!

  10. KateEngland

    It's going to be incredibly exciting to see the new iPad! I think Steve Jobs wanted the touch to be an experience that didn't require anything else. Possibly Tim Cook has a different view. We'll see... @Josh Johnson :)

  11. Marlene.Design

    are any of these compatible to work with windows? I'd really like to use the Ipad like a wacom for work which is windows.

  12. ray_design

    I LOVE Paper by 53. It's simple approach is about as close as you can get to real pencil and paper. I also love their Mix service and compatible stylus. I've been a devoted Paper fan for about two years now and I highly recommend because it is great while being free (no in-app purchases)!

  13. heartofwisdom

    Very helpful. I bought a Wacom Tablet and its been in my closet for over a year. So glad I don't have to learn it. Much rather use iPad.

  14. sumoncps

    Thanks, very helpful share, Astropad a way of working in Photoshop using a screen I can draw directly onto.

  15. wen.chong

    I am an illustrator . I have a XP-Pen Artist 12 Pro display drawing tablet and the iPad Pro 12.9 and Apple Pencil.
    Hands down the iPad is by far my favorite drawing tool to use. The Apple Pencil is more accurate, has a more intuitive pressure curve, and feels more natural than the XP-Pen pens do.
    The iPad is also way more portable so you actually can bring it to the coffee shop or the park or on the bus. The battery life is pretty great too.
    As for apps, I really like Procreate a lot. For the PC apps like Photoshop , Zbrush and sometimes After Effects, I just use my XP-Pen Artist 12 Pro tablet.

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