When the iPad first launched it was pegged squarely as a media consumption device. To create professional art and design, you'd still need a fully-fledged laptop or desktop system running a full-fat operating system like Mac OS or Windows, complete with top photo editing software. Making art on the iPad was a crazy idea. Right?
Wrong. The best iPad apps for creating digital art selected for this list prove that Apple's tablet has moved beyond just being for media consumption and is fast becoming ripe for content creation. If you're an illustrator, artist or graphic designer, you can now work effectively on the move – sketching, painting, prototyping, and annotating photos. Invest in a good quality stylus and try one of these amazing apps for creating art on the iPad ...
01. Zen Brush 2
The sequel to the popular Zen Brush takes what its predecessor does best - emulating the feel of painting with traditional Japanese calligraphy brushes - and builds upon it, with a new drawing engine that's smoother and more fluent than before, making it even easier to lose yourself in the process of creating beautiful Zen art.
As well as the new drawing engine, Zen Brush 2 has a gallery feature that enables you to save your work in progress, as well as an ink dispersion effect to give your drawings an added feeling of depth. There's support for pressure-sensitive styluses (not to mention Apple Pencil if you have an iPad Pro) and best of all you're no longer restricted to black ink; now you can use red ink too!
If you need a full-fat iPad alternative to Photoshop, Pixelmator is about as good as it gets. Whether you simply want to enhance or touch up some photography, or go the whole hog and paint detailed, layered images from scratch, it has you covered with a heavyweight set of tools, brushes and effects.
It'll even open layered Photoshop images, so you can start work on your desktop and then carry on with it while you're on the move, and if you have an iPad Pro you'll find full Apple Pencil compatibility, featuring palm rejection, pressure, tilt, and acceleration sensitivity.
Assembly is a great way to create detailed vector graphics, icons, logos, scenes and characters without all that fiddly mucking about with vectors and Bézier curves. Rather than painstakingly draw everything out yourself, you can choose from an enormous selection of ready-made shapes and stick them together to create your vector masterpiece.
You can layer, stack and position shapes however you want, and even create your own building blocks by cutting out, combining and intersecting existing shapes. If you need to prototype in a hurry, it's an ideal tool for getting professional results fast.
04. Photoshop Sketch
Rather than try to recreate the full Photoshop experience on iPad, Adobe has instead focused on the platform's strengths to provide a powerful tool for sketching and painting. Photoshop Sketch features 14 tools, including a graphite pencil, ink pen and watercolour brushes, with adjustable size, colour, opacity and blending settings.
You can layer and rearrange your images, use perspective and graph grids to help align your creations, and there's support for pretty much any stylus you care to think of. And you can export your work to Illustrator or Photoshop CC; naturally you'll need a Creative Cloud account, but if you're planning on using Photoshop Sketch as a stand-alone app then you'll only need the basic free version.
Promising a desktop-class standard of editing, Graphic has been touted as the iOS answer to Adobe Illustrator. As well as containing all the drawing tools a user needs to create amazing art and detailed technical drawings, Graphic now comes with variable-width brush strokes and pressure-sensetive drawing support for the Apple Pencil.
Developed by Indeedo, Inc, this easy to use iPad app is compatible with both the Mac and iPhone versions by using iCloud and Dropbox, letting users save their masterpieces on the go for straightforward editing later down the line.
Forge might not be the most comprehensive digital art app, but its selection of essential tools make it perfect for quickly getting your ideas down on the screen. Best suited to concept art, Forge lets users annotate their ideas, share their images and generally make the iteration process easier.
Released by Co Interactive, Forge includes instinctive layering functions that allow users to add, re-order, merge and adjust the opacity with ease. Simply swipe through your layers thanks to Forge's Fluid Paper to get to your best creations.
07. Tayasui Sketches
Tayasui Sketches is one of the most delightfully simple drawing and painting iPad apps that we've found. It features eight brushes along the left-hand side, ranging from pencil and charcoal to felt pen and watercolour brush, with a further two available in the pro version.
Each one exhibits its respective characteristics brilliantly, meaning it's simple to pick a brush and start sketching. Although limited in terms of editing options, they're a delight to use, and in the pro version you're at least able to increase the size and shape as well as edit the blend mode.
ASKetch is a simple black & white procedural sketching program, created by Andrew Kern. Bringing the experience of charcoal drawing to your iPad, this app is brilliant for both beginners and advanced artists.
An easy-to-use tool, with ASKetch you can create everything from figure drawings and cartoons to abstract masterpieces.
09. Inspire Pro
Paint, draw and sketch on your iPad with Inspire Pro. Suitable for artists of all skill levels, this app includes 60 high-quality brushes to choose from, divided into six sets: oil paint, airbrushes, basic shapes, graphite pencils, wax crayons and markers. And these can all be used as a wet or dry brush or eraser.
Developed by KiwiPixel, the team say its creation delivers 'an amazing painting, drawing and sketching experience to your iPad.
While the strokes of a wet oil paint brush look beautiful on their own, the breathtaking blending effects of a dry brush will absolutely stun you'.
If you're looking for something to make quick sketches with, with the minimum of fuss, then Paper by Fiftythree is well worth checking out.
Its uncluttered interface - no menu bars or buttons here - strips back the sketching experience to the bare essentials and turns your iPad into a selection of virtual journals, with pages to thumb through for easy viewing.
Designed exclusively for landscape mode, this iPad art app is no good for creating polished pieces, but to get down quick sketch concepts when creating art on the iPad it's definitely worth a look.
While lacking the natural media input of Paper, Penultimate is nonetheless an excellent note-taking and sketching app. The feel of the tools is surprisingly tactile, and you can add new paper types (for gaming, music notation, and so on) via IAP or install your own custom designs.
12. Art Set
This cool app is like having a virtual art set inside your iPad. Having made it to number one paid iPad app in over 30 countries since its release, Art Set has all the tools an artist could possibly want, including chalks, charcoal, oil pastels, wax crayons, graphite pencils, coloured pencils and marker pens.
The multitouch pinch and zoom functionality allows you to add fine detail with ease. You can also choose from different paper colours and textures, or import your own photos.
Inkist benefits from a simple but stylish interface that's been designed to be highly responsive and artist-friendly. The app is "free for a limited time" so hurry!
In the app, which is based on its Mac cousin, you build up layers of colour and flatten them down on the background rather than relying on multiple layers. Although it might not be to everyone's taste, for many traditional artists, this will be real benefit.
Support for pressure-sensitive styluses is available natively, and Inkist has a range of simple, customisable brushes. Support for pressure-sensitive styluses is available natively (accessible through the ever- present tool palette) so you do have some more flexibility with your strokes, although with a standard stylus we found simple, quick taps were not always tremendously effective.
Adobe Illustrator Draw is a digital sketchbook that enables you to express yourself in vector format wherever you go. The app has a simple UI, designed for quickly sketching out ideas and concepts.
It offers a range of features, including simple vector-based drawing tools with separate drawing and photo layers as well as being able to sync to Adobe's Creative Cloud. With this feature, you can also download Adobe Illustrator compatible files and work with them.
The latest update to the app allows you to draw perfectly straight lines and geometric shapes, rename layers, and use shapes from Adobe Capture CC. An enhanced perspective grid also lets you map shapes to a perspective plane.
SketchBook by Autodesk is one of the most popular iPad art apps with digital artists. As you'd expect from Autodesk, SketchBook has all the swagger of a pro-grade painting program, but with an experience designed for those looking to create art on the iPad.
There's a wide range of digital pencils, pens, markers, and airbrushes to choose from, all accessed via a simple but intuitive UI that lets you pin toolbars to the screen for easy access.
It's flexible and fast too, enabling you to work with layers, transparency options, annotations, and advanced blend modes. With Dropbox integration plus the ability to import and export Photoshop-friendly files, it's an ideal iPad art app for working on the move.
With a good stylus, a good digital artist can create a variety of art on the iPad, from a quick sketch to a more involved and detailed digital painting.
16. SketchBook Ink
SketchBook Ink is a more recent release from the same team that brought you Sketchbook. However, it's by no means a replacement for it; instead, it's a much simpler iPad art app, with a very minimalist interface.
Consquently, SketchBook Ink lacks some of Sketchbook's important features. For example, preset brushes aren't editable apart from their size, and there are no layers (besides the option to add a photo as a background layer).
Sketchbook Ink's big plus is its very high output resolution. You can export images to iTunes at up to 101.5 megapixels (8727 pixels x 11636 pixels) or your Photo app at up to 4096 pixels x 3072 pixels. Although exported files are flat PNGs, not editable vector files, the images are still very high quality.
Procreate incorporates an unobtrusive UI with easy access sliders, which enable you to quickly adjust the size of your brush/opacity as you work. It saves time and lets you concentrate on what you're painting rather than getting distracted by pop-up menus.
Like many of the other iPad art apps here, there's an easy-to-use colour picker (with customisable swatches), layer options, a fast and responsive zoom, good smudging/blending options and great undo functionality.
Procreate has over 120 brushes available by default, with 12 pre-set brushes featuring advanced 'paint loading' and 'wetness' settings for a more realistic look. Plus there's a built-in a brush editor for creating custom brushes, which enable you to define brush shape and grain. Procreate is a powerful app. In the right hands, it will let you create some truly stunning digital art on the iPad.
Like the PC and Mac versions, the ArtRage app for iPad art is overflowing with options. There's a variety of canvas presets and paper options, plus a wide array of brushes, pencils, crayons, rollers, and pastels.
In its quest for realistic art on the iPad, you can paint directly onto the screen or apply a glob of paint with one tool and smear it around with another. ArtRage also features a dedicated watercolour brush option, which can produce some striking effects.
Once you've familiarised yourself with the interface, it's easy to change brush sizes, bring up the colour picker, work with layers and blend/smudge different elements together.
Unfortunately, there's some noticeable lag when moving and scaling your artwork. This takes the shine off what is an incredibly flexible painting program for creating iPad art.
While its interface isn't as intuitive as some of the other iPad art apps here, ArtStudio for iPad rewards patient exploration of its features. And it's jam-packed with them.
There are over 20 different brushes, various different canvas sizes and options that include layers, layer masks, filters and effects. ArtStudio also includes step-by-step drawing lessons/tutorials plus the handy ability to export your artwork to Photoshop for further fiddling.
20. Auryn Ink
Auryn Ink is a dedicated iPad art app for watercolour painting, and it has a limited set of options when compared to many of the meatier apps here.
That said, it has most of the basics covered for watery art on the iPad. You can pick different tip shapes for the brushes and specify different bristle effects. You can also adjust the texture of the canvas and the amount of water on your brush.
The end result of using this iPad art app is a realistic watercolour, with paint that fades as you paint with it, mimicking the effect of the paper soaking up the ink.
21. Brushes Redux
Legendary artist David Hockney has been spotted using the Brushes app when creating art on the iPad. It's an oldie, but a goodie, designed specifically for Apple's tablet and now updated with the 'Redux' suffix.
Using a basic toolbar at the bottom of the screen, you can bring up a colour wheel/picker, work with layers and switch between various brushes. Best of all, perhaps, Brushes is fast and responsive to the touch so it's easy to work quickly.
A useful feature of Brushes is the ability to record each brush stroke, enabling you to play back exactly how you created each piece of iPad art via the Brushes viewer.
22. Inspire Pro
At first glance, it's difficult to see what Inspire Pro offers that its rivals don't. But play around with it and you'll soon discover that this is one of the more intuitive iPad art apps available.
Before you know it, adjusting the paint load and customising brushes (by rotating the bristle pattern) becomes second nature.
What we like most is the dynamic colour picker. Simply press and hold a colour you've already used and Inspire Pro will switch the current colour to the new selection. It's UI design elements like this that make for a fluid and fast experience.
23. Sketch Club
Sketch Club has a great set of tools for creating beautiful digital art. The app has a unique set of flexible digital brushes (44 in total, but more can be made), pens, vector tools, old school pixel art, and fun procedural tools.
Sketch Club has an uncluttered user interface, with lots of settings to customize the app to your own unique preferences.
A particularly great feature of this app is the integrated online community. Here you can upload your sketches to let others rate and comment on your work, as well as enter daily challenges and fun weekly competitions.
Contributions: Creative Bloq staff