The 13 best iPad apps for pro designers

Discover the best apps if you require your iPad to be a true designer's tool.

iPad pro apps

Discover the best iPad apps for pro designer use

The iPad can be an incredible tool for designers, but like any tool you have to know how to use it well before you get the most from it. For a device like this, knowing what apps you should add that will make your life as a creative professional better is the key, which is why we've put together this list of suggestions. Load an iPad up with all these apps and you'll have a formidable, hugely capable partner in your work.

Now, at this point, most articles of this kind would list the best drawing apps for iPad, because that's all designers spend our days doing, yeah? Daubing colours on a canvas? Well balls to that; the life of a creative pro is about much more – worse luck – than dreaming up ideas on a sketchpad, so our list is much more pragmatic and realistic; these really are tools that will help with all aspects of your job.

We're going to assume you know about and have some really big-name apps such as Pages, Keynote, Dropbox and Acrobat Reader, so we're focussing here on the slightly less obvious apps. You're bound to have your own suggestions too, so share them with everyone in the comments below!

01. Trello

Trello helps you keep things organised, wherever you are
  • Requirements: iOS 9.3
  • Developer: Trello, Inc.
  • Free, plus subscription

Whether you're coordinating a big design project or just trying to organise a cleaning rota, Trello is a great tool for getting stuff done and staying organised. It makes it easy to invite people to collaborate on projects, and you can create custom boards for organising whatever you're working on. The iPad ap is optimised for iPad Pro with plenty of tweaks to take advantage of its larger screen, and if you absolutely need project updates wherever you are, there are also apps for Apple Watch and even iMessage.

02. FontBook

Expand your typographic horizons with FontBook
  • Requirements: iOS 8.0
  • Developer: Monotype GmbH
  • $2.99/£2.29

Key to most design projects is getting the typography right, and if you want to avoid falling into the trap of relying on a handful of go-to fonts, it's good to have a decent font reference to hand. Monotype's FontBook is just that kind of reference; it documents the libraries of 150 type foundries, covering 1,805 designers, 46,718 typefaces and 9,479 font families. You can browse fonts by class, foundry, designer, year or name, and the iPad app enables you to bookmark favourites and also share samples on Twitter and Facebook.

03. Procreate

iPad pro apps

All right, we lied a bit when we said no drawing apps
  • Requirements: iOS 8.4 or later
  • Developer: Savage Interactive Pty Ltd
  • $5.99/£4.49

Okay, so a part of our lives is sketching and painting – and if you're going to do that, this is absolutely the app you want. Very fast, especially on more recent iPads where it can take advantage of their huge power, this is a truly wonderful natural media app, and what's more it will work with the Apple Pencil too. Others to consider include Tayasui Sketches, Photoshop Sketch and ArtRage.

04. Parallels Access

On a train and need those San Francisco financials? Sorted.

However good any iPad app is, sometimes you just really need to use one of your full-fat desktop packages. And while there are plenty of remote desktop apps such as TeamViewer that you can use to get to your actual desktop from your iPad, they're heavy on bandwidth and there's something not quite right about wrangling a mouse-driven interface on a touchscreen.

Parallels Access does things a bit differently, giving you full access to your desktop and using its special Applification technology to render your desktop apps as native apps, making them much easier to use on the go and also making ensuring that you can work without a fat internet connection; it'll even work on 3G.

05. Noteshelf

Best iPad pro apps

Write notes, sketch and record memos with Noteshelf
  • Requirements: iOS 7.0 or later
  • Developer: Fluid Touch Pte. Ltd.
  • $8.99/£6.99

If what you want is the digital equivalent of a sketchbook, though, rather than a canvas – somewhere to write stuff down, doodle out a few ideas, take notes in a meeting – get Noteshelf. Its ability to mix typed, audio and handwritten notes – with beautiful ink effects – annotate documents and images, and even define custom paper designs to make it easy to create, say, iPhone wireframes for sketching app designs makes it the best app of its kind for creatives. Pairs with a range of third-party styluses too for pressure sensitivity and wrist rejection.

06. Adobe Comp CC

Best iPad pro apps

Adobe Comp is perfect for mock-ups and wireframes
  • Requirements: iOS 8.1 or later
  • Developer: Adobe
  • Free

Adobe makes loads of apps for iOS, but this, for us, is the one that makes most sense for the iPad. With it, you can quickly and easily create mockups and wireframes for designs for web, print and more, and you can export them to Creative Cloud stable mates InDesign, Illustrator or Photoshop CC to work them up further; it's a great way to make productive use of commute time, say – though of course just staring blankly out of the window can be just as effective a use of that time!

It's worth adding Shape CC (which can create vector shapes from doodles) and Illustrator Draw, also from Adobe, to your iPad too.

07. Things for iPad

Best iPad pro apps

Things occupies the sweet spot between Reminders and Omnifocus
  • Requirements: iOS 8.2 or later
  • Developer: Cultured Code GmbH & Co. KG
  • $19.99/£14.99

Apple's Reminders app is actually more useful than most people give it credit for – especially if you set up reminders lists that can be shared among a team – but there's no doubt a more accomplished to-do manager will help you keep on top of complex projects more easily. Some swear by OmniFocus, but for us it's just a little too daunting in its power. Things, though, lets you define some sensible groupings, makes it simple to add and sort new tasks, and lets you easily see what deadlines are imminent.

08. OmniPlan 3

Best iPad pro apps

Big projects come together a lot easier with OmniFocus
  • Requirements: iOS 9.0 or later
  • Developer: The Omni Group
  • $74.99/£54.99

While we've rejected The Omni Group's to-do app for being a little too complex for the kind of to-dos we creatives want to track, it's precisely that complexity that makes its project planning app a must-have – though only for big projects, and only for senior folk. (If you're self-employed, mind you, or work in a very small team, guess what? You're the senior.)

With OmniPlan, you can create Gantt charts to allocate time and resources to specific parts of a project, and because each part is interrelated, you can keep focussed on what the material effects will be of the wireframing process, say, taking longer than you has anticipated. Everything is live and shared, and it will help you resolve scheduling impossibilities. Basically: if you wanna hit deadlines for big projects, get this.

09. Status Board

Best iPad pro apps

Keep your team focussed with Panic's Status Board
  • Requirements: iOS 8.4 or later
  • Developer: Panic, Inc.
  • From free

This fantastic app lets you build personalised boards which bring together key information to help keep you or your team focussed. There are some pre-built panels for basic things such as time, weather, countdowns to a deadline, Twitter stats and RSS feeds, but there are lots of third-party panels too – or you can build something specific from scratch. The simple text panel can be surprisingly handy, for, say, listing the phone extensions for the team.

What good is all this if the team would have to squint at an iPad? Ah, but it's designed also to output to TVs, connected either over AirPlay or with a cable. Pick up a big, cheap panel and get everyone on the same page.

10. Slack

Best iPad pro apps

Slack's great for team communication (and for sharing hilarious GIFs)
  • Requirements: iOS 8.0 or later
  • Developer: Slack Technologies, Inc
  • From free

Hate how much time you spend in email? Us too. Make your team try Slack – it starts free with some limitations – and marvel at all the time you get back. It's ostensibly just a simple instant message tool, but it integrates beautifully with a huge range of other services such as Dropbox and Google Docs, and so makes everything so much smoother.

11. Duet Display

Best iPad pro apps

Turn your iPad into a second display and become more productive
  • Requirements: iOS 8.0 or later
  • Developer: Rahul Dewan
  • $18.99/£13.99

One of the easiest ways to be more productive as a designer is to add more screens to your computer, whether so you can have source material on one while working on the main display, to keep an eye on email (or Slack!) while you work without switching between tasks, or just as somewhere to put your palettes so you're not covering up your work.

It's not always convenient, though – maybe you're rushing to hit a deadline in an airport departure lounge, or you're hotdesking in a coworking space – but if you have an iPhone or iPad, you can turn it into a second display for your Mac or PC with this app.

While earlier apps that did this worked wirelessly (convenient, but laggy and compressed), Duet Display works over the cable, whether Lightning or 30-pin, with full support for Retina and touch. You might also want to investigate Astropad, which turns your iPad into a Cintiq-like graphics tablet for your Mac.

12. Invoice2go

Best iPad pro apps

Invoice2Go's the ideal way to manage your invoicing

When the work is done, it's too easy to forget to invoice for it, but with your iPad (or iPhone or even Apple Watch) you can easily create, send and track invoices wherever you are. There are plenty of systems available, and if you already use, say, FreeAgent then get its app – only for iPhone at the moment, sadly – but Invoice2go is a good option if you haven't yet gotten started with one yet.

13. Digital magazines

best iPad pro apps

Probably the best design mags on the planet (unbiased)
  • Various OS requirements
  • Various publishers
  • Various prices

You'd expect us to recommend reading more magazines, sure, but that doesn't mean to say it's not true. Your iPad doesn't have to be just a relentlessly practical workhorse; use it in your down time too to get inspiration and note new techniques you can use by subscribing to some digital magazines for your sector.

Of course we're going to suggest our own Computer Arts, net, ImagineFX and 3D World titles, but there are plenty more, such as Adobe Create magazine (formerly Inspire).

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Christopher Phin writes about retro Apple tech for Macworld, typography and design for Creative Bloq, and about pretty much anything else if someone pays him.