Apple's iPad is about so much more than reading the news or watching Netflix. The introduction of the Apple Pencil with the iPad 9.7 and iPad Pro with iOS 11 in 2017 quickly turned Apple's tablet into a powerful creative tool.
The iPad Pro (2018) running iOS 12 with second-generation Apple Pencil took things a stage further, meaning that digital creatives trying to figure out how to draw on the move just need to check out the Apple Store (and Creative Bloq, of course). And thanks to a great choice of creative apps for all versions of the iPad, illustrators, artists and graphic designers can work effectively on the go – sketching, painting, prototyping and annotating photos.
But which app should you choose? There are a lot out there. To make things easier, we've rounded up some of the best painting and drawing apps to create fantastic art on your iPad – whether you're just learning how to draw or are a seasoned pro.
Promoted: Inspire Pro
Inspire Pro has one of the fastest and most realistic rendering engines on the App Store, delivering a fluid and natural painting, drawing and sketching experience to your iPad.
Sporting 150 brushes – including oil paint, airbrushes, spray paint, pencils, crayons, markers, chalk, charcoal, pastels and paint splatters – Inspire Pro has a wide variety of high-quality and customisable tools for you to choose from.
With Apple Pencil and iPad Pro, the size and opacity of brush strokes react instantly to applied pressure, tilt angle and orientation for unprecedented creative control on a mobile device. Give one of the brushes from the Graphite Pencils set a try with Apple Pencil and iPad Pro, and you'll quickly forget that you're not using an actual pencil and paper.
The act of painting in Procreate 4 is even more delightful than previous versions of the software, making it one of the best drawing apps for iPad users. The app 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 a great undo functionality.
Procreate has 136 brushes available by default, and over 50 customisable settings for every brush. The app is powerful, fast and intuitive, and enables you to create large, complex works of art on your iPad Pro.
Read more: 33 of the best Procreate brushes
Adobe Illustrator Draw is a digital sketchbook that enables you to express yourself in vector format wherever you go. A sister app to Illustrator CC, this drawing app for your iPad 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 the ability to sync to Adobe's Creative Cloud. With this feature, you can also download Adobe Illustrator-compatible files and work with them.
The app enables you to draw perfectly straight lines and geometric shapes, rename layers, and use shapes from Adobe Capture CC. An enhanced perspective grid also means you can map shapes to a perspective plane.
Built from the same back end as its award-winning desktop version, Affinity Photo for iPad is fully optimised for iOS 11 and beyond. Need to work with a Photoshop file? No problem! Affinity Photo supports importing, editing, and exporting of PSD files. It also supports PNG, JPG, TIFF, EPS, PDG, and SVG.
If professional brushes are your thing, Affinity Photo is a drawing app for iPad complete with more than 120 digital brushes including effects, dry media, inks, markers, and more. You can also create your own brushes and switch on dynamics, giving you complete control over pressure, angle, tilt and velocity.
Like the PC and Mac versions, the ArtRage drawing app for iPad art is overflowing with options (we gave ArtRage five stars in our review). 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.
No digital application and tablet screen is going to give you the real feel of working with pastels and charcoal, but apps are not looking to replace feel – they are designed to mimic the effect, and that is what iPastels does so well. Plus you don't get messy fingers.
It is impressive how well the app replicates some aspects of pastel painting, including soft pastels, oil pastels, pastel pencils, and realistic colour blending using your finger on the screen just like you would on paper. One downside is that you have to stop drawing when you want to adjust the size and pressure of your tool, but there are plus sides – including the ability to correct mistakes quickly and simply.
For that reason and more, iPastel is a great app to use if you want to try out compositions before beginning a real painting – or just for a bit of fun. It has Apple Pencil support, and the upgrade to Pro features costs $4.99/£4.99.
If you're new to digital art and so after a brilliant-but-basic drawing app for your iPad, look no further than MediBang Paint. An easy-to-use program, MediBang has similar features to Photoshop, including layers, with the ability to add styles and a handy brush editor. In fact, MediBang is full of brilliant painting and drawing tools, so much so it's hard to believe it's free.
Compatible with iOS 9.1 and above, if you want to create professional-looking artwork but are on a budget, this is the iPad app for you.
07. 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. Zen Brush 2 has 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) and best of all you're no longer restricted to black ink – now you can use red ink too.
Created specifically for professionals, Concepts is an advanced sketching and design app. It features infinite canvas and organic brushes, fluid and responsive vector drawing engine, and intuitive precision tools, all tailored for a natural-feeling drawing experience. Whether you’re an architect, product designer, illustrator or visual thinker, you can explore, iterate and share your designs anywhere you go.
Concepts has had an update for iOS 12, adding support for the iPad Pro (2018) and second-generation Apple Pencil – double-tap tool switching is supported, plus you can customise how the double-tap manifests itself.
09. ArtStudio Pro
ArtStudio Pro for iPad is the successor to ArtStudio – a legacy version of which is still available for $4.99/£4.99. The new version has been optimised for Apple Pencil, and claims to be 5-10 times faster than ArtStudio.
There are new and improved tools, which include 27 blending modes, over 100 built-in brushes and the ability to import all types of formats, including ABL brushes. There are are also various different canvas sizes and options that include layers, layer masks, filters and effects. With an active community and plenty of features to play around with, we think this is a great choice for artists.
If you need a full-fat iPad alternative to Photoshop, Pixelmator for iOS 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.
11. Comic Draw
While some painting and drawing apps cover a broad range of abilities and creative disciplines, Comic Draw is single-minded in its purpose. Comic artists are its target, and in those terms it is a highly effective tool. The app features a tool that lets you lay out the panels on your page, guides to help you keep a perfect perspective and layers to let you build your drawings.
You'll also find a digital sketchpad for experimenting with your concepts, and an inking and colouring interface, which allows you to finish your design with various brushes. Comic Draw provides a lettering suite made up of different typefaces, balloons and design tools to add the all-important words, and you can add as many pages as you want to make everything from a comic strip to a full-length book.
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.
13. 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 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 CC or Photoshop CC. Naturally you'll need a Creative Cloud account (subscribe to Adobe Creative Cloud here), but if you're planning on using Photoshop Sketch as a stand-alone app then you'll only need the basic free version.
Another full-featured desktop paint app that is now on the iPad is Clip Studio Paint. Clip Studio Paint is great for drawing comics and manga – however, it can be used to create any kind of digital art. It's also one of the few out there that brings the feel of traditional drawing to the digital space, making this the perfect app for creating your illustrations and sketches while on the go.
This app comes packed with drawing tools like pencils, markers, calligraphy pens and air brushes. And because the drawing engine works so well with the Apple Pencil, you'll have a full range of pressure-sensitive dynamics to get your line work perfect. Another bonus is when you sign up for Clip Studio Paint EX subscription, you get six months free.
Promising a desktop-class standard of editing, Graphic has been touted as the iOS answer to Adobe Illustrator. As well as containing all of the drawing tools you need to create amazing art and detailed technical drawings, Graphic now comes with variable-width brush strokes and pressure-sensitive drawing support for the Apple Pencil.
Developed by Indeedo, this easy-to-use drawing app for iPad is compatible with both the Mac and iPhone versions via iCloud and Dropbox, letting you save your masterpieces on the go for straightforward editing across devices later down the line.
16. Tayasui Sketches
- Download Tayasui Sketches US: Free (in-app purchases)
- Download Tayasui Sketches UK: Free (in-app purchases)
Tayasui Sketches is one of the most delightfully simple drawing and painting iPad apps that we've found. It features a small number of brushes along the left-hand side, ranging from pencil and charcoal to felt pen and watercolour brush, with more available in the pro version ($5.99/£5.99).
Each one exhibits its respective characteristics brilliantly, meaning it's simple to just 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.
SketchBook by Autodesk is one of the most popular iPad paint 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.
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.
19. Art Set
This cool paint 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 enables you to add fine detail with ease. You can also choose from different paper colours and textures, or import your own photos.
20. 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 – and it's free and open-source.
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.
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 customise 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.