The best drawing apps for iPad can transform your creative life. With most iPads now featuring support for the Apple Pencil, the popular tablet has become a powerful tool for painting and drawing.
Once you're armed with the iPad and Apple Pencil of your choice (see our iPad Black Friday deals or Apple Black Friday deals to grab a bargain), improving your drawing starts with simply checking out the App Store. But which app should you choose? There are a lot out there, which cover everything from sketching, painting and prototyping to annotating photos.
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. It's also an exciting time for iPad apps, as more and more are being announced, and the existing ones just keep on getting better and better. Big news in this area is the recent announcement of Photoshop for iPad, for example.
If you want more model-specific software, then don't miss our roundup of the best iPad Pro apps to use with the Apple Pencil. Or maybe you want to get painting digitally? Check out our guide to the best digital art software around.
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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.
It sports 150 brushes including oil paint, airbrushes, spray paint, pencils, crayons, markers, chalk, charcoal, pastels and paint splatters. Inspire Pro also 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, for example, and you'll quickly forget that you're not using an actual pencil and paper.
01. Adobe Fresco
A relative newcomer to the scene, Adobe's Fresco aims to digitally recreate traditional analogue drawing materials. It's clearly going after the likes of Procreate (see below) but the major difference is that it's tied to a Creative Cloud subscription or a £10/$9.99 monthly payment.
These possible hurdles aside, Fresco delivers a buttery smooth drawing experience. Aided by the much anticipated Live Brushes, Fresco can blend mediums naturally in a way that outshines competitors. This allows it to adapt to a variety of drawing styles, including comic illustrations, inking, and even chalk and painting. See our full Adobe Fresco review for more info.
Fresco doesn't have text or animation options, so it falls a little short in some areas. But for Creative Cloud subscribers, Fresco is a fun addition that prevents them from having to continuously switch between apps.
The act of painting in the latest Procreate is even more delightful than in 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 enables you to 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. And if you want to add text to your creations, you'll be pleased to know that the latest version also includes the much-anticipated Text tool.
Procreate has over 130 brushes available by default (see our pick of the best Procreate brushes), 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. And with exciting new updates coming soon in Procreate 5, it's set to improve further.
03. Adobe Illustrator Draw
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.
Also keep an eye out for Illustrator on the iPad, which is currently in the works.
04. Affinity Designer for iPad
Built from the same back end as its award-winning desktop version, Affinity Designer for iPad is fully optimised for iOS, including Touch controls and Apple Pencil support. It can also support huge multi-artboard canvases with as many layers as you could possibly want, and you can zoom to over one million per cent.
Affinity Designer supports both CMYK and RGB, and has a full Pantone library in the colour swatch panel, meaning it's ideal for creating both digital and printed art. You can export to a range of formats, including JPG, PNG, PDF and SVG, and there are over 100 brushes available, in styles including paints, pencils, inks, pastels and gouaches.
Like the PC and Mac versions, the ArtRage drawing app for iPad 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 will 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.
07. MediBang Paint for iPad
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 for iPad. 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 that it's hard to believe it's free.
Compatible with iOS 11 and above, if you want to create professional-looking artwork but are on a budget, this is the iPad drawing app for you.
08. 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, a 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 is compatible with iOS 11 and later, and supports 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.
10. 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 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.
11. Pixelmator for iOS
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 will even open layered Photoshop images, so you can start work on your desktop and then carry on with your art 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.
12. 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 enables you to lay out the panels on your page, guides to help you keep a perfect perspective and layers to enable you to build your drawings.
You'll also find a digital sketchpad for experimenting with your concepts, and an inking and colouring interface to help you 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 drawing 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.
14. Photoshop Sketch
While the new version of Photoshop for iPad is in the works, (be the first to try it here) why not try a different Adobe platform 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. Plus, you can export your work to Illustrator CC or Photoshop CC if you have a Creative Cloud account (subscribe to Adobe Creative Cloud here). However, if you're planning on using Photoshop Sketch as a stand-alone app then you'll only need the basic free version.
- Download Photoshop Sketch US: Free (in-app purchases)
- Download Photoshop Sketch UK: Free (in-app purchases)
15. Clip Studio Paint EX
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, and it can also be used to create any kind of digital art. It's also one of the few drawing apps for iPad 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 such as 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 linework 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, enabling you to save your masterpieces on the go for straightforward editing across devices later down the line.
17. Autodesk Sketchbook
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 enables you to pin your favourite toolbars to the screen. 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.
18. Art Set 4
Art Set reached the number one iPad app spot in over 30 countries, and for good reason. Art Set 4 brings similar beauty and an easy to use interface in the same vein as its predecessor. It also adds many new features and has lowered the price of admission to nothing.
Hyper-real tools feature in this iPad app, so you can actually see your watercolour paint flow and run as you use it. Oil paint, watercolors, oil pastel, pencil, biro pen, marker, wax crayon and a few others are included for free, while an in-app purchase unlocks more than 150 brushes and further features.
19. 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 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 (and 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.