How to draw on the iPad: your guide to getting started

A person shows how to draw on the iPad
(Image credit: Edwin Tan)

This is our quick-start guide to how to draw on the iPad. If you’ve been looking into digital art, or have a general interest in the idea of drawing on your iPad, it can be a little difficult to figure out where to start. 

In this guide, we’ll run through all the key things you need to know to get started with drawing on the iPad. We’re going to assume that most people who are looking into drawing on their iPad are going to do so using one of the two Apple Pencil options available. While there are some decent third-party styluses available, as you can see in our guide to best Apple Pencil alternatives, the Apple Pencil and Apple Pencil 2nd gen really are the only choice if you’re serious about digital art on the iPad. 

The top-range iPads are some of the best drawing tablets you can buy, while cheaper or older iPads still represent great value for artists. iPads are also some of the best drawing tablets for students and even the best drawing tablets for kids, so wherever you are in your artistic journey, an iPad is a great choice of drawing tablet. Here’s how to make the most of yours. 

How to draw on the iPad: set up your Apple Pencil 

Apple Pencil 2 magnetically docked to the top strip of iPad

The Pencil 2 docks easily to the magnetic strip on the iPad's long edge (Image credit: Apple)

Apple Pencils are not cross-compatible. Any given iPad that offers Pencil compatibility will only work with either the original Apple Pencil or the newer Apple Pencil 2 – not both. For an up-to-date compatibility list and advice on which one you need, you can check out our guide to the Apple Pencil vs Apple Pencil 2.

Before you can start drawing with your Apple Pencil, you’ll need to pair it with your iPad. Fortunately, no matter which version of the Apple Pencil you have, this is very easy and quick to do.

How to connect Apple Pencil 2: To pair the newer Apple Pencil 2 with a compatible iPad, all you have to do is connect the pencil to the magnetic connector on the right-hand side of the iPad. Make sure Bluetooth is turned on in the iPad settings. Connecting the Pencil 2 to this strip will also charge it.

Apple Pencil with cap removed to reveal Lightning connector

Removing the rounded cap will reveal the Pencil's Lightning connector (Image credit: Apple)

How to connect Apple Pencil: To pair the original Apple Pencil with an iPad, remove the rounded cap on the end to reveal the Lightning connector. Plug this into your iPad’s Lightning port, and you should see a ‘Pair’ button flash up on the screen. Tap it, and you’re good to go.

Drawing on the iPad: the apps you need

iPad front view showing sketches and drawings on the Notes app

Simple sketches are easy to do in the Notes app, making it the ideal place to get used to the basics (Image credit: Apple)

There are loads of terrific iPad drawing apps out there, a mix of paid-for and free. We’ve collated a few of our absolute favourites in our guide to the best drawing apps for iPad, so head there if you need some inspiration.

An important thing to note, however, is that if you simply want to start drawing, you already have everything you need. You can doodle with ease on a default iOS app, like Notes or Pages, and still have a few different pens and colours to play with. There will be nowhere near the level of depth and functionality you get with dedicated drawing apps like Procreate, ArtRage or Affinity Designer but as a place to just get used to how the Apple Pencil feels and works, it’s perfect. 

Five of the best drawing apps for iPad:

  • Procreate - 2D and 3D painting app that offers professional results.
  • Adobe Illustrator - Works great with an Apple Pencil for 2D designs.
  • Linea Sketch - A free sketching app for iPad.
  • Affinity Designer - Almost limitless tools for design, branding and art.
  • Autodesk Sketchbook – An approachable and easy app for artists.

Drawing on the iPad: using pressure sensitivity 

A photo of someone sharing how to draw on an iPad

You can use pressure sensitivity on an iPad to naturally draw thin and thick lines (Image credit: Onfokus / Getty)

One of the headline features of the Apple Pencil is the fact that it boasts pressure sensitivity – so take the time to get used to it. The only way you’ll be able to get used to how the pressure sensitivity feels and functions is through practice. 

Load up your drawing app of choice, or just the basic Notes app, and spend some time experimenting with different pressure levels. What are the thickest and thinnest lines you can draw – and how precise can you get in between? You want this to become an intuitive process, so you have a distinct sense of the quality of lines that different pressure levels will produce. 

Drawing on the iPad: understand palm rejection

One thing that can take a little getting used to when you’re drawing on a tablet is the clever palm rejection technology. This feature allows you to rest your hand on the screen while drawing, meaning you don’t need to do the awkward hover of the hand above the screen when you’re drawing. This is something you’ll commonly see new or inexperienced iPad artists doing, as they’re just finding it hard to latch onto the idea that they can touch the iPad screen without affecting what’s on it. 

Get used to the palm rejection feature, and remember that you really can treat your iPad screen just like a piece of paper. It makes the whole experience so much easier and more intuitive – not to mention less tiring. 

Drawing on the iPad: practice tilt sensitivity

The Apple Pencil has sophisticated tilt sensitivity, giving you another tool in your toolkit for carrying the thickness and character of your lines. The iPad can detect the angle at which you’re holding your Pencil, and which part of the nib you’re using. 

This means that you can hold the Pencil straight upright to create an extremely fine line, or hold it sideways to create much thicker strokes. A good way to get used to this is to load up a drawing app and try out some shading – experiment with different tools and brushes to get a feel for the kinds of effects you can create.

Drawing on the iPad: Apple Pencil exercises

A close up of an Apple Pencil being used to show how to draw on the iPad

Performing some easy practice tasks will help you get used to drawing on the iPad (Image credit: Carol Yepes / Getty)

Every artist is different, and the best way to improve your drawing is going to differ for everyone. With that said, here are a few more quick Apple Pencil exercises that will help basically anyone improve their technique.

Drawing lines: Try to get into the habit of practising your strokes every day. Boot up a blank canvas in Notes or your drawing app of choice, and try drawing a series of horizontal lines, as close together as you can without them touching. Do the same with vertical lines, then curved lines – and for an extra challenge, once you’re done, try going back and adding an additional set of lines in between the ones you’ve already done. To vary it up, you can also try dashed lines, keeping the length of your dashes as consistent as you can.

Tracing and copying: One thing that’s great about the Apple Pencil is that it’s accurate enough that you can actually use it to trace through a piece of paper onto your iPad screen. While this won’t work with a really thick piece of paper or card, any standard paper or something thinner should be fine – simply lay it over your iPad screen, and trace over the lines with the Pencil. 

Also, if you’re using an iPad with a large enough screen, you can also easily devote some of its display real estate to an image for copying. Download an image of your choosing, load it up in Photos and place it on the left or right of the screen, and load up your drawing app to try to copy it. 

Calligraphy: Calligraphy can be a great way to practice control and consistency of your Apple Pencil drawing, and it’s a good quick exercise you can do every day. Why not try loading up one of your favourite fonts and seeing how well you can replicate it with the Pencil?

Drawing on the iPad: Apple Pencil 2's double-tap

Two iPads showing digital art along with Apple Pencil

(Image credit: Malika Favre and Sarah Clifford for Apple)

If you’re using the more advanced 2nd generation Apple Pencil, then don’t forget about the secret weapon you have at your disposal – the double tap. While the original Pencil has no physical controls, the Pencil 2 allows you to double-tap the flat edge for a quick toggle between settings. Once you get used to remembering you have this option, it can be really handy. 

These are the settings available for the double-tap:

  • Switch between the current tool and the eraser (this is what it’ll be set on by default).
  • Switch between the current tool and the previous tool.
  • Show the color palette.
  • Do nothing (disable double-tap).

As you can see, it really is very easy to get started drawing with the iPad. You don’t need any fancy apps or technical know-how – just your tablet, your Pencil, and a willingness to try things out.

Using an iPad for drawing is intuitive and natural. It means you can use common drawing theory, including our guide to how to draw animals, people and landscapes. Try using these traditional methods of drawing with some of the apps we've recommended here, and using the tech inside the iPad to produce great art. 

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Jon is a freelance writer and journalist who covers photography, art, technology, and the intersection of all three. When he's not scouting out news on the latest gadgets, he likes to play around with film cameras that were manufactured before he was born. To that end, he never goes anywhere without his Olympus XA2, loaded with a fresh roll of Kodak (Gold 200 is the best, since you asked). Jon is a regular contributor to Creative Bloq, and has also written for in Digital Camera World, Black + White Photography Magazine, Photomonitor, Outdoor Photography, Shortlist and probably a few others he's forgetting.