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

An artist shows how to draw on the iPad
(Image credit: Hobo_018 via Getty Images)

Learning how to draw on the iPad can open up a lot of possibilities for artists and designers. Combined with an Apple Pencil, the iPad becomes a powerful tool for art that has the advantage of also serving for much more besides. In the guide below, we'll run through the basics of getting started, from how to connect your Apple Pencil to choosing which apps to use and how to effectively use your stylus. 

We've aimed to cover everything you need to know if you've been looking into digital art and want to explore drawing on your iPad, and we've also included some practice exercises for you to start to hone your skills.

If you've not yet chosen which tablet to use, see our guide to the best drawing tablets, which features several iPads. Our guides to the best drawing tablets for students and the best drawing tablets for kids also feature Apple tablets. Once you're ready to get started, see below for how to draw on the iPad.

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)

First up, you'll need a stylus, and we recommend opting for an Apple Pencil to best explore how to draw on the iPad. We've reviewed some fairly good third-party styluses for our guide to the best Apple Pencil alternatives, but the Apple Pencil and Apple Pencil 2nd gen offer the best experience that we've had for drawing on the iPad. They were made specifically for this purpose and have features that many others don't.

Just be aware that Apple Pencils are not cross-compatible, so you'll need the right one for your iPad: either the original Apple Pencil if you have a standard iPad or the newer Apple Pencil 2 if you have an iPad Pro or a newer Air or mini (for up-to-date compatibility see our guide to the Apple Pencil vs Apple Pencil 2)

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

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 1: 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: which apps to use

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)

If you simply want to start drawing, you already have everything you need. You can doodle with ease on preinstalled iOS apps like Notes or Pages, which have a few pens and colours to play with. As a place to get used to how the Apple Pencil feels and works, these are just fine, but they offer nowhere near the level of depth and functionality you get with dedicated drawing apps like Procreate, ArtRage or Affinity Designer.

Five of the best drawing apps for iPad:

There are lots and lots of terrific iPad drawing apps out there, both paid-for and free. We’ve collated a few of our favourites in our guide to the best drawing apps for iPad, so head there for more options.

How to draw 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 its pressure sensitivity, but it can take time to get used to. 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.

Apple Pencil exercises for learning how to draw on the iPad

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 quick Apple Pencil exercises that should help you learn how to draw on the iPad more effectively.

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?

How to use Apple Pencil 2's double-tap for drawing on the iPad

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, 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. 

If you're not sure which iPad to choose to learn how to draw on the iPad, see our complete guide to the iPad generations list.

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Jon Stapley

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. 

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