The 15 best iPad apps for designers

Best iPad apps for designers: Procreate
Best iPad apps for designers: Procreate (Image credit: Serif)

The best iPad apps for designers can make your tablet rival the power and capabilities of a laptop, allowing creatives to work effectively on the go. And with the new 12.9-inch iPad Pro packing an incredible XDR display, these apps have never looked so good. This list reveals the top tools that'll transform your iPad into an indispensable tool for your art and design work. 

With options covering all aspects of the industry, from creation to admin, these these apps are here to help with every aspect of your workflow. We've evaluated these apps for how easy they are to use, how well they do the job and more (see how we test software for more on our process). In some cases this is through hands-on experience, and others we've assessed consistency of customer reviews, reputation and specs.

Want to focus on digital drawing? You need our roundup of the best drawing apps for iPad, then look at our best iPad stands list to get your iPad set up right for you. And be sure to check out the best iPad Pro apps designed specifically for the Apple Pencil

01. Affinity Designer

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ipad apps for designers Affinity Designer for iPad

Affinity Designer delivers pin-point precision across many layers (Image credit: Future)

When we tested Affinity Designer, we found it to be one of the most ambitious creative apps for the iPad. Taking all of the power and precision that the desktop version is known for and migrating it to the iPad, this iteration of Affinity Designer has been specially upgraded to fit the device. We found that Affinity Designer is perfect for any part of the workflow, we loved the UI, the smooth pen tool and the typography options (to name but three features – see our Affinity Designer for iPad review for more). Affinity Photo is also worth checking out, and an iPad version of Affinity Publisher is expected to be released. 

02. Obscura 2

Best iPad apps for designers: Obscura 2

The go-to camera app for mobile devices (Image credit: Ben McCarthy)
  • Requirements: iOS 11.0 or later
  • Price: $4.99/£4.99 and IAPs.

Want to take decent photos with your iPad? Obscura 2 should be your go-to app. It's intuitively designed to make it easy to shoot photos in a hurry, and the haptic feedback means it feels quite natural given you're only pressing on a screen. With multi-format capture and all the features of a 'real' camera, you can also add a wide range of filters to add pzazz to your images. You can also edit and share within the app. 

  • Requirements: iOS 8.0 or later
  • Price: From free

03. Photoshop for iPad

ipad apps for designers Image of Photoshop for iPad in front of buildings

Photoshop for iPad keeps getting better and better  (Image credit: Matt Smith)

Photoshop for iPad is included with all Creative Cloud subscriptions and can be downloaded from the app store. In our review, we weren't convinced by its limited feature-set, but it is fast catching up with the full version – with new capabilities being added all the time. You can create full PSDs, work with layers and, of course, retouch your images with tools like spot healing and clone stamp. See our full Photoshop for iPad review for more.

  • Requirements:  iOS 13.4 or later
  • Price: From free

04. Pixelmator

Best iPad apps for designers Pixelmator

Create, edit and enhance images on the go with Pixelmator (Image credit: Future)

Packed with image editing and enhancement tools, Pixelmator contains everything you need for adjusting assets on the go. And we mean everything. When we tested it, we absolutely loved it and had barely any cons at all (see our Pixelmator review here). Thanks to Drag and Drop support, users can move images and graphics between iPad and other apps easily. Alternatively you can store images in the iCloud Drive and access them anywhere. By taking advantage of the iOS 14 technologies, Pixelmator offers best-in-class Photoshop file support, precision drawing and painting with the Apple Pencil, plus much more.

05. Trello

Best iPad apps for designers: Trello on an ipad

Trello helps you keep things organised, wherever you are

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 whatever you're working on. The iPad app 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.

06. Procreate

A screenshot of the Procreate app

All right, we lied a bit when we said no drawing apps (Image credit: Procreate/Future)

Our testing confirms that Procreate is a truly wonderful natural media app, and it's very fast – especially on more recent iPads where it can take advantage of their huge power (see our Procreate review). What's more, it's optimised for the iPad Pro, with massive, ultra-hi-definition canvases, and will work with the Apple Pencil too. Procreate had a big update in 2019, to include the much-anticipated Text tool. More recent upgrades see improvements to the tilt angle when using the Apple Pencil, new and improved Recolor and the ability to add Layer and Pencil Filters to QuickMenu.

Other drawing apps to consider include Tayasui Sketches, Photoshop Sketch and ArtRage.

07. Parallels Access

Best iPad apps for designers: Parallels Access

On a train and need those San Francisco financials? Sorted

However good an 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, plus 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 ensuring you can work without a fat internet connection. 

08. Noteshelf

Best iPad apps for designers: Noteshelf

Turn your iPad into a digital sketchbook with Noteshelf (Image credit: Noteshelf)
  • Requirements: iOS 12.0 or later and watchOS 4.0 or later
  • Price: $9.99/£9.99

If what you want is the digital equivalent of a sketchbook, 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 an extremely handy iPad app for designers. 

It pairs with a range of third-party styluses too, for pressure sensitivity and wrist rejection. You can even take notes on your Apple Watch and they'll sync to the main app. 

09. Adobe Comp CC

Best iPad pro apps for designers: Adobe Comp

Adobe Comp is perfect for mockups and wireframes
  • Requirements: iOS 9.0 or later
  • Price: Free

Adobe makes loads of apps for iOS, but this one is especially great on 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 stablemates InDesign, Illustrator or Photoshop 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!

10. Things 3 for iPad

Best ipad apps for designers: Things 3

Things occupies the sweet spot between Reminders and Omnifocus (Image credit: Cultured Code)

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. 

11. OmniPlan 3

Best iPad apps for designers: The Omni Group

Big projects come together a lot easier with OmniFocus (Image credit: The Omni Group)
  • Requirements: iOS 13.0 or later
  • Price: $99.99/£99.99 (Free trial available)

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 folk).

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 focused on what the material effects will be of the wireframing process, say, taking longer than you had 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 app.

12. Slack

Best iPad apps for designers: Slack

Slack's great for team communication (and sharing hilarious GIFs) (Image credit: Slack)
  • Requirements: iOS 12.2 or later
  • Price: From free

Hate how much time you spend on email? Us too. Make your team try Slack – it starts free, with some limitations – and marvel at all the time you get back. While it's ostensibly just a simple instant message tool, its become hugely popular in recent years (especially with remote working teams) thanks to the fact it integrates beautifully with a huge range of other services such as Dropbox and Google Docs, and so makes everything so much smoother.

13. Duet Display

Best iPad pro apps for designers: Duet Display

Turn your iPad into a second display and become more productive

One of the easiest ways to be more productive as a designer is to add more screens to your computer, so you can have source material on one while working on the main display, 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 co-working space. However, you can turn an iPhone or iPad into a second display for your Mac or PC with this app, which earns it a spot in our list of the best iPad apps for designers.

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.

14. Invoice2go

Best iPad pro apps for designers: Invoice2Go

Invoice2Go is 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, but Invoice2go is a good option if you haven't got started with one yet.

15. Digital magazines

Best iPad apps for designers: Mags

Probably the best design mags on the planet (unbiased) (Image credit: Future)
  • Requirements: iOS Version 6.0 (or later)
  • Price: Subscribe from $7.75/£7.75

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 downtime 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 ImagineFXand 3D World titles, but there are plenty more to explore on the App store.

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Christopher has written and edited a range of publications, including Apple-specialist titles MacFormat, Mac|Life and iPad User. His work has also featured in the BBC, Computer Arts, Digital Camera Magazine, PhotoRadar, Practical Photoshop, Macworld and TechRadar. He is currently head of podcasts at DC Thomson and has spoken at various design and tech events.