The best iPad apps for designers can make a device rival the capability of a laptop, empowering creatives to work effectively while on the go. Being able to use your mobile device to work can make a massive difference to your creative life, but which are the apps you need to know about? This list contains top tools that'll transform your iPad into a formidable, capable partner in your art and design work.
With options covering all aspects of the industry, these apps range from graphic design software to video conferencing apps. Want to focus on digital drawing? You need our roundup of the best drawing apps for iPad. For a model-specific list, see our selection of best iPad Pro apps designed for the Apple Pencil.
01. Affinity Designer
Affinity Designer is 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. Affinity Designer is perfect for any part of the workflow, and boasts over 100 brushes. Recent updates have pushed performance further still, Affinity Photo is also worth checking out, and an iPad version of Affinity Publisher is expected to be released.
02. Obscura 2
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.
03. Zoom Meeting
- Requirements: iOS 8.0 or later
- Price: From free
Zoom is ranked as one of the top video conferencing apps, and for good reason. It boasts wealth of features, which include HD video and audio and the typed transcripts of recorded video meetings (this is a paid option only), and the app's stability is second to none. Zoom has a range of pricing options, from 'Free' to 'Enterprise', so there's something for all sizes of business here. The company has also recently suspended the time limit for group meetings on the free plan, as a way of helping users to stay connected at this challenging time.
Packed with image editing and enhancement tools, Pixelmator contains everything you need for adjusting assets on the go. 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.
- Requirements: iOS 13.0 or later
- Price: Free (IAPs)
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.
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. 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.
07. Parallels Access
- Requirements: iOS 11.0 or later
- Price: Free (IAPs)
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.
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
- 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!
In other noteworthy Adobe news, Photoshop for iPad's features are improving all the time. Though it is still really a companion app, it's a worthwhile addition to the full software edition – see our review here. Plus, Adobe has now released Illustrator for iPad, which is a truly brilliant app – read about it here.
10. Things 3 for iPad
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
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.
- 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
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.
- Requirements: iOS 11.0 or later
- Price: Free (IAPs)
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
- 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.