Skip to main content

The 25 best iPad Pro apps for your Apple Pencil

Best iPad pro apps - A man using an Apple Pencil to work on his iPad .
(Image credit: Catherine Falls Commercial Via Getty Images)

The best iPad Pro apps for the Apple Pencil can expand the possibilities of your stylus. The Apple Pencil (Gen 1) was first introduced way back in 2015 with the iPad Pro and was designed to enhance users' experience of the tablet, expanding the full creative potential of apps for drawing, note-taking, sketching and digital art. 

Since then, Apple has released the Apple Pencil Gen 2, which offers wireless charging, double-tap to change tools and magnetic pairing. The stylus has now become a staple in many a creative's toolbox, so you may be wondering which are the best iPad Pro apps to get the most out from it. In the list below, we'll round up the best iPad Pro apps for art creation, note-taking and 3D design that will allow your Apple Pencil to do its magic. 

Which Apple Pencil you own will depend on your iPad (see our Apple Pencil vs Apple Pencil 2 guide). The type of iPad you have will also make a difference to the art you can create. The iPad Pro (2020)'s  A12Z processor and enhanced camera can make light work of AR needs, while the iPad Air 2020's A14 Bionic Chip and its ability to shoot 4K video also make it a contender for tasks requiring a lot of power. However, the revolutionary Apple M1 chip makes the iPad Pro (2021) the most powerful iPad to date. Partner the Apple Pencil 2 with the iPad Pro 12.9’s unbeatable display and you can take your digital art to new levels.

If the Apple Pencil alone doesn't satisfy your iPad needs then you can check out our list of the best iPad accessories or our favourite iPad stands, and if you're after a new iPad, make sure you check our guide to Black Friday iPad deals. For now, though, here are the best iPad Pro apps available today.

The best iPad Pro apps available now

01. Nebo: Take notes

Nebo: take notes iPad Pro app

(Image credit: Nebo)

Nebo is a digital note-taking app that gets a lot of acclaim for its handwriting recognition. It can understand 66 languages and transpose handwritten notes into a handy email-able format. It complements the Apple Pencil perfectly, allowing you not only to write, but also to create shapes, sketches and to format, meaning that your digital notes will have a similar feel to your paper-based ones. 

You can insert images, creative interactive diagrams and annotate external media. The additional option to save/export your notes as HTMI, PDF and text formats to Word, Powerpoint or iCloud lend this app a great deal of flexibility. The YouTube community offers a number of Nebo tips and tricks videos that can help you perfect your notetaking.

02. Inspire Pro

Best iPad Pro apps: Inspire Pro

Inspire Pro delivers professional results (Image credit: Snow Canoe)

One of the best iPad Pro apps around, Inspire Pro offers a surprisingly realistic art experience with an impressive feature set that can deliver truly professional results. With mediums such as oil, chalk, pastels and paint, the app offers multiple blending options (including blending paint with the dry brush), which are based on painting using real materials.

The software is intuitive, and the Apple Pencil works with it like a dream. Rendering time is super-fast, and the neat Canvas Playback feature lets you watch your process afterwards, stroke by stroke. 

03. Illustrator for iPad

Best drawing apps for ipad: Illustrator

Adobe's vector drawing app for the iPad shoots straight to the top of the class (Image credit: Adobe)

Illustrator CC is one of the industry-standard programmes for digital art, and this app brings its vector art functionality to your iPad, allowing you to design on the go with your Apple device. Feature-wise, Illustrator for iPad lets you create lines, shapes, type, gradients, and effects, as well as use your Apple Pencil to merge and cut graphics with quick gestures, removing unwanted areas.

You can add effects such as point gradients, radial repeats, patterns, and symmetry, and invite others to edit your projects, too. There are over 18,000 fonts, as well as seamless integration with the cloud so you can work across your Creative Cloud apps. There's also a whole design community accessible via live streams on the app, including tutorials and inspirations from creative professionals. For more details, see our full Illustrator for iPad review. For the best current prices on an Adobe Creative Cloud subscription, which includes Illustrator in all its versions, see the details below.

04. Astropad

Astropad iPad Pro app

(Image credit: Astropad)

Astropad was built by former Apple engineers with the objective of turning the iPad Pro into a graphics tablet for the Mac. Downloading Astropad and its free Mac companion app allows you to treat your iPad just like a graphics tablet, using the Pencil to draw directly in any Mac app, including Photoshop, Illustrator, Affinity Designer and so on. The result gives you the high-end experience of a Wacom pen display (without actually having to buy a Wacom tablet), and you can connect it to your Mac wirelessly or via USB. Smart!

05. Adobe Fresco

Best iPad Pro apps: Adobe Fresco

Fresco mimics apps like Procreate (Image credit: Phil Galloway)

Adobe's drawing app, Fresco, mimics other fine art drawing apps, bringing a natural painting and drawing experience to the iPad. It has a lot of strong features, including brilliant brush capability, an intuitive interface and super-smooth running, although it does fall short in other areas. Its full integration with the Apple Pencil combined with its powerful brush features plus the ability to invite others to edit make it one of the best iPad Pro apps around though. The basic version is free, it then costs $9.99 a month. See our full Adobe Fresco review for more details.

06. Noteshelf 2

Best iPad Pro apps: Noteshelf 2

Noteshelf was a good app; Noteshelf 2 is a great one

Noteshelf underwent a very positive transformation a little way back and was reborn as Noteshelf 2. Its second incarnation added tilt- and pressure-sensitivity with Apple Pencil and it supports double-tap to switch between tools with Apple Pencil 2. Siri is integrated, and you can record audio notes as well as mark up PDFs and images.

Of course, you buy this iPad Pro app for note-taking, and it does that with finesse, offering a wonderful lag-free action, uncannily precise handwriting recognition and useful autoshapes. All in all, it's one of the best notebook apps around.

07. Sketch Club

Best iPad Pro apps: Sketch Club

Sketch Club is incredibly versatile (Image credit: Black Pawn)

Sketch Club is a feature-packed drawing app with a community aspect that aims to please both amateurs and pros. With great Apple Pencil integration, you can brush, blur, fill, sketch and more to your heart's content, and use all these effects to create a range of different types of artwork, from sketches (obviously) to animation and comic strips.

You can integrate and manipulate photos and create typography, too. The app holds daily challenges, annual awards and group events as a means to motivate both amateur and professional designers to advance in their art. There's a range of tutorials and classes to help you improve your skill set too.

08. Shapr3D

Shapr3D iPad Pro app

(Image credit: Shapr3D)

Shapr3D describes itself as the world's most intuitive 3D design app and it may well be. This professional-grade CAD modelling app is based on the Siemens Parasolid geometric engine and HOOPS Exchange translation software. CAD has been difficult to translate to a tablet format because of the level of precision needed, but that limitation is overcome here thanks to the Apple Pencil's 9ms latency and the recent iPad Pros' performance.

Shapr3D is sensibly offered for free as an entry point so you can learn the ropes of the application. The free version is limited to low-resolution exports and a maximum of two designs but it still gives you access to all the modelling tools. The Pro version costs a fairly reasonable $25 per month (or $240 billed annually) to unlock features professional features, including import and export of images, and to desktop CAD formats.

Shapr3D competes with the much pricier Onshape, a CAD platform that relies heavily on cloud processing, with interaction either via the web or tablet apps. But with Shapr3D, all processing is performed locally, and files are stored on the iPad, not in the cloud.

09. Procreate

Best iPad Pro app: Procreate 4

Procreate is the king of natural media apps for the iPad Pro

Procreate is the king of iPad Pro natural media apps, and the addition of the Apple Pencil completely transforms the experience. Sure, you can use your finger, a simple stylus, or even one of the increasingly complicated and costly third-party styluses like those from Adonit, but none of these offer the fluidity and analogue-like experience of the Apple Pencil.

In part, this is due to the Apple Pencil's fine tip, its low latency and double-speed sampling rate, and in part it's because its palm rejection is nearly flawless. But all the technical stuff fades into the background when you experience the joy of sketching with a 6B pencil, turning it flat to block in big areas of shade, or playing about with paints.

Procreate 4 boasted a significant technological overhaul, along with a litany of improvements including the introduction of wet paint options and an intuitive redesigned menus. And, on top of that, Procreate 5 offers a plethora of updated features. These include a super-speedy new graphics engine called Valkyrie, the ability to import brushes from Photoshop, a floating Colour Picker, Animation Assist, Clone Tool and loads more. Also see our Procreate Pocker review.

10. Photoshop for iPad 

Best iPad Pro apps: Photoshop for iPad

The first release of Photoshop for iPad is encouraging, and we can't wait for the rest (Image credit: Adobe)

Photoshop for iPad is included with all Creative Cloud subscriptions and can be downloaded from the app store. The app has been designed as a complementary desktop companion for the photo-editing software, so it's not going to replace your desktop version, but it's still pretty powerful and offers some great features.

So far, Adobe has focused on compositing and retouching workflows (making selections, masking, blend modes, painting and adjustment layers and so on), and more features are promised with each new release. The app can take heavy a workload so you don't need to worry about overloading it. It also has the ability to invite others. See our Photoshop for iPad review for more details.

11. Affinity Designer for iPad 

Best iPad Pro apps: Affinity Designer

Affinity Designer for iPad is quickly becoming the new go-to tool for designers and artists on the go

Serif's Affinity Designer for iPad is right up there with the best iPad Pro apps for designers and artists on the go. It offers complete support for the Apple Pencil’s drawing capabilities in terms of precision, pressure sensitivity and tilt functionality. 

Fully optimised for iPad without compromising on power, Affinity Designer for iPad offers the functionality of a professional desktop app, adapted to a tablet workflow. See our Affinity Designer for iPad review for more information.

12. Autodesk SketchBook

Best iPad Pro apps: Autodesk Sketchbook

3D specialists Autodesk has created a winning drawing app in Sketchbook

Autodesk Sketchbook isn't the most well-known Autodesk app, and Autodesk is most known for pro-spec 3D apps like 3ds Max and Maya (see our Maya tutorials here), but Sketchbook is a powerful mainstream sketching application that offers a wonderfully natural drawing experience. The iPad Pro's ProMotion tech and, of course, Apple Pencil, suit it perfectly.

It offers 170 customisable brushes, full PSD layer and blending support, and switchable predictive stroke which transforms your hand-drawn lines and shapes into crisp, precise forms. Incredibly, this doesn't cost a penny, making Sketchbook probably the best free drawing app around.

13. Linea Sketch

Linea Sketch iPad Pro app

(Image credit: Linea Sketch)

The best iPad Pro apps include sketching tools for everyone. Linea Sketch is one of the best for creatives that want something more powerful than a basic pen-and-paper app but don't want the complexity of fully featured painting and drawing engines like Affinity Designer or Procreate.

Eschewing the infinite canvas of some of its rivals, Linea Sketch instead opts for a fixed canvas and familiar drawing layers that can be repositioned anywhere in your infinite layer stack. It doesn't go over the top with power user tools, but still offers several pens, colour palettes and background textures, plus there's a transform tool, automatic ruler, grid tool, which gives you backgrounds for note-taking, drawing, and user interface design, and other useful additions.

You can share via the usual applications, and export in Photoshop PSD as well as JPG and PNG file formats. Some of the premium features are paid for but reasonably priced, making this is a pleasingly pared-back app that won't weigh heavily on your pocket or on your iPad's processor.

14. Concepts

Best iPad Pro app: Concepts

Concepts is a satisfying sketching and design app

Concepts is an award-winning, advanced sketching and design app. With infinite canvas and organic brushes, fluid and responsive vector drawing engine, and intuitive precision tools, it offers a wonderfully natural design experience.

 Whether you’re an architect, product designer, illustrator or visual thinker, you can explore, iterate and share your designs anywhere you go. Double-tap tool switching is supported, and you can customise how the double-tap manifests itself, which can be very useful.

15. Affinity Photo

Affinity Photo iPad Pro app

(Image credit: Serif)

Another one from Serif, Affinity Photo is a fantastic Photoshop alternative on Mac and Windows machines thanks to its solid tool set, amazing performance and one-off price instead of a subscription fee. Its iPad version – used by Apple to demo the iPad Pro and Pencil – is no less impressive.

While it's compatible with earlier iPad models, it's when you pair it with an iPad Pro and Pencil that Affinity Photo really comes alive. As it's engineered to make the most of the iPad's hardware and touch features, Affinity Photo on the iPad Pro is also built to take full advantage of the Pencil's pressure and angle sensitivity. It's great for tasks from painting with its professional brush engine, or for applying realtime lighting effects.

Affinity Photo is built for a professional workflow, with support for raw and PSD files as well as full cross-platform performance and file compatibility in case you feel the need to add some final polish on your desktop. But you probably won't need to.

16. Adobe Comp CC

Best iPad Pro app: Adobe Comp CC

Create production-ready layouts as smoothly and easily as drawing on paper

The brilliant Adobe Comp CC iPad pro app makes the process of wireframing or mocking up designs super easy. Rather than pulling out your notebook and drawing dumb rectangles for pictures or a few horizontal lines to indicate where text would go, with a few simple and intuitive sketched shapes you can start building layouts for real. Then you can pass them straight into InDesign CC, Illustrator CC or Photoshop CC.

The app supports a range of gestures for aligning, grouping to allow quick and efficient work – you could use these with your finger, but using the Apple Pencil offers a wonderful experience that feels like drawing in a notebook with a magical pencil that makes the things you draw come to life and fly off the page.

Draw a rectangle, slash it with a diagonal cross and it becomes an image box that you can populate with assets from, say, your Creative Cloud Library. Draw a box and scrub a few horizontal lines in it, and boom, it's a text box, which you can style manually (there's also a handy, quick slider control for point size) or apply styles to from your CC Libraries. Rough squares snap to perfect geometric shapes.

It's fast, fluid and easy, and while sure, pro designers are likely to work from these wireframes like they would with one drawn in ink in a Moleskine – that is, merely referring to it but building from scratch, rather than importing it from Comp – but it can still be a boon to your productivity to be able to quickly mock up your designs using real live assets and styles.

17. Graphic for iPad

Best iPad Pro apps: Graphic

Graphic comes packing essential vector tools

Although Adobe's Illustrator is now available for the iPad, some creatives will swear that Graphic remains the best vector drawing app available on iOS. Graphic offers a host of brushes and tools, but it also packs in some other useful features including geometry settings pane with -/+ nudge buttons, three and four-finger tap gestures to undo/redo. You can also customise the screen tap gestures to perform whatever actions you find most help your workflow.

Graphic now has a larger drawing canvas (developer Picta claims 16k x 16k), pressure-sensitive drawing with the Apple Pencil, and document tabs. If you're looking for professional desktop-like vector illustration on your iPad Pro, Graphic is an alternative that's well worth trying.

18. Forger

Best iPad Pro app: Forger on the iPad

Forger has a wide range of brush tools (Image credit: Forger)

Forger set out to bring most of the features of Autodesk Mudbox from the desktop to a tablet format, becoming the de-facto standard for tablet-based sculpting software and a showcase for how the addition of touch-sensitive hardware can make a real difference to 3D creativity.

The brainchild of Javier Edo, a talented artist in his own right, it offers a huge volume of brush, stroke and transform operations, which compare well to any desktop sculpting application. You can move, pull, flatten, bend, twist, translate, rotate your model or even import an image to use as a brush. You can make intricate edits to your work, moulding the geometry of 3D shapes using either your finger or a stylus. This provides a more tactile connection to 3D design that you don’t tend to get using a mouse.

Forger imports and exports OBJ and STL files, and has a really intuitive interface tailored specifically for the iPad. There are left/right-handed UI modes and an easily movable camera. Panning, rotating and zooming is achieved with the kind of finger motions you're probably used to using in mobile apps: pinching to zoom, two-finger swipes to move, and one finger to rotate. Sculpting can be performed symmetrically, using masks and layers, with the ability to apply clear, grow, shrink, invert, blur and sharpen masks. You can merge and split meshes, and reapply symmetry with multiple undo levels to give more precision to edits.

You can light your models with Forger’s PBR shader, which incorporates an image-based lighting model, and you can then paint your mesh directly on the iPad (although this feature requires an in-app purchase). After export, final lighting and rendering can be completed on a desktop PC, creating a workflow where the iPad is the creative tool and the workstation does the number crunching.

19. Notability

Best iPad Pro app: Notability

Notability is so good you might want to ditch the Moleskine

For some, digital notepads will never replace writing on paper, but anyone looking to commit to a stylus-on-screen experience should try Notability. It allows you to combine handwriting, photos and typing, and adds a small but well-integrated selection of drawing tools to help you avoid having to jump from app to app if you want to sketch. 

What really makes Notability shine as an Apple Pencil app are little features like automatic palm rejection, where you can rest your hand on the screen and it won't register as a mark, and straight-line detection, where the app engine will recognise when you are trying to draw a ruled line and straighten it for you. 

The features exist on several other note-taking and sketchbook apps, including many on Apple's native Notes app, but the combination of essential tools in one app combined with lag-free drawing makes Notability a great go-to iPad Pro app for when you're away from the studio.

20. Pixelmator

Best iPad Pro app: Pixelmator

iPad Pro app Pixelmator makes the most of the Apple Pencil's features

We could have recommended Adobe Photoshop Mix here, but while its cut-out tools, layers, and paintable filters are quite nice, the stalwart iOS bitmap editor Pixelmator just feels like the more mature and useful app to us. As well as offering natural media drawing tools that work with the Apple Pencil, Pixelmator allows you to tweak colours either by applying Instagram-style filters, or with sliders for brightness, contrast, saturation, RGB and white balance – or indeed by tweaking the curves.

Pairing Pixelmator with the Apple Pencil really stands out when it comes to doing touch-ups or object isolation. The touch-up controls – repair, dodge, burn, sharpen, saturate and more – are easy to apply with the Pencil especially given its precision. When painting out backgrounds this precision, plus the various different eraser types available, are hugely welcome. If we have one criticism, it's that we'd like the option of pressure-sensitivity to affect the size of an eraser rather than its opacity.

21. Clip Studio Paint 

Clip Studio Paint iPad Pro app

(Image credit: CELSYS)

Clip Studio Paint replaced the popular Manga Studio and inherited its legions of users thanks to its specialised features for drawing comics and cartoons. Instantly familiar to anyone who has used the desktop version of the app, it allows you to create full-colour comics and cartoons with ease.

The desktop-style UI means an Apple Pencil is virtually essential here unless you have particularly slim and pointed fingertips. But once you've familiarized yourself with the fiddly buttons and menus, you have a feature-dense drawing app to use. There are many cheaper apps, but if you specialise in this area of art and design, there are few better and with such a vast repertoire of tools,

22. Paper

Best iPad Pro apps: Paper

Paper has a simple UI, but is surprisingly capable

At first glance Paper by WeTransfer (formerly Paper by FiftyThree) might look like a fairly simple drawing and diagramming tool, and it is on one level, but there are a few extra features here that can be difficult to discover but add a lot more possibilities

Take a look through the online support files and you'll learn how initially simple-looking tools can be used to create graphs, org charts and Venn diagrams, to easily duplicate shapes, link shapes with lines (with optional arrows at one or both ends) and much more. Paper doesn't demand the kind of precision offered by the Apple Pencil, but the stylus is very welcome, and the slightly cartoonish media work great with its sensors.

23. Evernote

Best iPad Pro apps: Evernote

Evernote is a rich, capable iPad Pro app

Another notetaking iPad Pro app. In this case, it isn't for everyone. For some, Evernote has an indispensable app through which to gather websites, sketches, notes, to-do lists and all kinds of detritus of modern life alongside inspiration and creative work. But for some, it's a baffling experience that doesn't quite click.

It's definitely rich and capable, and the ability to record audio while you sketch ideas for a client is great (handy for during a briefing for example, though it isn't the only app to offer this possibility). It's also pleasing how the eraser tool creates nicely rounded ends to the ink strokes rather than just slicing them into sharp points.

Using the Pencil, rather than a dumb stylus or your own finger, allows you to create a more expressive line since it's pressure sensitive, but more importantly the palm rejection means that you can lean your hand on the screen like you would with paper, and Evernote won't get confused and make marks where your hand is resting.

24. LiquidText

Best iPad Pro apps: LiquidText for iPad

This PDF document reader enables you to annotate and excerpt texts

Even without a Pencil, LiquidText is a handy tool for reading and annotating PDFs, Word and PowerPoint documents, and web pages. It's designed to support 'active reading', which means that you can highlight and snip out sections to refer to later while you read or collapse sections of a document down so you can refer to different parts at once. 

But adding in the Apple Pencil makes it even faster to use, and it's a great example of how the Pencil's pressure- and tilt-sensitivity can be useful for more than mimicking real-world drawing tools.

Dragging the Pencil over text instantly selects it (rather than having to tap-and-wait with your finger), pressing harder selects any part of the document as an image, and dragging the Pencil across text at a flattened angle selects and highlights it, which is very smart. If you have an Apple Pencil 2, you can use LiquidText's configurable double-tap compatibility, too.

25. uMake

Best iPad Pro apps: uMake

This 3D drawing app makes great use of the Apple Pencil

We'll be honest. Despite assurances from uMake that it 'empowers anyone to create 3D designs easily and intuitively', this reviewer doesn't have the skills produce anything remotely impressive in the 3D drawing app. Nevertheless, we can see that it makes great use of the Apple Pencil.

The idea is that you can sketch in 2D – optionally using smart symmetry controls – and then extrude your designs or even draw entirely in 3D space, connecting points on different planes. Even if you're a bit clumsy, your lines get smoothed into flowing curves, and with practice we can see that it would be possible to create some elegant, organic forms at speed. The precision of the Apple Pencil's tip make this process simpler than with any other stylus.

It might be frustrating for highly technical engineering work, but you could use it as a tool to get down an initial concept down before exporting to IGES or OBJ files to develop it further in other apps. Version 2.0 sees SketchUp support, meaning you can import and open .SKP files directly in uMake.

Related articles:

A veteran from the days of the 8-bit ZX Spectrum, Orestis is always interested in the fastest, slickest way to make computers do new and exciting things.