9 iPad Pro apps that make the most of Apple Pencil

There's no doubt that the Apple Pencil is an impressive design and digital art tool, but to make the most of it you need the right iPad Pro apps – ones that truly take advantage of its power and flexibility.

Happily, as this list shows, there is already a strong roster of iPad Pro apps from companies big and small, which really let the Pencil shine. All you have to supply is talent! (And a Pencil. And an iPad Pro.)

Here are nine great apps that make the most of the Apple Pencil – and with iOS 11 just released, they're sure to be even better than ever.

01. Affinity Photo

  • Requirements: iOS 10.3 or later

$19.99/£19.99

Serif's Affinity Photo has quickly become the go-to Photoshop alternative on Mac and Windows machines thanks to its solid tool set, amazing performance and one-off price instead of a subscription fee, and 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. Already engineered to make the most of the iPad's hardware and touch features, on the iPad Pro it's 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 applying realtime lighting effects.

It's 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 the fact is that you probably won't need to.

02. Procreate 4

Procreate 4 for iPad

Procreate is the king of natural media apps on the iPad

  • Requirements: iOS 10.0 or later

$9.99/£9.99

This is the king of natural media apps on the iPad, and it is completely transformed with the addition of the Pencil. Sure, you can use your finger with it, a simple stylus, or even one of the increasingly complicated and expensive third-party styluses from the likes of Adonit, but none of these give you the fluidity and analogue-like experience that the Apple Pencil does.

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

The newly released Procreate 4 boasts a significant technological overhaul, along with a litany of improvements including the introduction of wet paint options and an intuitive redesigned menus.

Read our full Procreate 4 review.

03. Adobe Comp CC

Adobe Comp CC for iPad

Create production-ready layouts as smoothly and easily as drawing on paper
  • Requirements: iOS 9.0 or later

Free

The Adobe Comp CC iPad pro app is a revelation, and makes the process of wireframing or mocking up designs a cinch. The idea is that rather than pulling out your notebook and drawing dumb rectangles for pictures or a few horizontal lines to indicate where text would go in a layout, with a few simple and intuitive sketched shapes you can actually start building those layouts for real – and then pass them into InDesign, Illustrator or Photoshop.

It's worth familiarising yourself with all the different gestures for aligning, grouping and so on so you can work quickly and efficiently. You could do all this with just your finger, but using the Pencil feels delightfully like drawing in a notebook with a magical pencil, where birds 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.

04. Adobe Photoshop Sketch

Adobe Photoshop Sketch for iPad

Sketch comes with some lovely natural media types built in
  • Requirements: iOS 9.0 or later

Free

Procreate may be the king of natural media apps on the iPad, but if so Adobe is like a deposed Ancien Régime monarch, plotting, in its exile, to win back its crown. And Sketch is genuinely really good, with not only some lovely natural media types built-in (and the option of adding more brushes via Capture CC), but also some features that might quickly endear it to you.

For starters, it can push layered PSDs directly to Photoshop on your Mac or PC, and you can add either a flat grid or even a configurable 3D plane grid to the background, plus preset geometric shapes, to help keep you on the straight and narrow. When you want to go on the wide and sinuous, there are French curves that you can trace against.

But that would be for naught if the natural media tools themselves were rubbish, but in fact they're generally very nice. Pay attention specifically to the watercolour tool, which has colours bleed into one another in a most pleasing manner. 

What's even nicer is that you can tap an icon – which looks like fan blades – to 'dry' the paint so that new colours added on top don't bleed, giving you some terrific flexibility. The tools are Pencil-aware, so react wonderfully to pressure and tilt differences.

05. Pixelmator

Pixelmator for iPad

iPad Pro app Pixelmator makes the most of the Apple Pencil's features
  • Requirements: iOS 9.1 or later

$4.99/£4.99

We could have recommended Adobe Photoshop Mix here in place of this stalwart iOS bitmap editor – and certainly, the former's cut-out tools, layers, and paintable filters are generally quite nice – but Pixelmator just feels like the more mature and useful app.

As well as offering some (frankly a little underwhelming) natural media drawing tools that work with the Pencil, it gives you the ability to tweak the colours either by applying Instagram-style filters, or with sliders for brightness, contrast, saturation, RGB and white balance – or indeed by tweaking the curves.

But the pairing of Pixelmator and the Pencil really shine if you want to do some 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've one criticism it's that we'd like the option of pressure-sensitivity to affect the size of an eraser rather than its opacity, but nevertheless this is the closest thing you're going to find to Photoshop on the iPad – and the Pencil just makes it better.

06. Paper

  • Requirements: iOS 10.0 or later

Free

We'd love to be able to recommend Noteshelf here, which is overall a richer notebook app (albeit one that's not quite as pretty or simple) but although it has recently added support for the Pencil, it's very basic – there's no tilt- or pressure-sensitivity.

Happily, though, Paper by FiftyThree is easy to love. At first glance it might look like a reasonably simple drawing and diagramming tool – and on one level, for sure, that's what it is – but there are some smarts here. 

They are frustratingly difficult to discover, but again it's worth poking around the support files online to understand how the apparently simple tools can be used to create graphs, org charts and Venn diagrams, can 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 you get from the Pencil, but it's certainly welcome, and the slightly, delightfully cartoonish media work great with its sensors.

07. Evernote

Evernote for iPad

Evernote is a rich, capable iPad Pro app
  • Requirements: iOS 10.3 or later

Free

Ah, Evernote. Now, this definitely isn't for everyone. For some, this uber-notebook has become an indispensable place for gathering websites, sketches, notes, to-do lists and more – the detritus of modern life as well as inspiration and creative work – but for others it's just a bit baffling and never quite clicks.

It's definitely rich and capable, though, and the ability to record audio – during a briefing meeting, say, while you sketch ideas for a client – using its simple but effective drawing tools is great (though this isn't the only app to offer that, of course). It's 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 finger gives you 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.

08. LiquidText

LiquidText for iPad

This PDF document reader lets you annotate and excerpt texts
  • Requirements: iOS 9.3 or later

Free

Even without a Pencil this is a handy tool for reading and annotating PDFs, Word and PowerPoint documents, and web pages. It's designed to support 'active reading', so as you're reading you can be highlighting and snipping out sections to refer to later, collapsing sections of a document down so you can refer to disparate bits of it at once, and more.

Add in the Pencil, though, and it becomes even faster to use, and it's a great example of how the Pencil's pressure- and tilt-sensitivity can be used not just to mimic 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 across text with the Pencil held at a flattened angle selects and highlights it. Smart.

09. uMake

uMake iPad app

This 3D drawing app makes great use of the Apple Pencil
  • Requirements: iOS 10.0 or later

Free

We'll come clean: despite its assurances that it 'empowers anyone to create 3D designs easily and intuitively' we don't have the chops to produce anything remotely impressive in this 3D drawing app, but we can nevertheless see that it makes great use of the Pencil.

The idea is that you can sketch in 2D – optionally making use of 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 and jittery, your lines are smoothed into flowing curves, and with practice we can see that it would be possible to create some elegant, organic forms at speed – and the precision of the Pencil's tip will make this whole process simpler than with any other stylus.

It might get frustrating for highly technical engineering work, but you can always use it as a tool for getting an initial concept down before exporting to IGES or OBJ files so you can work it up in other apps.

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