I have owned an iPad Pro with the accompanying Apple Pencil for about two months now. I am finally getting around to writing down my general thoughts. Sorry it took me so long, but on the bright side, the prolonged time has allowed me to really get to know the new equipment and form some solid thoughts.
I have used the iPad Pro and Pencil nearly every working day since I got it. Here are some of the things I was able to accomplish:
I sketched a lot.
I drew some fan art.
I made some magazine illustrations.
I illustrated an entire picture book.
I made a painting for a gallery show.
I’ve sketched out my next illustration assignment for a textbook.
I colored some comic pages.
And I have not touched my 24″ Cintiq once in that period of time.
Here is the burning info that I think most artists want to know:
How well does the Apple Pencil really work?
The Apple Pencil is more accurate and responsive than any other stylus I’ve used. Period.
When you put the Pencil down on the iPad screen, the mark shows up right at the tip. I’ve never seen this with any other stylus. Pressure sensitivity works beautifully. The tilt control is nice, not just a parlor trick like I thought it would be. There’s virtually no lag. Palm rejection works and touch controls work seamlessly with the stylus; I can switch between drawing with my Pencil or pinching and zooming with my fingers with no hesitation at all.
It is not without its bugs. Sometimes in Procreate my brush loses control for a second and paints a large stroke. I am not sure if this is because the pressure sensitivity was lost or if the tilt controls misfired or some other issue, or if this is a problem with the app or the device. Nevertheless, it is a rare issue that only seems to occur if I am taxing my iPad with a very large file with many layers. It doesn’t prevent you from working; it’s merely annoying, and might be fixed in a future software update.
Design-wise, I love the long and skinny form factor. Very “pencil” like. It’s the perfect weight and solidly built. I don’t mind that there’s no buttons like the Wacom stylus. I haven’t needed them and it’s one less thing to accidentally hit.
I really wish there was a clip or something though. I still haven’t figured out how to travel conveniently with both the iPad and Pencil. Also, the cap that covers the charger is really small. I am counting down the days until I accidentally lose it.
The Pencil needs to be kept charged, but this has been a pleasant non-problem for me. The battery lasts a long time. It charges super quickly. If I run the battery down, I can take a quick lunch break for fifteen minutes or half hour, then come back and have a few more hours of work time. It only takes an hour or so to charge to 100%.
You charge the Pencil by plugging it into your iPad’s lightning port. It’s an awkward but minor annoyance. There is an adapter to plug it directly into the wall (another insanely small piece that is easy to lose). And I was pleased to see it only takes one or two percentage points from your iPad’s battery, if that, to charge the Pencil to full. In short, I never worry about my Apple Pencil’s battery charge.
Is the screen size big enough?
Yes, I think so. The standard iPads felt cramped; the iPad Pro feels about right.
It really helps that the apps have interfaces designed to work on the iPad screen. When I work in Photoshop via the Astropad app (mirroring my desktop screen), I start to feel cramped again, simply because Photoshop has so many toolbars and windows.
The screen is about the same size as the Modbook (a modded Apple Macbook tablet computer) I used to work on. I used it as my main setup for several years. So it was like returning to that, but better.
The iPad Pro screen is comparable to the 13” Cintiq and Surface Pro sizes, so if you like those you will like the iPad Pro. Obviously, it is nowhere near the higher end 24” Cintiqs, so if you’re moving from one of those it will feel like a downgrade. It is a comfortable downgrade though.
The screen allows for plenty of space to work. The main frustration will be not being able to open multiple windows and apps side-by-side, if you want to display photo reference or search the web, for example. I usually use my desktop computer or my phone to do tasks like that alongside my iPad.
Overall, I’m pleased with the screen size. If it were much bigger, it would lose some of its portability factor anyway.
Should I buy an iPad Pro/Apple Pencil or a Surface Pro or a Cintiq?
The iPad Pro won’t replace the larger, higher-end equipment. If you want something like the Cintiq 24HD, go for it. That’s probably the best setup for artists who need the best equipment, want a large work area, and don’t mind sitting at their desk all day.
Though oddly enough, like I mentioned above I haven’t used my Cintiq since getting my iPad Pro. This wasn’t intentional, and I was kinda surprised when I realized it after a few weeks. I thought maybe this was due to my excitement over having a new toy, and may eventually get frustrated and return to my desktop equipment. This is what would happen with my previous iPads. However, another month has since passed and I have no real desire to use my desktop anymore. I enjoy how fast, easy, and mobile my iPad Pro is. It depends on what you favor, size or portability.
I think Wacom should be worrying most about their Cintiq 13HD customers, because I would choose the iPad Pro over it hands down. It has the same screen size, almost the same price, and can be used as both a portable computer and an external tablet (via the Astropad app, which works great). The iPad Pro is also much more portable, as the Cintiq has a lot of cables and a bulky power adapter, and requires a laptop to work.
I have not personally used a Surface Pro, but I think the choice between it and an iPad Pro is probably a toss-up. It will mostly depend on personal preference and workflow. It can run Photoshop, which is a plus. But the iPad has a better variety and quality of other apps, in my opinion. It runs on Windows (a plus or minus depending on who you ask). Other features like price, memory, and portability are about the same. Go with what you prefer. (But if you must know, my biased opinion is the iPad Pro all the way.)
Who should buy an iPad Pro?
The iPad Pro is probably best for artists who want to save money over larger equipment, are looking for portability over size, want a useful tool to supplement their larger setups, or heavy iPad users looking for a worthy upgrade.
Can the iPad Pro replace my laptop?
Overall, no. The iPad Pro works best as a companion device. I can do about 90% of my tasks on an iPad, but the last 10% is pretty important.
For professional artwork, I still need my desktop computer and Photoshop to make minor color adjustments, convert between file formats, organizing and archiving, and file delivery. It’s mostly maintenance stuff. They’re all things that are still impossible or a pain to do on an iPad. I can stay on my iPad all day. I can take it on vacation and travel with it. Eventually though, I’m gonna need to plug it into a desktop or laptop computer.
If I already have an iPad, is it worth upgrading?
The increased size and performance is noticeably different, but perhaps not mind-blowing. If you just want to sketch and brainstorm, stick with your old iPad and save money. However, it may be a worthy investment for professionals simply because it supports larger file sizes. On my old iPad, I could do spots and the occasional page illustrations for work. On my iPad Pro, I can do full book spreads and large comic pages. And I can do so at 450 or 600 dpi instead of the standard 300. It is a big difference.
The real game changer though is the Apple Pencil. It is only compatible with the iPad Pro. And it is worth it. I can’t say it enough – I love this stylus. It is much more comfortable and accurate to use than other styluses, so if you want to make your iPad part of your everyday workflow, upgrade to Pro.
Can you make professional artwork on the iPad Pro?
Yes. Even the older iPads are capable enough, but the Pro is equipped significantly more so. You can create much bigger file sizes, and there is a better stylus in the Apple Pencil. In the the first few months I’ve had it, I illustrated a whole picture book, made some magazine illustrations, and worked on my comic with ease.
Some professionals will be able to use the iPad Pro as their main tool, but it will highly depend on their personal workflow and style. It works for me. If you are a painterly digital artist who just needs a machine that can handle layered high resolution files, with some good brush tools and software, and an awesome stylus, you’ll be all set. There are some styles, like vector art or some comics processes, that could still be a challenge. And if you work with an insane amount of layers and super high resolution files, you will have issues. I’ve been making full page artwork at 300-600dpi just fine though.
But I can’t use Photoshop on the iPad Pro…
This is brought up a lot. The best I can say is, it will be an issue for some artists, and for others it won’t matter at all. It will depend on your particular style and process.
You can use Astropad to bring Photoshop to your iPad Pro, but in my opinion, it is much easier and advantageous to use the native mobile apps.
The app you will want to use on the iPad Pro is Procreate. It is just as capable and powerful as Photoshop for digital painting. It is basically Photoshop with all the unnecessary bloatware taken out, pared down to the digital painting essentials with a simpler interface design. (In other words, it is the Photoshop app everyone wishes Adobe would make for the iPad.) There are random things that it’s missing that will make the initial transition frustrating (no magic wand tool or adjustment layers, for example). However, I’ve been able to work around every roadblock I’ve encountered and can reproduce my illustration process seamlessly in Procreate. If you are willing to make minor process adjustments and learn new things, the Photoshop thing will not be a deal breaker.
Procreate even does some things better than Photoshop. The quickline tool for making straight lines, the cleaner interface, and the super quick touch zoom and repositioning, to name a few. Sometimes when I return to Photoshop on my desktop, I even feel at a disadvantage.
I don’t think you’ll be able to throw away your copy of Photoshop completely though. I still need Photoshop, but I’ve only been using it lately for maintenance stuff like file conversion and color correction.
Again, your mileage will vary depending on your style and process. But give Procreate a try before completely dismissing the iPad because of Photoshop.
What apps should I use?
Once you get an iPad Pro, download these immediately.
Procreate – A Photoshop-like digital painting app. It’s probably the most powerful and versatile art app you’ll find.
Astropad – It connects your iPad to your computer and mirrors your screen, but it has on-screen controls and stylus support specifically for artists. In other words, it makes your iPad work like a Cintiq monitor.
Adobe Draw – This is the best “inking” app I’ve found so far. It draws smoothly and exports as vectors. The downside is that it requires an Adobe Creative Cloud software subscription to export the workable files.
Graphic – This is the best app for vector art I’ve found so far.
Dropbox – It’s widely compatible across apps, and is the best way I’ve found to get files on/off the iPad and keep them organized.
These apps are also popular, but I don’t think you’ll need them.
Paper – A sketching app. There’s no layers and limited tools and export options. It basically works like a paper sketchbook, so it is more ideal for sketching than heavy duty work.
Adobe Sketch – Another sketching app with limited tools. It has a big brand name, but I find it redundant if you have other apps. Plus, like its sister app Adobe Draw, it requires CC version desktop software to export high-res files.
Just for Fun
Animation Creator – 2-D animation drawing app for you animators out there.
Artrage – A painting app that specializes in real-world media effects. Traditional painters might like this one better than the typical digital painting apps.
What do you NOT like about the iPad Pro?
Keeping your files organized is still tricky. There is no universal file system, so everything is spread out among different apps and file formats. The best solution I’ve found is Dropbox. It works with almost any art app for importing and exporting files, and syncs to my desktop computer.
The biggest annoyance I’ve had with the iPad Pro is the battery. It lasts a fair amount of time, but the job-stopper is the recharge time. It takes forever. I can plug in my iPad for an hour and only get a few percentage points back. It is definitely an overnight job to get the battery back to 100%. This is mostly a problem if you happen to completely drain your battery while working. You will have to wait hours before you can continue. You won’t even be able to plug it into a wall to keep working because it won’t charge quickly enough, especially if you’re using it. You can avoid these issues by being aware and keeping your iPad plugged in whenever possible.
Update: As it turns out, I was using the wrong power adapter when I wrote this review. I didn’t realize I was still using my old power adapter from my previous iPad, which is less powerful the iPad Pro’s. Charging the battery still isn’t super fast, but it isn’t nearly as sluggish as I first implied if you use the proper 12W power adapter.
So what do you think of the iPad Pro overall?
I love the iPad Pro and Apple Pencil. I don’t regret buying it. I use every day for work and for fun.
That being said, a lot will depend on the individual artist and how they make their art, and if they’re willing to change a few process things. It’s a tool like anything else with it’s own ups and downs. But it is a powerful tool.
The biggest game changer is the Apple Pencil. Painting on the older iPads was only slightly more than a fun trick, but the Pencil makes the experience just as comparable or better than drawing on other professional tablets.
All that being said, you won’t be replacing your laptops, desktops, or Adobe software anytime soon, but the iPad Pro works alongside them beautifully. It is perfectly capable of making professional quality work, and is comfortable enough to use every day. It has plenty of fun and useful features that make it worth buying over other devices, including the high-end ones. I had many high expectations for the iPad Pro and Apple Pencil when they were first announced, and by and large each one of them was met. I am one happy artist.
Want a full demo?
I’ve created two in-depth process videos which review the iPad Pro and Apple Pencil. One features an actual client illustration for a magazine, and the other shows me coloring of one of my comic pages.
Each video features:
A full step-by-step of each illustration from start to finish.
A review and demo of the iPad Pro, the Apple Pencil, and the Procreate app.
An explanation of the obstacles I encountered, and how I worked around them.
Here’s a quick time-lapse sample. The full videos are basically longer versions with audio.
You can get the videos by:
Pledging to my Patreon page
All $3 and up patrons will have access to the magazine illustration video. Patrons $5 and up can access both videos, plus a couple quick time-lapse videos. If you enjoyed the review and found it useful, please consider pledging. I appreciate any support you can give! patreon.com/danidraws
Or buy them from my store
If you really don’t want to do the monthly pledge thing, I am also putting the videos up in my store to buy individually. Get them here: Pro Illustration on the iPad Pro • Coloring a Comic Page on the iPad Pro, or visit my store.