AstroPad Mac and iPad app Combo for Drawing on the Mac

Astro and Affinity Photo

In the past I have used both the professional size of the Wacom tablet and also the Wacom Cintiq with PhotoShop and with Adobe Illustrator. I like to use Affinity Designer and Affinity Photo these days. You use these devices if you are looking to have better control for more accurate drawing ability with the technology. You will also be likely to use these because of being able to work faster. Time is money after all, even for artists. The professional drawing tablet which is a kind of slate in which you use an electronic pen/brush works very well indeed. It does take a little while to get used to moving your hand around in one place while looking at the screen in front of you. With that in mind, it is no wonder that you might think the Wacom Cintiq would be better, as you can see what you drawing underneath the nib of the electronic pen. I was only able to afford the 12 inch version of the Cintiq and it felt a little bit constrained in terms of size. In some ways, it felt harder to get used to the way the drawing appeared underneath the pen on that than it did with using the standard Wacom tablet. One thing that was always really nice about using these tablets is the addition of pressure sensitivity to your drawing. That was the main thing that made it seem a little bit more like the old ways of pen and paper. Artists are used to getting a varying line dependent on how hard you press. The latest technology to come out in this arena is called Astro. Astro has been developed by ex-Apple software engineers and it gives you a way to use your iPad in the same way as you would use the Cintiq.

Astro pad

AstroPad in use

There is an application for the iPad which you download for free and you can also download a trial version of the partner application for the Mac. You get seven days to try it out. If you really jump into using the Astro software seven days would probably be enough. After the seven days in order to continue you have to buy the application from the Mac app store and it costs $50. This is not terribly expensive when you consider the cost of buying one of those Wacom Cintiq’s. You do have to temper that with the fact that the iPad is smaller and so you do get a smaller drawing area to work with.

It is fairly easy to set up and connect. You have a choice of connecting over Wi-Fi or you can also connect using USB. I had a USB cable sitting on the desk and ready and waiting, so I gave that a go first of all. I only had to start up the two applications, one on the Mac and the other on the iPad and I could see the connection was working. I suggest it would be a good idea to watch the videos first of all showing you how to use the Astro application so you can draw on your Mac. You can use your finger to draw with or an ordinary stylus, but you will get better use out of this if you have one of the better styli that also gives you pressure sensitivity. I have the Wacom Creative Pen, version 2 and in less than a minute I was able to use this with the application. If you have more than one computer screen set up with your computer it is easy to change from one to the other for the mirroring to your iPad.

Feeling a little bit cramped

I have only spent a short time using this application and I think it is worth devoting a little bit more time to try it out. Even so, the first impressions would be that the experience was a little cramped. There is a control bar which appears on the left side of the screen and on this you can change the size of the brush. At the top is where you choose whether you are using your fingers or your stylus. From that area you get the controls to change the size of the brush, choose the eraser, brush, undo, redo and to do a zoom in or a zoom out. There is also a white circle which appears on your iPad screen and if you press down on that you see the whole screen as if it is being selected. At the top there are two buttons which allow you to choose either 100% or full-screen. Going full screen will give you the whole of your Mac screen in front of you, which will be letterboxed due to the different shape of the iPad compared to the Mac. If you go with 100% that gives you an iPad sized view into your Mac desktop. This small circle on your screen when you press and hold on it when you’re working at 100% gives you the opportunity to move the screen around. So if you have a drawing on your screen you can move the small window around to see the bits you want to see.

AstroPad with Affinity Photo

Controls in the software

When first started using the application I got a little bit frustrated with having the control bar over on the left hand side of the screen, hiding things I wanted to see underneath. I was happy when I found I could move that control bar over to the right-hand side if I needed to. You have two buttons at the bottom of the control bar which give you access to the settings for the application. There are only three settings available in there and they don’t really do much. I was able to click through to some settings available on the Mac that was only the settings available for the stylus. The other button on this control bar gives you access to a shift key, control key, option and command. There will be times when you need to use these modifier keys to do certain tasks within your drawing. There is one last button on this control bar which is the choice to go from draw mode to move and zoom mode. The move and zoom mode is the same as you get by putting a finger onto the white circle on-screen and you get to move things around using the standard iPad gestures. So you pan and pinch to move and zoom the visible screen area.

Will I be tempted to buy the full version?

I was pleased to see this software solution to the drawing tablet making the iPad extra useful. I doubt if I’m likely to spend the money to get the full version. I use a Magic TrackPad on the Mac and is OK for the amount of drawing I do on the Mac. Besides I also have the Wacom Bamboo to use for that sort of thing too. Technically it is a cool trick and there may be some artists that can really make use of such a system. I think I prefer to use an app like Procreate on the iPad that will give me quicker access to the tools I want to use when making a drawing. I need to be near to my main computer to be able to use the AstroPad solution and in that situation I would rather work directly with the larger screen in front of me. I ended up going back and forth between the Mac and the iPad so I could change tools and colour and it wasn’t helpful top have AstroPad. It was more of a hindrance.

Could be better using Procreate

Use Procreate