Evaluating drawing and art applications for iOS

The other day I was having a twiddle and fiddle with my iPad, as you do – and I opened up a couple of my art applications. I haven’t opened these applications for a wee while, but I do like drawing. I did used to be an art teacher and an artist that did some drawing everyday. So it wouldn’t be surprising that I have an interest in applications either on my Mac or on iOS to use for creating visual art. One of the things that I did find when I was an artist was that it was a very time-consuming thing to do. I determined that if I wanted to earn money as an artist, I would have to find a way to use those skills in some way other than being a fine artist. A fine artist being a person that paints pictures and draws in a way that even famous or not famous artists have done In the past, painters such as Picasso, Kandinsky or Manet.

So for 12 years I ran a business as a signwriter and designer, which to a large extent satisfied my creativity. I would be making creative decisions daily and had occasions when I could be really creative as part of the work. Having said all of that, I have found that my drawing skills through lack of use have declined over the years. So it was quite interesting when I decided to pick up the iPad and have a look at my drawing applications that I have collected over the last year or so and see what I have. There have been one or two that I tried and didn’t keep, but the ones that I have on the iPad now are – Procreate , ArtStudio, Ink Artist and ArtRage.




I like the application called Procreate and this is because it is easy to work with and has some very good tools. There is a good range of brushes for sketching, inking, painting, airbrushing, texture brushes and abstract brushes. It is even possible to create your own favourite brushes. All you have to do is do a double tap on a brush and you can get to the controls to further customise any brush whether you have made it yourself or not. You get to change things like spacing and scatter as well as how the stroke that you make on the page is tapered, both at the start and the finish of the line. In fact there are six sets of properties that you can change, the stroke, shape, grain, dynamics, general and the source of a texture. As you make changes to the settings you get a visual to show you what your new brush will look like. The brush settings will apply also to the smudge tool and the eraser tool, so that whether you’re putting colour on, moving the colour around or taking it off, you do have full creative control.

Procreate iPad app

As you would expect with any properly featured drawing and painting tool you do get layers. I think it is possible to have as many as 16 layers and you get five different sets of blend modes. That works out to 17 different types of layer blending. You can make adjustments to the opacity of the blend using an on-screen gesture. The colour picker works pretty well, with you easily able to change the hue and saturation, you can make all the changes that you need to with the three sliders. If you make a colour that you want to choose and use again you can drag the colour into the palette to story for later. There seems to be plenty of place for storing a good selection of colours. You can also choose a colour from your image by tapping and holding. This will be very handy if you’re working from a reference image that has colours within it that you want to use.

Other controls for your Procreate tools

On the right side of the screen you have a slider controlling the size of the tool and underneath that there is a slider which controls the opacity. It is good to have these handy when you are making a drawing. Over in the top left-hand corner of the screen there is the button for the Gallery. This will take you back to the start page where you can choose to start a new image or to work on one that you have already begun. Next to that there is an icon with a wrench or spanner that gives you access to some other options, such as getting an image from your photos, camera or from Dropbox. You will also find your sharing and exporting possibilities within that pop-up dialog.

Getting help and Choosing a Stylus

If you choose the More Info tab you will see the guides, access to tutorials, help and resources. There are some styli that will work using Bluetooth and you can also set up a specific stylus for iOS to work with Procreate. I can’t really comment on those styli because I don’t have any of the stylus devices in the list. I am tempted to buy one though to see if I get even better control than I do when I’m using the stylus that I already have. It is even possible in Procreate app for iOS to set up the interface to be suitable for a left-handed person.

What is it like to actually use Procreate

Procreate 2

The brushes that are available are very good and very usable. I quite often find myself drawing and adding texture very intuitively. I find that the layers work very well and it is useful also to have the undo button in case I need to redo a line or whatever else I have added to the drawing. After looking at other applications such as ArtStudio , it would be nice to have some way to make selections, flood fills and also Fountain fills.

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I do like the textured brushes that you can get in Procreate for iPad, for example, there is one set called elements that allows you to create background textures such as flames, smoke, water, crystals and others. For quite a while this application Procreate was my favourite, but now it is probably a joint favourite with ArtStudio.

ArtStudio For Digital Painting and Drawing

ArtStudio 1

In some ways I like this application more than I like Procreate. This application is more painterly in its approach in the way that if you are moving your brush across an area with a colour it will act as if you are working on wet paint. So you will see a mixing of the paint that would be similar to the way that wet paint would mix on a canvas in the real world with either oils or acrylics. You can also set the amount of wetness of the paint and you get a live preview of how this works in the settings dialog. There are lots of options that you can use for the brush settings to give you a virtually infinite way of applying your digital paint. This is the case whether you’re using the round brush, the flat brush, the airbrushing tool or whichever.

Pointilist Painter

There is a paintbrush setting for painting with dots, very handy for the pointillist artists out there. One thing that you should remember when you’re messing with these settings for this tool, is that you should not forget to scroll down to find more options available. I was quite surprised the first time that I did this, to find that there was loads more settings available, such as the ability to do random flip of the dots and also various settings for the jitter. Fortunately, there is a preview window at the top of the settings area which lets you see what you’re getting with the changes you make in each area of the dialog box.

There is also an eraser and a smudge tool, both of which have a huge variety of settings that you can tweak. With the Artstudio application you get a bucket fill tool which is handy if you need to fill either a complete layer or a selected area within a layer. There is a normal mode and a smart mode and I haven’t yet worked out the difference between the two of those settings yet. You also get the ability to do a gradient fill. There are six different types of gradient shape. You can also have the gradient going from one colour to another colour or from a colour to transparent. Then you can change whether the gradient repeats or is mirrored. Loads of creatve possibilities in ArtStudio for iPad

Artstudio ipad app

Adding text to your design in ArtStudio

Being able to add text to your design can be very useful indeed. This means that you can take your painting and turn it into a poster. There are only a small number of fonts available, but you can choose the colour you want to use and also add a drop shadow. The drop shadow controls are not particularly good as they don’t seem to be any controls for the amount of blur of the shadow. Neither is there a control for how far the shadow should be from the text. Even though the text tools are not great, it is a welcome addition to have text available within the application.

Selection tools

It is the selection tools that makes ArtStudio a much better application than Procreate. There are six selection tools available, there is the circle and the square, then you have two types of lasso tools. There are also a couple of tools that are kind of magic wand type of tools. Then on top of this there is another set of controls that you get to from a menu on the top of the screen. This is where you can select all, deselect, inverse the selection and so on. You can also expand or contract your selection by entering a number of pixels when prompted. You can also apply transformations to your selection.

The ArtStudio menubar

Within the menu bar at the top, which can be hidden if you want to, you get even more settings. You can set the drawing mode so that you are drawing with smooth lines, straight lines, squares, circles or with straight lines that are joined together. From the image menu you can resize the drawing call change the canvas size as well as flip it or rotate it.

The Adjust Menu is something that you will mostly use if you’re going to do some work with photos within the application. You have all of the brightness, contrast, exposure, colour balance and so on, but from this menu you can also invert colours, turn it to monochrome or even turn a specific colour in the image to transparency. Handy if you need to make a transparent backgound on your image.

A set of nine filters

Blurring, sharpening, noise, borders and vignettes along with various stylisations such as embossing, diffusion, wind and drop shadows give you all sorts of opportunities for turning a good picture into something weird. In the colour section of this filters menu, you can apply filters such as hot autumn, heat map, cheap camera or x-ray. It is a good job that there is an undo key that will let you turn back the clock on some bad artistic decisions. This app is giving you some of the filtering you can use in something like Instagram. Use with these filters with care is what I would say. Often less is more, if you get my drift.

Using the iOS app Artstudio to draw and paint on iPad

I really do like this application for all of the creative options that it gives. I like that I can use the selection tools to create circles and squares. Then if I want to use drawing modes to creates straight lines and shapes, but made with some of the brushstrokes, I can do that too. It would be nice to see more colour palettes available on the colour choices on the right-hand side of the screen, although it is good to have the ten quick colour picks readily available.

The options that you have with the layers in ArtStudio are very good indeed. You can merge down layers, and flatten images and it is even possible to add a mask. It is nice and easy to move layers up and down levels and it is a good thing to be able to lock a layer if necessary.

The NoStylus verdict on Procreate versus ArtStudio

Overall I find that the ArtStudio is the more capable of the two drawing and painting applications. Having said that I do also really like the application Procreate and for this reason I would recommend that if you are into digital drawing and painting with the iPad that you should have both of these applications available. Neither of these two applications are expensive and it wouldn’t be difficult either to move drawings from one app to another if you needed to have access to all of the facilities offered by them. I do recommend that if you’re going to use these applications that you get yourself a stylus. Before choosing which iPad stylus you’re going to get, have a look to see which ones are supported by the apps. For example, if you use the Pogo Connect, this stylus will give you some pressure sensitivity which in many cases will be useful. I have found that with ArtStudio if I need to have a line which varies in thickness during its length, changing the speed with which I draw the line affects its width. Moving the stylus faster gives a thinner line.

More iPad drawing apps to consider

Another iPad drawing and painting application worth looking at is called ArtRage. It is very painterly in the way that it works and has a quite innovative interface for the choosing of the drawing and painting tools and also for colours choosing. There is another application called Ink Artist, I have only downloaded this one recently so I am still familiarising myself with it, but it does look very good. I will do a more in-depth review of these two applications in the next article on NoStylus.

FREE EBOOK – Making Art on the iPad with the best apps