State of the Art: iPad Pro + Pencil

I love the iPad Pro

The iPad Pro first came out in late 2015 and I snatched one up, along with the hard-to-find Apple Pencil. At the time I’d been dithering between a Surface Pro and the new iPad, but once I’d heard the latency tests for the Pencil come in I knew I wanted the iPad. Even though the software was very limited, and it’s not a fully-fledged PC, I wanted the best pen input for drawing.

It’s now 2017, so I’ve been using the iPad Pro and Pencil for over a year. In that time, there have been new art apps, and old ones have been updated and expanded to support the Apple Pencil.

I’ve divided the apps I’m looking at roughly into two groups. The first is apps designed for drawing or sketching, perhaps as a sketchbook or just a place to doodle, maybe with a dab of colour. The second group is apps designed for digital painting. I consider these quite different; although they could be used for sketches, they provide more advanced tools aimed at producing professional artworks.

I’m only looking at apps that support the large iPad Pro screen size in landscape. Apps which only have a regular-size iPad interface or only work in portrait have been excluded.

Unfortunately, I don’t know anymore which of these apps I paid for, were cheaper than now, or have otherwised changed their pricing model (paid up-front versus IAP). I have included the Australian pricing at the time of publication.

Drawing and Sketching

Tayasui Sketches →

Free with AUD$9 IAP or AUD$9 upfront

  • Clean interface
  • Good range of tools with customisation
  • Layers and layer modes
  • Lovely hatching fills
  • Nice pencil

  • Too much reliance on gestures
  • Ink and paint tools too laggy
  • Does not support iPad split screen

Paper by 53 →


  • Clean interface
  • Social features

  • Small range of tools, not much customisation
  • Ink and paint tools too laggy
  • Watercolour behaviour erratic
  • Doesn’t support split screen

Autodesk Sketchbook →

Free with AUD$8 IAP, advanced tools also available as a AUD$8/month cross-platform subscription.

  • Good interface, focus on the art
  • Layers and layer modes
  • Excellent range of tools
  • Real paint emulation
  • Copic colours
  • Quite responsive
  • DeviantArt integration
  • Supports iPad split screen

  • Lacks a good pencil tool
  • Has some poor defaults


Medibang Paint →

Free with ads

Similar to Manga Studio in Windows tablet mode, but without the vector or 3D tools

  • Excellent range of templates, including manga
  • Social integration
  • Stroke smoothing
  • Free!
  • Good digital and traditional emulation tools
  • Lots of tools for manga such as halftone and 8-bit layers

  • Complicated interface
  • Has ads on main screen
  • Does not support iPad split screen

Paintstorm Studio (Lite) →

Free for Lite, AUD$20 for full. Lite version only has JPEG export.

Feels like Painter

  • Good latency (without smoothing)
  • Stroke smoothing
  • Excellent traditional emulation tools

  • Desktop style UI including File, Edit menus etc.
  • Complicated interface
  • strange zooming floating pallets
  • No native file format
  • No gallery

Procreate →


  • Clean interface
  • Excellent digital painting and drawing tools
  • Stroke smoothing
  • Layers and layer groups
  • Supports iPad split screen
  • I love this app

What Next?

Art apps on iPad still have a long way to go. I want them to continue pushing the bounds, particularly reducing latency. It’s more noticeable in more complicated or smoothed tools, but it’s always there. Apple’s Notes app is often lauded for having the lowest latency, but I think without smoothing most of these apps’ pencil tools are just as fast.

I also hope we get more tools for print, such as colour management and bleed markers. On the more digital end, I’d like to see more vector tools in digital painting apps. Now that Procreate has font smoothing, all it needs is text tools to become my one-stop art app.

I am worried about desktop apps porting to iPad. Initially, I was really excited by the idea of having the power of Manga Studio on iPad, but having seen how Medibang Paint and Paintstorm Lite have ported their interfaces, I’m now more tentative. I don’t want to see menu bars on an iPad, it’s just wrong.

The variety of sketching and drawing apps is great. I feel that there’s a good variety of styles, offering different social integrations. There’s definitely space to grow in the social drawing area, although I do hope that doesn’t become dominated with one app or service.

The biggest and easiest gains on the iPad are actually Apple’s responsability. The split app view is super neat, and it would be even better if the app switcher and selector for the second app wasn’t a dumpster fire. I’ve had to uninstall apps I don’t use very often to clear space there, it’s stupid. Better inter-app communication is also needed to make it easier to sketch, ink, and paint in different apps.

Apps on iPad continue to be very very cheap. If you’re used to shelling out $60 for a copy of Manga Studio or $30 a month for Photoshop, then the low pricing of iPad apps is amazing. The downside is that I do worry about their long-term viability at such low price points. I expect more apps, especially those coming from PC, will have subscription pricing models.