I picked up the iPad Pro and Apple Pencil when they were released and I’ve had time to use and evaluate how the Apple Pencil works for an artist.
First the background, I have owned many Wacom products from tablets to Cintiq’s. For years I’ve been searching for a better digital art tablet. The Cintiq Companion when released seemed to fit the bill. However it has critical draw backs:
- Size – Too big for a portable digital art device.
- Weight – Too heavy.
- Battery Life – Wears down too quickly, usually 3-4 hours.
- Screen Parallax – This is the distance from the end of the stylus to what you are drawing or the gap between glass and screen. It’s too large and requires frequent calibration to keep it dialed in.
The last Apple product I owned that sported a stylus was the Apple Newton. That product was amazing for the time, but still wound up being a device I spent very little time using. It was critically flawed being too heavy, poor battery life, etc. Steve Jobs famously killed the device upon returning to Apple.
Catching up to the present Apple released the iPad Pro with the optional Apple Pencil accessory on November 11th. This is the first time they’ve released a device with a stylus in a long time. My initial impression of the Apple Pencil for drawing was surprise. It’s better than I thought it could be in fact.
Using Apple Pencil you almost forget you are drawing on a glass screen instead of paper. I have a lot of time and experience drawing with digital tools and I am amazed at how well it works. The parallax is so small it’s unnoticable. There is no calibration needed. The Apple Pencil picks up the tilt very accurately.
I installed a number of art focused apps including Autodesk Sketchbook Pro, Procreate, 53’s Paper, Adobe Sketch and Autodesk Graphic. After testing each one out I found Procreate to be the best all around for sketching, painting, drawing, etc. It has some great brushes and tools.
In general I found that the iPad Pro could not replace a laptop / desktop computer for me. Simple tasks are just too hard. Take for instance resizing an image. I wanted to publish sketches on my blog, however I didn’t want to upload giant image files and needed to size them for display in a web page. Simple enough, in Photoshop this would take seconds, I would hit the shortcut keys for image resize and quickly dial it in, then saving it in the format I want, either JPG or PNG depending on the need.
On the iPad this seemed nearly impossible to accomplish. Procreate can’t do it, I cracked open Lightroom and even tried Photoshop Fix. I then checked in the Photos app and other places and found nothing. Ultimately I gave up and just saved it to my iCloud drive and did the editing in Photoshop on my laptop.
I get that some people can replace a laptop or desktop computer with an iPad. Their needs are probably simple enough. Mine just aren’t. I do too much with a device and need greater flexibility. For me the iPad will be an extension of my computer. It does a few things really well such as consuming media, but most of all sketching and art. I think the iPad Pro will be a fantastic device for people who spend a lot of time sketching. It gets more difficult if your job is to create finished graphics and art because the software is limiting.
In my opinion the iPad Pro and Pencil are amazing hardware, but currently limited by the operating system (iOS) and software options. Given that iOS is mature and has been around a long time I don’t see those limitations going away soon. The iPad Pro seems to be begging for a better Operating System. I’ve been enjoying it and plan to continue using it as my primary art tool. When it comes to finishing art I will still go back to the Cintiq Companion 2, but I’m worried my Cintiq is going to start gathering dust. If after awhile it goes unused it will be heading to eBay.