The best iOS apps for drawing with Apple Pencil + iPad Pro

Since its unveil nearly two years ago, the Apple Pencil has improved dramatically. Even though its hardware has remained the same, Apple has expanded Apple Pencil support throughout iOS, while developers have also released amazing applications that take advantage of it.

Last year, I rounded up the best iOS apps for taking notes with the Apple Pencil and iPad Pro, but as the device and App Store have matured, the selection of drawing apps has increased dramatically. There are now a variety of drawing apps on available that turn the Apple Pencil and iPad Pro into the digital sketchbook for which artists have longed. Read on for a full roundup…

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Pixelmator

One of the more well-known drawing and image editing apps for iOS is Pixelmator. While it’s a lot more than just a sketchbook, it’s one of the most powerful and most Photoshop-like apps that exist. With iPad Pro + Apple Pencil support, users get both image editing and drawing support.

The app is described as a “full-featured” image editor with support for sketching and painting, as well as a creating “advanced imaged composition.” Within the app, there is support for over 100 different artist-designed brushes and painting techniques.

The app offers a “near-natural wetness effect” for watercolor and crayon brushes, as well as pixel art support and double texture brush technology. You can vary the speed of your strokes to change thickness, smudge colors for blending effects, and much more.

There’s also advanced photo editing and graphic design features directly within the app. Pixelmator is available on the App Store for $4.99 and carries a 4 star rating from over 1000 reviews.

Pixelmator – $4.99

Linea

Offering a more straightforward, but no less powerful, approach to drawing with iPad Pro and Apple Pencil is Linea from developers The Iconfactory. Linea markets itself as a simple and easy to use drawing application that doesn’t “overload you with hundreds of choices.”  Jeff highlighted Linea earlier this year, but it most definitely deserves another mention here.

Linea launched earlier this year and has only seen improvements since then, adding features such as Apple Pencil support and a presentation mode. Most recently, the app was updated with support for the 10.5-inch iPad Pro.

Linea offers a wide-array of predefined colors with easy to manage layers, templates, and dribs. There’s iCloud Sync support for keeping track of your work across devices, and much more. What really makes Linea stand apart from the competition, however, is its simple and easy to use interface. Even someone like me, with little digital artistry experience, can take full advantage of the app.

Modern drawing apps are powerful, but they can overload you with hundreds of choices. Constant adjustments to brushes, colors, and layers wastes time and adds friction.  Linea takes a different approach and gives you just the right balance of power and control to sketch effortlessly. The focus stays where it belongs: on your ideas, not the tools.

Linea is available on the App Store for $9.99 with a four and a half star rating from over 100 reviews. Thanks to its simple user interface and easy to use tools, Linea is my favorite sketch app for iPad Pro + Apple Pencil.

Linea – $9.99

Procreate

One of the most powerful drawing apps there is for Apple Pencil and iPad Pro users is Procreate. We’ve highlighted the application several times in the past, calling it a “must have for illustrators who want to test the limits of Apple’s hardware.” The app is a recipient of an Apple Design Award, while also being listed as an “App Store Essential” application.

Procreate offers massive canvases with the “fastest 64-bit painting engine” and optimization for the iPad’s multiple cores. All of this makes for an incredible level of detail while painting, including 64-bit color, 64-bit smudge sampling, 250 levels of undo and redo, and continues auto-save.

Within the app, there’s support for 128 brushes, each with 35 customizable settings. You can also create your own brushes and organize them into custom sets. There’s also advanced layering support, time-lapse replay support, and much more.

Coming later this year, Procreate calls version 4 its ‘biggest update ever’ which will be ‘powered by METAL’, run ‘4x faster’, and be ‘designed for the future.’

Procreate is available on the App Store for $5.99 with a four and a half star rating from over 6300 reviews.

Procreate – $4.99

Autodesk SketchBook

Another popular drawing and sketching app for iOS is SketchBook from Autodesk, the company behind a variety of popular Mac and iOS tools. With over 170 customizable brushes, Autodesk SketchBook is made for “those who include sketching as part of their daily routine.”

The app offers features such as Photoshop document support, layers and blending, and a variety of interface options for making the sketching process as quick and painless as possible.

SketchBook is made to let you easily access powerful drawing tools, without creating a cluttered workspace. SketchBook has a full screen mode, called the Rapid UI mode, which hides all interface elements, for the largest possible workspace on your iPad or iPhone.

While working in Rapid UI mode, you can pull up the brush, layer, and color editors, simply by swiping your non-dominant thumb, along the edge of the screen. Make a selection in the menu with your drawing hand, then lift your thumb to make the entire interface disappear.

Autodesk SketchBook is free on the App Store with an in-app subscription option for full feature support. The app has a three star rating from over 1800 reviews.

Autodesk SketchBook – Free w/ in-app purchase

SketchClub

Adding a unique social element to drawing, Sketch Club is another popular and powerful drawing app for iPad Pro users. The app offers all of your standard drawing features, including brush, blur, eraser, fill, pen, pixels, procedural, select, smudge, text, and vector tools. There is also support for up to 64 layers, canvas recording, iCloud Drive, and more.

Part of what makes Sketch Club unique, however, is its social aspect. The app offers artists new challenges every day, as well as a library of shared brushes, templates and textures:

  • New challenge every day and new competition every week!
  • Massive library of shared brushes, templates, and textures
  • Live stream and chat for feedback and fun while you draw
  • Learn through tutorials, speed painting videos, and live classes
  • Follow other artists and gain fans as you share your creations
  • Community whiteboard with realtime collaborative drawing
  • Annual awards honoring some of the best creations each year

Sketch Club is available on the App Store for $2.99 with a four and a half star rating from over 3500 reviews.

Sketch Club – $2.99

Astropad

Astro offers a pair of applications for iPad Pro and Apple Pencil users: Astropad Standard and Astropad Studio. The former is available as a one-time purchase, while the latter is a pricier and more powerful app designed specifically for iPad Pro and Apple Pencil users.

Astropad Studio is touted as an app that turns your iPad into a “high-end graphics tablet that does more.” Instead of acting as a standalone sketching app, Astropad connects to your Mac via WiFi or USB and allows you to draw directly into Photoshop or any other Mac creative tool.

The app is designed exclusively for the “precision of Apple Pencil” and users Apple’s Metal GPU framework to “maximize the power” of graphics potential.

Go beyond a graphics tablet with Astropad Studio – the ultimate tool for professional artists & designers. Astropad Studio allows you to use your iPad to draw directly into Photoshop and any other Mac creative tools. Astropad Studio turns your iPad into a high-end graphics tablet that does more.

Built for creative professionals with features like:

  • WiFi or USB connectivity
  • Crystal clear & ultra-fast
  • Gesture shortcut customization
  • Keyboard support
  • Unlimited upgrades

Astropad Standard – the more basic of the two – comes in at $29.99 as a one-time purchase on the App Store, with a four and a half star rating from over 1700 reviews. The more powerful Astropad Studio is $11.99 per month of $79.99 annually on the App Store with a four and a half star rating from over 560 reviews.

Astropad Studio – $11.99/mo or $79.99/year

Astropad Standard – $29.99

Honorable Mentions

There are a handful of other sketching apps on the App Store that are worthy of a mention. Check them out below:

Wrap up

Apple Pencil is one of my favorite accessories in years and one of the best things about it is how it can improve with new applications and software enhancements. Even though Apple Pencil hardware has stayed the same, it has become lightyears more useful thanks to third-party applications like the ones mentioned above.

In addition to note taking as I outlined last year, drawing and sketching are two of the tasks for which the iPad Pro and Apple Pencil are useful. Do you use iPad Pro + Apple Pencil for drawing? Let us know your thoughts down in the comments.

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