An Illustrator’s Review of the iPad Pro and Apple Pencil

Illustrator's Review of the iPad Pro, and the Apple Pencil, including two free maps.

I’ve always wanted a tablet I could use for illustration. I bought the second generation iPad, hoping it would do the trick. I picked up all the art apps, and a range of styluses – from the Adonit Jot Touch Pro (my thoughts here), to 53’s Pencil – with 53’s Paper.

Paper was by far the best app for the iPad, because it threw precision out the window, and accepted what the iPad is – a sketchpad rather than a professional illustration tool. When I saw the iPad Pro come out, I was skeptical.

5 minute sketch with Pencil and an iPad Pro
A 15 minute sketch with Pencil and an iPad Pro, in the Apple Store, using Adobe Sketch

15 minutes trying it out in the store had me intrigued – so last weekend I picked it up. I was more than a little nervous. At $949 for the 128Gb iPad Pro, and $99 for the Apple Pencil – this could be a very expensive paper weight.

After a week I’m hooked. This, finally, is the device that makes drawing on a tablet painless.

Here’s what I picked up:

  • 128Gb iPad Pro with wireless (I didn’t get cellular – if I’m sitting down, there’s wifi. I don’t need a monthly plan for something I don’t use when I’m walking)
  • Apple Pencil – there’s a wait for it online, but check your local store, they may well have it.
  • Apple keyboard – not reviewed here, because I’ve hardly used it (which I guess is telling all on it’s own)

Quick verdict: Is it any good?

I would have settled for the iPad Pro being a really nice sketching tool – but what I’ve discovered is that the iPad Pro, the Pencil, and Procreate, get me 95% to a final illustration, and quicker than I would get there on my desktop.

In many respects, this is better than working in Photoshop on my Mac. I never expected to say that. The last 5% is due to the pieces that Procreate doesn’t do, that Photoshop does – text, labels, some of the more advanced features. So that’s software, not hardware – and I expect the app store will get a lot more firepower very quickly once developers really get to grips with the Pro.

This is a serious piece of kit that will find a central place in an illustrators workflow – but it will not replace a desktop.

Sketch in Paper using the Apple Pencil on iPad Pro
My first sketch in Paper by FiftyThree with the Pencil on the iPad Pro

How does the larger size affect the iPad Pro?

The iPad Pro is big, but treads lightly. It’s not bulky, and when drawing I can easily rest it on my lap and hold it up with one hand, whilst drawing with the other. I’ve used this for drawing solidly for 2+ hours in coach, and didn’t have any tiredness, or muscle pain. I couldn’t even say that about the iPad 2 which somehow felt more cumbersome than this.

The screen is beautiful, crisp, and bright. The thickness of the glass is basically unnoticeable. This is a lovely refinement for general use, but it’s key for illustration. If the glass has a visible offset from the screen, then your drawing precision changes with your viewing angle. Not here, the pen tip looks like it’s right on your illustration.

It does take a while to charge – no great surprise given that a lot of the extra size is given to a larger battery. Many reviews say that this can last for days. I don’t agree. Using Procreate and the Pencil (which uses Bluetooth, and increases screen sampling rates) the battery dropped to 20% over the course of the day. If you’re using this heavily, you’ll be charging this every night – but that workflow is fine for me. The one hardware niggle I found was that when I leave it plugged in overnight it sometimes requires a hard restart to wake up. That’s surprising, but may just be my one.

First map in Procreate with Pencil and iPad Pro
My first attempt at a map in Procreate. The Pencil gives great precision, and using the side allows for natural shading

Is the Pencil a good stylus?

I’m a stylus snob. I’ve used a bunch – from the different Wacom styluses, to the Pencil by 53, and the Adonit Jot Touch Pro. The Pencil is very different from all of these. The others are all somewhat chunky. Wacom styluses have a wide textured grip, the Pencil by 53 is a thick carpenters pencil design, even the Adonit has a textured grip. The classic styluses also have buttons – to allow for right and left click mouse options.

The Pencil by Apple is shaped exactly as it is says it is – like a simple pencil. The shape and size are exactly what you’d expect, and the material is a smooth plastic. No buttons, no textured grip. This makes it very easy to manipulate, but it does lack a little bit of grip. I’ve found my hand sliding along it whilst drawing. However, that’s actually not a bad thing. There’s a limit to the pressure needed to make a mark on the iPad, and I’d rather my hand slipped along the barrel of the pencil, than apply too much pressure. It’s a small thing, and has been easy to get used to.

The pencil has a good weight to it, and a good balance. If anything its slightly weighted towards the back, which makes it sit well in my hand. To charge, you slip off the ‘eraser’ end, and there’s a lightning connector that hooks straight into the iPad. You can get a decent charge in 15-30 seconds, and fully charging doesn’t take that much longer. There’s also an adapter that allows you to hook that to a USB cable for more standard charging options. But I’ll just lose that – so I’ll keep charging mine straight off the iPad.

I’d expected the back end to double as an eraser – a hangover from using Wacom’s and 53’s Pencil. No luck here, the back is just the back. The tip is about 10mm of more textured plastic. It slides over the iPad screen easily, with none of the scratchiness of the Adonit’s metal tip – but with proper precision. The tip is hard – you know exactly where it is at all times. This is what differentiates it from the soft foam tips of existing styluses. This is the kind of precision I expect from my Wacoms, and this delivers that.

Unlike the Wacom, the whole 10mm tip has a little sideways give in it. This becomes interesting when you tilt the Pencil over and shade as if you were using the side of the lead. I assume that whole 10mm length has some interesting lateral sensors in it, as that change of use creates a very different brush size and application in Pencil adapted applications. It generates a broader mark, with a direction to it – just as with the side of an actual pencil. When shading, this is a very natural action to take, and it Just Works.

A map created in Paper by FiftyThree
My first serious attempt at a map in Paper by FiftyThree. It worked well, but this is the wrong tool for precision illustration. Click for a larger version (and feel free to use CC-BY-NC-SA)

Does the Apple Pencil work as a precision stylus?

My bugbears with styluses are:

  • lag
  • jittery pressure sensitivity, so that you can see the linewidth change as you press harder, rather than having a smooth response to pressure
  • offset between the line and the tip

Apple has created a stylus with none of these problems, which places it squarely at the top of my list. This is as good as my Intuous in terms of responsiveness – and better than the Wacom Cintiq I tried. I’ve been told that you can calibrate the Cintiq to get past those issues, but here I don’t have to calibrate anything. It just works. I can’t find published specs on levels of pressure sensitivity of the Apple Pencil – but given the smoothness of the response I’d bet money on at least 1028.

The lack of lag is a minor miracle. Previous styluses using bluetooth connections have been plagued with visible lag between large sweeping line movements, and the screen response. Here Apple has weighted the deck in their own favour. When it’s taking data from the Pencil, the iPad samples at 240 times a second. This is compared to 60 times a second for finger input on previous iPads. The result is a seamless drawing experience.

Previous styluses have been good. But this does it right. There’s no learning curve, you don’t have to ‘get used to it’. It just works – which is exactly the praise I want to give to a stylus.

Can the iPad Pro and Pencil create professional grade art?

This is the big question. Either this is a sketching tool that I can use before bringing it into Photoshop to create a final map – or it’s a professional illustration device. At 1/3 the price of a Cintiq this is either a very expensive sketch pad, or a very cheap professional grade tablet.

In truth – it’s a little bit of both.

The limitations come from a combination of hardware and software.

Hardware limitations

The model I’m using has 128Gb of space, and all iPad Pros have 4Gb of RAM. This means I can create a letter page full colour map in Procreate with 59 layers. More than enough layers for a professional map at 300dpi. However, for larger maps I run into hardware issues. A 24″ by 26″ poster map would be impossible – but then my laptop with 16Gb of RAM and an external hard drive for swap is stretched when it comes to those maps. So what I’m really saying is that it isn’t a professional desktop computer.

That may sound flippant, but it’s important. A Cintiq is an accessory that you plug into whatever desk setup you have, so it’s only limited by your hardware. This is a self contained package, so you’ve got what you’ve got. This will inevitably lead to a shorter shelf life for the iPad Pro, than a Wacom tablet, where you won’t wear it out, and you’ll upgrade the computer every few years.

A Map of an Inn created in Procreate with Pencil on the iPad Pro
The same map, created in Procreate. This time, no problem at all with precision – but my handwriting is a bad method of labeling anything. Click for a larger version – and again feel free to use. CC-BY-NC-SA licensed (free for personal use)

Software Limitations

On the software side, I’m still trying out Procreate. It’s great, and covers an astonishingly large amount of what Photoshop can do. It’s also a one off purchase – rather than Adobe’s infuriating CC monthly license. From talking to other illustrators it continually comes off as the best tool for the job on tablets. I can set up an RGB canvas quickly, pick from a wide array of dynamic brushes, and import any image file. So I was able to immediately replicate my standard workflow.

In addition, touch is a native feature of Procreate, so pinch to zoom and rotate is instinctive, lag free, and clearly the right way to work. Whereas on my laptop, I hardly ever use my Intuous touch features, on the iPad I do it all the time. And zoom – all the time, to just the right level of detail for the feature I’m illustrating. I didn’t expect to find a workflow on the iPad that was better than my laptop, but there it is.

Using Procreate to illustrate a map on the iPad Pro with Pencil
Zoom and rotate is natural on the iPad in Procreate. Here’s the map in progress, as I work over the linework with the Paper version of the map as a low opacity background layer.

But, as with the hardware, the iPad Pro is also limited by the software that’s available on the platform. And though Procreate is good, there are a range of features it doesn’t have (or I haven’t found them yet if they do):

  • Text. Maps are infographics. And I have to export my maps to Photoshop on my laptop before I can add all that data. That’s not ideal.
  • Layer masks. The layers in Procreate are solid, and the blend modes are so close to Photoshop it’s uncanny. But I use layer masks all the time – and on folders full of layers too. It allows for non-destructive layer work, whereas in Procreated I have to just erase. So – no folders, clipping masks, vector masks. It’s a bit of a pain.
  • Duplicating a layer. I’m sure this must be possible, but I can’t find it for the life of me.
  • Layer effects. There’s no outer glow, drop shadow, bevel or emboss (not that those are a great loss – but it makes a lot of simple tricks very hard to replicate)
  • Selections. In a lot of my work I pre-select an area (cave floor, sea, land), and illustrate with that hard edge pre-selected for me. No luck in Procreate.
  • Vector curves. The pen tool in Photoshop has become a staple of more precision work, but Procreate is solidly a raster tool.

These are all nice to have’s – and to be honest, all fall in the more post-processing side of my Photoshop work. The ease of use of Procreate on the iPad Pro more than outweighs the pain of these missing pieces. And, as the iPad Pro takes over every graphics department, I’m sure these features will be added.

On the other hand – what can Procreate do that Photoshop cannot? I never expected to be writing this list, but here it is:

  • pinch to zoom, pan, and rotate. I thought this would be a Nice to Have. It’s actually an amazing tool for speeding up work.
  • Video replay. This is great. It’s a fun feature, that actually makes for a fascinating look at how you work. And for creating quick video tutorials, this is amazing.

I’m sure that some of my ‘you can’t do this’ list is possible – if you know how, let me know. I’m equally sure that I’ll find more things I can do in Procreate that I couldn’t even attempt in Photoshop.

But the real clincher? It’s faster to illustrate on the iPad Pro, with Pencil, using Procreate, than it is to illustrate on a 16Gb Macbook Pro, with a Wacom Intuous, in Photoshop. That’s astonishing – and places this as a core piece of my professional illustration workflow. It does not replace my laptop – as mentioned, there’s a ton of key pieces that the software and hardware can’t do. But I’ll now create maps first on the iPad Pro if I can, and then do the final polish on my laptop. I never expected that to be the case when I picked this up.

So yes, the iPad Pro, the Pencil, and Procreate, are a suite of tools that belong in a professional illustrators arsenal.

A cave, illustrated in Procreate with Pencil and the iPad Pro
My second map in Procreate – a cavern map with an isometric grid. Click to see larger, and feel free to use CC-BY-NC-SA (free for personal use)

Should I pick these up if I’m a hobbyist illustrator?

This is a tricky one. This is a lovely piece of kit – and arguably it’s even better for hobbyists than for a pro. The limitations above tend to be issues that only really come up with commission work. The only drawback I see is the price – but that’s a big drawback. The iPad Pro is priced as a high end laptop – and that’s the kind of money that doesn’t generally get spent on hobby equipment.

If you have the money to spend, then this is a great piece of kit. If you’re stretching to buy this – I’d be cautious. That said – this does many many things that aren’t art. I hear the app store is for more than just illustration apps. The hardware packed into this iPad means that you can run Excel, Powerpoint, and a host of video editing or streaming movie apps. There’s also a bunch of fun games. I’m not going to review those – there are plenty of great reviews out there that discuss those aspects. Go read them, add my thoughts on the art side to the mix, and make up your mind.

But to my mind, the iPad Pro deserves the Professional label – this is a serious piece of hardware for illustrators, and it’s been a long time coming. And if you buy it, buy the Pencil. Without it you’re not doing the iPad Pro justice.

iPad Pro Software Roundup

After writing this review I got a number of recommendations for software for the iPad Pro. Here’s a quick roundup of the apps that I downloaded, and a summary for each.

Astropad

This is an interesting one. It turns the iPad into a mirrored screen for your Mac. You download the software for your Mac, and install the app on your iPad. You can connect your iPad to the computer via a USB cable, or over wireless. You can use the iPad Pro as an input to your Mac. To get it up and running, you need to have the Astropad app running on both the Mac and the iPad.

The Pencil does work with the iPad Pro. You need to open up the preferences panel of Astropad on the iPad to get the pressure sensitivity working. The pressure works well. Unsurprisingly tilting the Pencil doesn’t make any difference to the line width.

But – this won’t work for art. There’s lag. Bad lag. When drawing on the iPad, and rendering a line into Photoshop on the Mac, I can see about an inch clear space between the Pencil tip and the cursor. I’ve connected over wifi, and wired directly to the Mac. Same performance in both cases – same lag. With that delay I need to adjust to it, and work around it. That’s the opposite of the behaviour I expect from a tablet.

Astropad costs $19.99. Don’t buy it. If you want to turn your iPad into a graphics tablet, save the money, and save up for an $80 Wacom.

ArtRage

ArtRage is a great app. If you haven’t tried it out on the iPad, or on the Mac, you’re missing a trick. It’s the closest to a natural paint simulator I’ve come across. Currently, the Pencil works as a basic input device, but it has no pressure sensitivity yet. The guys at ArtRage are working on it, and as soon as they get Apple Pencil’s in New Zealand (yes, really), ArtRage will get Pencil support. In the meantime, enjoy the awesome finger painting options of this great app.

More app notes to come as I test them

44 thoughts on “An Illustrator’s Review of the iPad Pro and Apple Pencil”

  1. Great review. I’m going back and forth on whether or not I want to get one of these. I have a Cintiq Companion Hybrid, which is probably more similar to this than anything else. It’s a 13″ Cintiq when attached to my Macbook Pro, but then it can be detached and used as a 13″ Android tablet running Android Apps independently. There are several really good Android apps that I’m pretty sure are on iOS as well. Autodesk Sketchbook has layer styles, and other features like typesetting. Adobe has released many apps over the last year, Artrage, Pixelmator, and there are a few more. I’m sure now that the iPad Pro is out and people are getting a feel for it, it will get even more. I’m hoping Clip Paint Studio/Manga Studio will create a version for it.

    One thing I keep hearing people say is that it’s “cheaper than the Cintiq” but it’s really not. A 13″ Cintiq HD is only $700 and a 13″ Cintiq Companion that runs full Windows and can be hooked to a Mac or Windows box and used as a Cintiq as well, and that starts at $1200. By the time you get the 128GB Pro, Pencil and type cover, you’re WAY over the 13HD and about the same as the base Companion. Like you said, the advantage the Cintiq has is that you can continue to use it from system to system while the iPad Pro does have a certain amount of planned obsolescence.

    Astropad is an app you might look in to. It can attach to a Mac and make any iPad, but especially the iPad Pro, in to a Cintiq like device that mirrors your Mac and lets you control it using the Pencil and the iPad, but it can do it wirelessly using wifi or it can be used with the USB cable. That’s a lot less cumbersome than the Companion’s monster cable. Downside is, it only mirrors and doesn’t act as an extended desktop.

    I REALLY wish they had made the iPad Pro with OS X instead of iOS. If Microsoft can make the Surface Pro with an i7 and full OS, Apple can surely do even better. I’ve met a guy who has Hackintoshed the Cintiq Companion 2 making it a 13″ Hybrid Cintiq Macintosh. I just know that, with my luck, if I buy this, next year the Macbook Pro will come with a pressure sensitive screen that allows the Pencil.

    1. The 13 HD isn’t portable properly, it needs a laptop and has a spiderweb of wires that attaches it to the laptop and one to an outlet.
      I had one for a time, and sold it on ebay. If you want one of those, get the larger 22HD.
      I think the companion is more on range with the competition here, and yes, it runs windows, and can have Photoshop and all that.
      Would love to go for that option.

    2. I’m not sure I agree that OSX would have been a better option. iOS requires custom mobile coding, which forces good design.

      Thanks for the app recommendations. I’ve downloaded them and I’ll be testing them all out. Looks like there are a bunch of good options in there.

      1. But iOS is also exceedingly weak when it comes to professional functionality in Art programs. The reason Adobe separated all the functionality of 1 app (Photoshop) in to about a dozen different apps for iOS is because of the limitations. Had Apple used an i-series processor and OS X, and revised OS X for better touch controls, it would have been exponentially more powerful. ALL your favorite apps would already be available. As much as I loathe Windows, Microsoft has done an incredible job with the Surface Pro 3 & 4 and the Surface Book and has worked with artists and Adobe to improve it for the art community. They showed that a full power i7 processor that can run the most demanding art programs can fit in a small, well built tablet and not sacrifice much in the process. Astropad shows how well the OS X functionality would work on an OS X tablet with the Pencil and professional apps as a “mirror” to a real system, why not just make the tablet run it natively. Why have to tether it to something else to make it run full power software or settle for iOS low powered yet pretty apps to sort of do what you want?

        1. Fair point – and it sounds like you’re speaking from a stronger technical understanding than me. On the other hand I’ve played with AstroPad, and I’m not impressed. Too much lag to be useful.

          It’s interesting to see the different approaches of the iPad and the Surface. So far the iPad is doing the work I need it to, at a quality close to equivalent to Photoshop on the Mac. So far – so good.

          1. Don’t get me wrong, the iPad Pro and Pencil are incredible hardware and are actually a lot better than I expected but there are just some issues that really weaken it in the long run. This may be another situation of Apple just doing enough not to get left until they decide it’s time to do what people have really been asking for. I always thought the latest “Mabook”, the 12″ ultra light, should have been done as the MacTab. It’s light, thin and runs full software. The only difference is no stylus. They can fit everything in a tablet, they just won’t.

            As for Astropad, I know it works wirelessly and with the USB. The USB, in the reviews, looks pretty darn good. The wifi is completely dependent on how fast your wifi connection is. If I ever get one, I will try using it by setting up my system as the wifi router so the signal is one leap and see how well it works. If your router is older or only 2.4 GHz and not 5 then the latency will be much higher. Give it a try through USB. One guy in one of the reviews said it worked better than his Cintiq when tethered.

    3. My University spant me (Professor running the illustration department) one of these Cintiq Companion 2’s. Well I was really curious and love my several Cintiqs. But the Companion didn´t make it more than 30 Minutes out of the box before i brought it back. I really forgot, tat there once was something connected with comuters: nasty white disturbing thoughts-crunching fan-noise. Wacom, really? We are writing the year 2016 and you come along with fan noise?

  2. I’m replying from an iPad Pro right now, and I have to say I agree with your assessment.

    In Procreate, you can duplicate a layer by flicking right on the layer in the menu ( the same action for getting to the “delete layer” function.

    Also, you can use the selection tool to preselect an area and draw within it, but of course the tools aren’t nearly as robust as Photoshop.

  3. In case you haven’t heard of it, Astropad can let you use the Ipad as a tablet linked to your Mac.

    http://astropad.com/photo/

    I haven’t tried it yet, but I plan on buying it this Christmas to try it out but the reviews seem positive for the software product.

  4. For typography, Typorama and Path On are both decent. For heavier lifting, Graphic by Indeeo, inc is a vector tool with some solid typography options.

    As Vince mentioned, Pixelmator is also fantastic, and definitely worth taking a look as a photoshop or procreate replacement.

  5. Your review made me anxious to get one 🙂 Really nice to read, especially from your point of view as a map illustrator.
    I wonder how the vector drawing software Illustrator Draw would work out on iOS with the Apple pencil. I just read it supports the Apple Pencil. My wife is a good Illustrator, so I think she can do great stuff with other software you mention, like Procreate. Maybe something for Christmas, for both of us 🙂

    1. Interesting. I object to the Creative Cloud licensing of Adobe, but I’ve grabbed Adobe Illustrator Draw, and I’ll see how it works with the Pencil.

    1. I’ve been waiting for one since I ordered my pro weeks ago, and harassing all my local stores and stores wherever I travel. I have some development that’s blocked on an actual pencil, which miffs me a bit that everyone and their brother seem to be getting them on short notice.

  6. Great review. Thanks! This is the first thorough artist’s perspective I’ve read, and it’s very useful.

    For vector and text work, I’ve been using Inkpad, though I admit my text and vector needs are limited. It may not do what you need it to, but I thought I’d mention it just in case. Oh, and it’s free, so no harm in trying.

    Mike Barron

    1. Hi Mike, your post was exactly what I was looking for. Mike I love inkpad and I am yet to buy an iPad pro. Currently in the market for one. Before I do, I would love to know if inkpad canvas scales to the size of the iPad pro? Or does it do a 2X like scale for example when an iPhone app is installed on an iPad? Also any other advice you might impart. Thank you – Dennis

  7. Jon,

    Don’t overlook Duet, an app that lets you use the iPad as a second monitor for your MacBook. It uses the lightning cable to attached the two, so there’s no lag and the iPad Pro makes a terrific place to dump palettes to get them out of the way. Duet is on sale half-price on the App store this week.

      1. Duet sounds exciting, especially since it works with Mac OSX as well as Windows 7/8/10. The developers are ex-Apple engineers, so they know what they are doing. I’ve seen some glowing reviews, but none have addressed pen input. If the Pencil works well, it could be the ideal drawing tablet solution.

  8. To duplicate a layer in Procreate swipe on the layer from right to left; various options will be revealed including ‘duplicate’. To duplicate a file I seem to recall is also a right to left swipe. There are basic selection tools in Procreate found by pressing on the ‘s’ shape on the top bar. There is a manual for Procreate available on the iBooks store. It’s not for the latest version (coming soon) but contains instructions on the vast majority of the app. Oh, might be worth mentioning there is an alpha lock option too, activated by swiping left to right on a layer. With a little creativity it casn be used to get some functionality similar to full alpha masks. Not perfect, but useful in a pinch.

  9. Hi Jon,

    Might I also suggest Autodesk Sketchbook. (Not Sketchbook Express; it doesn’t support Apple Pencil.) While I like Procreate for a few things, Sketchbook has a magic-select feature that I can’t live without. I think it was US$4 for the full tool suite, but the stuff it comes with for free aren’t half bad. I’m trying to replicate your top-down mountain tutorial with it and can’t figure out how to get the shading to look right. I do miss color-jitter from Photoshop sometimes.

    I wish Procreate and Sketchbook would merge; they both bring a lot of power to the Pro with Pencil. 😀

    I bought the Pro 90% to use to make my gaming maps without being tied to the desktop, and I’ve had no regret with the purchase at all. (Since it has more or less replaced my Macbook Air as my on-the-go device, and has quite a few games and other entertainment apps that keep me busy.

  10. Astropad is an iOS App that will let you turn your iPad Pro into a digital tablet for your desktop. Then you can use the iPad Pro with the Pencil with Photoshop and backed by full power of your desktop setup.

    1. I tried that out and the lag was a little painful. I used it connected via wifi and wired. The lag was there in both cases. More than that – procreate is iPad native, and it shows.

      1. Jon,
        Are you running on an older Macbook? I did go ahead and get an iPad pro when a local shop the company I work for buys all their Apple equipment from, said he’d give me a decent trade-in amount for an old Macbook Pro I had as a backup, so I did that and got the iPad Pro. One of the first apps I downloaded was Astropad and, on my Macbook Pro that I did keep, I ran in to the same issues. It was painfully slow and laggy and Pixel-ly. I found out that the big problems are that my screen is pre-retina so the mirroring on the Retina level iPad Pro up-rez is just miserably fuzzy. When I try using the USB, I only have USB 2.0 so the speed is too slow to be effective. When I hook it up to my year old iMac 27″ 5k, it’s fine. Works really well connected and decent over wifi if I have a good connection. I told myself it’s a good excuse to get a new Macbook Pro as well, but can’t make the argument to the wife just yet that validates that right after getting the iPad Pro.

        Duet Display would be great if they can get the Pencil to work properly. It extends the desktop, not mirror, so it doesn’t have to up-rez. It’s just like working on a second monitor. If they can get the sensitivity and tilt to work (and they say that they are working on that), it may be the go to “Cintiq” mode. It’s not wireless but it’s much better when hooked to older systems than Astropad.

        I have been pretty impressed with the iPad Pro so far. The Pencil is, by far, the best stylus experience I’ve encountered (when the apps are optimized for it). I have tried almost every graphic app out there. Procreate is, by far, the best illustration app on the iPad Pro so far. You can tell they were given access before the others and worked with Apple to fully utilize the Pencil. It REALLY acknowledges the tilt and sensitivity very well. It’s got some MAJOR missing elements (selecting is a pain, no magic wand? REALLY?) and there are a few other things I’d change about it.

        Pixelmator, I just downloaded, and I’m still trying to find out about it’s ins and outs but Procreate still feels better overall so far.

        For Vector there is Graphic by Autodesk that is a pretty full featured “Illustrator” for iPad Pro. I haven’t dug in to it all that deeply but it seems to have a pretty good set up. The most full featured design/Vector app.

        1. My MacBook is 2012 (with a few hard drive & RAM upgrades) but that might be the culprit. I assume all of that will get better over the next year.

          I want to get deeper into the vector apps. Those should be great on the Pro.

          For the missing Procreate tools – I don’t mind them and they’re easy to work around.

  11. Question on the isometric map. Did you import in a background image of the grid? Or does Procreate have a template or feature that creates the grid for you?

  12. Thanks for this. Came here looking for a way to use my iPad Pros keyboard cover while drawing via Astropad but ‘ve really covered a lot of other useful stuff here, and your work is great!
    Good luck 🙂

  13. A little late but I have a question I just cannot seem to find the answer to. Are there any apps that will let me create/open/edit PSD files without flattening them? I’ve been googling around and it seems like the answer is “no” — even Adobe’s own apps will flatten the layers it seems. I’m hoping to get an iPad Pro to work with when I’m away from home as it’s much easier to carry than a laptop + cintiq, but if I can’t work with PSD files then it’s a complete nonstarter — I need to be able to open and work with files that I receive from my clients and I need to be able to send them a PSD with layers as well. Are there any iPad apps that will do this?

    1. I can export from procreate as a layered psd to use on my laptop. But I think you’re more interested in finding a way to open a psd from your computer on your iPad? I haven’t tried that – but I’ll give it a shot and let you know.

  14. Just picked up a used Ipad Pro 12.9 with pencil and keyboard case for $750. Bought Astropad, and started using Adobe suite running from my MBP. I love it. I was concerned about the comments about lag and pixels, but it hasn’t been an issue at all.

    I am graduating from an old Wacom Intuos, and was debating this setup or a Cintiq. They were both about the same price. And so far, I think I made the right choice. Maybe there is a small amount of tradeoff with it not being a native input tablet, but the portability of having a useful iPad for other things outweighs any small cons.

    The one big thing that I could not do on my Intuos (or any pen tablet without a screen on it) was TURN THE TABLET to more natural drawing angles. (At least not easily. Some programs let you rotate the canvas on screen to any angle, but still felt unnatural to me). Now with a pen display, I can finally do that.

    I primarily use this for Adobe Illustrator vector drawing, with pressure variable weight lines. And it works great. And even though the iOS versions of the Adobe apps aren’t as full featured, I can use them on-the-go and finish them up in the full-blown apps when I get back to my desktop, on my iPad Pro!

  15. I got the IPAD Pro, mostly since I do a lot of writing (and we need to be able to read topo maps for real when covering wildfires as reporters.) That said, I also use it for art, and did get a Pencil when I got it.

    Since you did not review the keyboard, let me add some about it. I got my keyboard oh two IPADs ago… and have used it with a dying Mac, extended the life of that laptop for six months or so. After five years that keyboard, and it is the Apple keyboard is still going strong. It is the same they sell for the desktop. It is responsive and works well with Bluetooth. We did not get a new one when we got the IPAD, though the case is hard as can be… mind you we take that thing to places most people will not take their machines.

    I use a few art programs, and I like them. But I tend to use procreate almost all the time like you do. I use mine to illustrate characters and have dabbled with maps for my fiction from time to time. I wish I had time for more fiction, but the news business takes a lot of time. Though I would not call myself professional in any way, shape or form.

    The IPAD pro is a great piece of kit, though like you I did not add cellular. If I need to get a story from the field, that is what the iPhone 6S and WordPress are for.

  16. iPad junkie here.
    I’ve owned each since 2010 – slowly, but finally incorporating them into our business, replacing a host of MacBook Pros and iMacs. Less maintenance, less learning curve (employees learning), always connected, and more ‘resilient’ than their computer siblings.
    The 12.9″ iPad Pro finally made it possible w/USB 3 and 256GB w/4GB RAM – we use them for mobile audio/video production – and for home entertainment, the smaller 9.7″ w/it’s amazing display has been awesome! Now, the new ‘Pro-2s’ have been announced/released, along w/Pencil 2! I’m excited to see/read your experiences and review of the new gear, as well – an updated ‘software’/app options type of article, if worth exploring with the 18 months devs have had to develop and customize their apps and ideas to the larger, faster more powerful canvas

    Many thanks!
    Jaxx

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