Pointing and clicking is a lousy interface for sketching. That’s why Apple made the iPad Pro. It’s meant to be an all-in-one artist’s toolbox that can replace your sketchpad so you can paint, draw, or doodle wherever you are.
But even with its stunning display and intuitive Pencil stylus, you won’t be able to get much out of it without finding the right drawing apps. There are so many choices in the App Store (over a million apps in total) that it’s a struggle to find one that’s affordable, easy to learn, and packed with enough features to let you experiment and grow as an artist. These five apps are the best to get you started.
If you’re on a tight budget, check out Photoshop Sketch. It’s free, so you can doodle away and experiment with your artistic style without spending a dime. There are over a dozen brushes to toy around with. Sketch supports layers, which makes tweaks and adjustments easy. Layer support also means you can drop in a photo and use it to trace lines and shapes to save yourself hours of erasing and fixing. Sketch isn’t packed with pro-level features, but it offers enough to get you started. Free
Among the dozens of virtual sketchpads available, Pixelmator stands out thanks to its balance of price, power, and simplicity. Behind its bare bones interface you get over 100 brushes to draw with, ranging from simple pencils, crayons, and markers to watercolors and sponge brushes. It’s also super easy to export your doodles to other apps and cloud storage services like Dropbox and Google Drive. That makes it easier to share your creations or transfer them to your other devices. $5
Concepts helps you avoid having to switch apps down the road by letting you purchase more advanced tools as you need them. However, the bulk of its best features are free—its playful color and brush wheels, grids, and measurement tools for accurate lines and arcs. Unlike some other apps, it supports HTML color codes, making it easier to create pleasing color palettes with tools like Coolors.co. You’ll have to buy the pro package for $8 to access more powerful features like unlimited layers and exporting in formats other than JPG, but you won’t really need those unless you’re working on more complex projects. Free, with in-app purchases
Procreate is my favorite of the bunch because of its Streamline feature, which corrects your strokes as you draw to create a more natural look. You get a gallery of just over 120 brushes, and you can download artist-created brushes for even more fun. There’s a simple and robust color picker, and a selection tool that lets you outline specific parts of your drawing to edit them without affecting the entire canvas. You can also experiment with Procreate’s image-tweaking effects, which include blurs, sharpening, color balancing, and curve manipulation. All these features make it simple to give your pictures that perfect vibe, and once you’re done you can flaunt your skills to your friends by creating a time-lapse animation of your work. $6
If you like to mess with as many settings as possible and see what comes of it, Inspire Pro can scratch that particular itch. There are more brush customizations than you’ll probably ever use. You can adjust the spacing of each stroke, how much your lines taper, and how the brush responds to pressure applied with the Pencil. It’s not all complex menus and sliders though. Inspire has a clever way to adjust the size and opacity of your brushes by tapping an icon to toggle each, then sliding left or right to adjust. After you’ve put the finishing touches on your work, you can share a time lapse of your process (without the grumbles and sighs that accompany all your painstaking corrections).$8
These apps won’t make you a pro, that comes with time and practice. But they can give you everything need to sharpen your skills and master your craft. So head to the App Store, hit that download button, and get started on your first masterpiece.