When the iPad was first unveiled, there were three thoughts on many of our minds: “What a terrible name. This thing will be amazing for reading though. Oh, and it’ll be perfect for artists!”

Okay, that what might have been what I thought, but the point stands: I thought that the iPad would be perfect for anybody who needed a good place to draw. Marry it with a decent stylus and you can have an entirely paperless workflow. Until recently, though, I didn’t do a lot of it myself because I hadn’t been using just the right app. That’s when I found Procreate, an artist’s dream toolbox. Read on to find out how Procreate beats all the other competition.

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A Special Engine

Not unlike Paper (which I still recommend if you’re only looking for a simple way to sketch some ideas), the secret to Procreate lies in its engine. We’ve talked about this on AppStorm before, but what it comes down to is a custom-tailored Savage engine that makes drawing and illustrating feel truly effortless.

The big news with this update, at least for me, is how fast it is.

The big news with this update, at least for me, is how fast it is.

The big news with this update, which I think merits being mentioned immediately, is that the interface is now vector-based. This means that it’s effectively resolution-independent, which makes the app much more inherently powerful.

It’s also been compiled for 64-bit technology, which feels insanely fast on the new iPads. Everything is instantaneous. Procreate is the first app to really wow me with how fast it is on my iPad Air; it’s really putting the desktop-class architecture to good use, and in some ways, it feels faster than my 15“ MacBook Pro with Retina Display. (Note that I use the word ”feels” very liberally here; I don’t have any way to prove a real-world difference in speed.)

I can't draw, but this still only took me thirty seconds.

I can’t draw, but this still only took me thirty seconds.

Thanks to OpenGL, some fancy GPU accelerated filters work in real time. That means that the interface, which uses a ton of touch gestures, can effectively render changes for you (like Gaussian Blur, Sharpen, Noise, Hue/Saturation/Brightness, Colour Balance, and Curves) as you move your finger. There’s no wait time for loading, and there’s no preview mechanisms. It just happens, instantly.

Putting Power to Creative Use

Of course, none of that means anything if the app doesn’t do anything cool with it. Well, Procreate does a ton of cool things. I don’t think I have the space to cover them all in this review, so I might have to simplify it a little bit. I’ll start with the obvious: Procreate lets you draw.

Procreate makes all the tools you need to get to the nitty-gritty of image creation as quickly as possible.

Procreate makes all the tools you need to get to the nitty-gritty of image creation as quickly as possible.

That’s it. It’s a tool for drawing that far exceeds anything else on the iPad. It has about 120 brushes, all of which are customizable to allow a level of precision that I’m not sure I’ve really seen outside of my professional desktop applications. If you don’t like any of the brushes, you can make your own, which in itself is astounding.

The app supports layers (and yes, also .psd file exports), so it’s easiest to think of this like Illustrator for iPad. Because Procreate is now vector-based, this has never been more true than it is now. Other tools, like Blend (for colours and layers), are baked right into the app and easy to access an manipulate with just your fingers.

The app supports layers, which made making this drawing a lot easier.

The app supports layers, which made making this drawing a lot easier.

The app even has a Select tool, which allows easy manipulation of any layer or object onscreen. So let’s say you drew a picture of the galaxy, but you need to move Venus. It’s easy to select Venus with the tool, and then move Venus over a few pixels. If you want to rotate Venus, that’s easy too — and works exactly how you think it would on an iPad screen.

As far as the canvas goes, resolution-independent vector sizes doesn’t mean that resolution is entirely irrelevant. With its iOS 7 update, Procreate is now able to work with Canvas sizes up to 4K in resolution. On iPads equipped with Retina screens, you can work with images up to 4096×4096 — a truly incredible working size with tons of space for micro details.

The Select tool is really handy, and I had no problem doing complicated things like adding curves to selections.

The Select tool is really handy, and I had no problem doing complicated things like adding curves to selections.

Despite their size, these canvases still load really quickly and don’t stutter when you’re working with them. That’s because Procreate has its own file extension. On your iPad, your work saves in Procreate automatically. You don’t have to worry about it. Saving in the Procreate extension allows it to keep file sizes small and efficient.

When you export a file (which you can do directly to Dropbox, if you prefer), you can export it as a Procreate file, .psd, .png, and more. You can easily share it to social networks and email it too, all directly from the app. The real point here is that the files are quick to load and save — you’ll never even know it’s happening.

An iOS 7 Update

For many people who already use the app, a lot of this is old news. Savage Interactive has been quick to develop Procreate and add tons of new features as time rolls on. In fact, they’ve already won an Apple Design Award for the app (and it almost wouldn’t surprise me if they did again).

The interface has been revamped to focus on translucency and depth. It doesn't like to get in the way of your work.

The interface has been revamped to focus on translucency and depth. It doesn’t like to get in the way of your work.

Apart from the aforementioned 64-bit updates and the new proprietary file extension, the entire interface has been revamped. If you haven’t picked it up in a while, it’s going to feel much easier to navigate the file gallery and even better to work in thanks to some fast and beautiful menus.

Procreate uses translucency to great effect — not in the sense that they use it a lot, but in the sense that they use it well. It allows them to keep the focus squarely on your artwork, which is great when you’re working with a large canvas.

When seen on a blank canvas, the design really begins to speak for itself. I like the look and I love how powerful the tools are.

When seen on a blank canvas, the design really begins to speak for itself. I like the look and I love how powerful the tools are.

One thing I really like is the charcoal-like design; it reminds me of Pixelmator for Mac. In many ways, it feels like the most sophisticated design available in a vector-based illustration app on iPad. It gets out of the way until you need it, particularly with this iOS 7 update, and if you haven’t used the app in some time, this is a great excuse to get back into it again.

My Take On It

I’m not even close to a great artist. In fact, I can barely draw at all. If you want to see what you can do with Procreate, this video will blow your mind. So while I can certainly appreciate Procreate, I don’t think I’m able to use it effectively. But it does make me keenly aware of the possibilities on an iPad.

The fruits of my labour — this was my first "complete" illustration in the app. I'm not proud of it, but I kind of am.

The fruits of my labour — this was my first “complete” illustration in the app. I’m not proud of it, but I kind of am.

I’d love to see two more tools added to Procreate: a text tool and a shapes tool. The shapes don’t have to be complicated — really, simple shapes like lines, squares, and circles would suffice. I’d like to see a snap-to option for drawing against a ruler (and a ruler would be a nice option as well). A text tool would be great, even if it were limited, just to experiment with page layouts (it seems odd to have the option to work in an A4 letter size resolution for print, but not have any page layout tools built into the app).

With things like this, it’d be easy for me to make Procreate my on-the-go Photoshop/Illustrator setup when I’m not on my MacBook. Of course, I’m not the target market, but I never heard about any illustrators complaining about having these tools on hand either. Marrying these high-end options with a Photoshop-like ability to work in layers would make this the perfect app for everything from drawing to design, and it’d be my go-to for work whether I had a computer with me or not. Bonus points if Procreate ever includes support for Versions.

Final Thoughts

That being said, I can’t dock Procreate marks for wishing it was something other than it was. I’ve written my complaints so that they’re more like a love letter to Savage Interactive: I love this app, but I wish it did just a little bit more for me.

As a tool for illustrating and drawing, this is far and away the best option you’ll find on an iPad. Procreate is a commendable tour-de-force of an app that makes great use of all the modern technology in iOS 7 and the new iPads, but it still remains effortlessly human in its ability to enable creative artists. That’s a mouthful, but what I really mean to say is this: if you draw, you need to draw with Procreate on your iPad. It’s that simple.


Summary

Procreate is, by far, the best app on the App Store for creative people who want to draw, sketch, or paint.

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