The Digital Canvas: 7 Awesome Painting Apps

There’s always been an overlap between Apple users and artists. Maybe we’re drawn to the elegance of the user interface, or the style of the hardware. Maybe it’s the allure of the brand itself. Whatever the case, when the iPad arrived, in it’s enticingly canvas-shaped package, the painting apps were sure to follow.

So here we are, the iPad is in its second generation, and the painting app landscape has begun to solidify itself. Let’s take a look at what’s out there, where the eager amateur, or the seasoned professional, can turn for the optimal digital painting experience.

Brushes for iPad

Brushes for iPad

Brushes

As one of the first painting apps to appear on iOS, and to garner praise from the artistic community, Brushes for iPad holds true to its legacy. The features that Brushes offer seem to be the baseline for any painting apps that followed.

Your paintings are displayed in a gallery format. Tapping on one of the frames open’s that image to be edited further. Exporting options are fairly minimal, and include saving to the Camera Roll, emailing, or sharing on Flickr. One nice feature is from the gallery view, you’re given a play button that will replay the process involved in creating the current painting.

Price: $7.99
Developer: Steve Sprang

Procreate

Procreate

Procreate

Without question, Procreate has the most visually appealing interface of any painting app on the iPad. A beautiful combination of futuristic styling, but always a nod to the present and the past. Procreate’s options get out of the way and facilitate great art, rather than impeding it.

Offering Brush, Smudge, and Eraser tools, as well as support for layers, and basic export options, Procreate covers all the bases. Brush size and opacity are controlled by two ever-present sliders on the left-hand side of the app, a welcome UI feature that gives two options that are constantly in flux during painting, prominent placement. Another standout feature of Procreate is the ability to create your own brushes from images found in the iPad’s Photo Library. While not necessarily a requirement of a digital painting app, it’s a welcome feature for any serious artist.

Price: $4.99
Developer: Savage Interactive Pty Ltd

Zen Brush

Zen Brush

Zen Brush

Zen Brush takes a dramatic analog experience, painting with ink and brush, and expertly translates the look and feel into a digital application. Far more limited in feature set then most of the other painting apps in the list, Zen Brush offers one color, black, and one brush type. But the way it executes that one brush type is with such skill and character that I can’t help but recommend it. The types of art you’ll create with Zen Brush simply can’t be done in any other iPad app.

Price: $2.99
Developer: PSOFT

Layers Pro for iPad

Layers Pro

Layers Pro

Don’t let the name dissuade you, Layers Pro lets you do a lot more than just create and rearrange layers. It sports your average brush engine with all the usual choices, round, square, textured, speckled. As any good artist will tell you, more brushes doesn’t mean a better painting. It just means more brushes.

There are also Smudge and Eraser tools. The Smudge tool especially provides a wide range of artistic options not available through other means. Layers Pro also allows for the playback of the brush strokes that led to the creation of the painting, but expands it with an online gallery of other Layers Pro users, letting you learn from their techniques and methodologies.

Price: $5.99
Developer: Gotow.net

Autodesk Sketchbook Pro

Autodesk Sketchbook Pro

Autodesk Sketchbook Pro

From the storied lineage of 3D Studio Max, AutoCad, and Sketchbook Pro for the PC and Mac platforms, Autodesk Sketchbook Pro for iPad lives up to all of the expectations. Integrating intuitive gestures into the app lets the viewport be as clutter-free of UI options as possible, while letting you call them up whenever you need to.

The features mirror the PC and Mac versions of Sketchbook Pro quite closely, and you have a wide range of digital versions to analog painting and sketching tools. The visual look of the tools are fantastic, and I really like the finished result. This app is one any serious artist should look into.

Price: $4.99
Developer: Autodesk Inc.

ArtRage

ArtRage

ArtRage

Taking mixed media to truly new heights, ArtRage is like getting to use all the tools in a seasoned artist’s drawers. The simulations that ArtRange allows for are nothing short of amazing, and the potential of the app is marred only the slowness of its response time. It truly is disappointing that the app isn’t as quick and responsive as it could be. Hopefully these are things that the developers can address in time. Still, ArtRage is hard to ignore, especially if you have experience working in any of the types of media that it simulates.

Price: $6.99
Developer: Ambient Design Ltd.

Adobe Eazel

Adobe Eazel

Adobe Eazel

Adobe Eazel is the first of Adobe’s entries into the digital painting space for the iPad. The feature list isn’t quite as long as some of its competition, and that may mean that some who take digital painting on the iPad seriously may not be able to use Adobe Eazel for much.

The look of the paintings created through the app are certainly unique, a sort of digital take on watercolors, but a brush engine is virtually non-existent. The only controls are over size, color, and opacity. If Adobe continues to support the development of Eazel, it could become quite a powerful contender in the space. But, if they rely on its ability to integrate with the latest version of Photoshop, they may find their user base smaller than expected.

Price: $4.99
Developer: Adobe Systems Incorporated

Conclusion

As I’m sure you’ve gathered after reading through this list, all seven apps mentioned here are serious contenders in the digital painting space.

And, while there may be unanswered questions regarding the viability of painting with an iPad period, that hasn’t stopped determined developers and artists alike from going out and creating masterpieces. I hope you’ve been inspired to do the same.

Your Thoughts

As always, we’d love to hear your thoughts – simply post a comment below! Clearly this isn’t an exhaustive list, what apps do you like to use to exercise your artistic expression?


  • http://www.italyweddings.com Ben Singleton

    I believe I’ve used all of the above at one time or another, but I was blown away by the watercolor effects of Auryn Ink. Get it on the list!

    http://www.auryn.com/

    • Zach LeBar

      Where analog mediums are concerned, watercolor painting is almost always my choice. So, I was excited to try out Auryn Ink. But I was so thoroughly disappointed with the resolution it created the paintings at. Far lower than the iPad’s native resolution. You could see the blocky, pixellated areas as you were painting. If they can change that, then they’ll be a contender in my opinion, but not before.

  • http://www.cjred.com cjred

    procreate for me is the best… superb interface, ease of use, easy to learn, customizable brushes, layers… only if it can change canvass size.

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