Consistently dubbed the best app for handwriting recognition, Nebo will transform your expectations of what digital note-taking can be. It recognises 66 languages, and will transpose your handwritten notes into an email-able format with surprising accuracy. The Apple Pencil is key to the accuracy with which you take notes, and you can use it to sketch, format and create shapes, as well as write.
You can use the app to take notes, create interactive diagrams and add/annotate external media, such as images. Handily, the app will save and export in Word, HTMl, PDF and text format, you can add pages directly to Powerpoint, add to the cloud, and you can publish your notes to allow others to view them from wherever they are.
Inspire Pro’s developers boast a program that is ‘meticulously engineered for iPad’, and the impressive feature set and app capability back up the claim. One of the best iPad Pro apps around, you get a surprisingly realistic art experience using the software, which delivers truly professional results.
Using mediums including oil, chalk, pastels and paint, there are multiple blending options (such as blending paint with the dry brush), which are aligned with painting using real materials. The software is intuitive, and the Apple Pencil works like a dream alongside it. Rendering time is super-fast, and Canvas Playback is a neat feature, which enables you to watch your process back – stroke by stroke.
Built by former Apple engineers, Astropad enables you to turn your iPad Pro into a graphics tablet for your Mac. Download Astropad and the free Mac companion app, and you can use your iPad just like a graphics tablet, using the Pencil to draw directly in any Mac app, including Photoshop, Illustrator, Affinity Designer and so on.
It promises the high-end experience of a Wacom pen display (without actually having to buy a Wacom tablet), and you can connect it to your Mac wirelessly or via USB. Smart.
Adobe’s new drawing app, Fresco, mimics other fine art drawing apps (here’s our full review). Fresco is designed to bring a completely natural painting and drawing experience, and though it has many great features – great brush capability, an intuitive interface and super-smooth running – the app falls short in other areas. However, its full integration with the Apple Pencil combined with the powerful brush features makes it one of the best iPad Pro apps around. The basic version is free, it then costs $9.99 a month.
05. Noteshelf 2
Requirements: iOS 12.0 or later and watchOS 4.0 or later
Happily, Noteshelf has undergone a transformation, so much so that a mere version update wasn’t enough – it has instead been reborn as Noteshelf 2. It now includes tilt- and pressure-sensitivity with Apple Pencil and supports double-tap to switch between tools with Apple Pencil 2. Siri is integrated, and you can record audio notes as well as marking up PDFs and images.
But what you’ve bought it for is note-taking, which it accomplishes with aplomb – a beautiful lag-free action combines with uncanny handwriting recognition and useful autoshapes to make for one of the best notebook apps around.
Sketch Club is a feature-packed drawing app with community aspect that includes features that aim to be motivational for both amateurs and pros. With great Apple Pencil integration, you can brush, blur, fill, sketch and more to your heart’s content, and use all these effects to create artwork that ranges from sketches (obviously) to animation and comic strips. You can integrate and manipulate photos, and create typography, too. The app holds daily challenges, annual awards and group events to push you forward in your art, as well as tutorials and classes to improve your skill set.
Shapr3D is a professional-grade CAD modelling app, based on the Siemens Parasolid geometric engine and HOOPS Exchange translation software. CAD has been a tricky area to translate to the tablet format due to the lack of required precision, but this limitation has been overcome in Shapr3D, thanks to the 9ms latency of the Apple Pencil and the performance of modern iPad hardware.
Shapr3D is sensibly offered for free as an entry point to learn the ropes of the application, limited to low-resolution exports and a maximum of two designs but crucially, still giving access to all modelling tools.
The Pro version requires a reasonable monthly subscription of $25 (or $240 billed annually) to unlock features that allow Shapr3D to be used in a professional environment, including import and export of images, and to desktop CAD formats.
Shapr3D competes directly with the much pricier Onshape, a CAD platform that relies heavily on cloud processing, with interaction either via the web or tablet apps. But with Shapr3D, all processing is performed locally, and files are stored on the iPad, not in the cloud.
Interaction works using a combination of touch and stylus. Move the camera with a finger, and design your model with the Pencil. Unlike some of the image editing tools (such as Affinity) that try to cram every tool found in desktop software onto the iPad, Shapr3D isn’t trying to ape every aspect of SolidWorks. Rather, it focuses on delivering a quality CAD iPad tool first and foremost – although CAD modelling veterans may find themselves crying out for some advanced features that haven’t made the cut.
But on the whole, Shapr3D does CAD exceedingly well. It lets you set dimensions, drag shapes out with the Pencil and lay out a design as easily as you can with SolidWorks. When done, the model can be exported and then integrated into wider projects if required.
Procreate is the king of natural media apps on the iPad, and it is completely transformed with the addition of the Pencil. Sure, you can use your finger with it, a simple stylus, or even one of the increasingly complicated and expensive third-party styluses from the likes of Adonit, but none of these give you the fluidity and analogue-like experience that the Apple Pencil does.
In part this is down to the Pencil’s fine tip, in part the low latency and double-speed sampling rate, and in part because the palm rejection is nearly flawless. But all that technical stuff just fades away into the background when you’re faced with the joy of sketching with a 6B pencil, turning it flat to block in big areas of shade, or mucking about with paints.
Procreate 4 boasted a significant technological overhaul, along with a litany of improvements including the introduction of wet paint options and an intuitive redesigned menus. And, on top of that, Procreate 5 is now up and running, with a plethora of new features. These include a super-speedy new graphics engine called Valkyrie, the ability to import brushes from Photoshop, a floating Colour Picker, Animation Assist, Clone Tool and loads more. Also check Procreate Pocket.
Photoshop for iPad is finally here. It’s included with all Creative Cloud subscriptions and can be downloaded from the app store. The app has been designed as a “complementary desktop companion for professionals”, so it won’t replace your desktop version just yet but it is still pretty powerful with a lot of great features.
So far, Adobe has focused on compositing and retouching workflows (making selections, masking, blend modes, painting and adjustment layers and so on), and more features are promised with each release. The app can take heavy a workload and you don’t need to worry about overloading it, the demo we saw was a 1GB file with 500 layers. It may be a work in progress, but it’s a great start. See our Photoshop for iPad review for more details.
Serif’s Affinity Designer for iPad is right up there with the best tools for designers and artists on the go. It comes complete with full support for the Apple Pencil’s drawing capabilities in terms of precision, pressure sensitivity and tilt functionality. Fully optimised for iPad without compromising on power, Affinity Designer for iPad offers the functionality of a professional desktop app, adapted to a tablet workflow. See our Affinity Designer for iPad review.
Illustrator CC is renowned, but you may not be familiar with Illustrator Draw. It is more than just a digital sketchbook – this drawing app for your iPad has all the popular and most useful features of Ai wrapped up in a simple UI, designed for quickly sketching out ideas and concepts when you’re on the go.
Features include simple vector-based drawing tools with separate drawing and photo layers as well as the ability to sync to Adobe’s Creative Cloud. With this feature, you can also download Adobe Illustrator-compatible files and work with them on your iPad with your Apple Pencil.
The app enables you to draw perfectly straight lines and geometric shapes, rename layers, and use shapes from Adobe Capture CC. An enhanced perspective grid also means you can map shapes to a perspective plane. All told, this is an essential app for iPad-owning Ai users. Also watch out for the new Illustrator on the iPad, which is now available in beta.
Autodesk Sketchbook is not one of the most well-known Autodesk apps. Autodesk is in the know in the main for pro-spec 3D apps like 3ds Max and Maya (see our Maya tutorials here), but in Sketchbook it has a powerful mainstream sketching application with an incredibly natural drawing experience – something that is superbly exploited by the latest iPad Pro’s ProMotion tech and, of course, Apple Pencil.
Featuring 170 customisable brushes, full PSD layer and blending support, and switchable predictive stroke which transforms your hand-drawn lines and shapes into crisp, precise forms, Sketchbook is probably the best free drawing app around – and incredibly it doesn’t cost a penny.
On the iPad Pro, there’s a sketching app for everyone. Linea Sketch is the ideal app for the creative person who wants something more powerful than a basic pen-and-paper app, but is turned off by the complexity of full-feature painting and drawing engines like Affinity Designer or Procreate.
Doing without the infinite canvas of some rivals, Linea Sketch instead supports a fixed canvas and familiar drawing layers that can be repositioned anywhere in your infinite layer stack. The app doesn’t go overboard with power user tools, but still offers several pens, colour palettes and background textures, plus there is a transform tool, automatic ruler, grid tool which gives you backgrounds for note-taking, drawing, and user interface design, and a few more useful additions.
You can share via the usual well-known applications, and export in Photoshop PSD as well as JPG and PNG file formats. At a smidge under a fiver, this is a pleasingly pared-back app that won’t weigh heavily on your pocket or your iPad’s processor.
Requirements: iOS 11.0 or later
Double-tap support: Yes
Price: Free (From $7.99/£7.99 for in-app purchases)
Concepts is the award-winning, advanced sketching and design app for professional creators. With infinite canvas and organic brushes, fluid and responsive vector drawing engine, and intuitive precision tools, your design experience has never felt so natural. Whether you’re an architect, product designer, illustrator or visual thinker, you can explore, iterate and share your designs anywhere you go.
Concepts is another iPad Pro app that quickly released a major update following the launch of the second-generation Apple Pencil – double-tap tool switching is supported, plus you can customise how the double-tap manifests itself.
Another one from Serif, Affinity Photo is a fantastic Photoshop alternative on Mac and Windows machines thanks to its solid tool set, amazing performance and one-off price instead of a subscription fee. Its iPad version – used by Apple to demo the iPad Pro and Pencil – is no less impressive.
While it’s compatible with earlier iPad models, it’s when you pair it with an iPad Pro and Pencil that Affinity Photo really comes alive. As it’s engineered to make the most of the iPad’s hardware and touch features, Affinity Photo on the iPad Pro is also built to take full advantage of the Pencil’s pressure and angle sensitivity. It’s great for tasks from painting with its professional brush engine, or for applying realtime lighting effects.
Affinity Photo is built for a professional workflow, with support for raw and PSD files as well as full cross-platform performance and file compatibility in case you feel the need to add some final polish on your desktop. But you probably won’t need to.
The Adobe Comp CC iPad pro app is a revelation, and makes the process of wireframing or mocking up designs a cinch. Rather than pulling out your notebook and drawing dumb rectangles for pictures or a few horizontal lines to indicate where text would go in a layout, with a few simple and intuitive sketched shapes you can actually start building those layouts for real – and then pass them into InDesign CC, Illustrator CC or Photoshop CC.
It’s worth familiarising yourself with all the different gestures for aligning, grouping and so on so you can work quickly and efficiently. You could do all this with just your finger, but using the Pencil feels delightfully like drawing in a notebook with a magical pencil, where birds you draw come to life and fly off the page.
Draw a rectangle, slash it with a diagonal cross and it becomes an image box that you can populate with assets from, say, your Creative Cloud Library. Draw a box and scrub a few horizontal lines in it, and boom, it’s a text box, which you can style manually (there’s also a handy, quick slider control for point size) or apply styles to from your CC Libraries. Rough squares snap to perfect geometric shapes.
It’s fast, fluid and easy, and while sure, pro designers are likely to work from these wireframes like they would with one drawn in ink in a Moleskine – that is, merely referring to it but building from scratch, rather than importing it from Comp – but it can still be a boon to your productivity to be able to quickly mock up your designs using real live assets and styles.
Despite Adobe bringing Illustrator to the iPad, there are some who will swear blind that Graphic remains the best vector drawing app available on iOS.
As well as offering various brushes and tools, Graphic comes packing useful features including geometry settings pane with -/+ nudge buttons, three and four-finger tap gestures to undo/redo, and you can customise the screen tap gestures to perform whatever actions are most beneficial to your workflow.
Recent updates arm Graphic with a larger drawing canvas (developer Picta claims 16k x 16k), pressure-sensitive drawing with the Apple Pencil, and document tabs. If you’re looking for professional desktop-class vector illustration tools right on your iPad Pro, give Graphic a try.
Pared-back it may be, but Sketch is genuinely really good, with not only some lovely natural media types built-in (and the option of adding more brushes via Capture CC), but also some features that might quickly endear it to you.
For starters, it can push layered PSDs directly to Photoshop on your Mac or PC, and you can add either a flat grid or even a configurable 3D plane grid to the background, plus preset geometric shapes, to help keep you on the straight and narrow. When you want to go on the wide and sinuous, there are French curves that you can trace against.
But that would be for naught if the natural media tools themselves were rubbish, but in fact they’re generally very nice. Pay attention specifically to the watercolour tool, which has colours bleed into one another in a most pleasing manner.
What’s even nicer is that you can tap an icon – which looks like fan blades – to ‘dry’ the paint so that new colours added on top don’t bleed, giving you some terrific flexibility. The tools are Pencil-aware, so react wonderfully to pressure and tilt differences, but we are awaiting an update that allows for double-tap compatibility.
The brainchild of Javier Edo, a talented artist in his own right, Forger aims to bring most features of Autodesk Mudbox over from the desktop to tablets, and in doing so has not only become the de-facto standard for tablet-based sculpting software, but a true showcase for how the addition of touch-sensitive hardware can make a real difference to 3D creativity.
Its strongest point is the sheer volume of brush, stroke and transform operations available, which are pretty much the equivalent of any desktop sculpting applications. Move, pull, flatten, bend, twist, translate, rotate your model or even import an image to use as a brush. With Forger on iPad you can make intricate edits to your work, moulding the geometry of 3D shapes using either your finger or a stylus, which provides a somewhat tactile connection to 3D that you don’t really get when using a mouse.
It imports and exports OBJ files (STL export is currently in testing), and has a particularly intuitive interface that has been tailored specifically for the iPad, with left/right-handed UI modes and an easily movable camera. Panning, rotating and zooming is achieved with the finger motions you might be used to in mobile apps: pinching to zoom, two finger swipes to move, and one finger to rotate.
Sculpting can be performed symmetrically, using masks and layers, with the ability to apply clear, grow, shrink, invert, blur and sharpen masks. You can merge and split meshes, and reapply symmetry with multiple undo levels to give more precision to edits.
You can light your models with Forger’s PBR shader, which incorporates an image-based lighting model, and afterwards your mesh can be painted directly on the iPad (although this feature requires an in-app purchase). After export, final lighting and rendering can then be completed on a desktop PC – leading to a workflow where the iPad is the creative tool and the workstation does the number crunching.
For some, digital notepads will always come under the “scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should” banner, but those happy to commit to stylus-on-screen experience should try Notability.
Notability allows you to combine handwriting, photos and typing, and adds a small but well-integrated selection of drawing tools so you won’t be jumping from app to app if you want to sketch. What makes Notability shine as an Apple Pencil app are those little features like automatic palm rejection, where you can rest your hand on the screen and it won’t register as a mark, and straight-line detection, where the app engine will recognise when you are trying to draw a ruled line and straighten it for you.
Notability’s features exist on a few other note-taking and sketchbook apps, including many on Apple’s native Notes app, but its the combination of essential tools in one app combined with lag-free drawing that makes this a great go-to iPad Pro app when you’re away from the studio.
In place of Pixelmator, we could have recommended Adobe Photoshop Mix. Although the latter’s cut-out tools, layers, and paintable filters are generally quite nice, the stalwart iOS bitmap editor Pixelmator just feels like the more mature and useful app.
As well as offering some natural media drawing tools that work with the Pencil, it gives you the ability to tweak the colours either by applying Instagram-style filters, or with sliders for brightness, contrast, saturation, RGB and white balance – or indeed by tweaking the curves.
But the pairing of Pixelmator and the Pencil really shine if you want to do some touch-ups or object isolation. The touch-up controls – repair, dodge, burn, sharpen, saturate and more – are easy to apply with the Pencil especially given its precision. When painting out backgrounds this precision, plus the various different eraser types available, are hugely welcome.
If we’ve one criticism, it’s that we’d like the option of pressure-sensitivity to affect the size of an eraser rather than its opacity, but nevertheless this is the closest thing you’re going to find to Photoshop on the iPad – until later this year.
Clip Studio Paint replaced the popular Manga Studio and immediately inherited its legions of users thanks to its specialised features for drawing comics and cartoons. Instantly familiar to anyone who has used the desktop version of the app, Clip Studio Paint allows you to create full-colour comics and cartoons with ease.
The desktop-style UI means Apple Pencil is virtually essential here unless you have particularly slender digits with pointed fingertips. But once you have familiarised yourself with the fiddly buttons and menus, you can fully appreciate the feature-dense drawing app at your disposal.
Despite its talents and vast repertoire of tools, there is no denying that there are cheaper apps. But if you specialise in this area of art and design, there are few better.
At first glance Paper by WeTransfer (formerly Paper by FiftyThree) it might look like a reasonably simple drawing and diagramming tool – and on one level, that’s what it is – but there are some smarts here.
They are frustratingly difficult to discover, but again it’s worth poking around the online support files to understand how the apparently simple tools can be used to create graphs, org charts and Venn diagrams, can easily duplicate shapes, link shapes with lines (with optional arrows at one or both ends) and much more.
Paper doesn’t demand the kind of precision you get from the Pencil, but it’s certainly welcome, and the slightly, delightfully cartoonish media work great with its sensors.
Requirements: iOS 13.2 or later
Double-tap support: Yes
Price: Free (Basic), $4.99/£4.99 per month (Premium)
Ah, Evernote. Now, this definitely isn’t for everyone. For some, this uber-notebook has become an indispensable place for gathering websites, sketches, notes, to-do lists and more – the detritus of modern life as well as inspiration and creative work – but for others it’s just a bit baffling and never quite clicks.
It’s definitely rich and capable, though, and the ability to record audio – during a briefing meeting, say, while you sketch ideas for a client using its simple but effective drawing tools – is great (though this isn’t the only app to offer that, of course). It’s pleasing how the eraser tool creates nicely rounded ends to the ink strokes rather than just slicing them into sharp points.
Using the Pencil, rather than a dumb stylus or your finger, gives you a more expressive line since it’s pressure sensitive, but more importantly the palm rejection means that you can lean your hand on the screen like you would with paper, and Evernote won’t get confused and make marks where your hand is resting.
Even without a Pencil, LiquidText is a handy tool for reading and annotating PDFs, Word and PowerPoint documents, and web pages. It’s designed to support ‘active reading’, so while reading you can be highlighting and snipping out sections to refer to later, collapsing sections of a document down so you can refer to disparate bits of it at once, and more.
Add in the Pencil, though, and it becomes even faster to use, and it’s a great example of how the Pencil’s pressure- and tilt-sensitivity can be used not just to mimic real-world drawing tools.
Dragging the Pencil over text instantly selects it (rather than having to tap-and-wait with your finger), pressing harder selects any part of the document as an image, and dragging across text with the Pencil held at a flattened angle selects and highlights it. Smart. And if you own an Apple Pencil 2, you can use LiquidText’s configurable double-tap compatibility, too.
We’ll come clean: despite assurances from uMake that it ’empowers anyone to create 3D designs easily and intuitively’, we don’t have the chops to produce anything remotely impressive in this 3D drawing app, but we can nevertheless see that it makes great use of the Pencil.
The idea is that you can sketch in 2D – optionally making use of smart symmetry controls – and then extrude your designs or even draw entirely in 3D space, connecting points on different planes.
Even if you’re a bit clumsy and jittery, your lines are smoothed into flowing curves, and with practice we can see that it would be possible to create some elegant, organic forms at speed – and the precision of the Pencil’s tip will make this whole process simpler than with any other stylus.
It might get frustrating for highly technical engineering work, but you can always use it as a tool for getting an initial concept down before exporting to IGES or OBJ files so you can work it up in other apps. Version 2.0 sees SketchUp support, meaning you can import and open .SKP files directly in uMake, but exporting to .SKP format is not yet available – however, it is in the pipeline