A few months ago, I wrote a blog article claiming the iPad, while impressive, is essentially a toy and unfit for sophisticated project work. I stated that as a professional graphic designer with a limited budget, I would not be purchasing such an expensive and ultimately superfluous piece of gadgetry.
Then I immediately went and bought that expensive and superfluous piece of gadgetry.
To soften the edges of my hypocrisy, I did wait until the release of the iPad2, as I was then able to purchase a refurbished first generation iPad for (relatively) less. My first impressions of the device remain. The iPad is slick and too expensive. It lacks important basic functions, and requiring a computer with iTunes to manage the OS is an anathema to the benefits of a tablet. It does many things but excels at few. Also, I love it. I love it, I love it. I sleep with it cradled in my arms like Ralphie and his Red Rider b.b. gun.
So all that said, I have picked up a few illustration and design apps and will discuss my impressions:
Price: free when I chose it, though now it shows up as $5.99 on the App Store. Also, Layers is a premium add-on, necessary for functionality beyond simple messing around.
Adobe so far seems reluctant to really invest in software for the iOS. They have a few attractive-looking apps that work in tandem with Photoshop CS5, but their freestanding apps lack depth. Ideas is effectively a vector-based doodle app. It is very simple, providing an adjustable brush for creating smoothed-out brush marks. There are no shapes, layers, Bezier lines, blending modes, or anything of the sort associated with a vector program. But it was free, and my wife drew a unicorn with it.
Pixels Pro has a fairly impressive set of design tools: multiple layers, blending modes, linear and radial gradients with opacity settings, and a very advanced selection of marquee tools. Also, you can export Pixel Pro files as multi-layered Photoshop documents, though at a relatively modest 800×600 72dpi. For all this, I’ve been somewhat disappointed by the one thing I really want from a design app: good brushes.
While the brush tool has all the desired flexibility, width, opacity, shape, flow, etc., I find everything I draw has a somewhat fudgy, pixelated look to it. If one is looking for a more design-oriented app, focusing on shapes and layouts, I recommend Pixel Pro highly. But for sketching, I’m a little let down.
Price: $4.99, which, frankly, is a little nuts.
Sketchbook Pro is the favorite of my design apps. It has a fantastic selection of brushes, with the smoothest, most responsive interface for sketching and building up illustrations. The interface was fairly intuitive when I purchased Sketchbook Pro, but a few updates have made fantastic improvements, allowing increased flexibility in visible menus, interactivity, and presets. Sketchbook Pro can also export as multi-layered Photoshop files, with a nice 1024×768 72dpi.
If one has any interest in using their iPad as a sketchbook, ideas, proof of concepts, or even files that can be refined and completed as full projects in Photoshop, Sketchbook Pro is fairly a necessity. I mean, five dollars? I’ve gotten food poisoning from more expensive meals.
The one caveat with all of these apps is the iPad does not have brush sensitivity anywhere near that of a digital drawing tablet or display. All stroke shapes and sizes are synthesized and will not be as intuitive as using a stylus or good, ol’ fashioned pencil. I still hold out hope for a tablet with a designer emphasis, but in the meantime, the iPad has a lot of delightful design apps. Also, I can play Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery on it, and that game is awesome.
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