My Very Subjective Art App Reviews

I’ve been enjoying my new iPad Pro and Apple Pencil, doing lots of sketching and experimenting with ideas for paintings. I’ve tried a few different art apps and for my purposes, I’ll tell you right now that I like Procreate the best. I’ll admit I haven’t tried every app out there, my expertise on them is limited to the features I need for my purposes, and my reviews are very subjective. But if you’re interested in looking into a few art apps, then here are three I’ve tried.

Back when I was using my old iPad 2 and a Wacom bamboo stylus, I downloaded ArtStudio. I didn’t really use it much, but when I got my Apple Pencil, decided to give it another go. The features I like about this app are the layers, adjustable brushes and helpful optional gridlines and guides. I don’t like the colour interface, which is a palette of pre-chosen colours on the right side. When you tap the top square, it opens the colour picker palette. Colours are chosen by moving a little circle around the colour box and adjusting that colour with the sliders below the box (see below left—click to view larger). Then you can save the colour by dragging it to the pre-chosen palette and overwriting one of the colours there. I personally find this clumsy and prefer a colour wheel for choosing colours. For me it’s just faster and more intuitive.

Colour Palettes

Left to right: The colour palettes of ArtStudio, ArtRage and Procreate.

Even though this app is supposed to be optimized for the Apple Pencil, I found there was still a bit of lag. When I worked quickly, some of my strokes would start late and end early. For instance, in the pen sketch of flowers and leaves (below left—click to view larger), the outside border of small strokes looks messy. The leaves look unfinished, with the strokes not meeting the flowers and the veins not going from leaf edge to leaf edge, which was my intent.

In the colour sketch (below left—scroll down and click to view larger), I was able to get a nice subtlety in the background, but again, the drawings of leaves look very sketchy and lines don’t go edge to edge. If this is what you want, then fine, but not what I was going for. In order to make it work, I would have had to slow down my stroke and even work a few of them more than once. Not intuitive and natural for the way I work.

Overall, I think ArtStudio is a very powerful program, but not exactly right for me. $4.99 US / $5.79 CDN in the App Store.

Black and White Sketches

Here are sketches done in the three apps, from left to right: ArtStudio, ArtRage and Procreate. Only Procreate produced quick strokes that went from edge to edge.

This app has a fun interface with the oversized tools at the left edge easy to see and select. I like the colour interface with a rainbow band to choose the overall hue and then a larger band to choose shades and tints (above centre). Once you’ve chosen your colour, there’s no way to save it to a palette, but it’s easy to reclaim it later with the eyedropper tool. This app also has layers and adjustable brushes, although it is much more rudimentary than ArtStudio. For awhile I found this quite enough, but eventually I became frustrated by the relative lack of brush customization. I also found there was a bit of lag for the way I work, as evidenced in the sketch of flowers and leaves (above centre), where strokes don’t go edge to edge. In the colour sketch (below centre), I was unable to easily achieve the level of subtlety I wanted in the background.

Features I like with this app are the fun metallic option to make it look like you’re painting with metal (and I use gold paint quite a bit in my work) and the gallery display, where I can see all the images I’ve created in an overview, or bring up one image and then swipe through the rest at a larger size. I really like this option as I can swipe back and forth between two or three choices to see which I like best.

If you want an app that’s really easy to learn and use, and still has some pretty good features, then I recommend checking out ArtRage. $4.99 US / $5.79 CDN in the App Store.

Colour Sketches

In these colour sketches from left to right, ArtStudio, ArtRage and Procreate, I was testing the painting brushes, layers and strokes. Again, I liked Procreate the best for the versatility of its brushes and the way it handles strokes. ArtStudio came a close second but it lost with the way it handled the strokes for the leaf veins.

What can I say? Other than a few little features I wish it had, I love this app. It took me a bit longer to get up and running on it, but after a couple of sessions, I had pretty much figured most of it out. I really like the colour interface, which I find super easy and intuitive to use (above right). Extra colour control is available by saving your colours in a custom palette if you like. I don’t usually bother. When I want to reuse a colour, I hold my Apple Pencil on the colour in the art for a second (the timing can be set in the preferences) and the colour is selected. So as I’m working, I can quickly and easily switch between colours without going back to the colour interface.

Layers are powerful and profuse! I will never use all the layers available. So now I create art with no worries about changing my mind as I go. Just add another layer to try something out.

Procreate seems to be the best app I’ve found for optimization with the Apple Pencil. Part of this is the ability to edit the pressure curve in the preferences. In other words, you can set the stroke for how you work. Perhaps you have a lighter touch (I do). You can set the pressure curve to have the pencil respond better with your particular stroke.

A few minor quibbles. I wish the gallery would let me bring up a larger image and then swipe through the other images at a larger size too, the way ArtRage does. My workaround is to export the images to Photos and then view them as swipe-able images there. But too bad it’s another step. And I really like that fake metallic look in ArtRage, which Procreate doesn’t have. Also, it would be nice to have a grid and guideline feature, but I simply created them in Photoshop and imported them into Procreate.

The pencil works seamlessly with the app and my fast strokes are all captured properly from beginning to end, as shown in the flowers and leaves sketch (above right). My colour sketch (also above right) achieved the level of complexity and subtlety I wanted. When I’m working in Procreate, I feel one with the sketch, little grasshopper. $5.99 US / $6.99 CDN in the App Store.

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4 Responses to My Very Subjective Art App Reviews

  1. Rebekah January 13, 2016 at 10:59 am #

    Nice, thanks for sharing this! Love the idea that you can select color by long pressing the pencil, cool feature! Now do any of these work for android? We will find out.

    I use a pretty good app but it has a limit on layers, and I don’t like that. Limitless layers is a must have.

    • Dorothy Siemens January 13, 2016 at 2:02 pm #

      I was going to check about Android but forgot. I agree that a limit on layers is “limiting,” ha, ha! I found when I upgraded to my iPad Pro, the apps had a lot more layers available – seems to also be a function of how much juice your iPad has.

  2. Chad Cicconi January 13, 2016 at 2:41 pm #

    You should also try Medibang Paint, a Japanese manga drawing program, which is a pretty powerful art app. It’s like the love child of art studio and procreate. I use it rather than art studio for all my comic book inking on the iPad pro.

    • Dorothy Siemens January 13, 2016 at 2:56 pm #

      Thanks for the suggestion! I checked it out quickly but don’t see that Apple Pencil is supported yet. But the app is free, so I’ll just download it and try it out anyway! 🙂