A lot of people have been asking for an iPad Pro review (with a strong focus on using it for Illustration / Concept Art). So here we go!
The iPad Pro
The almighty and most discussed tablet on the market! While most people kept complaining that this is just a bigger iPad I can assure you – This is true to some parts due to the nature of iOS but nonetheless, it kicks ass!
But let’s move forward step by step. If you want to read about all the technical specs this review probably isn’t for you! But luckily tons of people around the web already did this for me, ha!
Anyways, time to take a look at its size! Below you can see a couple of pictures comparing to my
a) MacBook Pro 15 inch
b) Wacom Intuos Pro Medium tablet
c) Moleskin Sketchbook (guess that’s the common size I have?)
As you can see it IS a lot bigger with the 12.9 inch screen than an iPad Air BUT it doesn’t feel too big. In my opinion this is the perfect size to sketch and paint comfortably. I always found the 10 inch screens like the Surface Pro (1 & 2) way too cramped. Good job Apple, you finally got it!
Regarding its weight: Tons of people kept complaining that it is as heavy as the first gen iPad and that you can’t hold it in one hand for a longer period of time…. Seriously guys?
With a nearly 13 inch screen and the classical apple unibody this is super light (or at least for now – early 2016). You wouldn’t want to hold a 13 inch device in one hand anyways. I tried, and even disregarding its weight, it’s super uncomfortable.
Most of the times you will just have it on your lap or slightly angled on the table.
My suggestion: Get yourself one of these foldable covers (whether it’s the original from apple or some cheap rip-off). This way you can get a nice angle on the table and also a nice angle when watching videos. : )
The 13 inch screen is just beautiful. The colors are spot on, it's super responsive to your finger (and pen) and jeez, bright as... hell-- eh heaven. Having a glare screen it still isn't made for use in direct sunlight but you can use it just fine when you find a shady spot.
And what else is there to cover? Right! Battery life.
I haven't been able to drain its battery completely in one painting session. They did a great job with the battery. If I had to estimate the battery life for painting only I'd say roughly about 7-8 hours. Sorry that I haven't found the time to paint for that long straight, haha.
Well, this is probably the reason you’re reading this review!
To some parts it performs way better than the Wacom Intuos Stylus, to some other parts worse.
It feels crazy good in your hand thanks to the great build quality and its weight. If I had to compare it to something “known” then I’d say someone made a digital Faber-Castell Polychromos pencil.
Sad to see that they didn’t add buttons to the pencil though, but in this case I can understand their decision. Apple’s products have always been heavily focused on aesthetics and the same goes for the pencil. It looks way more appealing without buttons and it feels better as well. You’re not forced to have your fingers in a specific position like you have to have with your Wacom pen.
Simulating pencil shading in Procreate you can grip it on the very far back and use it like a normal pencil.
Staying on the outside of the pencil I also have to mention the broad long, but still fine point, tip. Loving this way more than every competitor’s pen as you can hold it in crazy angles without the pen’s body touching the screen.
Last but not least let’s take a quick look at the technical facts of the pen. It has an unknown amount of pen pressure levels and unknown amounts of tilt angles! Apple at its best – not revealing data that would have been useful for comparison.
But oh well, it still feels on par with Wacom. Users of the Surface Pro will already know that the number of pen pressure doesn’t really matter anymore and it’s more about the tech being used inside. Compared to Wacom it has a little bit less lag and thanks to the screen technology, you're also having to gap between your mark and the screen (Yes Cintiq, I'm looking at your with your huge glass plate between the tip and my cursor!).
I’d recommend to go into the next nearby apple store and test it out for yourself. An important point to mention though: The feeling of the pen is VERY dependent of the app you’re using. The pressure sensitivity felt mediocre in Apple’s Note taking app, but superior in Procreate.
Tweaking the pen pressure curve is ALSO dependent of the app. There is no universal setting to tweak it, so you have to hope that the app developer implements it, in case you’re unhappy how it performs.
And now after this mess of thoughts a quick summary:
The pencil feels really really good but you shouldn't compare it your wacom pen as they feel like two completely different styluses. Both have their ups and downs! :)
Drawing & Painting Apps
The tablet and pencil can be as good as they want – if the right apps are missing your tablet is useless. Hey there Galaxy Note devices!
The BEST app for painting by FAR is called Procreate and delivers even some features that I’m missing in Photoshop now. For this app I have a whole separate paragraph though!
So what about other drawing and painting apps?
Not really a painting app but worth mentioning anyways! Very intuitive program for assembling vector bashed shapes. I haven’t messed around with this much yet BUT Sparth (definitely check out his Artstation for more of his work! https://www.artstation.com/artist/sparth ) has been using this app (in addition with some Procreate) to create this amazing piece!
I guess this is enough proof of concept that with the right amount of skill you can transfer you’re style greatly onto the iPad. : )
Known on every device as a cool painting app, but still no one really uses it! :D It does what I always did with the addition that it now supports the Apple Pencil. The simulation of real paint feels nice but I still can’t see myself using this app for anything serious. Try out the desktop app to see if you like it or not.
Oh, what would a device be without a Japanese drawing and painting app? But hey! This one is actually pretty good. If you’re a user of Paint Tool Sai / Manga Studio / Clip Paint Studio you’ll feel instantly comfortable with this app.
The interface feels a lot like you’re using a desktop program. There aren’t many touch shortcuts but you have tons of features like the Magic Wand Tool, Stroke Stabilization, Manga Screen Toners, …
People doing line art will probably be in this app most of their time!
Hell yes! The developers of Procreate know what’s going on and are listening to the community unlike Adobe! Procreate is THE BEST painting app on the iPad Pro. But let’s talk about it step by step!
But let’s talk about it step by step!
You know the pain of having Photoshop on a Surface Pro? The interface takes away tons of screen space, buttons are too tiny to hit properly and most actions require a keyboard to use properly. Not with Procreate!
It has a beautiful slim and trimmed down interface. Brush size and opacity sliders on the left side of your screen (which you actually use WHILE painting – interactive change of size and opacity while you’re doing a stroke), Options Adjustments Selections on the top left and all your needed tools on the top right. If the slim interface is still in your way while painting then you can simply turn it off.
Having a tablet like the iPad Pro you don’t want to always have an external keyboard with you. So the developers added a bunch of super handy shortcuts that won’t stop your flow while painting.
Double tapping with two fingers – Simple Undo!
Holding the pen in one place for a few milliseconds - Brings up the color picker!
Not lifting the pen after drawing a line and waiting for a few milliseconds – Straightens the line perfectly!
… and probably many more I haven’t discovered yet. Some of them are hidden quite well.
Sadly not all of the tools are quite on Photoshop’s level yet. As a concept artist you’re using many of the rather “photo-manipulating” tools that Photoshop has to offer. These are missing completely in Procreate (yet?).
Instead you have more simple tools. Brush Tool, Smudge Tool, Eraser, Selections, Adjustments, Layers.
If you’re tackling Procreate with a more “painterly” mindset instead of “OMFG; WHERE IS MY PHOTOBASH AND 3D” you’ll still love it! The brush tool offers a beautiful brush organization that we’re waiting for ages in Photoshop! You can edit and create your own brushes, but not import Photoshop brushes as it uses a completely different brush engine.
Most of the time I was able to recreate my Photoshop brushes though which is awesome.
The layers are having different layer modes as well like Multiply, Brighten, Hard Light, Soft Light, … Additionally you can lock the alpha channel, merge layers, … All the stuff layers in Photoshop offer as well. : )
I attached a video below explaining some of the options as writing everything down would take way too long.
Summed up: This is the app to go with if you have an iPad Pro. There have been many cases already where I preferred chilling on my bed with the iPad instead of using Photoshop and my tablet.
Can you do fully rendered paintings with it? YES! You definitely can. It might take you a bit longer than PS + keyboard and you might have to tackle a few things differently, but nonetheless it is possible.
I personally will mainly use it for quicker sketches and studies though as I’m a heavy user of the mixerbrush, tons of photos and 3D in my final concept pieces.
What is Astropad? It’s an App that transforms your iPad into a (if you want to even wireless) Cintiq! Sounds great, huh?
While some artists (especially for line art) really like this solution, I found it to be still lacking in too many areas to use it properly. It pretty much does exactly what it says but there are a few huge let downs for me.
With the Apple Pencil not having any buttons you can’t do a right click. I would need to download another program to remap right click to a not often used button on my keyboard. And you can’t use Photoshop fluidly without having the option to right click sadly.
Another problem is that with every huge change on the screen (big brush stroke, zooming in or out) it pixelates for a second and needs to refresh. This really slows my down my process and often kicks you out of your painting “flow”. They are trying to reduce or even get rid of that pixelated refresh second though.
But in the current state I can’t recommend it for daily use and doing real work. Even if it’s awesome to enjoy your desktop programs on the couch.
One important point! Astropad ONLY works with OSX so far. So you can’t hook your iPad to your Windows Desktop or laptop.
Comparison to existing products
Since I owned a couple of different tablets before I'm going to compare the iPad Pro to those as well.
Wacom Companion 1 (First-Gen):
Damn, I wanted to love that tablet so bad but yet I had to send it back as it had tons of problems. It’s heavy, needs a keyboard most of the times and the fan noise will drive you nuts!
The good thing though is that it offers you the full windows desktop experience, so you can stay friends with Photoshop, your favorite 3D tool and everything else. But exactly THIS is one of its weakest factors as well. All of these programs are made for having a larger screen, keyboard and tablet / mouse. When you’re on the go these programs are usually clunky to use.
So would I recommend the iPad Pro over the Wacom Companion?
I’d say YES but it really comes down to what YOU want to do with the tablet and if it’s an addition to your existing laptop / desktop or if it is going to serve as your one and only device.
The advantage of the iPad Pro is that it’s so light and portable that you can pull it out wherever you are and start drawing and painting. You can’t do this with the Companion sadly.
Microsoft Surface Pro 2:
Having only owned the Surface Pro 2 (Second-Gen) I’m of course not speaking for the newer Surface lineup.
Nonetheless most of the points mentioned with the Wacom Companion still apply to the Surface as well. It’s lighter, has way better fans but still the same problem of desktop programs not being made for the small screen and touch interface.
If you’re not having a laptop / desktop PC already, I’d recommend getting the newest Surface Pro though. It’s a great tool of all trades, even if some areas are coming a bit shorter that way. : )
Daily Use & Conclusion
The review is slowly coming to an end. Time to sum up what it’s like using the iPad Pro!
Having the ability to start drawing and painting wherever I want within a couple of seconds is awesome. : ) There are moments where I’m missing some Photoshop tools of course but then I have to remind myself that the device isn’t supposed to replace my workstation. It’s a really great addition TO my workstation instead.
Sketching in bed, doing studies during lectures in college (shhhhhhh...) or taking it with me on long train rides – This is it and I wouldn’t want to replace it with a Surface or Companion, as these devices are made for a totally different purpose. The purpose of replacing your desktop and/or laptop.
I’d never want to write long texts like these on the onscreen iPad keyboard, but that’s not what I bought it for anyways. Not having a keyboard forces the app developers to optimize their apps for the “raw touchscreen input”, which makes this device way more portable than anything existing.
If this device is for you as well? I can’t tell but perhaps you’ve been able to make up your own mind with this review. : )
Thanks a lot for reading until here and I hope you liked my first proper review.
UPDATE - SEPTEMBER 2017
Here's a quick update regarding the iPad Pro!
A couple of months ago I sold the device as my work got heavily reliant of 3D and photo bashing, which the iPad mostly isn't capable of. I can import photos but the overall workflow isn't anywhere as smooth as I'd like it to be. Nor are there any 3D apps so I have to create my blockouts on my computer before exporting the file to the iPad Pro.
BUT with the upcoming iOS 11 update there will be a huge change - it includes a filebrowser and simple drag&drop features. This means you can easily collect photos and drag and drop them into your file for way easier photo reliant work.
I might take a second look at the device once the update rolls out and then keep you updated again!
Summed up though: If you're using nowadays techniques including heavy 3D and photobashing - the iPad isn't quite going to cut it. If your intention is to use it only for sketching and personal work tho, it's still a great device and Procreate is updating regulary, including more and more awesome features!