Drawing Aps

By Libby Kyer

I-pad, Nexus 7, Surface. Just 3 tablets among many available, all with touch screen technology. So of course, you are wild to find the right drawing app, so your tablet becomes your studio away from home. Aren’t you? Perhaps you want to sketch quickly, don’t need finished artworks. Or do you not have enough experience with touch screens to even know what you want?

Choosing technology that serves you and art is an important task for modern artists, and there is a small frenzy around tablets…not unlike the one that surrounded that new-fangled technology “paints in a tube” in the 1840’s. Apps are a new art tool, and you use your fingertip or a specialty drawing tool to create marks, change colors, textures and fill or manipulate and rework on the go. It is like having your studio in your pocket, with no need for water, paint or even paper. Yeah, you probably gotta have one!

How to find the right draw app for your needs:

There are hundreds of apps out there. Finding yours may seem daunting, but it’s entirely doable.

First, a quick review of critical concepts:

Vector art: uses mathematical formulae to define lines drawn on screen, allowing the image to be printed at any size.

Bitmap turns pixels off or on, with attributes selected in the drawing tool. Size limited by dpi selected at time of creation.

Both types of files can be combined in the right app or program.

Layers: virtual trace paper within a drawing, i.e. one layer for outline, one for color fills. Helps to manage complexity.

Let’s walk through the research process:

1. Know your operating system – for example, iPad - iOS, Nexus 7 –Android, Surface - Windows 8. Select an app that works with your tablet.

2. Define your needs. Quick sketch vs. fully rendered paintings? Layers or flat drawings? Specialty touch brushes? Vector versus pixel? Which attributes are important to you?

How often will you use the app? Do you have any experience working in a draw program? If you really don’t know what you need, don’t panic. A lot of apps are free or very cheap - $2-4. You can try them out!

3. Research online: Enter “drawing apps” in your search engine. Select entries that list “best of” apps. See how/if features match your needs. Use links to sample apps. Play with them! Find the features you like best. Create the same image each time, and keep it simple. You’ll have an apples-to-apples comparison. Take notes about ease of use, problems, and whether or not the app has all your must haves.

Next, go to the app developer site for really detailed info on each app you’ve found, with more tutorials. You’re almost done.

4. Talk to your artist friends. This is such an important step. Find out what they are using, what they hate, what they love, what they can live without. You could start this whole process talking to your friends, but unless you have a bit of time working with draw app samples, you won’t really benefit from their experience.

Here are some well-reviewed apps I like, listed in alpha order:

Adobe Ideas

Vector art is so versatile. With this app, you can create vector art wherever you go, and you can integrate PhotoShop images with your drawings. It includes great drawing tools, layers, and color matching aids, syncs with Adobe’s Creative Cloud and works with Adobe Illustrator files.

Caption: (Image 1) Vector images created in Adobe One

ArtRage 4

Painting tools included are oil, watercolor, pencil and pens for natural, realistic use. Different surface choices are also provided. My favorite feature - the program knows how much “medium” is on the canvas/paper, and you can continue to manipulate color while it is still “wet”, producing great mixes and washes.

Caption: (Image 2) Work close up and have the full image available at the same time in ArtRage


Billed as, “An art studio in your pocket,” you’ll find layers, brushes, eraser, smudge tool, textures, easy color picking tools and adjustable brush size and pressure selections. Designed for iPad, it’s fun and quick to pick up techniques.

Caption: (Image 3) Layers for iPad showing great light effects

SketchBook Express

This is a very popular app and works on iPad and Surface. A wide range of pencils, pens, markers and airbrushes are available. It’s versatile and free, and good enough you may find you want the desktop SketchBook Pro for further explorations.

Caption: SketchBook Express image demonstrating the tender color shifts possible.

  • Vector images created in Adobe One Note: Images are screen captures from sales sites for the product. I could not find a way to ask permission to use them, but found them used freely all over the Internet. Up to you how you want to deal with this. I have used open advertising images before with/without permissions with no adverse effects.
  • Work close up and have the full image available at the same time in ArtRage
  • Layers for iPad showing great light effects
  • SketchBook Express image demonstrating the tender color shifts possible.