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If you’ve been reading my blog for a while now, you know I am obsessed with art, especially on iPad: art making, art viewing, art books, art anything, if it’s for iOS I want it and I want to talk about it. Now that I have an iPad 2, I’ve gone off the deep end collecting the best of the App Store.

I am talentless, alas, but that doesn’t stop me from pursuing my creative impulse. And, I actively target an audience of artists and art lovers here so I hope you enjoy reading this list as much as I enjoyed writing it.

As you can imagine, when I was given the opportunity to update the Best Apps For Artists (iPad) for appadvice.com I jumped at the chance.

But due to formatting and time constraints, and the release of Adobe’s new line of apps (see below) which launched the day after I sent the list for editing, I wanted to do an expanded version here for you. I also wanted to address some omissions which were not accidental.

All-in you have the 23 most talked about and best art and photography apps assembled in a single (massive) post. I even review all three of the new Adobe CS 5 companion apps.

This post is insanely long and I don’t expect many to read it at once, but bookmark it for when you need a new iPad art tool. I will keep it up-to-date.

Please note: for lists I often paraphrase App Store descriptions, especially when it comes to listing features or describing them in as few words as possible. But where opinion and experience are concerned, please rest assured these are all mine. But, unlike other lists, I tell you what others are saying too.

So without further ado, let’s look at all the best iPad apps for artists which of course includes photographers. Nowhere is the line thinner between the two than on iOS.


by Savage Interactive Pty Ltd, $4.99

If I have to pick just one painting program for iPad, Savage Interactive’s new app, Procreate, is my hands-down winner. You can read my full review on appadvice.com here.

It is a great creative tool for amateurs, but serious artists are flocking to it in droves because it has a desktop-quality, uniquely designed and robust paint engine. The tools and brushes are desktop quality too.

Work effortlessly with up to 16 layers with 100 undo/redo levels. Eight sliders allow for precision color picking
 or use the eyedropper color selection tool. There is zero lag; you paint in real time. The interface is clean and intuitive.

What puts Procreate ahead of other professional painting apps, besides the power-engine, is the brush selection. There are eight pre-sets, which allow for an amazing amount of configurability, but Procreate is also the only app that allows you create and import your own brushes.

This gives the serious and detail-oriented artist the tools to create precisely what they need. You can customize the eraser and smudge tools too. Procreate is the iPad artist’s must-have and a ridiculous bargain at its current price of $4.99.

I am proud to say I was one of the first to review procreate and from the moment I tried it, and from the time I got to know the developers a little, I knew I was looking at a game-changer. I have since spoken to many professional artists who use the iPad and the love for this app is palpable. This is a dev team you can contact with ideas and if they have merit, you may well see them in an update soon.

SketchBook Pro for iPad 

by Autodesk Inc. $4.99

SketchBook Pro, developed by Autodesk, allows you to effectively sketch, paint and edit photographs on your iPad and iPad 2. You get a total of 60 preset brushes and you can download an additional 90 (including pencils, pens, markers, natural media and photo brushes) to add amazing detail and artistry to your project. Layers and blend modes grant  even more control over your digital artwork. This one is a Best-of-2010 award winner a few times over and while fairly simple to use, it is professional grade.

A video out mode allows you to show off your artwork on a TV, straight from the iPad. It’s a great way to present your portfolio or share a slideshow.

You can save creations to the photo album, or email them to friends and colleagues. SketchBook Pro released version 2.0 on May 6, 2011 and now it’s an iPad and iPad 2 top choice.

Added features include gesture controls, much more adjustable brushes, (reaction to Procreate’s iPad art-world buzz?) precision controls, and Dropbox integration. It is optimized for iPad 2 which allows 12 layers, imports photos directly from the camera, and more. It’s always been a great choice for all levels of artist now it’s better than ever. A full-featured desktop version in on the Mac App Store too.

ArtStudio for iPad – draw, paint and edit photo 

by Lucky Clan $2.99

ArtStudio is another solid choice for those wanting to create artwork on their iPad. For a full-featured app, it’s a bargain at its current price of $2.99. The app includes 30 brushes. These include pencils, brushes, a wet brush, an eraser, a smudge tool, an airbrush and many more. Also included is a text tool to add captions or other text to your painting.

The app also includes 17 drawing lessons. These are great if you are looking for some basic formulaic instruction. Personally, I prefer to just tool around, but the lessons were easy to follow.

The app will also simulate brush pressure to help your paintings look more realistic. You should note that while many painting app do their best, along with various styluses, to simulate pressure, as yet there is no way to get the real effect on the iPad screen, so this feature is all the more important. Art Studio allows for six layers and is a perfectly viable alternative to SketchBook Pro minus some of the finesse. The dollar-to-feature value puts it near the top of this list.

Auryn Ink

by Auryn  $4.99

I fell in love with Auryn Ink back when I started this blog and it is now an Apple App Store Essential for artists. I’m almost embaraased to link to my review, it’s total amateur hour, but I can’t say everything in a list, so check this out for details and forgive my “noobiness”.

Auryn Ink is not an all-purpose pianting app, it has a specific task and medium: watercolours. I have read the odd complaint about a slight lag, but I find the performance smooth on both iPad models, and if there is a lag, it’s offset by how amazingly well this app simulates the watercolour experiece.

You have tons of porous canvases to choose from, or you can create your own, and each will absorb the paint in realistic ways. You can almost feel the paint, whose wetness and everything else is yours to control, get sucked right into the canvas.

It’s a niche app, but a fantastic one and the GUI is simple enough for a child to use. It’s been and remains one of my favorite art making tools for iPad.

Zen Brush

by PSOFT $2.99

Whether you sketch or do calligraphy, Zen Brush, universal, $2.99, is an amazingly simple, elegant and fluid app. Background templates simulate 29 surfaces, many porous like Auryn Ink’s, most distinct.

You can control brush size and opacity, but that’s about it. Its simplicity is truly Zen and the results any user can achieve regardless of training or experience are stunning. Easy posting to Twitter is incorporated. This is a long-time critical success and a must-have art-app.

Colored Pencils

by KengoLab $3.99

If you love the shading and fine-tuning allowed by drawing with coloured pencils, this app is not only aptly named, it’s remarkable at recreating the experience.

It is super intuitive, giving you a ton of pencils to choose from with differing heads, fine-pointed to flat, as well as a large number of erasers. Work with up to four layers, rotate your work 360 degrees and choose from many pre-sized canvas options. Save your favorite pencils for easy access. Color selection is precise.

Colored Pencils is a great choice for artists, budding and experienced, who love the medium. EDIT 3/22/11: It now has  35 user ratings, in the US App Store, and 23 of them are five-star (it averages to four stars) I am going to indulge hubris and take a little bit of credit for the jump from less than five users chiming in, to a now solid amount of backing.

And I’ll let you in on something else, Kengo, the dev, is one of the nicest people I have had the chance to meet while writing this blog. If you have feedback, I can assure you, he wants to hear it and continue to enhance the experience. Colored Pencils is well worth the $3.99 for this universal drawing tool.

By the way of some if these titles seem familiar to my regular readers, or appadvice.com faithfuls, I have had the honour of reviewing many of them before or worked together with appadvice.com’s Robin Rhys to put together an Appisode dedicated to four on this list. You can watch the video-cast and see Zen Brush, Colored Pencils, ArtRage and Auryn Ink, click here.


by Andrew Kern $1.99

ASKetch is a simple black and white procedural sketching program for drawing with your fingers, not a stylus. It’s universal and designed to take advantage of the iOS multi-touch screens. Like Zen Brush it stays out of the way and lets you focus on making art. It feels fast and responsive, even nuanced.

It features 
three distinct pencils types; use a gesture to switch back and forth between hard and soft drawing modes.

 There are 20 Levels of undo/redo and other features make it a great alternative to a paper sketchbook and a charcoal stick. Cheaper too.


by Ambient Design Ltd. $6.99

ArtRage has some issues, but no other painting app I have tried does so much so easily. It keeps track of how much paint is on your canvas, so you can blend colors under the brush as you paint, or lay down thick lines of pigment from a tube of paint for smushing and flattening with the palette knives. This feature alone is worth the price of admission.

Also, watercolors react to the wetness of the brush and paper beneath, similar to Auryn Ink, and canvas grain affects the look of your brushstrokes. Drier pigments break up on the surface to create textured effects.

My favorite feature is that ArtRage allows you to 

import photos, converting them to oils for smearing. The line between photography and painting blurs as you manipulate photos in amazing new ways. You can also import pics as reference images and pin to the canvas to serve as a guide while you work.

Art Rage has a serious flaw, however, that is not present in its OS X counterpart which is amazing, but less visceral. There is a very noticeable lag between touching the screen and the line appearing. I have tested it on the original iPad and iPad 2 and the faster processor doesn’t help. This can lead to difficulty in fine-tuning making it less-than-ideal for professional artists.

But if you are looking for a true all-in-one art app with a unique feel and a tactile blending experience ArtRage can’t be beat.

Adobe Eazel for Photoshop

by Adobe Systems Incorporated, $4.99

Just as I was going to press with the original list on appadvice.com Adobe released a much-anticipated trio of apps that work in conjunction with CS 5, (only version 12.0.4 and up so renew that licence.)

While they all can sort of function as stand alone products, their primary purpose is to enable the interaction of Photoshop projects across platforms and devices. None are full-featured, but they are certainly something different on the art-app scene.

Their drawing entry, Eazel, is the quirkiest entry and the least dependent on a desktop connection to Photoshop. You don’t need a stylus for any of the apps on this list, but most digital artists I know use one for a more realistic drawing and painting experience. I know I would’t even open  the apps on this list without one, but Eazel is expressly for finger painting. I’m still not sure what to make of it, but it is fun to mess around with.

The interface is so clean you might think the app’s broken, but lay your fingers down on the screen (it certainly uses the iPad mutitouch screen to maximum advantage) and the most simple and intuive menu pops up to let you adjust color, opacity, brush size etc.

There is  a lag, even on iPad 2 and it was pronounced on my original pad.  In premise it syncs in real time to your desktop, but the wi-fi connection is unstable as discussed below. But then again I don’t see much need for importing here.

It is easy to create simple doodles with no stylus and no time wasted on instructions, but this is not a serious art tool. Fine detail work is next to impossible.

The app itself suffers from a lack of foresight. There is no undo/redo option nor any auto-saving or saving mid-project, and the controls are very limited. It bears mentioning because it’s Adobe, but frankly unless you are in the market for a non-stylus painting app with few frills, I would skip this app in favour of any of the others on this list. User reviews are few, especially considering the brand, but almost all negative.

Photogene for iPad

by Omer Shoor $2.99

Photographers are artists and need iPad tools too. Photogene for iPad allows users to quickly and easily edit photos. It’s possible to crop, straighten, sharpen, fix red-eye, apply filters, and more using this simple, elegant app.

Photogene users can share their edited images to Facebook, Twitter, Flick or via email. It has a convenient auto-save feature and remembers where you left off if you quit the app accidentally. It’s gorgeous on the iPad’s display.

I had an older version and liked it, but when I did my research for this list I saw it had been majorly revamped and named version 2.0 earlier this month. It now stands out as one of, if not the best, all-purpose photo editing app for all user-levels. It’s not a desktop-quality app, but it’s close enough for most users and a great pick.

Adobe Photo Shop Express 

by Adobe Systems Incorporated, Free

While it’s surprising that Adobe’s older and much loved free Photoshop app is not the best in class, it is very solid and unlike most options on this list, it’s completely free.

It alows you to to all the basic editing you need, like cropping, adjusting colour, and applying effects. Unlike its newer and more robust cousin, Nav (see below) it does not require that you have Photoshop, or any version of Adobe’s Creative Suite to work, it functions as a stand-alone image editor.

On iPad 2 it also has an undo/redo feature which is handy. Using this free app, you can create a personal account on Photoshop.com where you can store about 2GB of photos and videos online.

Color Splash for iPad

by Pocket Pixels Inc. $1.99

ColorSplash is a single purpose app for editing your photos. The app will turn your pic into a black and white photograph. You then have the option to return color to specific areas of the photo.

If you’ve ever wished you knew how to add a splash of color to black-and-white pics with stunning results, ColorSplash will have you looking like a pro in no time. There is an in-app video tutorial and a surprisingly good collection of brushes to work with. Over 1000 users have rated it an average of 4.5 stars and the current version get a full five stars.

Color Blast! HD

By East Coast Pixels Inc,  $1.99

This is another fantastic app to turn your colour snap into a monochromatic one and then add blasts of colour (sorry I write English, not American 😉 )

ColorBlast! HD uses a sophisticated engine and smart colouring technology to allow you to start brushing on a specific colour and then paint only that colour. ColorBlast! stays in the lines for you, making this, as they put it, “an entertaining, rather than frustrating, experience.” Critics and users agree; it gets raves.

I love the included brush tools, including a spray can for softness. Color Blast! and Color Splash are almost interchangeable, choice is strictly a matter of personal preference.

Color Effects – recolor/decolor/splash colors on images and Facebook photos

By Daniel Cota, Free

This app is a little less precise than the two above, but it’s completely free and it packs a lot of features into a universal package. You can achieve the same end results, albeit with a little less grace, for no cost and as the name implies, it’s Facebook ready.

Mobile Monet HD

By East Coast pixels Inc, 1.99

The folks who bring you Color Splash have another great tool that blurs the line between drawing and photography. Here is one of the times when an App Store description is accurate and more conciese than I can hope to be so I’ll quote:

Monet HD converts a photo to a beautiful artistic rendering employing a creative interactive process, [using an] unique sketch/paint process. MobileMonet HD generates a black and white sketch version of any picture you select.

There are settings to adjust the sketch line thickness, intensity and even color, as well as the shading. MobileMonet HD then lets you paint onto the sketch using a soft flow brush tool that applies a painterly version of the original photo.

The more you brush, the more paint is applied. It’s deceptively simple, but very creative. Brush in just the areas you want to highlight. You can adjust the paint settings to get just look you want. The adjustments include vibrance and brightness, as well as number of color shades and edge softness.

I love it and over 120 reviews in the app store give it 4.5 stars.

Touch Retouch HD

By Ava Soft 1.99

I was hesitant about putting this app on the list, because it’s so automated, it does not require any artistic talent or even inclination to accomplish its end, which is to effortlessly let you remove any portion of, or object in, a photograph.

And it is partially marketed as an entertainment app. You know, remove your ex boyfriend, create funny pictures, hide a zit (which is a good thing…)

But, in the end I have to concede that its ease of use is a selling point, and this is a tool that an artist who lacks advanced photo-editing skills can really take advantage of. An update in March improved the output and the user feedback consdierably.

The are in-app video tutorials, unlimited undo/redo steps and social media integration, of course.

It has issues, the clone stamp is particular is buggy, but if you don’t have the time, skill or inclination to use a desktop calibre editing tool to achieve the same ends, this is a more-than-serviceable options at a fair price.

Adobe Nav for Photoshop 

By Adobe Systems incorporated, $1.99

This is the companion app to Adobe’s Photoshop, as discussed above in reference to Eazel. It communicates directly via wi-fi (assuming you have CS 5 version 12.0.4 or higher) to Photoshop on your desktop.

With Adobe Nav, you can use the touch screen of your iPad to select tools and documents in Photoshop while it is running on your computer. This makes it nice for Photoshop users with older eyes! Seriously, it is great to have the ability to use the tools with your fingers and with an iPad right up close to your face. But it’s more like an input device than an app.

It has some very serious flaws, and is surprisingly (or not if they want to keep their dedicated users tied to the expensive full package) feature-light for the brand. And the wi-fi connection is unstable. That’s putting it nicely, in truth it seldom held up in any of my tests and other review sites mention the same issue.

Another drawback is you can’t save a preferred tool set. And don’t go far from your computer or an AC outlet, this baby sucks the battery like mad. Plugged in, my old iPad LOST charge while using it!

Users seem to have a love it or hate it relationship with the app. It gets an average of three stars, but the number of fives (26) and ones (22) speak volumes. So read carefully before buying. At least it’s very reasonably priced; if you do suffer buyer’s remorse, it won’t be for hundreds or even $7.99

Adobe Color Lava for Photoshop

By Adobe Systems incorporated, $2.99

This is my favorite of the new Abode apps, but also the least useful. The app itself it really nice, super intuitive and just plain fun. You can really dab and swirl colors together like paint in a fairly realistic way, to create custom swatches and color sets.

But then you can only use them in Photoshop, which is definitely not my go-to painting program, even if I am loyal for photo editing needs. But even if you use only CS 5 for your creative purposes, professionally or persoanlly, you are once again relying on the feeble wi-fi connection.

The App Store description boasts of real time interaction between pad and computer, but in practice, it’s anything but, and the app crashed on both my original iPad and my iPad 2. That may be easy to fix in an update, but it’s amateurish and not up to the Adobe standards I am accustomed to. PCmag has a great complete review here.

Only seven users have chimed in so far, but it seems colour calibration is an issue. I am not a sophisticated enough user to comment. But it is, based just on averges, the best received, and in my experience the most pleasant, of the three new generally lacklustre offerings.

Maybe Adobe is taking it’s feelings about Apple’s not allowing Flash on iOS out on CS 5 iPad users, (kinda kidding), but all three apps are sub-par and not worth the price, however small, unless you really need them.

Filterstorm Pro

by Tai Shimizu $14.99

Filterstorm Pro is a highly refined photo-editing app intended for professional photojournalists. Filterstorm Pro takes the photo editing capabilities of Filterstorm, the award-winning app intended for all users and expands it, enhances it, and adds its own photo library.

Aside From the standard cropping, rotating, and straightening tools, it adds more powerful curves, white point, black and white (with RGB channel mixing) tools and superlative masking tools.

You can apply filters or curves to specific areas of the image using brushes, gradients, vignetting, and by color range selection. You can send images to iPad’s photo library, FTP, Flickr, Dropbox, and by email. Also export images as large as 22 megapixels for iPad 2 or 7.5 megapixels on the original iPad and use bulk import from the iPad photo library.

Other features include a text tool
, black and white fine-tuning, a 30-step visual history, specific aspect-ratio selection, rotation and image straightening, noise reduction and much more.

If you want the functionality, but don’t need all the professional-grade features, check out Filterstorm for iPad at only $3.99.

FX Photo Studio HD

by MacPhun LLC $2.99

FX Photo Studio HD is all about effects. Currently, the application offers photo editors 187 effects to choose from, such “Night Vision,” “Pencil Paint,” and “False Mirror”. Additionally, FX Photo Studio offers standard photo editing features, such as crop, rotate, and flip. Sharing edited photos on Facebook and Twitter is easy and built-in.

If you’re looking for photo effects, which can quickly transform your image, then FX Photo Studio HD is a great choice. The wide variety of effects (which are continually being expanded via updates) make this app fun and fresh. In-App purchases add features and cost.

What’s missing?

Vector drawing apps. I don’t know a thing about them, so I’m staying mute.

Also, someone commented on my original applist that I should mention Sketch Club, by Blackpawn.com, $1.99 and universal.

I confess this one escaped my radar completely and I haven’t checked it out. But after I hit post many hours of editing from now, I’m buying and trying with my new Nomad Paintbrush Stylus (the new short-bristled one) and Bamboo stylus.

The few reviews in the Canadian App Store I read suggest this may be a little bit too advanced for me, but based on the general reception in the US store, 130 ratings in the few months since it’s launch, and after an astonishing number of updates, it gets almost a perfect five stars.

And user-reviews of other art apps, like Brushes (see below) are referencing it as a must-have.

I am intrigued by their stand-out feature: a community of other artists with whom you can share your work. You can even enable notifications to let you know when someone has left feedback. Apparently the community is vibrant.

If you are looking for yet another full-featured alternative, it looks like a safe bet and the price is right.

I also left off two of the biggest names in App Store painting, namely Inspire Pro and Brushes. This was not oversight, I actively removed Brushes from the appadvice.com list. Let me explain.

I am not here to bash apps. When I get an app and have nothing nice to say about it, but don’t think it is a fraud or is seeking to prey on anyone, I just ignore it. There are enough sites to tell you what not to buy, I always wanted to focus on the best of what there is for iOS.

Brushes probably was the best once upon a pre-SAHGeekMom time, but now it’s overpiced at $7.99 compared to these amazing alternatives and it’s nothing special. I have tried just about every painting program and this one is the only one on Apple’s Essentials that leaves me absolutely cold.  It works, and artists have made beautiful work using it, but that’s the best I can think of to say. If any app is resting on it’s laurels, it’s Brushes.

It feels less organic than some, less adaptive than others, less customizable than most and generally uninspired. And in spite of all the stellar new offerings, it has not seen an update since late last year.

The same applies, to a lesser degrre, because I like this app, to Inspire Pro. It is more than serviceable – much more, and is well-loved. If I had to pick between Inspire Pro and Brushes, it would win hands down and thousands of users who have given it 4.5 star ratings can’t all be wrong.

When it was new (I know, it’s hardly old, but the app scene changes daily, like all tech) it brought many fresh ideas and a beautiful GUI to the App Store and was one of my go-tos. It’s a solid contender.

But, again it’s $7.99, nothing by desktop standards, but not a steal in the app market, and the brush choices are limited compared to new-comers.

It was updated for iOS 4.2 multitasking in December of last year, but nothing added for iOS 4.3 or iPad 2 which suggets to me it’s time for the folks at kiwipixel to play some catch-up. But, I look forward to an inspired update the puts Inspire Pro back in the list of best-of-bests soon.

And if that’s not enough to keep your happily creating, I don’t know what else to say except watch me and the App Store carefully, because this market is hot hot hot and new apps and huge updates of existing apps are sure to sprout up often.

Did I somehow miss your favorite? Have one to avoid? Please let me know in the comments, applists are always being updated here and on appadvice.com and I welcome reader feedback over anything.

I will be back with more reviews, contests and special features for you soon, but in the mean time enter my contest to win the hit Chillingo game, Spider Jack or Spider Jack HD and check out some of my recent reviews and most popular lists and weekend editions.

If you love looking at art on iPad or iPhone watch for my giveaway of Overdamped’s El Greco HD and a ton of their other top titles coming very soon!

Happy App Hunting



Comments on: "Best iPad Apps For Artists (and Photographers) – Extended Edition iPad 2 Tested" (7)

  1. thre’s also cool Art app – gallery of painters and a quiz

  2. […] Interesting link reviewing various digital art apps for the iPad. Share this: This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged digital art, ipad. Bookmark the permalink. ← Portrait of Jerry’s grandson, Kyle, […]

  3. I just got an iPad and as an artist, I am hoping to use it more as a tool or accessory for my work than a fun thing full of games–although I am sure the games are fun. Anyway, I am still figuring out what these can do, but I am saving your blog to check out some of these apps later. Seriously, thank you so much for taking the time to write this post.

  4. I’m way too new to all IPad — do these apps require me to be connected to wifi while i am using them…?

  5. catriona said:

    Awesome recommendations as always, Lisa!

  6. c'est moi said:

    It’s overwhelming! So many apps, so little time!

  7. some very cool apps…thanks for the low down lisa!!!

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