Sunday, 31 December 2017

iPad Pro 12.9 inch and drawing apps review

Back in December 2016 ago I bought the iPad Pro 12.9 inch tablet made by Apple. I also bought the accompanying stylus known as the Apple Pencil. The intention was to use it as an additional drawing platform for when I could not access my Cintiq. Unfortunately in the year that I have owned it, the tablet was used mainly as a device to watch Youtube clips and Netflix and I didn't bother drawing on it until only just recently.

Recent home renovations have taken my Cintiq out of action, but this finally gave me the chance to use the Pro as a drawing tool, here's how I have got on so far...

The iPad Pro 12.9 (2016 edition)
This isn't an in-depth review of the iPad Pro, there are hundreds of much better and more technical reviews out there, such as this one (2017 edition) - btw there isn't a huge difference between old and 2017 models apparently. This is merely my own personal impressions of using the tablet and the various artist apps that are available.

The 12.9 inch screen is very big for a tablet. Add in the Logitech keyboard and it ends up being pretty heavy and less portable compared to a regular iPad.

The Pencil is a dream to use, it just works perfectly for drawing and sketching. The very smooth glass surface of the screen takes a little getting used to (compared to my more plasticky Cintiq 22HD surface). Charging the Pencil is annoying.

The purchase of the iPad Pro was a significant departure for me as I have always relied completely on Windows and Android devices. I have never bought nor used any Apple products before - no not even an iMac or iPhone, not even a iPod. So the Pro was my first experience.

Within minutes of use I could see that the iOS was very straightforward and user friendly. Mind you, prior to the recent update, it wasn't very easy to share and store files, but the new update seems to at least offer a folder for dropping in items. I don't really use it to be honest. For sharing pictures and other created content the iOS encourage you to use iCloud Drive, but with only a measly 5GB of allowance, I never bother. I just upload to Dropbox or use Airdrop (Apple's name for sending stuff via Bluetooth).

To be honest, I wouldn't really use the Pro for business use, or for writing long reports or accounting or anything boring like that. For such tasks I use my Windows Laptop. The Pro is best used for fun, that means drawing stuff and watching videos and photos. The screen really pops and everything looks gorgeous - which actually might be to the detriment of your artwork when you view them again on another device. I've also been impressed with the battery life, I can easily sit down and draw something over 3 or 4 hours solid with no breaks and the battery only drains maybe 40-50% in that time.

There's plenty more I could write about the Pro but you only have to look at any tech forum to see people raving about it or listing their grievances. For me, it's a superb, if very expensive, tablet that is saved by offering one incredibly useful function - the Apple Pencil.

The Pencil is brilliant. It feels good in the hand (although I shrouded it in a thick silicone case) and the interaction between it and what you draw on the screen is incredibly realistic, just like am, erm, pencil!

Fighting Newts, drawn using Adobe Draw

The pressure sensitivity is excellent, perhaps not as sensitive as the Wacom pen on the Cintiq but more than good enough for the Pro. Depending on the app being used and the settings, the Pencil does a great job adjusting to thick or thin lines, heavy paint or light paint etc depending how heavy you press while drawing. The angle of the pencil gives an effect too, when sketching for example, you can draw broader darker lines if you angle the Pencil.

Drawing apps
There are hundreds of drawing apps to play with on the Pro. Honestly visiting the App store is awful because I always want to download a dozen apps and try them out. The above photo shows me drawing a couple of newts using Adobe Draw. It's an okay program, I haven't really used it much. The benefit to Draw is that you are drawing in vector. But it's not like using Adobe Illustrator. Draw is trying to be a painting program but I just didn't dig it. But don't let that put you off. Plenty of digital artists use Draw and create some stunning work with it. See here.

Same can said with Paper, which comes free with the Pro. It's useful I suppose as a quick concept sketching tool but apart from that, I haven't used it.

The app I really wanted to talk about is Procreate for the iPad. I can't believe it costs only $9.99 (or about £8). It is incredibly powerful and loaded with brushes and tools each with a huge variety of manual settings. This is the app I have been using for nearly all my iPad art. That being said, I have had to rely on a few other apps in order to get certain effects I need. The photos below offer a summary of how I've been using Procreate so far:

Jiu Jitsu Mum: Pencil sketched in Procreate

Jiu Jitsu Mum: the final piece was drawn on a roughly A3 size canvas board. This meant it was big enough to upload onto Redbubble for poster printing customers.

Jiu Jitsu Dad - used a lot of layers, something that Procreate was more than capable of handling.

About 9 or 10 layers here, but some artworks I have done have used 15 or more layers. It slows down a tiny bit but not massively. Procreate tools do however need a bit of hunting around for as the interface is so good at hiding them, which of course does give you the artist a nice big drawing area to work on.

The great thing about Procreate is that you can capture a time lapse video of your drawing progression. It's a fun way to share ones work.

There are of course many limitations to the app. It can't for example create a gradient - something one just takes for granted on Photoshop. Instead, I use another app called Background Maker, which is free for the ad supported version.

Another seemingly obvious omission is the lack of text input. In order to add the word JIU JITSU to my Mum and Dad pieces above, I opened up the app version of Medibang Paint and just used that to create some text.

Speaking of Medibang Paint, that's a nice but very ambitious painting app for use on the Pro. It's a bit slow and the user interface is way too busy. It's a good example of what happens when you try to put too much functionality onto a program designed for use on a tablet. Still, it is completely free and if you like the desktop version, the tablet version isn't too far off in terms of familiarity. But the memory and processing power of the Pro is just not enough to give you the full power of something like a Photoshop equivalent on a desktop device.

Reynicorn: used different tools to my usual pens and pencils, this piece includes airbrushing and crayon effects

March 2018 Update

Since posting my write-up above, I have had a lot more concentrated time to work on my iPad Pro. The more I use it, the more I am enjoying it. I can pick up the Pro and just sit and draw anywhere. It brings me back to simpler days when I was just drawing for fun. The Cintiq is for work. I don’t mind work, work pays the bills, but the Pro is really fun.

Matt screen protector
One annoying thing was the glossy smoothness of the screen. You get sort of used to it but drawing on the Cintiq surface is a lot better. The reason I think is because the Cintiq screen is matt, not glossy, it is also plasticky and has a bit of bite when the Wacom pen is applied to it. So after reading some forum posts about this very topic, I went and bought a matt screen protector. The moment I started drawing with the Apple Pencil on the newly installed matt screen protector, it was like drawing on the Cintiq- so much better than before!

Matt screen protector is also anti-glare and adds bite to the Pencil when drawing but at a cost of screen colour saturation and conrtast.

Power supply
As stated before, the battery life isn’t too bad. I can draw a fairly complex piece of work on one 3 or 4 sitting and it uses up maybe 50-60% of charge. But when it goes down to zero, using the supplied 12W charger to bring it back to 100% takes ALL DAY! (about 6 hours) It is ridiculously underpowered. So I went out and bought a 29W charger with USB-C to Lightning cable. The latter connection apparently allows for superfast charging (according to many articles, like this one).

I tested it am sad to report that it does not fast charge as advertised. I plugged it in when it was at 10% and four hours later it the battery had risen to only 45%.

Zen Brush II
I bought this app on a whim. Yet another example of why I shouldn’t be let loose on the App Store because I just keep buying stuff. The app is not bad, it does what it says it will do, nothing more. I’m sure you could set up Procreate brushes to simulate something similar, but the Zen Brush app has it all done already. It’s convenient for getting that wet Chinese brush effect. Useful I think for assignments where I need to paint some Chinese characters. It doesn’t have layers, so it’s difficult if you need a reference layer to trace over. It is fun trying out all the different paper and background colour effects. You only get three ink options however: black, red and grey.

Graphic is a vector drawing app. It's sort of like a stripped down version of Adobe Illustrator but still hosts a lot of functionality. It has a pretty decent pen tool for drawing straight lines and bezier curves. It also has a pencil/brush tool for more expressive strokes, plus it has the usual shapes, boxes and other bits and bobs you find on other vector drawing programs. For me, it was important to add because some projects require the feel of vector drawn line work. Although I have access to the free to use app Draw by Adobe, this program suffers because you can only really port the final image to your desktop as an Adobe CC ai file, which I'm not able to use (I have an old version of Illustrator). So far I've only used it for a couple of artworks, but it's super easy to use.

Graphic - vector drawing is ideal for the cute Japanese look known as kawaii

Graphic is great for a simple turn on and go drawing app, vector style.

The decision to buy the iPad Pro 12.9 is understandably not that easy when you consider that for around £700 - £1100 depending on model (plus Pencil £99 and cover/keyboard £80) you are in effect paying laptop PC prices for what is essentially something with only the power and functionality of a tablet. There's a big difference in computing power between these two sectors of the market.

Logically, if what I wanted was a powerful yet small drawing device, the Surface Pro might seem like a better choice because you get a drawing stylus (very good one apparently) on a touch screen tablet sized device but the full power of a pc. In fact prior to purchase I was deliberating between the Surface and the iPad Pro. I made many repeat visits to John Lewis and Curry's Pc World stores to try out both. In the end I chose the latter due to the positive artist reviews of the Pencil. This review is pretty accurate.
While on the subject, another option for you to consider is the Wacom Mobile Studio Pro.

Another issue I had was that the Surface requires fully fledged software to be loaded and they may or may not cope well with the power of the Surface compared to my 32Gb laptop for example. Whereas at least with the Pro, you can only use apps that are specially created for it and are stripped of unnecessary junk so they run smoothly (in theory).

Once I got myself more familiar with the way the IOS system works and I had practiced and Youtubed a few tutorials on how to use Procreate, drawing on the device because a whole lot easier. I'm still happy with my Cintiq and prefer it over the Pro for use on very complex pieces, but I've been really impressed with how the Pro and Procreate has coped with my many-layered drawings and the way all the brushes, pens and pencils handle via the Apple Pencil stylus. In many ways, the iPad is now my go-to platform for digital drawing. I'll only crank up the PC and Cintiq when I need to work on something more complex (for example Live Tracing a raster drawn image into vector is only something I can do on my desktop).

So, if you are an artist and digital painter that requires a portable (okay it's still heavy but it's better than a laptop) drawing tablet with a really great stylus, I would not hesitate to recommend the iPad Pro 12.9 inch over and above the other options you may have considered.

My Little Billy Goat: a parody of MLP. Looks very vectory although it was all drawn using ink pen tools in Procreate.

Krampus, the Pro is a decent size device to just sit on the sofa or bed and doodle away, which is what I did for this piece.


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