Astropad Studio for iPad Pro and Mac. Photo by Astropad
Update, July 2017: Astropad Standard and Studio both work with the new 10.5″ iPad.
Astropad has just released a new product specifically for use with the iPad Pro and Apple Pencil. It’s subscription-based, unlike Astropad Standard, which is still available. Astropad Studio is only for iPad Pro with Apple Pencil, whereas Standard is for iPad2 and up. Whereas Standard is a onetime purchase, Studio is a yearly or monthly fee, and has monthly updates.
Astropad Studio vs. Astropad Standard
Studio has “Liquid Extreme,” which offers a much faster bitrate of 60 frames per second, so less lag. It bas better image quality. Together with GPU acceleration and velocity control, there’s excellent image quality and responsiveness. You can customize program shortcuts in the supported programs, as well as customizing Magic Gestures, which are Pencil/finger combos. If you don’t want to customize, you can use the built-in ones, such as calling up the eraser tool with your finger and the control ring.
Installing both applications is simple, as is the setup. All you have to do get both the Mac and iPad Pro app–the Mac app from the Astropad site, and the iPad Pro app from the App Store.
One nice thing is that you can use the iPad Pro’s USB to connect it to the Mac, instead of Wi-fi, if you’re having Wi-fi issues like I have been lately and can’t get them on the same network.
Magic Gesture. Photo by Astropad
Once that’s done, you’ll see the controls have three program names–Photoshop, Illustrator, and Clip Studio Paint. These are all popular desktop programs and have a somewhat complex workflow. You can still use Procreate, Sketchbook and any apps or desktop programs you want.
The app allows you to customize shortcuts in these programs, which can save a lot of time.
The new improved Liquid Engine is far faster than the old one and I experienced no lag. Lag was an issue for some with Astropad Standard (which is still around).
Astropad Studio is also made to work with any keyboard, so you can use keyboard shortcuts, with one hand on the keyboard and other other on your Pencil.
Magic Gestures are fully customizable and involve that ring, your finger, and the Apple Pencil. Here I’m conjuring the Eraser Tool.
Using a Magic Gesture while taking a photo of using it (awkward!)
You can move the ring around, press on or hold. Pressing and holding it only brought up the choice of full screen or 100%. But there are ways of setting the amount of screen to use. You can also move and zoom.
You might zoom in on the iPad Pro to work, then zoom out to see the result. I’m not crazy about two screens, and frankly I prefer to just draw on one. But when doing art with a lot of detail, it really helps to see it on a big screen. Seeing art on a big screen not only lets you see any errors you might have made when drawing, and focus on parts individually.
What kind of monthly updates can we expect? According to Astropad, in the works are functions such as a personalized pressure curve. Not sure we can expect such dramatic moves every month, but that’s OK. In a way I like to know what to expect from an app–but this is ready to deliver a lot even if we don’t know exactly what’s in store. (Let’s just hope they don’t keep redoing parts of the UI, a habit that gets to me with Adobe stuff.)
If you’d rather just draw on the iPad Pro alone, Astropad isn’t necessary. But if you want to see your work on a bigger screen, it does get closer to a Cintiq or other graphics tablet. Some might find it doesn’t completely replace a Cintiq, because a Cintiq has that toothy texture, and lets you customize more programs. But the release of Astropad Studio certainly brings a high level of professionalism to the Astropad workflow.
Is it worth the extra cost to invest in Astropad Studio over Astropad Standard? The yearly fee right now is about $65, or you can pay monthly and pay a bit more. You get a monthly update with the subscription. I dislike the idea of subscription-based software, but it’s the world we live in. The monthly update assures you’ll be getting the latest features as soon as they come out.
Is Astropad Studio worth the upgrade?
I found Astropad Studio works as advertised. If you’re a frequent use of Astropad with Photoshop, Illustrator, or Clip Studio Paint, I think Studio is worth the extra investment. If you’re using other programs, you might be okay with Standard, which also allows you to use the iPad Pro. I suggest you download the free trial of Studio, or both, and decide.
For those anxiously awaiting, today’s the day the new Astropad 2.0 is being released. Some improvements:
The Liquid engine, developed by Astropad, is now 3x faster and the company has managed to lower the pixelation by a while lot. The polling rate is much faster to correct issues with latency and improve images. It’s also now using way less memory so you can work longer and not run down your power so quickly. The pressure curve has been improved. Gestures are now available on more programs., including ArtRage, Clip Studio Paint, Mischief, Affinity Designer and Photo, Lightroom, and Sketcbook. You can now auto-hide the cursor. And, the UI has been given an overhaul.
Astropad turns your iPad or iPad Pro into a Cintiq-like input device and allows you to use any programs that are on your Mac. It’s available at the iTunes store. For OSX only.
As if I didn’t feel old enough already, the iPad Pro 2 is already in the rumor mill. Those in the know say it may be announced or even launched in Fall 2016–remember, the 9.7-inch iPad Pro just came out in March 2016. It’s more likely that said iPad Pro 2 will come out in the spring of 2017.
(This concept video was NOT made by Apple, but by someone just guessing that the new device will have stuff like up to 1TB memory and different colors of Apple Pencil. Nice thought. But we really don’t know.)
True Tone display
Likely, the iPad Pro 2 (if it follows Apple’s naming traditions, that’s what it would be called) will have the True Tone display that’s already in the 9.7″ version. True Tone is an adaptive display that adjusts white balance, making it easier to read text in different lighting as well as easier to see the screen in sunlight.
The iPad Pro 9.7″ has a wide color gamut with extreme color accuracy. The 12.9″ iPad Pro display is nearly as good, but not quite, and doesn’t now have, nor support, True Tone. (I still favor the larger size for drawing in spite of this, but am hoping the iPad Pro 2 will let us have our True Tone and eat it too).
Drawing on iPad Pro with Apple Pencil, Sketchbook Pro app
The iPad Pro does not have 3D touch, though iPhone 6S and 6S Plus already have it. So there’s a good chance Apple will add it to the iPad Pro 2, just to give us something to look forward to.
3D touch is a sensor in the touch screen that will cause different things to happen depending how hard you press on the screen. This works differently in different apps–for instance, you might tap lightly to see a photo but harder to open the photo app.
It would be nice if instead of 32GB, 128G was the base model, or at least 64GB. 32GB is not enough for most consumers; maybe it’s aimed at workplaces where employees don’t add a lot of apps or files.
If you’re interested, here’s a writeup on Ars Technica on the beta version of iOS 10.
Somehow I doubt Apple will add an SD card slot, but a girl can dream.
A smaller, 9.7″ iPad Pro with Apple Pencil is has been announced. Apple gave the word in a March, 21 2016 presser, along with its new iPhone 5se and some new Apple Watch bands. This smaller sibling sports nearly the same specs, such as the fast A9X processor and as much storage as the original 12.9″ iPad Pro, and supports the Apple Pencil (yay!) It also gets a Smart Keyboard accessory. The smaller iPad Pro is less expensive than the larger one, and easier to carry. This looks to be replacing the iPad Air line and we’re grateful it’s getting the whole Pro treatment.
iPad Pro review: the Pencil is mightier than the stylus
by Tablets for Artists
12.9″ (diagonal) Retina display, LED backlit, multitouch 4GB RAM, 32 GB and 128 GB models (memory not upgradeable) Wi-fi and cellular models. Wifi superior to regular iPad Resolution: 2732 x 2048 (5.6 million pixels, 264 ppi) Colors: silver with white faceplate, gold with white faceplate, Space Gray with black faceplate Adjustable refresh rate increases speed A9X chip with 64‑bit architecture, fast enough to edit 4K video Speakers directly in unibody enclosure; four hi-fi speakers Magnetic connector connects keyboard and other accessories 8MP camera Sound adjusts according to tilt
Update: Additional info about the 9.7″ iPad Pro further down the page. The main advance of the smaller one is the display.
The first thing I noticed about the iPad Pro was how much lighter it feels than it looks. It’s rail-thin, but has a sturdy build. The screen real estate is generous, giving 78% more space than the iPad Air 2, and there’s enough bezel to let you hold the tablet by it. I like the subtle silver trim, a bit of tinsel for the holiday-season release. There’s even a matching silver band near the charger end of the Pencil.
You can keep the screen print-free by using the Apple Pencil, whose sleek, white surface brings to mind a pipette. I’ve always found inspiration in the sight and smell of worn graphite nubs with their flaking ochre paint. But this colorless, plastic implement feels just familiar enough, and its blankness begs you to add color and life. Whereas the MacBook had a pressure-sensitive, Touch Force touchpad, the iPad Pro put that into the screen, and integrated it with the Pencil. It brings to mind Steve Jobs’ pronouncement: “Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.” (I think we can move past his anti-stylus stance at this point). But for all the great design, it isn’t a complete artist’s paradise, as we will see.
The Pro’s size is the main difference from an ordinary iPad tablet. It’s a heck of a lot faster, too, with performance rivaling many desktop computers, both Apple and PC. It has a powerful graphics and adjustable screen refresh rate, which lengthens battery life. The high-res retina display screen has great color and is sharp as can be. You could probably find a needle in a photo of a haystack.
At about a pound and a half, it’s light enough on its own to carry around easily, but not that comfy to hold in one hand, or hold up to read in bed. The size requires a bag big enough to hold a laptop. And after adding a protective hard cover and keyboard, you end up with as much weight as a laptop.
Drawing with the Apple Pencil
Apple Pencil. (Click image to see it at Amazon)
Apple Smart Keyboard keys
The long, elegant Pencil, powered by Bluetooth, has terrific accuracy. There’s no parallax or jagged lines around the edge, no skips or stepped lines. The processor uses Force Touch to provide pressure sensitivity. Tilt and rotation feel natural. You even draw using the Pencil with the tip on its side to do shading. The line is quite soft and natural looking, like a 4B pencil. It’s the best stylus for drawing that there is. Kudos to Apple for continuing to innovate.
Soft, natural-looking pencil lines
Below are lines and shading done with the tip and then, going toward the bottom right corner, with the side of the Apple Pencil.
Palm rejection works well, unless you put several fingers down at the same time, then it gets confused, but that’s to be expected.
In keeping with the minimalist creed, there are no buttons on the Pencil, and no eraser–a cap covers the non-drawing end, and you take off the cap to plug in the Pencil to charge it. There aren’t settings for the Pencil, you just pair it with Bluetooth and that’s it.
The Pencil is comfortable to hold, though I think it could feel heavy after drawing for long periods. One neat thing is that you can grip the pencil near the non-tip end and use some wrist action to draw loosely, as you might with a charcoal pencil. This is made possible by the shape of the tip, and the weight helps. Because a fair amount of the tip can leave marks, the Apple Pencil reminds me a bit of a woodless graphite pencil, which I enjoy using in my non-digital time.
Some of the brushes took time to settle into a shape slightly different from what I’d drawn, as if to impart the effect of liquid ink. There was no such delay or change using the Pencil for pencil lines.
There’s no “tooth”; the glass screen is slick. The Pencil’s tip has a hint of cushioning but is pretty hard. It’s difficult to say if or how much the tips will wear down. So far, Apple is not selling replacement tips. If it shows signs of wear, you can rotate it while drawing to keep it sharp, as artists often do with graphite pencils.
One annoyance is that there’s no way to attach the Pencil to the iPad Pro. There’s no pen loop, USB holder, slot, or magnet, as on the Microsoft’s Surface Pro 4. There’s no ridge to stop it from rolling should the iPad be resting at an angle. You gotta have a plan for that.
Worse, the little cap that covers the charger can easily get lost, leaving the charger vulnerable. It would be nice if the cap could fit over the pencil end while the pencil is charging, but it doesn’t.
Is that a charger cap in your hand, or an aspirin for when you lose it?
You can’t use the Apple Pencil on other iPads, only the Pro. Bluetooth styluses and keyboards will still work; the Pencil pairs with the iPad Pro via Bluetooth.
You can draw with the side of the tip of the Pencil. Drawing at a less sideways angle with the Pencil brought better and more realistic results. Drawing directly with the side didn’t look so much like a pencil mark as a soft, spongy brush or big crayon.
This dog is practically drooling over the Lightning Connector.
You can use your finger to make playful marks while also using the Pencil.
My handwriting looked pretty natural, but it felt like a bit more effort to write, and when writing in cursive the letters flattened out a little. That doesn’t happen with Wacom.
You can put your John Hancock onto documents.
In the Notes app, you can pull up a virtual clear plastic ruler and move it around with the Pencil or your fingers, and use it to draw straight edges. Very cool, and useful for drafting. You can use apps that have layers, such as Sketchbook Pro.
You can only use apps, not full desktop programs. There’s no easy way to access your files to open them in different apps, and, annoyingly, no central way of saving them.
Here is a video with Jony Ive, chief Apple designer, showing the Apple Pencil.
Display: 12.9″ iPad Pro vs. 9.7″ iPad Pro
The gorilla glass is pretty slick, and the Pencil slides across it, but it isn’t as slippery as some screens. Colors look great.
Both the larger and smaller iPad Pros cover and slightly exceed the whole sRGB gamut. The 12.9″ iPad Pro has excellent color accuracy, and the 9.7″ very good, with a very bright screen, about 430 nits. The larger Pro is less bright, at about 375 nits. The smaller one, though, has TrueTone color, which adapts itself to your surroundings, and is supposed to emulate paper. Don’t worry, you can disable TrueTone in the settings if you want.)
It also uses a second color gamut, the DCI-P3 Wide Color Gamut. That’s what’s used in 4K UHD TVs as well as digital cinema. It also has Night Shift, which takes out the blue light that keeps you up (similar to fl.ux, a free Windows app). The smaller iPad Pro has virtually perfect color accuracy.
So is the amazing screen a reason to choose the smaller one? Maybe, but I still prefer the larger screen. Hopefully Apple will make the next version of the larger one with an equally great display.
Now instead of just charging your iPad, the Lightning Connector is bidirectional–it can give, and take, power. On the iPad Pro, it serves to not only charge the device, but to connect a keyboard and charge the Apple Pencil.
The Pro has 10 hours of battery life, and the Pencil lastsfor 12 hours on a full charge. And charging the Pencil for just 15 seconds, a deed akin to sharpening a wooden pencil, gives you 30 more minutes of drawing.
The charging port is on the side of the iPad Pro, so that the Pencil point sticks out at a perpendicular angle into the air–so be a little careful in crowded coffee shops.
The iPad Pro pushes pressure-sensitive tablets into the mainstream. Some users are finding that it substitutes for a laptop and a tablet, while some who already have a laptop and tablet can’t find much use for it and think the size is awkward. It wears many hats (caps?)–people are using it as a TV, a newspaper, ebook reader, a way to get work done on planes, trains, and buses, and a not-the-most-efficient laptop once you connect a keyboard. One iPad Pro review by an attorney praised it for saving a lot of paper, as you can pull up and sign PDFs so easily. It is ideal for paperwork. Professional artists doing an iPad Pro review seem to pretty much agree that it’s a sketchbook, not a substitute for a computer with desktop apps. Using the Apple Pencil for drawing is a hit with most people. Many iPad Pro and Apple Pencil reviews rave that the Pencil beats Cintiq pens. I do agree that it gives a new level to the digital drawing experience, and is fun as well.
Pencil has excellent accuracy Tilt and rotation sensitivity, including using the side of the tip Excellent palm rejection Good for note-taking Portability Generous size 4:3 aspect ratio High-res screen Fast LTE options Good for tasks such as signing documents, dealing with PDFs–can replace a lot of paper
Cost No way to tether Pencil to the iPad, or the end cap to the Pencil Lack of eraser tip OS doesn’t allow for convenient file management Cannot use full programs such as Photoshop no USB port No SD card slot; storage not upgradeable Screen is slick Pencil is a bit heavy
Apple Pencil. Click image to see at Best Buy
Apple Smart Keyboard. Click image to see at Best Buy
Is the iPad Pro a substitute for a laptop? Not really. Even using the iPad Pro with a keyboard is limiting. The keyboards for it can’t provide touchpads, you can’t use a mouse, and you can’t adjust the angle of the screen.
Is it a substitute for a Cintiq? Not really. You can only use apps with the iPad Pro, pressure sensitivity is app-dependent. The Pencil is not the issue here, nor is the screen. It does supply more of an “experience,” and solves the small, irritating issues with lines that affect Wacom, N-trig and other digitizers. But the OS is limiting. You can’t use full Photoshop or Illustrator or do efficient file management.
On the positive side, I think anyone could pick this up and intuitively go with the flow, just draw, without any learning curve, and that’s motivating. Drawing could get pretty addictive, especially with the ability to share the drawings so easily. Even the Wacom Cintiq 6D art pen doesn’t perform the side-shading feat. Beginning or hobby artists would love this, and professional artists would enjoy it as a very cool-looking digital sketchbook. I have no doubt it will be popular.
Apple hasn’t deigned to tell us how many levels of pressure sensitivity there are. Guess we shouldn’t worry our pretty little heads about it.
If you’re looking for a less expensive digital sketchbook, we recommend the Samsung Galaxy Tab A 9.7″ with S Pen, an Android tablet with a Wacom digitizer. While it’s not high-resolution, it offers a lot for the price. The Toshiba dynaPad, a mobile Windows 10 tablet, is also one to consider if you’re seeking a portable sketchbook.
The Surface Pro 4 is probably the main competition to the iPad Pro as far as non-art issues; the Pro 4 will let you use Photoshop.
If you’re looking for a handmade iPad Pro case that with an amazing set of positions, read our post about the FlipSteady.