If you’re looking for ways to customize your Surface Pen and even the Wacom Bamboo stylus, you’re in luck. Tablet Pro has found a way.
With the Tablet Pro Pen Tool, you can work smarter on your Surface by mapping the pen buttons to keyboard shortcuts such as undo. Or enable hover right, left, or middle click. You can remap the Bluetooth eraser as well.
To use the Pen Tool, you’ll need Windows 10 Home or Pro and a Surface Device and pen.
The Surface Pen is fully supported, and the tool also works on other two-button pens including the Wacom Bamboo Ink. Use the tool with your favorite 2D and 3D art programs. It can truly save you time.
You can also stand across the room and use Bluetooth to control a PowerPoint slideshow, or play and pause a video or switch on Cortana. Yup, remote control has come to your pen.
You do not need to use the Tablet Pro app along with the pen; it works on its own.
It will only set you back a few bucks and you can find it here in the Windows Store.
The folks at Tablet Pro have dedicated themselves to make life easier for digital artists. See more about Tablet Pro here.
Best drawing apps for iPad Pro, Apple Pencil, and other styluses
What are the best drawing apps for iPad Pro? Artists love the iPad Pro, and so do the app developers who cater to them. I tried a whole bunch and picked these–it’s a pretty long list, because not every app will appeal to everyone.
Mobile art apps of 2017 and 2018 offer advanced features once found only in desktop apps. Some have Android and desktop Mac and/or PC versions as well. iOS 11 has made it easier to transfer files from app to app, in case one doesn’t do something that another does.
Most of the best art apps for iPad Pro strongly integrate the Apple Pencil and multitouch gestures. Most also support other drawing styluses, including Adonit and Wacom. (See the top drawing styluses for iPad and Android). These iOS apps also work on regular iPad and iPhone.
What should you look for in a mobile art app?
Mobile art apps run a gamut, with some strongly enabling drafting or constructing and including features like perspective grids, ellipses, rulers, and shapes, while others focus more on painterly effects, brushes, customizations. And some have all of these. Do you need comic panels? Shapes? Perspective? 3D? Good text tools? Vector? Realistic oil brushes? Replay? Most people will probably want a good pencil and pen tool, the ability for high-res paintings, layers, and easy sharing.
Links go to the app’s Web sites, which you can find links to the various app versions including AppStore, Google Play Store, and desktop.
Procreate Apple Pencil settings
Procreate is probably the most popular app with professional iPad Pro artists, and comes only on iOS. It has a stellar array of brushes, or make your own from a library of shapes and textures. You can also upload textures or use brushes made by other users. The app also cleverly uses iOS 11 by letting you do timesaving tasks such as dragging a custom brush off the Web or emailing a layer.
You can use huge canvases and unlimited layers, adjust Apple Pencil settings, and record and play back paintings. Some find it easy to learn while others may not find it that intuitive. If your needs are only light drawing and painting, then Procreate may be like splitting peas with a sledgehammer.
The current version lacks a ruler and grid, and doesn’t have vector brushes, symmetry, ellipses, or an easy way to make paper textures.
Autodesk Sketchbook apps’ appeal is an easy, intuitive interface combined with a lot of power. Sketchbook by Autodesk has many brush textures, and you can create your own. Its Copic marker library makes it perfect for manga. It has, radial symmetry (perfect for mandalas!), guides, and ellipses to help with perspective.
Drawing on the iPad with Sketchbook Pro is nice and uncluttered, as you can hide the UI. The free version, Sketchbook, gives you limited tools and just a few layers, while Pro, which is by annual subscription, adds a lot more. It’s a very simple app to use, without much learning curve. It’s an excellent drawing app for beginners.
Sketchbook doesn’t have things like wet paper, blending, or specific simulation of types of paint. The selection tools are there, but they could be more intuitive.
Tayasui Sketches/Sketches Pro has a pleasant, airy feeling the company describes as Zen. Its interface is wordless, so language isn’t a barrier. This is a fun and easy app popular among illustrators.
Tayasui’s UI keeps brushes and tools out in the open. You can change the icons to look more like real tools. You can set the tools to remember color. There’s a cool pattern brush that includes a set delicate hand-drawn patterns. The free version is great for sketching (you get the Rotring Pen and a handful of other brushes that emulate real-world tools, such as Acrylic Brush.) Supports gestures, Apple Pencil, and other Bluetooth styluses. It’s a nice, simple and easy drawing experience. Though it’s not the most extensive app, it’s smooth and works great.
Adobe Photoshop Sketch appears minimal at first glance, showing just 5 brushes–pencil, marker, watercolor, ink, and acrylic. But each one has lots of settings like desktop Photoshop, including pressure, flow, size, and velocity. Tap on the “plus” and a plethora of new brushes appear, including Kyle T. Webster brushes. The app also as layers, shapes, grids, a wide variety of premade formats, and the ability to save to the Adobe Creative Cloud. You can a timelapse, share, and send to Behance. Adobe Photoshop Sketch manages to offer a lot while still keeping it simple and intuitive. This app has grown into one of the best free art apps for Apple Pencil and iOS out there.
This is one of the best drawing apps for iPad Pro if you’re just starting but want expressive brush options and are ready to tackle some more meaty features.
Adobe Illustrator Draw is a powerful vector app. No more fussing with Bezier curves and handles, you can just take your Apple Pencil and have completely natural control, turning out tapered, pressure-sensitive lines. Or just finger paint.
You can also do things like upload your own textures which, zap, get turned into vectors. So your art is all fully scalable. You can even export your files over to the desktop version of Illustrator, layers included. Adobe Illustrator Draw can streamline your workflow as an illustrator. You’ll need to have an Adobe Creative Cloud account to use it.
ArtRage a fine art painting app that lets you express yourself in truly painterly ways. It’s got brushes that emulate oil, impasto, pastels, rollers, pencil, crayon, airbrush, eraser, even glitter. You can even squeeze paint out of a tube. You can use layers, different paper textures, view brushes in a close-up window, and export to png, jpg, or the native ptg app, but not to psd. The app focuses on being close to painting in real life. One interesting thing this artist is doing in ArtRage is using the tools to hand-transform photos into paintings complete with brushstrokes. ArtRage settings for Apple Pencil and Bluetooth styluses.
The mobile version lacks selection tools, though, so you’ll need a workaround.
Infinite Painter states, “We are not Sketchbook. We are not Photoshop. We are not Procreate.”
The app aims to distinguish itself, and it does. Popular with Android users, there’s also an iOS version. The UI is nearly invisible, you use a pulldown menu. There are pattern tools–Path, Symmetry, Quilt, and Tile as well as brush masking for filters. There are built-in paper textures, and brushes act on them as they would in the real world–how cool is that? Also, you can paint with a brush on the canvas and it picks up the color. Infinite Painter also has features borrowed from Photoshop, like Clipping Masks and Curves. It also has canvas textures, symmetry, and ellipses. It lets you import photos from free photo site Pixabay, so you can bring an image in as inspiration, or use one on your iPad.
Infinite Painter does not have specific customizations for Apple Pencil or other styluses, nor does it have PSD import or replay, but we still think it’s one of the best free drawing apps for iPad and a good free alternative to Procreate–most of the free ones do not do as much as this one.
SketchClub is a fun, popular, sophisticated, and cheap iPad art app. I has a large, engaged community you can share your work with, as well as community-made brushes. It even has its own zine. It’s got plenty of advanced features, including Smudge and vector tools; bristle brushes; layer transform, customizable color theme, a fast brush and compositing engine, gif export and up to 64 layers. It has autosave and HD canvas recording and playback. Its inking and coloring panels are perfect for creating comics. It even lets you upload T-shirt designs directly to Snaptee. Sketch Club is about the users.
Inspire Pro is something like Painter and ArtRage, with oil paint, airbrushes, markers. It’s got a wide array of brushes, divided by media into sets. Like Procreate, you can make dual-texture brushes from shapes and textures. Inspire Pro has extensive customization of the UI and brush strokes. It’s designed as an Apple Pencil drawing app in that it lets you customize settings for that and other styluses as well. If you want brushes that simulate traditional media plus the ability to make extensive customizations, then this is for you.
Alas, Inspire Pro allows only one layer, so that may be an issue, bringing the experience closer to real-world painting. After buying it, there are still in-app purchases.
The update of the old ArtStudio is packed with features that utilize the Apple Pencil in this new version. The company is on its way to adding support for other styluses but right now it’s one of the best Apple Pencil apps in 2017. ArtStudio Pro lets you create stunning art. There are 450 brushes (150 of them free). There are also 40 filters, such as Gaussian Blur, Render Clouds, and Elastify. So you can edit photos and utilize text: it’s got 150 fonts and support for TTF fonts that you can add. If you have the old ArtStudio, you can upgrade to this one.
Medibang for iPad has almost as much going for it as its desktop version, and both are free. It offers so much it’s kind of dizzying. Similar to Paint Tool SAI, Medibang is a great app for comics and cartooning, since it lets you easily make panels of different shapes and layouts. There are also free comic book fonts. There’s a library of tones, word balloons, and other goodies. It has interesting pens like Symmetry, Turnip, and Sumi. You can also do layer masks and customize shortcuts. There’s autobackup in case of crashes. Supports Apple, Wacom, and Adonit styluses (remember to turn on pen pressure). It’s a fun ride. Users can create an account to save their work to the Cloud.
Paintstorm is extremely versatile and perfect for app geeks who love to experiment. Its devotees put up with some glitches here and there to enjoy this fun (though memory-intensive) program. The app may be a work in progress, but some glorious art is made with it. One of its more unusual features is being able to blend multiple layers together. There are all sorts of oil brushes, gradient brushes, shortcuts, Incredible options for customizing brushes, support for PSD and ABR, full support for Apple Pencil, rulers, ellipses, perspective brush tools, and the ability to correct brush strokes for any parameter. It’s something like Corel Paint. The mobile app offers the same exact features as the desktop Mac version. The free version (the one I tried) allows you to work in up to 10 layers but only to save to one and to open a single-layer file. The paid one allows PSD import and export. The app could use more type and comics-panel options.
There a lot of great art apps but these are some of the best drawing apps for iPad Pro and other styluses. So if you’re still using Paper by Fifty Three (a classic that’s not bad to get started with), don’t be afraid to try something new. All of them offer different versions of analogue art supplies, which are, in short, brushes, colors, and surfaces. Just think, this guy does his art in Excel!
Google’s tilt brush app is a fun, free app you can use with Vive and Oculus Rift headsets. I gave it a whirl to try to compare it to the experience of drawing on a tablet.
“Art” in the cosmos. (credit: Tablets for Artists)
The first thing is that the software is simple, comparable to a mobile app. It takes 15 minutes or so to learn your way around the app. The biggest challenge is sensory overload. It feels absolutely real. I suggest not doing things too quickly. I didn’t make much attempt to make a finished work of art, and am still a beginner. I can see that it has a lot of potential, and would take a lot of practice to get better control over it.
Drawing is a bit challenging because your sight line and angle easily changes. For instance, this virtual snowman’s carrot nose looked a lot better in the headset. And the 3D effects aren’t coming through with this brush. Even approaching the snowman was tricky; I learned I had to walk right up to it rather than trying to reach it.
Another issue is that in a hot room, the headset can end up sliding down your face due to moisture, which can make it harder to see the controls, and affect visibility of the whole thing. It works best in a cool, dry room.
Alas, there’s no “corncob pipe” brush. (credit: Tablets for Artists)
Tilt Brush app lets you paint in virtual reality that you’re right in the middle of. The room is your canvas. Just put on your virtual reality glasses and fire it up. Anyone can use it immediately; it’s intuitive.
You hold a controller in each hand; I found myself switching brushes a lot with one and taking a lot of snapshots, videos, and gifs with the others. The virtual controller has brushes with strokes of fire, snowflakes, and stars. There’s a full color wheel and picker. You can have a lot of fun with the effects. One of the coolest ones is smoke, which produces a foggy atmosphere (reminded me more of fog than smoke).
Inside Tilt Brush, you’re in charge of the sky and the backdrop of your world. You can pick different environments, moving from skies to mountains. For gaming veterans, the interiors of Tilt Brush may feel like a step backward, as there’s nothing that fancy, no characters or elaborate worlds. But you’re the creator here.
You can import 3D objects and draw on them. This was a bit tricky due to the angles. There are even audio-reactive brushes that bounce along to tunes. You can paint along with others as a group. VR parlors provide equipment for kids to Tilt Brush at parties.
Google has enlisted artists-in-residence at the Google Cultural Institute in Paris to share their creations. They work in a range of media, from animation to murals to computer art, and bring these sensibilities to their Tilt Brush work. They created pieces including disembodied organic, geometric tangles; humorous game-inspired animation; a “junk robot” aesthetic; and, from a hip-hop artist, dancing light beams.
One of the importable objects is dress form. Why a dress form? One possible use of the app for clothing designers to quickly make 3D mockups using realistic fabrics and textures.
Tilt Brush brings the potential of digital art to a new level–that of sculpture. It can also be just fun way to doodle or play with friends. The app has recently gotten an update.
It’s definitely worth a try if you’ve got access to a headset or VR parlor near you.
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.
Tablet Pro app lets you ditch the keyboard and mouse
Tablet Pro, an app accessible from the Windows Store, offers on-screen touch controls that can make you work more efficiently, potentially trimming hours from your workflow. We don’t hear a whole lot about Windows apps, and some tablet PC users may have never even visited the Windows Store. But now there’s a good reason to.
The app allows you to ditch your mouse and keyboard and work on the couch or anyplace, because all the controls are moved to the screen. You can program dozens of keyboard shortcuts, use gestures and a digital trackpad, zoom way into any part of the desktop, and use pen and touch simultaneously. More info and videos can be found on the company’s Web site.
Developed by Takashi Yamamoto and Justice Frangipane, the app was once called Tablet PC Mouse. Its features have expanded to make it a must-use for serious digital artists who want to get control over the Windows touchscreen.
Installing Tablet Pro from the Windows Store
The app works on any device running Windows 10 or 8.1 with multitouch–it will work on pen-only touchscreen computers, but you won’t be able to use gestures.
There are two stages to installation–first the app, then the desktop program. Both are free and provide the touchscreen trackpad with basic gestures. There are also several optional paid features. You get an automatic 14-day free trial of the whole package upon downloading the desktop program. If you continue, you can purchase the package or buy them a la carte.
The Artist Pad is the feature that would be of most interest for readers. Here’ s a quick look.
Artist Pad on-screen menu
I highly recommend that you sign up for the free “14-day challenge” email series where Justice walks you through each step via video.
Tablet PC headaches solved
If you use a tablet PC, you’ve probably experienced the conundrum–a tablet ought to offer mobility, but you end up having to use a keyboard to access shortcuts, as well as a mouse and trackpad to move the cursor.
With a convertible tablet PC, you may end up using an extra keyboard because your computer’s keyboard becomes inaccessible in tablet mode, or, you may be using a clamshell laptop and leaning over the keyboard in order to reach the screen–you may even be working “upside-down” to avoid reaching your arm over the keyboard to access the screen. Or you may use a detached tablet on the couch or on a plane, with the keyboard awkwardly next to you on your lap. No more acrobatics are needed–Tablet Pro solves these headaches.
There is precedent for improving productivity via on-screen controls– the Vaio Z Canvas has a shortcut menu, and there’s Radial Menu, which expands on Wacom’s radial menu. (See all these methods in this post about best tablet computer hacks), but Tablet Pro goes much farther, giving you dozens of shortcuts and layout options.
The main timesaver is reducing the amount your hand has to travel to access tools. All those little seconds add up.
Krita demo using the app
Seeing is speeding
One common annoyance is that Adobe icons scale to such a small size. You will be be able to see them larger when using the app. And because you can increase the size of buttons, “fat finger syndrome” is abolished.
You can also use touch to adjust volume and brightness, and swipe between desktop and your projects, and swipe through slideshows. I especially like the ability to zoom in not just in art programs, but to anything. It’s like having a skin over Windows 10 that makes it do just what you want.
With a Cintiq, the hotkeys, buttons in the tablet body that let you program keyboard shortcuts, rank highly for the way they increase productivity. Now you can have shortcuts on any tablet PC using any digitizer, such as the Surface Pro, which uses N-trig.
The Four Parts of Tablet Pro
The four paid desktop features are Artist pad, Zoom Desktop, Virtual Mouse and Gesture, and Game Pad. I would suggest Artist Pad as a minimum, but I also really like Virtual Mouse and Gesture and Zoom Desktop. It’s helpful to be able to zoom in on anything on your desktop. It’s cheaper to install the whole shebang than just do three features without Game Pad. (And you could use Game Pad to program shortcuts as well.)
Artist Pad preset panel with Photoshop
This screenshot shows you one of the presets for the Artist Pad. You can see that the pad can be transparent , and you can also bring up on-screen keypad and make that transparent.
Because the app does so much, there is some complexity in setting it up, especially the more advanced features. The primary users of those will be animators and artists with a complex workflow. Following the 14-day challenge will increase your understanding of its many features, and if you’re a quick study, there’s an option to go through the videos faster than the 14 days.
Not all artists need keyboard shortcuts; even if they’re not for you, the app is useful for different work styles and even for non-art use. A lot of businesses work on tablets now, and Tablet Pro is currently being used by thousands in hospitals, casinos, by U.S. government land/property assessors, special-effects studios, professional artists and designers, and more. With 2-in-1s becoming the norm among the public, it makes sense to have on-screen controls that go beyond just the built-in on-screen keyboard.
Tablet Pro lets you customize the Windows interface, lose the mouse and keyboard, and enjoy Cintiq-like hotkey functions. It may be just what you’ve been waiting for.