iPad Painting Programs Compared

After finishing the three sketches below, I took the second sketch (which was done in Sketchbook Pro) and added some color in Art Rage. It would be interesting to try the same thing with Art Studio simply because despite the “flatness” of the results, it’s so much more responsive that I’d probably be more inclined to experiment and use more layers.

Over the last few months I’ve used my iPad as a sketchbook and have become pretty intimately familiar with three of the four main “faux media” apps on the iPad (the fourth, Brushes, I am boycotting because I think it’s overpriced compared to the others and as far as I can tell it replicates some of the usability issues on the iPhone version — which I have).

To illustrate my points I’ve got four versions of the same basic sketch attempted in the three programs. The fourth is a hybrid work created using two of the programs for their strengths.

Let me say at the outset that I like all of these programs and don’t regret paying for any of them. The total amount I paid for them is less than the cost of Pixelmator on the Mac, and less than I’ve spent on Vector drawing programs for the iPad, not one of which is as satisfactory as any of the programs discussed here.

This version of the sketch was produced using Art Studio. Although I’ve tried to create some texture with the brushes, the results are pretty flat.

Art Studio was the first paint program I bought for the iPad, and it’s kind of my go-to doodling app (along with Adobe Ideas, which I may discuss in another post). It’s technically the simplest of the programs, making very little effort to simulate natural media. Consequently it feels lighter than the others in use, and is very responsive. It’s also kind of ugly and it produces “simple” results. Or at least I produce simple results with it. Art Studio’s single worst deficiency is a very poor color picker.

This sketch was created in Sketchbook Pro. I tried to add color, but i disliked the results so much I gave up and ended up adding color in Art Rage (top image).

Sketchbook Pro (by Autodesk) was another early purchase. Early on I found it almost unusable, both because of odd UI decisions and generally sluggish performance. The current version feels almost as light as Art Studio and its brushes are much more sophisticated, but it doesn’t do sophisticated “wet paint” and “brush load” effects (as far as I can tell). But some of its brushes, and its pencils in particular, feel “just right” and are very responsive.

Art Rage is very sluggish, making trying to produce a free-flowing sketch a pretty nasty experience. Once the sketch is blocked out, adding texture is another story.

Art Rage has long been a favorite of mine on the Mac. Having given up on Painter long ago (I actually had a copy of Painter when it still came in a can, and I also had a copy of its forerunner, Fractal Sketch), Art Rage managed to capture the really cool features of Painter (namely wet brush simulation) without the overwhelming UI cruft. Art Rage on the iPad manages to be even cleaner and simpler while retaining the coolness, but boy is it slow. It’s almost impossible to “sketch” in because lines move like treacle.

In the end, I think Sketchbook Pro, as its name suggests, is the supreme sketching tool, but filling out a sketch is less satisfying. (That said, better artists than I get amazing results out of it.) Art Rage gives simple sketches an amazing “real media” quality with very little effort, but I think it really wants more RAM and CPU. Art Studio is a nice toy. It’s the fastest program in use, and it is possible to produce decent stuff in it, but in the end I think it’s just too crude.

iPad arrives

I am writing this post on my iPad — one of two we got this morning around 9am. According to the delivery guy each of six drivers in Tuscaloosa had about fifteen. If that’s a good sample — which it almost certainly isn’t — then about 0.1% of the US population took delivery of an iPad this morning.

I am touch typing (two fingered) on the glass keyboard. It’s just fine — but I did hit one snag. Safari didn’t recognize the standard word press editor as a text entry field, so I’m having to enter HTML directly.

More impressions later.

Battery Life

Aside: typing HTML with the iPad’s glass keyboard is an exercise in frustration — you need to switch between three keyboards four times to enter a single open heading. (Further aside: I am now going back through my iPad postings and fixing the paragraphs.)

I’ve been using my iPad solidly since it arrived, so around 3.5h, a lot of it in fairly demanding apps, and the battery is at 60% — having started at around 90% and refusing to charge when docked.

Edit: after being used much of the day and getting about 15 minutes of charger time (the iPad can only be charged via syncing to a “high power” USB slot, which seems not to include any USB slot I’ve tried) the iPad eventually got down to 30%. This morning I read for about 30 minutes using 3%.


I immediately bought Pages and Keynote. I’ll probably buy Numbers eventually, but I can think of no use for it right now. (I’d get Bento if it had export options to something other than the desktop bento for which I have zero use.)

Both are what you expect although perhaps missing a cherished feature or two. What I’m really missing on the iPad right now is some kind of file system — as I’ll discuss below.

I also got Alias Autodesk Sketchbook Pro which is based on a program originally written for tablet PCs. Brushes on the iPhone was painful to use — I never produced a single picture with it of which I was especially proud. My first two attempts with Sketchbook were decent, and I tried to upload one to this blog entry — so far no dice. (I’ve since bought a $0.99 app called Art Studio which is technically inferior to Autodesk’s product, but better thought out UI-wise.)

Similarly I can’t download PDFs — although they do render beautifully in Safari.

Of the built in apps — I’ll include iBooks in this category — Mail is a joy (although I understand gmail on the iPad is wonderful too), iBooks is great, although many of the Gutenberg titles are a mess until you get past the cruft at the beginning, and the others are ok.

The photos app and origami slideshow option are simply breathtaking. This is pretty much the best way to look at photographs.

On the down side, I find calendar’s inability to create events when I tap in a particular date/time to be infuriating. Lots of room for tweaking.

There are several Dr Seuss books in the app store — I bought two, and the only down side is they seem to chew through batteries super fast… Flash? Or just poorly coded?


I’ve already discussed the keyboard quite a bit. The only real issue with the glass keyboard — in either orientation — for me is the business of getting to special characters. If I were typing a novel, say, it wouldn’t be a big deal (especially with the smart correction handling most apostrophes, etc), but typing email addresses and HTML tags is a serious nuisance.
(Once you have one heading or whatever typed, copy and paste mostly solves the problem. Also, last night I discovered that ?123-Z is the Undo key (“?123” is a very cumbersome name for a modifier key, and somewhat misleading when the “?” is available via “shift-.”)

As a book reader, and I haven’t tried reading anything serious yet, it weighs less than a hardcover novel and can be held at angles a book cannot owing to not having pages to worry about. E.g. I find reading lying down with the iPad propped on my chest very comfortable, but could never read a book like this because I’d have to hold the pages still.

Just as I was getting used to drawing with my fingers, I encountered an Apple store employee using a capacitative stylus which seemed to work pretty well. Maybe I’ll try one for drawing.