Much like my archive of traditional media tools, this is an archive of my favourite apps and brushes on the iPad Pro.
I’ve already rambled about this app enough; here’s the catalogue of the brushes, both default and custom sets by artists who sell them on Gumroad and Creative Market. If there is one brush vendor whose brushes are a must have, it’s Max Ulichney, creator of the Maxpacks brushes. Unlike some other Procreate brush packs, this is a carefully tuned selection. There are no repeats or rehashes of stock brushes, no filler brushes just to increase the number of brushes and make the pack look better value for money- every brush has a purpose. The Mechanical Pencil actually behaves and looks like a real 0.7 pencil, and the 600 series pencil is the most naturalistic feeling one I’ve tried. The Gouache pack is really cool, and the Comic/ Essentials packs also great. Honourable mention goes to DAUB, which has really cool watercolour brushes. Here they are along with stock brushes and brushes from other vendors. I’ve organized my sampling of brushes by medium.
Arcylics & Oils:
Chalk, Charcoal, and other dry media:
Idle character concept sketch using the Gouache:
Anatomy studies using the Mechanical Pencil:
More character doodles using the Mechanical and 600 Series Pencils:
Sketches using the 600 Series Pencil, Gouache, and Conte brushes:
Skin Tones palette by a helpful user whose name I can’t recall:
DAUB’s Watercolour brushes doodle done whilst thinking of how Book Jon Snow would’ve walked away from the hot mess his TV counterpart became in S7/8:
If a fantastically intuitive UI and brilliant brush engine and variety of brushes isn’t enough, Procreate also records every stroke you make on the canvas, so you can export a time lapse video of how you created a piece- very fun to look back on, and also useful in case anyone doubts that you started your work ‘from scratch’ as it were. Thankfully, Savage Interactions, the makers of the app, have kept the price low and stayed away from the subscription model so many other developers are switching to.
2. Adobe Sketch
It’s a very minimalist app, with a small selection of tools that work really well. Its watercolour brush in particular has a fun real time diluting and drying effect, and can be layered a lot like traditional w/colours. Before I discovered Maxpack brushes for Procreate, there were still somethings I preferred in Sketch to Procreate. It’s a free app by the makers of the expensive industry standard. If Adobe Photoshop is the undisputed king of digital art, Sketch is its more fun, vibrant, light hearted younger offspring. It’s not the crown prince (that’s reportedly a forthcoming app called ‘Fresco’), it knows it will never sit the throne, and is all the more fun for it. Very nimble, easy to use, and naturalistic. Excellent for whipping out for rapid sketch studies at airports or playing around in.
3. Autodesk Sketchbook Pro
Autodesk’s Sketchbook has long since been a staple on my desktop, and I’ve been using and loving it since 2011. It occupied a unique place on my laptop- simple, fast, responsive, lightweight- perfect for sketching. It tried to carry over the same formula and function to iOS, but the competition is so good here that it doesn’t stand out as much. Full respect to Autodesk for conceding this and making it completely free; now it no longer competes with paid apps. And for a free app, it’s very, very good. I don’t really see the point of being squirrelly with £10 after spending £1,000 on an iPad Pro and Pencil, but alright, credit where credit is due. Its pencils are great. Autodesk’s pencils have always been good, even in 2011. Brush engine is decent, and UI is second best after Procreate, I’d say. It offers far more functionality than Adobe Sketch, making it a very usable and viable alternative to Procreate for those who, for some reason, absolutely can’t part with a few £/$/Rupees for the best in the market. The confusing part is that Autodesk could have actually put Savage on alert if it had just allowed better syncing across mobile and desktop apps, and allowed for the import of custom brushes on iOS. Hopefully it’s a feature they’ll implement soon.
4. Clip Studio Paint Pro/Ex
It’s a long name, as befits a very solemn and fully featured app. I was at work when I was notified that Clip had released an app for iOS, and immediately stopped whatever I was working on to go download it. Like Autodesk, Clip Paint Studio was a staple on my desktop, and in the days when I still had my Cintiq, it was my absolute favourite. It’s an industry standard for comic book artists and illustrators, taking the best of the sketching and painting features from Photoshop and refining them, and dispensing with fancy editing features that most freehand artists don’t use- making for a highly professional and fully featured yet lightweight app that doesn’t hog memory. What’s impressive about the iOS app is that it is a full port of the desktop version, with zero compromises on functionality.
On the flip side, the UI is virtually identical, too, and doesn’t work quite as well for a mobile device. It’s not as cramped or fiddly as one might imagine, but nowhere near as fluid and natural as Procreate, or even Autodesk Sketchbook. Though the trial period is a rather generous 6 months, the subscription model is expensive- some Rs. 6,000 (£65-70) per year. That’s not expensive compared to Photoshop, but compared with Procreate’s one off £10 purchase it’s quite a bit. I still have it because I think it’s worth it; the brush engine is very unique. It doesn’t emulate traditional media that well at all, but there is a DAUB brushpack available that might help with that. I only use Clip for technical studies, since I find the brush textures too digital and sterile for illustrations or even storyboards, but I imagine it’s dead useful for comic book artists. It’s more of a must have for those who have been working in Clip on the desktop for years, and prefer a more fully featured app to Procreate, with more bells and whistles for things like page layout and image editing.
Clip is not an app I’d recommend for ‘fun’ sketching and painting. Something about the UI makes it very professional and serious feeling. Even importing and exporting images is more of hassle than it should be. It’s the app I open up when I just want a few tools that work well, to work on a homework assignment where linework is crucial. I don’t paint in it, but the brushes are there, and they’re decent. Everyone is going to know you did it digitally, but if you don’t care about the piece coming off as a bit sterile, they’ll do the job well enough. Linework is really the key word here; in Procreate, it can be tempting to switch to other more fun, textured painting and chalky brushes, which can derail you from just focusing on linework and studies. Clip is boring that way, so you’re forced to buckle down and get studying instead of messing about.
…And that concludes this very long and rambling post. Over the years I’ve tried almost every art app on the App Store; Art Studio, Inspire Pro, Sketch Club, Art Rage, Zen Brush, Paper by 53, Tayasui Sketches… you name it. There are only a few worthy of occupying a spot on your home screen, aside from the four talked about here. Concepts is a great vector app for designers, with a very cool minimalist UI and decent brushes. It’s been wonderfully useful when working with other illustrators, to quickly create and send over vector assets for projects. Medibang Pro is completely free and has a similar brush engine to Clip, (though its UI is even worse), but it may suit your needs if you don’t want too spend much. Infinite Painter and Paintstorm Studio are both interesting apps with great potential, with good brushes, that are slightly let down by fiddly UI. They are fun to have on hand for a change, should you wish it, but I have never, to date, done any serious work in them. This may change when the developers release an update. Updates can mean life or death for apps. Paper by 53 used to be one of the most beloved apps until a series of poor updates effectively killed it. Linea Sketch is one app I wouldn’t suggest to my worst enemy. It’s basically a paid version of Apple’s default, free Notes app, skimping on variety and features in the name of ‘simplicity’. Affinity Photo is supposed to be a very useful alternative to Adobe Photoshop, at least until Photoshop makes its way to the iPad. Its brother, Affinity Designer, is supposed to be a great alternative to Adobe Illustrator.
One app to watch out for is the upcoming Adobe Fresco, aimed specifically at fine artists and illustrators- somewhere in between Adobe Sketch and Photoshop. It will be interesting to see how it impacts Procreate’s dominance, if indeed it does so at all. Currently, Procreate simply smokes the competition. Neither do its developers sit back and rest on their laurels; they’re regularly updating it with increasingly better brush engines, features, and performance.