Looking to up your game as an illustrator or just make workflow a little easier? We've scoured the market to bring you the best tools for drawing on your phone or tablet today.
Ever tried drawing or painting on your phone, tablet or Chromebook? The idea may repel you if you're strictly into physical media only. But if you've never even tried it, it's still worth giving a go. After all, the technology has improved so much in recent years, with more sensitive touchscreens and advanced stylii such as the Apple Pencil, that digital drawing has become surprisingly close to the feel of a real pen on paper.
It opens up immense possibilities for tweaking, editing and remixing your work, and you don't have to abandon physical processes altogether: nowadays, many illustrators combine the two with impressive results.
So you've got your tablet and your stylus: how do you choose the best drawing app? Well, for a start, you'll need to check the tool is compatible with your operating system. If you have an iPhone or iPad, you'll be spoiled for choice, but if you have an Android tablet, your options are more limited: skip to 4, 6 and 7 on our list for the best current options.
Another consideration will be how sophisticated you want your drawing app to be. On our list below, Illustrator and Affinity Designer are the most feature-rich but most complicated in terms of interfaces. If you just want to do basic sketching, you may prefer one of the simpler tools on our list, such as Procreate, which has a clean and simple interface you can just pick up and start using with minimal fuss.
Finally, there's how much you wish to spend. In general, the more sophisticated tools such as Illustrator and Affinity Designer cost the most, but that's not a hard and fast rule. There's a huge variation across the board, especially when you consider in-app purchases. Hence, it pays to read the small print.
1. Procreate by Savage
Procreate is one of the most popular drawing apps for iPad available and has won an Apple Design Award twice in a row. There's also a version for the iPhone called Procreate Pocket. Drawing with the app, which you can do with both your finger and a stylus, feels super-smooth and intuitive. There are many brushes to choose from, or you can create your own. Multiple layers are supported, and you can even get a time-lapse replay of your work, which is handy for posting to social media.
2. Illustrator by Adobe
Originally launched in 1985, Adobe Illustrator is a vector drawing tool that's long been used by artists and designers on desktop computers. In 2020, the company finally brought out a version for the iPad. And although it's not as powerful as the full version, it's still very capable and feature-rich, allowing you to naturally draw crisp lines and smooth curves with your Apple Pencil. The app can be downloaded as a standalone app for free, but you have to pay to access premium features. Alternatively, you can get it as part of a full Illustrator subscription or a subscription to the Creative Cloud Suite.
3. Fresco by Adobe
A raster and vector drawing app for iPhone, iPad and Windows, Adobe Fresco is much more streamlined and easier to use than Illustrator. That makes it a good starting app for beginners, but it's equally popular amongst semi-pro and pro artists. There's a free version, and a paid one, which can be bought separately or as part of the Creative Cloud subscription and has more brushes and additional storage. Illustrator allows you to do more, but Fresco is easier to pick up and use for a quick sketch, so many artists will use both at different times. Also, one of its best features is the ability to record timelapse videos of your work, which is handy for sharing on social media.
4. Sketchbook by Autodesk
What if you don't have an iPad and want to draw on an Android phone or tablet? Then we recommend you head to the Google Play Store and download Sketchbook. This app from 3D software specialists Autodesk, also available on iOS, offers a beautiful natural drawing experience. It has all the features a digital artist might need, including layers, blend modes, customisable brushes, guides, rulers and stroke tools. And it also benefits from a clean and unobtrusive interface which allows you to tuck tools and palettes out of sight until you need them and focus on drawing.
5. Affinity Designer by Serif
Affinity Designer is a desktop-based rival to Illustrator, its main advantage being that it's low-priced and subscription free. Given that it matches most, if not all, the features offered by its Adobe rival, that's made it a popular choice for budget-conscious professional designers and studios, especially as it can import .ai files. Affinity Designer, too, has an iPad version, which is sold separately, but unlike with Illustrator, this is not a scaled-down version but the full thing. Another attraction of Affinity Designer is its one-million per cent zoom and its blistering speed on modern iPads.
6. Infinite Painter by Infinite Studio
If you're looking for a Procreate-like app for your Android phone, tablet or Chromebook, check out Infinite Painter. It's nice and simple to use but nonetheless offers a quality drawing experience. You get a wide range of customisable brushes, the ability to customise your own, time-lapse capture, a lasso fill tool, and the ability to add realistic paper textures. The interface is nice and minimal, but you can still make small tweaks to fit your workflow.
7. Tayasui Sketches by Tayasui
Another app for both iOS and Android, Tayasui Sketches, is a free app with in-app purchases. It benefits from an attractive, intuitive interface, watercolour and acrylic brush tools, support for Apple Pencil, colour blending, guides, gradients, and canvas rotation. Another nifty feature is multitasking on the iPad, which allows you to open two layers at a time and drag layers and documents between them. Plus, a Zen mode offers you a super-streamlined interface to help you really get in the zone.
8. Paper by WeTransfer
Paper by WeTransfer is a great app for sketching out ideas rather than finished artwork. There aren't as many tools and features here as with most drawing apps, but the interface is intuitive and effortless, which is more important when it comes to sketching stuff quickly. You can take photos to your pages, too, and cut, stick, move, and fix things without messing with layers. All that makes this app a great choice for mood boards and storyboards.
9. Comic Draw by Plasq
Want to draw comics? Then Comic Draw by Plasq provides all the brushes, fonts and tools you need to do so on your iPhone, iPad or Chromebook. It's simple to use, and perspective guides can help you draw your scenes accurately. There aren't any pre-built elements, such as characters, backgrounds or even panels, but it does make it easy to create your own. A 30-day free trial is available for the iOS version, and there's special education pricing for all versions too.