Of all my favorite hobbies, digital drawing certainly tops the list. Expanding my digital art skills on my iPad gives me the opportunity to explore different artistic figures, shapes and styles and create art without having to take all the supplies for a more traditional medium with me. So it was a great time experimenting to find the best drawing apps for iPad users who want to delve into the world of digital art.
I use a third gen iPad Air and a first generation Apple Pencil. But whatever your iOS device, the best drawing app for iPad art is ultimately one that supports you in being creative and expressing yourself. Whether you know how to draw a symmetrical face or have more of a Jackson Pollock flair for splatters, you and digital artists around the world are sure to find the perfect app among our selection of the best iPad drawing apps.
Continue reading: Best iPad for 2023
The iPad drawing app Procreate — a CNET Editorial Pick for 2022 — costs $13 to download, but its suite of art tools and creative features makes it worth the money. The digital illustration app is accessible whether you are a design professional, an experienced digital artist or a beginner in the world of digital illustration. I’ve been using Procreate for a few years and there are still features I’m figuring out that improve my artwork (check out the best Procreate tips I’ve found so far).
Procreate allows you to customize gesture controls, ultimately tailoring the app to you. No matter your artistic level, Procreate’s features like Quickshape, Blending Mode, Layers, Alpha Lock, and Clipping Masks can add a new level of professionalism to your art.
There’s a lot going on in this app so I wouldn’t download it if you’re just looking for a place to doodle. For a quick in-app reference, see the official Procreate guide.
Read our Procreate review.
The Autodesk Sketchbook app is free but surprisingly packed with art tools that aren’t blocked by paywalls. You can use the free version for seven days and then you will be prompted to create an Autodesk ID, which is also free. It’s a little less intimidating than Procreate when you begin your digital art journey. When you download the sketch app, you get a quick guide on where all the basic tools are.
Autodesk has an extensive, well-organized brush library, and its customizable brushes make it easy to adjust settings like brush size, opacity, and pressure. Even with a typical learning curve of a new drawing app, the toolbar is pretty easy to understand. I also liked that even with high magnification, the app didn’t lose its “sense of drawing” by letting you see the pixels in your stroke.
One of my favorite parts of Sketchbook is the focus on making the transition from paper to screen easy. You might have made cool sketches in a notebook, and with Autodesk, you don’t have to redraw the sketch in the app. Your camera doubles as a scanner so you can import your art. The image is imported with a transparent background, so you can start working in the app right away.
art set 4
Art Set 4 is one of the simpler, more realistic drawing apps. It’s free to download, but most of its tools are unlocked through the Premium Pro features, which cost $10. This app is best if you’re brand new to digital illustration – it feels like you have physical tools and paper in front of you. I love its user interface. If you’re overwhelmed by the idea of jumping into a more complex app like Procreate or Autodesk, the Art Set 4 drawing tool is a good place to start. It’s also fun if you just want to doodle.
What I really like about Art Set 4 is the ease with which even the free tools work together in one piece. It’s also nice that you can switch between multicolored paper styles like canvas and the rough surface of heavy, cold-pressed sheets for watercolor paints. You can choose styles of burlap, cardboard and grid without distorting an already created drawing.
As you explore the app, all items that require Premium Pro will be locked. When you tap on a locked item, Art Set will ask if you want to refresh and unlock everything. Premium gives you full access to over 150 brushes, 3D paints, liquid watercolors, the ability to create layers and use masks, enable a “wet canvas”, drawing aids like symmetry, shapes, fills and dozens of other ways to customize your work area.
Not everything you create in an art app has to be a massive undertaking that ends in a masterpiece. Having fun is the most important part. Simply painting can make for a creative and relaxing afternoon. Lake is a free ASMR art app packed with coloring books – in all different styles – by artists from all over the world.
The audio element of the app is particularly cool. For example, when you digitally paint with the brush, you will hear soft brush noises. If you choose the paint spray tool, you will hear a ball bearing rattle as if you were shaking a paint can. You can turn off ASMR in Settings.
Another thing I liked was the option to stay in the lines and add more color for shading and effects. It gives you more room for creativity instead of just typing and filling (although you can do that if you’d like). Also, for each coloring page, the artist puts together an optional palette that you can use if you’re unsure about the colors.
You can stay on the app’s dashboard and choose from free daily images or explore All Art in the toolbar. Lake sorts the coloring pages into artist collections, children, abstract, animal, cities, feminist, portraits, relaxing mandalas, and satisfying symmetrical paintings.
Lake’s free tier gives you nine free coloring pages per day. If you subscribe to Premium—$10 a month or $40 annually—you get access to all the coloring pages, more color variations in the wheel, and the option to use a blank canvas.
More art apps to try
ShadowDraw: Learn to draw: ShadowDraw is a helpful free app (with in-app purchases and subscription plans for premium content) if you’re struggling with proportion or drawing specific things like faces, bodies, or animals.
drawing block: The drawing pad app is a good simple app for those who are looking for a casual doodle app in the market. It has a free version with ads (which can be a little annoying when you’re in the middle of a play), or you can upgrade to premium for $7 a month or $30 annually.
For more information on how to draw, see these Five online drawing courses you can take right now. If an iPad isn’t your drawing tablet of choice, read along with our list Top tablets for 2023.