Everything you need to know about buying an iPad for digital art 2021
You’ve finally made up your mind. You’re ready to buy an iPad to take your sketches and digital art to the next level.
Unless you know a lot about technology, you’re likely overwhelmed by the plethora of iPads Apple sells. Currently, they sell four iPads in different storage sizes – and one of them even comes in two different sizes. Did we mention the eyewatering prices?
We get it – you don’t want to be a starving artist. We’ll help you decide which iPad is best for you, depending on your budget and other important factors.
Which iPad should you buy for digital art?
Assuming you’re not interested in the cellular versions of iPads, the only factor that will affect the final cost of your iPad is storage.
- The regular, 10.2-inch iPad starts at 32GB and can be upgraded to 128GB for an additional $100.
- The 10.9-inch iPad Air starts at 64GB and can be upgraded to 256GB for an additional $150.
- The 11-inch iPad Pro starts at 128GB and can be upgraded to 1TB for an additional $500.
If your artwork isn’t graphically complex or just doesn’t have many layers, you could get by on 64GB of space. We highly recommend you upgrade to at least 128GB to futureproof your iPad for anything more intensive, so you have enough space to store all of your work
Display – Smoothness, Color Accuracy – Size matters
The bigger your screen, the bigger the canvas you’ll have for your sketches and art.
For most people, we’d recommend the 10.9-inch iPad Air as it’s both portable and has enough screen real estate for you to draw on. Of course, if you have the cash to burn, you should buy the 12.9-inch iPad Pro. It has the biggest display on any iPad ever made and will be more than sufficient for all of your digital art needs.
If you’re strapped for cash, buy the 10.2-inch iPad. While it’s not as big as the other iPads on this list, it’s bigger than the iPad mini and still supports the first-generation Apple Pencil. This makes it the perfect choice if you’re just looking to dabble in digital art.
Smoothness: Could you tell the difference?
We’ll save you the tech babble here. The 11 inch and 12.9-inch iPad Pro’s feature a 120Hz ProMotion display. This means that the screen refreshes 120 times a second, thus making it more responsive to your touch. For instance, when you’re using the paintbrush tool in Procreate, you’ll notice that the instant you set your stylus on the display, the paint appears immediately. Writing will also be smoother and appear more natural – almost as if you’re really drawing on paper.
The iPad Air and 10.2-inch iPad only have 60Hz screens. It’s certainly not the end of the world – in fact, most people won’t even notice the difference between the two unless they’re comparing them side by side. Most smartphones have a 60Hz screen, and people are fine with it.
To summarise, go for the 11-inch iPad pro or 12.9-inch iPad Pro if you really want the smoothest digital art experience possible. If you don’t care about your screen’s refresh rate, buy either the iPad Air or the 10.2-inch iPad.
The iPad Pros and iPad Air have the P3 color gamut while the 10.2-inch iPad does not. This essentially means that colors will seem more true-to-life and accurate on the Pro and the Air. Once again, most people can’t tell the difference between a regular iPad and an iPad with the P3 color gamut unless they’re comparing them side by side.
If you want the best of the best, go for the iPad Pros or the Air in this case. Otherwise, you’ll enjoy the regular iPad just fine.
The iPad Pros feature Apple’s A12Z Bionic chip. It’s capable of handling anything you throw at it, from 3D rendering or complex video editing. This level of performance is likely overkill for your digital art, but it’ll make sure your iPad remains smooth for years to come.
The iPad Air features the A14 Bionic. This is the same chip that’s inside the iPhone 12 line-up, and it’s extremely powerful. It can go head-to-head with the A12Z Bionic and only loses out occasionally in GPU performance. This is what makes the iPad Air such good value.
- We recommend that you buy the iPad Air for this reason. You get iPad Pro-like performance for a much lower starting price.
The 10.2-inch iPad features the A12 Bionic. This is the chip that’s in the iPhone Xs and Xs Max. While it’s still competitive with other tablets in 2021, we wouldn’t advise that you buy this model for several reasons. Firstly, the chip is ageing. It’s already two years old, which means you will be receiving two years less of software updates from Apple. You probably want your iPad to last you for several years, so it’s best to avoid this one. Only buy it if you don’t mind waiting a few extra seconds for apps to load or just don’t care as much for performance.
Should you buy refurbished?
If you’re looking to save money, buy a refurbished iPad from a certified Apple store. Do not try to purchase one from Amazon or eBay, as you’re not guaranteed that it was repaired correctly or that the device is even in working condition.
When you buy a refurbished product from Apple, you’re guaranteed several things, such as the battery being replaced, the device being thoroughly cleaned and receiving renewed warranty on the refurbished product.
Do you need a stylus?
The simple answer is yes. Unless you intend to draw with your fingers, you’ll definitely need a stylus.
What stylus should you buy?
All of the iPads we’ve discussed so far support the first or second-generation Apple Pencil, respectively.
The iPad Pro and iPad Air support the second-generation Apple Pencil. It has several advantages over the first generation, namely that it can wirelessly attach and charge from the iPad’s side. It also has a faster response rate, which means your brushstrokes will be detected faster.
The first-generation Apple Pencil is only supported by the 10.2-inch iPad. Unlike the second generation, this stylus charges via the lightning port on your iPad. Both of these styluses feature palm detection software, so you can rest your palm on the display as you draw. It also pairs seamlessly with your iPad by attaching to its side.
Other non-apple alternatives include the Logitech Crayon and the Adonit Pixel
The Logitech Crayon is an affordable alternative to the Apple Pencil. It works on all the iPads in this list and has most of the Apple Pencil’s features like palm rejection and tilt support for more effortless shading. The ergonomic design also makes it easier to handle during long drawing sessions.
It can even last for 7 hours on a full charge. If you need more juice in a pinch, you simply need to plug it in for 2 minutes, and you’ll get enough charge for 30 minutes.
One significant drawback the Logitech Crayon has compared to the second-generation Apple Pencil is that it doesn’t have pressure sensitivity. This means that it won’t produce darker lines if you press down firmly or lighter lines if you draw gently.
Like the Apple Pencil, the Adonit Pixel boasts 2048 levels of pressure sensitivity and programmable shortcut buttons. This allows you to access your most-used tools like the eraser tool or undo by tapping on the sides of the Pixel.
It has a built-in grip sensor that activates it as soon as you pick it up, so it’s ready to start working whenever you are. Finally, it lasts significantly longer than both the Apple Pencil and Logitech Crayon, at 15 hours on a full charge.
What drawing apps should you use for digital art?
Our top pick: Procreate
Procreate costs $10 to download, but it’s so worth it.
You get a professional experience with tools that allow you to mimic real artistic mediums like acrylic, watercolors and charcoal.
The app has countless features, like over 130 brushes, layer options and an animation setting. Even seasoned users of the app uncover new, hidden features every so often.
Unlike other apps with a clunky interface, Procreate has a fluid, intuitive UI that is free from useless pop-up menus. That means you get more time to focus on your art and experience fewer accidental touches on your iPad.
All of these features earn Procreate the top spot on our list. Whether you’re a beginner or a veteran artist, this is definitely an app you should check out.
Close second: Adobe Fresco
Adobe Fresco is similar to Procreate, except that it only offers a few features for free. On the basic version, you get over 50 Photoshop brushes and tools for selection, masking and layering. For the full experience, however, you’ll need to spend $10 a month. With the premium version, you’ll get automatic migration of Photoshop Sketch, Illustrator Draw project and 100GB of cloud storage on Adobe’s Creative Cloud.
Our third alternative: Autodesk Sketchbook
Lastly, there’s Autodesk Sketchbook. Unlike Procreate, Autodesk is free to download. It has an extensive brush library and offers different customisation features. It makes it easy to adjust brush size, opacity and pressure.
You can even import artwork you’ve done on paper into the app by scanning it using your iPad’s camera. However, you can’t design your own paintbrushes like you can on Procreate. If you’re looking to screen record your progress and make it into a time-lapse, Procreate would be the better choice, as it has a built-in screen recorder.
We hope this guide has made your purchasing decision easier!
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