I owned a first generation Cintiq UX21 and I hated it. Aside from its unwieldy weight and lousy stand, it suffered from parallax and underdeveloped drawing software. It sat unused for years before I finally offloaded it to an art student at a fire-sale price. I also hated drawing with the Wacom Intuos Tablet. In the intervening years, I largely shunned digitally produced art because I couldn’t achieve the control I wanted and, despite improvements in technology, there was no way I was going to lug a Cintiq around.
Then Apple introduced the iPad Pro and a mobile studio suddenly became possible.
I purchased the 12.9” model and put it to work on my client projects almost immediately, learning how to incorporate it into my workflow on the job. For the past three years, I’ve used the first and second generation iPad Pro exclusively to create the vast majority of my client and personal illustration work. As a result, I have a handful of opinions about working with this device.
Where the iPad Pro shines:
The Apple Pencil is a terrific drawing tool and when coupled with Procreate or Sketchbook and a matte screen protector, the iPad Pro becomes a powerful platform for illustration and painting. There is almost no parallax (the distance between the pencil tip and the mark onscreen) and the feel of the pencil on a matte screen protector is very close to the resistance you feel when drawing with a graphite pencil on paper.
Your ability to work anywhere is the iPad Pro’s greatest advantage. I spend up to three months each winter on the road and the only way I can maintain my client work is due to the iPad Pro’s incredible mobility.
I’ve never purchased the cell option, WiFi only. I simply can’t justify the added monthly expense when finding an internet connection is so easy and I don’t use my iPad as a communication tool.
Pinching and zooming and rotating on the iPad Pro is generally flawless. Without this indispensable feature, the iPad Pro would be next-to useless for professional work.
Where the iPad Pro falls short:
In my opinion, power is the iPad Pro’s greatest weakness. It should come as no surprise that, for most professionals, an iPad Pro will likely never replace a desktop computer or a laptop. Its capabilities as a professional tool are limited because of its lack of power. In fact, storage and app limitations descend from this overarching issue.
Is the iPad Pro powerful enough to get the job done? Yes, but its ability to be a complete solution from creation to production depends entirely on how you use it and what kind of media you are producing. If you only create art for the web, then yes, it’ll probably get the job done for you. Print production will necessitate exporting files for pre and post production prep in Adobe products and similar tools.
On a micro level, I have on numerous occasions sat waiting for files to load, save, and transfer in Procreate. I’ve also had issues with lag—waiting for the iPad to catch up to my brush stroke or touch command. Larger file sizes and higher dpi settings increase the likelihood of these issues occurring.
This is the crux of the power issue. Working with large, high resolution files in Procreate decreases the number of layers that you can create—Higher DPI=fewer layers. This is challenging and requires that you think through your process carefully to determine how to work with the iPad Pro to create your client work.
The largest dimension you can create at 300dpi in Procreate is supposedly 8192px x 8192px (27 inches square). However, I’ve never been able to exceed 18”x18”. Yet again, it’s worth noting file dimensions increase with lower dpi settings—it ALL depends on your needs (printer, paper stock, and output size). For example, 24x36 inch band poster may only require 150dpi, while a fine art print like a giclee or picture book will require 300dpi at a minimum.
Adobe will be releasing versions of Photoshop and Illustrator for iPad later this year. Both of these apps are power hungry beasts and I think it is safe to assume they will run into the same power limitations as every other app developed for iPad. Expect trade-offs.
It’s also worth mentioning that you can’t export a PSD from Procreate for import into Photoshop, add a bunch of layers, and then reimport it back into Procreate to continue drawing. It won't work—layer limitations still apply.
What about Astropad? Astropad is an app+dongle+monthly fee that allows you to mirror your desktop on your iPad and use full versions of Adobe Apps like you would on a Cintiq. I found using Astropad on my iPad Pro cumbersome to use in practice and not a tool that improved my workflow.
I do most, if not all, of my drawing and creation on the iPad, then export my art files to my laptop to polish in Photoshop or Illustrator as needed. More specifically, I export my artwork in pieces and then composite the individual files in Photoshop to create the finished art. Why? Because file size and layer restrictions disappear and I can work far more efficiently using a full version of Photoshop or Illustrator. I also find that it’s much easier to make changes that my clients request if I’ve planned the layering well.
Do you ever add text to your artwork, say for a cover illustration or print piece? If so, you already know that working with text on the iPad Pro sucks.
I prefer to have enough local storage capacity that I do not have to upload and download files each time I work on them. Off-site storage like Dropbox or iCloud will be more important and useful for those of you who are working with large files. This is purely a workflow concern, but it’s something well worth your time to consider before you decide to plunk down the cash for the base model iPad Pro with 64gb of storage and assume it’ll handle a large illustration seamlessly.
The portability of the iPad Pro is both its greatest strength and most under-acknowledged weakness. The surface area is so small that you’ll find yourself hunching over the iPad Pro no matter what you do improve your comfort while using the device. I raise my standing desk up to my chest and use an angled stand to help alleviate my posture. Despite my efforts to find a comfortable means of working on the iPad Pro, I almost always wind up with a sore back and crimped neck. 12.9” is not a large canvas.
Screen size is a consideration for any professional. No matter how large your work is dimensionally, working on an iPad Pro means you don’t ever see the whole piece while you are drawing or painting. You have to constantly zoom in and out to review your work. And what you won’t realize when you are in the zone for eight hours oblivious to everything around you is that zooming in and out with your fingers also means that you are probably mimicking that motion with your body—hunching your back and craning your neck forward and backward to move closer to or further away from the screen. This is the trade off for portability.
Thank goodness for the Deep Tissue Chirp Wheel+.
The iPad Pro is, without question, capable of producing professional quality work. I’ve adjusted my workflow to accommodate its limitations and don’t mind the extra steps I need to take to complete work for my clients—it’s worth the portability. Truth is, none of the downsides I’ve mentioned may apply to you or the way you work. That’s ok. I’m speaking from my experience relying on this device to help me keep my clients happy for the past three years.
I recently sat down at my easel to do the first large-scale pencil drawing I’ve done in a long time. What I appreciated immediately with a bigger canvas was the freedom of space—space to rest my hand, space to see the entire canvas, space to create.
A month later, I purchased a 24” Cintiq Pro.
I wanted the space, a bigger canvas. And I’m very curious to see how much it improves my digital workflow given that I no longer need to make process adjustments to accommodate the iPad’s limitations.
Will I continue to use the iPad Pro? Absolutely.