Digital Sketching: 5 Drawing Apps for the iPad

When Apple first released the iPad, the tablet’s size was something of a joking point for many, who claimed it was really nothing but a blown-up iPhone. Now that it has stuck around long enough to change entire industries, not to mention have its own a South Park episode dedicated to it, the tablet’s size has actually become one of its biggest strengths. With its 9.7-inch display, an iPad allows you to digitally achieve what you could with a piece of paper: reading, writing and, yes, drawing. There are countless apps out there that can accomplish the drawing part: so much so that simply choosing one can be overwhelming. Here are five that we feel offer the best range of options. Whether you want to use your drawing app for serious illustration, fun with friends, or quick brainstorming, chances are pretty good that one of the five apps below will suit your needs. (Note: we have included multiple screenshot for each app. To view them in a slideshow format, simply click on the image in the article.)

1. xSketch

[slideshow id=4 w=618 h=463] xSketch is a nice, no-frills drawing app that allows you to do a lot with the free features it offers. At first, its drawing tools may seem a little limited – you have several backgrounds to choose from, and brushes. But where the app really shines is in how you can modify those brushes. Each one can be made a wide range of sizes and, more importantly, opacities. There is also a special tool, or brush, that lets you draw dashed lines, as well as a gradient drawing tool that lets you draw… well, gradients. There is a useful dropshadow option, as well as a pre-set color palette with 16 shades that can seem like much more with judicious use of the opacity slider. You also have the option to import photos from your photo roll or take a picture yourself and use that as the background, in addition to the five canvases provided. You can then save your creations to your iPad’s photo roll, send them in an email, or post them to Facebook. Last but not least, xSketch offers a gallery mode, which allows you to organize your sketches any way you like, on an endless board. (It’s a feature we have yet to see in any other drawing app.) In-app purchases: RGB color picker and eyedropper tool, photo effects (instagram-style): $1.99 each, or $2.99 together.

2. Bamboo Paper (Free)

[slideshow id=5 w=618 h=463] Before you start, we should note that this app is best (and perhaps designed for) use with the Bamboo stylus, which can cost anywhere from $20-$30. However, it still works just fine with your finger. Bamboo is clearly designed to replicate the experience of drawing and pasting pictures in a notebook. It doesn’t provide many options – there’s a marker tool, a pen tool, a picture insertion mechanism, and one plain white background. The tools they do provide work well, though, and with its no-clutter interface the app is incredibly easy to use. You can save drawings to your iPad and email them out, but there is no social sharing option, which pretty much says it all. Chances are, the things you draw here are for your eyes only. In-app purchases: Multiple notebooks, cloud archiving, and social sharing are upgrades offered in the full version, which costs $1.99. Works best with: Bamboo Stylus ($20-$30).

3. Draw Something Free

[slideshow id=6 w=618 h=824] If social drawing is what you’re after and you’re not planning to be productive with it, then Draw Something is the app for you. In reality, this is more of a drawing game than a drawing platform, and it’s entertaining enough for people to have really taken to it. Basically, the game pits you against one of your friends (or a random person) in a battle of drawing skill. Each player gets one simple prompt (pictured: draw a barn. Clearly, I am not an artist). Good drawings get coins, which you can then spend on a wider color palette and other in-app improvements. Again: not productive, but a fun and creative way to draw competitively. In-app purchases: you can purchase coins (to spend on new color palettes or “bombs” that allow you to either guess words more easily or access items to draw that pay more coins. From $1.99 for 400 coins to $24.99 for 10,000 coins.

4. Paper by 53

[slideshow id=7 w=618 h=463] In terms of the pure beauty of its interface, there isn’t another app that can touch 53’s Paper. Like Bamboo Paper, this app attempts to replicate the aesthetics of drawing in a notebook, but does so in a much more personal and innovative way. Users can customize the look of their notebooks, and are able to get the sensation to flipping through their pages. However, the drawing tools that come with the free version are incredibly limited. You get one precision pen, one eraser, and a nine-color palette to start. That’s it. You at least get to try the new features before you buy them, though. Plus, there is a very cool “rewind” feature that lets you retrace your steps through a drawing, as well as robust social sharing options. In-app purchases: Additional drawing tools ($1.99 individually for 5 tools, $6.99 altogether in the “essentials pack”)

5. Sketchbook Express

[slideshow id=8 w=618 h=463] The free version of the Sketchbook Pro app ($1.99) still comes jam-packed with features, and may be the best pick of any sketching app in terms of the amount of control it offers. In the free version, you have an unlimited color palette, unlimited tools to control line weight and opacity, and a very cool mirroring feature to let you unleash your inner Rorschach. Sketches save in an easy-to-navigate gallery. There are a lot of bells and whistles in this app, but only where you really want them. Everything about finding the tools and drawing you need is easy and intuitive. In-app purchases: None, other than the upgrade to Pro.

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