Professional Quality Artwork and the iPad

I recently got an email from Rachelle where she asked:

“What is your opinion on completing professional illustrations on the iPad? I’m dying to be more mobile and efficient with my digital illustrations and would love a new method. I’m currently using a Cintiq which I love and will continue to use, but I need something more mobile for smaller projects. What are your thoughts?”




When someone asks me this question, they usually want to know two things:

1) Can you create professional LOOKING work on an iPad?

2) Can you produce professional quality files that are appropriate for delivering to a client?

In regards to the first question:

Yes, you can create professional quality art on the iPad that looks just as good as any of your other work. But,

It takes practice.

Don’t buy an iPad and expect to be creating your freelance work on the road the next day. I kind of compare it to first learning how to use a Wacom tablet. There is a disconnect in hand-eye coordination that takes getting used to. However, it does go away with practice. Nowadays, I am as comfortable on an iPad as I am on my Cintiq, but keep in mind that I’ve owned my iPad for two years now.

Then there is the software. You have to rethink your process to adjust to the iPad limitations (lack of pressure sensitivity, for example). Even experienced digital painters are going to go through a bit of a learning curve. It also depends on your style, as some methods will be easier to replicate on the iPad than others. However, I’ve seen and been able to create a wide variety of different types of work on the iPad.

It can be done, and it’s a ton of fun once you get used to it.

My early iPad art was rough, but I would proudly place some of my more recent work next to my portfolio pieces. (You might see some of them in my web portfolio in the near future, if I ever get around to updating it.)

And as for the second question:

Yes, you can create pro quality files that you can send to clients. Sometimes.

First of all, the hardware has greatly improved since the first iPad was released. With the new retina display, a lot of apps are moving to higher resolution support. The native 2048 x 1536 pixel resolution is just under 5″x7″ at 300 dpi, which is good enough for small spot illustrations. Some apps may even be able to work slightly higher than the display resolution.

Developers are also coming up with creative ways to work around the low-res files. Both ArtRage and Brushes have the ability to “record” your strokes as you paint. You can export the script, and use their desktop software to rebuild your painting on your desktop computer at higher resolutions. It is still not AS good as native high-res support, but it is a whole lot better than simply upsizing a tiny image file.

Of course, this is only a problem if you are a pixel artist. If you work with vectors, you should have little issues. There are some impressive vector-based apps on the iPad and you can resize your artwork just fine with no pixelation.

There are a few other issues that pros might have to worry about too. It might be harder to create highly complex artwork. Most apps are limited to 6-10 layers, and speed can be an issue for high-res work on the iPad.

It can only get better from here. The software and hardware are improving fast. Even if we don’t see true high-resolution support on the iPad for another generation or two, developers are coming up with creative ways around it for current models. I’m intrigued by Autodesk’s upcoming Sketchbook Ink software, which creates more painterly brush effects in a resolution-independent vector format. Adobe Ideas is another app I enjoy – it draws smoothly like pen and paper, and exports in vector format for easy resizing. I use Ideas for a lot of my line sketches and general doodling.

But if anything, the iPad is a great way to make concepts or get a headstart on paintings to finish up later on your desktop. All in all, I think most artists are under the impression that the iPad is not good enough for pro work, and I think that is not the case at all; you can get a lot farther than you might think.

So pros – don’t ignore the iPad. The “finger painting” aspect and limited tools might make the iPad look like a rudimentary tool, but it is not. It is DIFFERENT, not LESSER. If you think you might use an iPad in your process anytime in the future, I would recommend you start learning. Like I mentioned earlier, one of the biggest challenges is going to be the learning curve, not the quality of the apps or hardware limitations. Get on board when you can!