Graphic World

8 iPad apps that make the most of Apple Pencil

8 iPad apps that make the most of Apple Pencil

We called the Apple Pencil ‘reason enough to buy an iPad Pro’, but of course in order for either of them to be any use at all, you need developers to have created useful apps that can truly take advantage of their power and flexibility.

Happily, as this list shows, there is already a strong roster of apps from companies big and small which really let the Pencil shine – all you have to supply is talent! (And a Pencil. And an iPad Pro.)

01. Adobe Comp CC

Requirements: iOS 8.1 or later

Developer: Adobe Systems, Inc

This app is a revelation, and makes the process of wireframing or mocking-up designs a cinch. The idea is that rather than pulling out your notebook and drawing dumb rectangles for pictures or a few horizontal lines to indicate where text would go in a layout, with a few simple and intuitive sketched shapes you can actually start building those layouts for real – and then pass them to InDesign, Illustrator or Photoshop. It’s worth familiarising yourself with all the different gestures for aligning, grouping and so on so that you can work quickly and efficiently.

You could do all this with just your finger, but using the Pencil feels delightfully like drawing in a notebook with a magical pencil, where birds you draw come to life and fly off the page. Draw a rectangle, slash it with a diagonal cross and it becomes an image box which you can populate with assets from, say, yourCreative Cloud Library. Draw a box and scrub a few horizontal lines in it, and boom, it’s a text box, which you can style manually – there’s also a handy, quick slider control for point size – or which you apply styles to from your CC Libraries. Rough squares snap to perfect geometric shapes.

It’s fast, fluid and easy, and while sure, pro designers are likely to work from these wireframes like they would with one drawn in ink in a Moleskine – that is, merely referring to it but building from scratch, rather than importing it from Comp – but it can still be a boon to your productivity to be able to quickly mock up your designs using real live assets and styles.

02. Procreate

Requirements: iOS 9.1 or later

Developer: Savage Interactive Pty Ltd

This is the king of natural media apps on the iPad, and it is completely transformed with the addition of the Pencil. Sure, you can use your finger with it, a simple stylus, or even one of the increasingly complicated and expensive third-party styluses from the likes of Adonit, but none of these give you the fluidity and analogue-like experience that the Pencil does.

In part this is down to the Pencil’s fine tip, in part the low latency and double-speed sampling rate, and in part because the palm rejection is nearly flawless, but all of that technical stuff just fades away into the background when you’re faced with the joy of sketching with a 6B pencil, turning it flat to block in big areas of shade, or mucking about with paints.

Yes, unquestionably Painter on a PC is capable of some more advanced natural media types – Procreate’s watercolours pale in comparison in particular – but overall this is a wonderful app which really comes to life when you use it with a Pencil.

03. Adobe Photoshop Sketch

Requirements: iOS 8.1 or later

Developer: Adobe Systems, Inc

Procreate may be the king of natural media apps on the iPad, but if so Adobe is like a deposed ancien régime monarch, plotting, in its exile, to win back its crown. And Sketch is genuinely really good, with not only some lovely natural media types built-in (and the option of adding more brushes via Capture CC), but also some features that might quickly endear it to you.

For starters, it can push layered PSDs directly to Photoshop on your Mac or PC, and you can add either a flat grid or even a configurable 3D plane grid to the background, plus preset geometric shapes, to help keep you on the straight and narrow – and when you want to go on the wide and sinuous, there are French curves which you can trace against.

But that would be for naught if the natural media tools themselves were rubbish, but in fact they’re generally very nice. Pay attention specifically to the watercolour tool, which has colours bleed into one another in a most pleasing manner. What’s even nicer is that you can tap an icon – which looks like fan blades – to ‘dry’ the paint so that new colours added on top don’t bleed, giving you some terrific flexibility. The tools are Pencil-aware, so react wonderfully to pressure and tilt differences.

04. Pixelmator

Requirements: iOS 9.0 or later

Developer: UAB Pixelmator Team

We could have recommended Adobe Photoshop Mix here in place of this stalwart iOS bitmap editor – and certainly, its (bafflingly ropey) cut-out tools, layers, and paintable filters are generally quite nice – but Pixelmator just feels like the more mature and useful app.

As well as offering some (frankly a little underwhelming) natural media drawing tools which work with the Pencil, it gives you the ability to tweak the colours either by applying Instagram-style filters, or with sliders for brightness, contrast, saturation, RGB and white balance – or indeed by tweaking the curves.

But the pairing of Pixelmator and the Pencil really shine if you want to do some touch-up or object isolation. The touch-up controls – repair, dodge, burn, sharpen, saturate and more – are easy to apply with the Pencil especially given its precision, and when painting out backgrounds this precision, plus the various different eraser types available, are hugely welcome.

If we’ve one criticism it’s that we’d like the option of pressure-sensitivity affecting the size of an eraser rather than its opacity, but nevertheless this is the closest thing you’re going to find to Photoshop on the iPad – and the Pencil just makes it better.

05. Paper

Requirements: iOS 8.0 or later

Developer: FiftyThree, Inc

We’d love to be able to recommend Noteshelf here, which is overall a richer notebook app (albeit one that’s not quite as pretty or simple) but although it has recently added support for the Pencil, it’s very basic – there’s no tilt- or pressure-sensitivity.

Happily, though, Paper is easy to love. At first glance it might look like a reasonably simple drawing and diagramming tool – and on one level, for sure, that’s what it is – but there are some smarts here. They are frustratingly difficult to discover, but again it’s worth poking around the support files online to understand how the apparently simple tools can be used to create graphs, org charts and Venn diagrams, can easily duplicate shapes, link shapes with lines (with optional arrows at one or both ends) and much more.

Paper doesn’t demand the kind of precision you get from the Pencil, but it’s certainly welcome, and the slightly, delightfully cartoonish media work great with its sensors.

06. Evernote

Requirements: iOS 8.1 or later

Developer: Evernote

Ah, Evernote. Now, this definitely isn’t for everyone. For some, this über-notebook has become an indispensable place for gathering websites, sketches, notes, to-do lists and more – the detritus of modern life as well as inspiration and creative work – but for others its just a bit baffling and never quite clicks.

It’s definitely rich and capable, though, and the ability to record audio – during a briefing meeting, say, while you sketch ideas for a client – using its simple but effective drawing tools is great (though this isn’t the only app to offer that, of course). It’s pleasing how using the eraser tool creates nicely rounded ends to the ink strokes rather than just slicing them into sharp points.

Using the Pencil rather than a dumb stylus or your finger gives you a more expressive line since it’s pressure sensitive, but more importantly the palm rejection means that you can lean your hand on the screen like you would with paper, and Evernote doesn’t get confused and make marks where your hand is resting.

07. LiquidText PDF and Document Reader

Requirements: iOS 9.0 or later

Developer: LiquidText, Inc

Even without a Pencil this is a handy tool for reading and annotating PDFs, Word and PowerPoint documents, and web pages; it’s designed to support ‘active reading’, so that as you’re reading you can be highlighting and snipping out sections to refer to later, collapsing sections of a document down so that you can refer to disparate bits of it at once, and more.

Add in the Pencil, though, and it becomes even faster to use, and it’s a great example of how the Pencil’s pressure- and tilt-sensitivity can be used not just to mimic real-world drawing tools. Dragging the Pencil over text instantly selects it (rather than having to tap-and-wait with your finger), pressing harder selects any part of the document as an image, and dragging across text with the Pencil held at a flattened angle selects and highlights it. Smart.

Pencil support is also coming to the (actually pretty good) Microsoft Office apps, though as we write the update hasn’t hit yet.

08. uMake

Requirements: iOS 8.4 or later

Developer: UMake, Inc.

We’ll come clean: despite its assurances that it “empowers anyone to create 3D designs easily and intuitively” we don’t have the chops to produce anything remotely impressive in this 3D drawing app, but we can nevertheless see that it makes great use of the Pencil. The idea is that you can sketch in 2D – optionally making use of smart symmetry controls – and then extrude your designs or even draw entirely in 3D space, connecting points on different planes.

Even if you’re a bit clumsy and jittery, your lines are smoothed into flowing curves, and with practice we can see that it would be possible to create some elegant, organic forms at speed – and the precision of the Pencil’s tip will make this whole process simpler than with any other stylus.

It might get frustrating for highly technical engineering work, but you can always use it as a tool for getting an initial concept down before exporting to IGES or OBJ files so you can work it up in other apps.

Words: Christopher Phin

Chris Phin trained as a graphic designer before falling into tech journalism; he’s been trying to climb out ever since.

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