Find your inner digital artist with a Procreate blank canvas, creative coloring books and everything in between.
Updated Oct. 5, 2023 1:00 p.m. PT
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Shelby BrownEditor II
Shelby Brown (she/her/hers) is an editor for CNET's services team. She covers tips and tricks for apps, operating systems and devices, as well as mobile gaming and Apple Arcade news. Shelby also oversees Tech Tips coverage. Before joining CNET, she covered app news for Download.com and served as a freelancer for Louisville.com.
She received the Renau Writing Scholarship in 2016 from the University of Louisville's communication department.
Drawing tablets have been around for some time, but it could be argued that the iPad has significantly improved the way artists create. With the iPad, it's never been easier to sketch out a quick design or lose yourself in the details of a complicated work in progress. If you've got an Apple iPad, there's a whole world of drawing apps out there that are packed full of creative tools and premium features to help you along on your artistic journey.
I use a third-gen iPad Air and a first-gen Apple Pencil. But regardless of your iOS device, ultimately the best drawing app for iPad art is one that supports you in being creative and expressing yourself. So whether you can draw a symmetrical face or have more of a Jackson Pollock flair for splatters, you (and digital artists across the globe) will be sure to find the perfect app among our picks of the best drawing apps for iPad tablets.
The Procreate iPad drawing app -- a CNET Editors' Choice pick for 2022 -- costs $13 to download, but its suite of art tools and creative features make it well worth the money. The digital illustration app is accessible whether you're a design professional, a seasoned digital artist or a beginner to the world of digital illustration. I've been using Procreate for a couple years and there are still features I'm finding out about that improve my artwork (check out all of the best Procreate tips I've found so far).
Procreate lets you customize gesture controls so the app is ultimately personalized to you. No matter what level of artist you are, Procreate's features like Quickshape, blend mode, layering, alpha locks and clipping masks can add a new level of professionalism to your art.
There's a lot going on in this app, so I wouldn't download it if you're just looking for a place to doodle. For quick reference in the app, check out the official Procreate Handbook.
The Autodesk Sketchbook app is free, but is surprisingly packed with art tools that aren't blocked by paywalls. You can use the free version for seven days and then you'll be asked to make an Autodesk ID, which is also free. It's a little less intimidating than Procreate when you're starting off your digital art journey. When you download the sketch app, it'll give you a quick tutorial of where all the basic tools are.
Autodesk has an extensive, well-organized brush library, and with its customizable brushes, it's easy to adjust settings like brush size, opacity and pressure. Even with a typical learning curve of a new drawing app, the toolbar is pretty easy to figure out. I also liked that, even when extensively zoomed in, the app didn't lose its "drawing" feel by letting you see the pixels in your stroke.
One of my favorite parts of Sketchbook is the focus on making the transition from paper to screen easy. You might've done cool sketching in a notebook, and with Autodesk, you don't have to redraw the sketch in the app. Your camera doubles as a scanner so you can import your art. The image imports with a transparent background so you can immediately get to work in the app.
Art Set 4 is one of the more basic, realistic drawing apps. It's free to download, but most of its tools are unlocked through the Premium Pro features, which cost $13. This app would be best if you're brand-new to digital illustration -- it feels similar to having physical tools and paper in front of you. I love its user interface. If you're overwhelmed by the idea of going into a more complex app like Procreate or Autodesk, the Art Set 4 drawing tool is a good one to get started with. It's also fun if you just want to doodle.
Something I really like about Art Set 4 is the ease with which even the free tools work together in a piece. It's also nice that you can swap between multicolored paper styles like canvas and the rough surface of heavyweight, cold press sheets for watercolor. You can choose burlap styles, cardboard and grids without messing up a drawing you've already done.
When you explore the app, any items that require Premium Pro will be locked. If you tap on a locked item, Art Set will ask if you want to upgrade and unlock everything. Premium gives you full access to over 150 brushes, 3D paint, fluid watercolor, the ability to layer and use masks, enable a "wet canvas," drawing guides like symmetry, shapes, filling and dozens of other ways to customize your workspace.
Not everything you create in an art app has to be a massive endeavor that ends with a masterpiece. Having fun is the most important part. Simply coloring can make for a creative and relaxing afternoon. Lake is a free ASMR art app packed with coloring book sheets -- in all different styles -- from artists all over the world.
The app's audio element is particularly cool. For example, if you do digital painting with the paint brush, you'll hear quiet brush sounds. If you choose the spray paint tool, you'll hear a ball bearing rattling like it would if you shook a paint can. You can turn the ASMR off in settings.
Another thing I liked was the option to stay in the lines and add more color for shading and effects. It gives you more room to be creative instead of just tapping and filling (though you can do that if you want). Also, the artist for each coloring page puts together an optional palette for you to use if you're not sure about colors.
You can stay on the app's dashboard and pick from free daily images or explore All Art in the toolbar. Lake sorts the coloring pages into artist collections, kids, abstract, animal, cities, feminist, portraits, mandalas for relaxation and satisfying symmetrical images.
On Lake's free tier, you get nine free coloring pages per day. If you subscribe to premium -- $10 a month, or $40 annually -- you'll get access to all the coloring pages, more color variations in the wheel and the option to use a blank canvas.
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More art apps to check out
ShadowDraw: Learn How to Draw: ShadowDraw is a helpful free app (with in-app purchases and subscription plans for premium content) if you're struggling with proportions or drawing specific things like faces, bodies or animals.
Drawing Desk: The Drawing Desk app is a good simple app for those in the market for a casual doodling app. It has a free version with ads (which can be a little annoying if you're in the middle of a piece), or you can upgrade to premium for $7 a month.