iPad Pro and Procreate for illustration - my experience so far...

I've been using the iPad Pro since January, so I thought it was about time I share my experiences of using it for illustration! In this blog post I'll discuss why I ended up choosing the iPad Pro over the Wacom Cintiq, and my experince of using it with the Procreate app so far.  UPDATE: I’ve also published a tutorial of how I use Procreate on the iPad which you can read here

I bought my Wacom Bamboo tablet (below) secondhand from Ebay, and have been using it for around 3 years. It was my first graphics tablet, and I'm very fond of it. However, it's a basic model and doesn't have screen, so I mainly use it to colour/add texture rather than to draw. After speaking to other illustrators and briefly trying out the Wacom Cintiq and the iPad Pro, I knew using a tablet with a screen would improve my workflow, and as my Wacom Bamboo is getting old it felt time for an upgrade.


iPad Pro vs. Wacom Cintiq

After some research, I decided it was a choice between the Wacom Cintiq (13inch HD) and the iPad Pro with the Apple Pencil (the stylus that allows you to draw on the iPad). There is a lot of debate amongst illustrators surrounding these products, and I have friends who recommend both. The Cintiq is purely a graphics tablet, which functions as an extra monitor, and it does this very well. The iPad Pro is multifunctional, and I know people who use it for word processing, updating social media, etc. However, when making my decision I compared the two purely on their use as creative tools. After more research, I eventually chose the iPad Pro. 

One of main reasons I chose the iPad Pro was that I can use it when I'm away from my desk. As the Cintiq HD functions as an extra monitor, it needs to be attached to a computer at all times. As I travel up to four hours a day for my job as a lecturer, being able to work on the move was a huge draw for me. I actually finished the piece below and posted it to Instagram from a train home. 

Another reason I chose the iPad Pro was after discovering the Astropad app. This app mirrors the computer screen and allows you to use your iPad and Apple Pencil as a graphic tablet, i.e. like a Cintiq (but without all the wires!). I've started to use the iPad Pro with Astropad Studio in place of my Wacom Bamboo, but I'll save my experiences of this for a future blog post when I've spent more time with it!



After Astropad, the other app I was most looking forward to using was Procreate. Procreate is a digital art app, which has most of the features you would expect, including an extensive brush library with the option to add custom brushes. It is designed exclusively for the iPad, and works beautifully with the Apple Pencil. I am planning a more detailed post in the future about how I use Procreate, but here are my initial thoughts:

Procreate does not have as many features as Photoshop, and as with any new program there was a learning curve, and occasional frustrated Googling (how do I group layers??) However, after using it properly for a few weeks, and with some research and a few work-arounds I'm begining to make work in a similar way as I did before. With Photoshop, I mainly use a mouse and pen tool to create shapes, but with the Apple Pencil and Procreate I feel like I'm putting pen to paper, which was one of the reasons I decided to try a screen-based tablet in the first place. One of the things I like most about Procreate is the 'streamline' feature, which allows you to create smooth shapes - similar to those in Photoshop when using the pen tool. You can also export Procreate files as PSDs (Photoshop Documents), and open PSDs in procreate whilst preserving the layers - though it doesn't work so well with clipping masks! It also has a left handed option which is good news for me!

One issue I've had with Procreate is that depending on the canvas size there is a maximum number of layers. Each element of my work has at least two layers so when using photoshop I regularly exceed 500 layers (thank god for layer groups!) Once you reach the maximum number of layers in Procreate, the only way to create more it is to merge existing layers. I hate doing this as I like to have the option to edit each element of a piece. Saving a duplicate version of the piece before merging gives you the option to edit the original layers then copy and paste, but it's a pain! There is no function to create clipping masks in the same way that you would on photoshop either which also annoying, though I've heard this function may be added soon! UPDATE: Procreate added this feature in the most recent update!


Other Apps

I haven't used any other noteworthy apps for illustration yet, though after seeing a demo in the Apple Store I am eager to try Affinity Photo which has an interface that more closely resembles Photoshop.

I bought the iPad Pro primarily for artwork, but I have found some other apps to be useful. I've used the in-built Notes app to scan documents and create PDFs many times already. I find the 'files' update on iOS 11 invaluable. I already sync my laptop with Dropbox, but previously accessing them from an iPad/iPhone was difficult. Now I can access all the files on my computer directly from my iPad. 

Size and Storage  

I originally purchased the 10.5 inch model because I use a small Wacom Bamboo tablet. I thought that as I prefer the smaller drawing area of the Bamboo, this would translate to the iPad Pro. After a week of using the 10.5 inch model I realised this was a mistake. I hadn't considered that although the surface of my Bamboo is small, the screen size of my computer is obviously much larger, and in turn, so is my canvas. I found myself holding the iPad close to my face to see the detail of a piece. I also found my drawing hand covered more of the canvas, and the 10.5inch didn't sit comfortably in my lap as it was too narrow to use with both hands. One initial concern I had about the larger 12.9 inch size was having to carry a larger device around with me, but this hasn't been a problem at all. The 12.9 inch model is still very light (especially compared with a laptop). Thankfully, Apple allows exchanges or refunds up to two weeks after purchase, so I exchanged the 10.5 for the 12.9 inch model which I am much happier with.

I chose the mid-level storage option of 256GB, though in retrospect I think the smaller 64GB option would have sufficed, as I store most of my documents on Dropbox anyway.


To protect my iPad I chose this JTech case which is very similar to the Apple Smart Cover, but at much more affordable £9.99. I've read that some people have an issue with the feeling of drawing on glass using the iPad pro -  I added this screen protector which provides some resistance to the apple pencil and makes drawing on the iPad Pro a much more paper-like experience. I have found that this screen protector affects the retina display however. I'm interested to hear of any alternative screen protectors so please let me know in the comments if there are any you recommend!

Final Thoughts

So far I'm really enjoying using the iPad Pro and would definitely recommend it to others. To anyone thinking of buying a new tablet, I'd encourage you to try before you buy, and to do as much research as you can! I'd also consider what features are most important to you, if you only ever work at a desk for example, the Cintiq may be the better option. Stay tuned for future posts about how I use Procreate and my experience with Astropad.

UPDATE: I’ve published a more in-depth tutorial of how I use procreate which you can read here