Tech-savvy creatives have never had so many options when it comes to platform and app. There are many art apps, and even drawing apps for free, available. So let's take a look at some examples of the best drawing app out there to get your ideas down on paper (virtually speaking, of course).
If you’re serious about taking up digital drawing, consider your hardware choices carefully. Ideally, you’ll want to sample the exact tablet and computer setup with the stylus of your choice. In short, some are glitchier than others and creating art requires more finesse than some can deliver.
If possible, consider a tablet with a stylus made by the same manufacturer, for example, the Apple iPad Pro with the Apple Pencil. This ensures the two pair perfectly for the smoothest possible drawing experience.
Also, look for pressure sensitivity. Different styluses handle the task differently. The feedback provided with pressure sensitivity adds an extra realism that makes drawing on your tablet as close to analog pencil and paper as you can imagine.
As with all apps, be sure to check the operating system used by the app of your choice. The most popular systems are Windows, MacOS, Apple iOS, and Android, and unfortunately, very few apps work on all of them.
Raster vs. Vector
In the digital world, there are two sorts of images you can draw. Raster images, like JPG or PNG photographs, are drawn pixel by pixel. If you zoom in or enlarge the picture, it will get blurrier and blurrier. This is as if you are drawing on paper, and you are limited by how large your paper is. Drawing a raster image is as simple and reasonably intuitive, depending on the app.
Vector drawings solve this problem but unfortunately, add much more complexity. Vector images, like AI or EPS formats, are the world standard in the printing industry. These pictures are made more like computer programs than photographs. In vector drawing programs, you make many paths (lines or shapes) that make up your image. It takes a bit more practice. Some vector apps make the process super simple, but the professional programs with all the bells and whistles take a bit of getting used to.
No discussion of drawing apps would be complete without a word about three-dimensional drawing apps. If you’re looking to create 3D modeling or going for that other-worldly feel that is everywhere, you’ll want to make sure to pick the best drawing app that is capable of producing 3D images too. And don’t feel left out if you got your drawing apps for free, some of these include 3D rendering also!
No list of creative apps would be complete without listing offerings from Adobe. Adobe has led the pack for decades, and Adobe Photoshop is still the professional’s choice for raster art creation. Photoshop runs on all major operating systems, with accessory apps for mobile devices and tablets.
The biggest drawback of Adobe’s offerings, especially for beginners, is that you now must purchase a subscription to use these apps. For established pros with stable cash flow, this presents little problem, but for aspiring amateurs and beginners, there are plenty of apps that offer as good functionality at a fraction of the cost.
If you’re looking for an app that combines the ease and simplicity of drawing on your mobile device with the power of Adobe Photoshop, check out Photoshop Sketch. When combined with your Adobe Creative Cloud subscription, Photoshop Sketch allows you to fine-tune images created on your tablet later on your computer.
Just as Photoshop is the industry standard for raster pictures, Illustrator is the go-to for vector art. Illustrator is used to create everything from basic graphic design tasks like logos to elaborate and beautiful landscapes and portraits. With a little practice, you can make nearly anything into a vector in Illustrator.
Similar to Photoshop Sketch, but for vector drawing, Illustrator Draw allows you to create vector drawings on the go easily. You can then save them to your creative cloud account and fine-tune them in the full program later. Both Photoshop Sketch and Illustrator Draw are free downloads, but if you want to export the images for later editing, you’ll need a Creative Cloud subscription.
Sketchbook from Autodesk is one of the most robust raster drawing programs you will find. Compared to Photoshop, Sketch is a purpose-built platform for artists on the go. It’s not meant for photo editing or other tasks, so the program focuses on just what you need to draw on your tablet easily. The program is available for Macs, PCs, iOS, and Android devices. Unlike many apps that stick to proprietary or generic formats, Sketchbook conveniently has the option to export to Photoshop PSD format with layers intact. The best part? Autodesk has now released the full-featured drawing program for free.
The Astropad Studio is a different sort of app that can be a great help to folks looking to create digital drawings. For Mac and iPad users, Studio allows you to connect your iPad wirelessly to your desktop and use it as if it were a drawing tablet. The interface is pretty smooth, but make sure you have a clean system with plenty of free memory to avoid lag. You’ll also want a great stylus like the Apple Pencil.
The Affinity set of art apps is poised to take a significant bite out of Adobe’s market share. These programs are full-featured to the point of having things you have to buy aftermarket in Adobe. Designer is Affinity’s answer to Illustrator. It is a desktop vector art program with every feature you could ever want. Designer is available for Mac desktop or iPad.
Affinity is also ready to answer your raster art needs. Photo by Affinity is analogous to Photoshop. Its user interface is a bit smoother, however, with cleaver skin changes based on the type of task you’re looking to complete.
Both Affinity apps are inexpensive when compared to Photoshop and Illustrator. If you’re looking for a great program to learn photo editing or raster drawing with, look no further than Photo and Photo for iPad.
For all the painters out there, Inspire Pro turns your iPad into the ultimate painting canvas. This is one of those simple raster drawing apps that can produce some really fantastic artwork thanks for super realistic brushes and massive canvas sizes. You can download Inspire Pro from the Apple App store.
A few key features make Medibang’s apps the best drawing app for some artists. The app is available on any platform you can think of, from Windows and Mac desktops to Apple and Android tablets. They all have a cloud feature, which allows you to easily store, share, and open your work from any device. This is one of the free drawing apps you really should check out if you want to start drawing today easily and cheaply.
Procreate is an iOS-only app designed to fully harness the power of Apple’s popular iPad Pro and Apple Pencil combination. More than just a drawing app, Procreate combines many of the powerful tools you’d expect to find in a much more robust program like Photoshop. Layers, custom brushes, and all sorts of special effects are available on your tablet. You can export images, with intact layers, straight to PSD format to open in Photoshop. For on-the-go art, check out their iPhone version as well.
Zen Brush is a simple ink brush app for mobile devices. Of the drawing apps for free, it’s super inexpensive and fun to use, but it is pretty limited. But then, ink and paper are pretty limited too, but that hasn’t stopped artists from making amazing artworks with them for the last thousand years.
Pixelmator Pro is a Mac OS app that combines many features and functions of other apps all into one tidy app. Pixelmator features many of the best features for drawing and the standard photo editing functions of other editors. It also features a "layouting" mode for publishing and graphic design work. Their iOS app for mobile is really more of a photo editor rather than an art app.
Those in the graphic design world know that there’s a lot more to digital art creation beyond hand sketching. Illustrator and other vector programs use shapes to “assemble” designs, and this is the idea beyond the Assembly app. By simplifying this process, the app allows users to create logos and design elements with ease quickly. Assembly is made for iOS devices.
Formerly iDraw, Graphic is a full-featured vector design program for Mac, iPhone, or iPad. The program has all of the features of its more popular competitors, and it allows for the creation of anything from portraits to technical layout and CAD style drawings.
Inkist is a super basic drawing app that is available for Mac computer and iOS devices. The mobile app is currently free. It’s not flashy, but it has all the right feature to make your artwork pop.
Luckyclan’s ArtStudio is a full-featured raster art app for iPad or iPhone. It features multiple canvas sizes, layers with masks, over 400 brushes, unlimited undo/redo, and even over 40 filters.
Rizer’s Pixaki has a bit of a limited audience, but if you’re into pixel art, you’re going to love it. Export your creations to GIFs and other simple animation formations. The program can open and save to all the popular formats, including Photoshop, PNGs, and ZIP archives. Start with a sketch or photo, and soon you are rocking it retro style like it’s 1990.
Available on Google Play for Android tablets, Painter is a user-friendly drawing app that you’ll love. Organized workflows make navigating the screen easy and keep the workspace less cluttered. Powerful tools like 3D rendering and over 80 brushes make this one of the best full-featured art apps for Android devices.
If you’re looking for great drawing apps that can work on nearly any computer or tablet, you’ve got to check out ArtRage. ArtRage is available in multiple versions, including their free drawing apps called ArtRage Lite for Windows and Mac computers. This program and a loyal following of users, with many fantastic tutorials and inspiration available from other artists.
The Concepts App is an interesting program aimed at professional designers that work on Apple, Windows, and Google devices. It uses vector drawings to store ideas; it is very much like a pocket notebook that has gone entirely digital. From brainstorm to “exploring happy accidents,” as the company puts it, to rendering captivating color illustrations and sharing them with the built-in presentation mode, Concepts has your creative brain covered.
If drawing comics is your beat, Comic Draw is worth checking out. The app is tailor-made for creating single panel cartoons on your mobile device. You can pair it with the company’s Comic Life app for desktop on either Windows or Mac. Put your frames together into a full-featured comic spread with these art apps.
If you’re looking for a doodle and sketchbook app to collate your ideas and let your creativity go on a walkabout, you’ll love this app. One of the best free drawing apps we know of, it's super simple and yet powerful. With a simple toolset and a blank page, let your mind go creative in Paper.
Available for Mac desktop, iOS mobile devices, and Android, Tayasui’s Sketches app is an artist favorite for many reasons. The user interface and app functions are some of the smoothest on the list. The clean look of the sketch space can’t be beaten. Color blending and gradient tools, along with patterns and the most realistic brushes you can find, round out this fantastic app. Not many free drawing apps offer so many great features. If you really like what you see inside of Sketches, there is an upgraded Pro version available with even more brushes and tools. The community is an excellent source of both advice and examples.
As the name suggests, one of the best parts of Sketch Club is the club. The first rule of sketch club: everyone talks about Sketch Club. Combining social media inside the app, you can share your creations and comment on others. Who doesn’t love browsing an art gallery on your tablet? The community features daily themed challenges and lots of featured artists whose works you can browse for inspiration. The Sketch Club app is available for Apple iOS in the App Store.
If your Android tablet isn’t feeling the love with all of these iPad apps in the running, don’t lose heart. Artflow is a beautiful drawing app for Android that features a clean user interface and lots of pro features like layers and custom brushes.
Now that you have an idea of how many free drawing apps are out there to choose from, you may feel a bit taken back. But just remember, the most fun part of finding the best canvas for your project of choice is the adventure in trying them all out! So which do you think is the best drawing app?
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