Wacom have by far been the most popular and pretty much uncontested brand of digital art/drawing tablets for artists. I myself own a relatively cheap Wacom Bamboo Fun plug-in USB tablet but found that it didn’t really add up to the hype surrounding the quality of Wacom products. Don’t get me wrong, when the tablet worked it was great – however, it only ran smoothly a fraction of the time. Despite having the most up to date driver (because they haven’t updated their driver for my tablet in years) and the relevant computer requirements my tablet driver would frequently have issues that would result in a number of errors. Some symptoms included the pen pressure only working sporadically, meaning that the opacity and shape dynamics became non-variant and these two components are two of the most important and advantageous aspects of using a tablet for digital art. Needles to say, I was not impressed and the customer service was not helpful. After countless google searches and browsing forums it seems that others have also had the same problem as me and none of the solutions suggested corrected the problem.
For a while I wanted to try a stand alone drawing tablet where you draw directly on to the screen and have the artwork directly below the tip of the pen rather than on a separate monitor but there isn’t such a thing as a cheap or rentable tablet such as this. Prices range from approximately £300 to £2000 (for the high end professional quality ones) and I was reluctant to spend that amount of money for something I just wanted to try and wasn’t guaranteed to persist with and enjoy.
As luck would have it I’ve been able to borrow an iPad Pro for a few weeks and have been pretty impressed with it. Obviously it has tonnes of other features besides the digital art aspect but that’s the only thing that I’ll be reviewing it for.
The pen is nice and smooth and fits the hand comfortably. I have no issue with the levels of pressure it has and you can also use the side of the pen as well as the tip which is a nice if unusual feature. The charging of the pen is a little odd. You have to remove the lid (the magnetic lid is a little too tempting to play with) and hope you don’t end up accidentally losing it before sticking the pen USB stick fashion into the charging port of the iPad. It charges very quickly – about 10 seconds of charge will give the pen at least an hour – but the way that it’s charging seems very precarious as one accidental nudge could damage both the pen and the iPad. It doesn’t have an eraser at the top of the pen unlike Wacom’s pens. The nib is able to be screwed off an replaced with a new tip if need be and it’s worth noting that there is no place on the iPad to store the pen, only with the cover cases is there a place for it and you really don’t want to lose your pen considering that a replacement is approximately £50.
A slightly more well thought out pen design is my only issue with the iPad Pro, apart from my wistful wishing for it to be slightly less expensive. Procreate is one of the most popular apps for digital artists using an apple product to use (and it’s only around £3) and the program is great. There’s a whole multitude of brushes from pencils, more traditional types, heavily textures brushes, pens, airbrushes, traditional media and some nice textured brushes for things like water, wood and metal as well as glowing lights and nebula. The brushes are very easy to modify and create your own as well and you can always reset the brush if need be. The tools within Procreate are pretty similar to digital art programs like Photoshop, Corel Painter and Paint Tool SAI with the layers, layer options, layer locking, pallets, colour wheel, image transform, tools like blending and erasing and so on. It also has a really nifty feature that is automatically (unless you go into setting and change this option) creates a video of the brush strokes on the screen and makes a speed-painting of the whole process that you can watch and export. Surprisingly, this doesn’t appear to slow the app down at all and there isn’t a lag. You have the ability to export your artwork in a range of file formats, including a Photoshop file which is nice. There’s a nice tool to allow you to flip your canvas as well.
My minor critiques with the program is that there isn’t a feature for drawing straight lines (and also vector drawing coming to think of it) and that the transform options are a bit limited – you can change the scale and rotate it but there’s so warping option currently. But apart from that I really enjoy using the app and the iPad Pro pencil.
Unfortunately I can’t compare it to other high end drawing tablets like Wacom’s Cintiq tablet so I don’t know how it compares to those. This is in no way a fair comparison between Wacom’s products and Apple’s, just my own personal experience of the two.
In terms of having a tablet that I can draw directly onto rather than having to hook it up to a computer, it’s been a really nice way of working. I can paint in comfort wherever I want – the portability is great and has made a lot of difference for me personally. I like the direct interactivity with the screen and feel a lot more in control that I do with a USB drawing tablet. It’s made a huge change in how motivated I am to paint and how much more productive I have been because of it. It’s made me want to get a non-USB tablet which may or may not be a good thing. I’m planning to look into other less expensive tablets as I don’t need all the functions something like an iPad has, I only want to use it for the purposes of digital art.