I’ve been planning to write this post for a long time, but wanted to give my iPad a really thorough test before giving my opinions. This is a review from my perspective as an Illustrator. I won’t be mentioning any technical specifications, because I purchased my iPad Pro purely as a drawing tool, and so I will be reviewing it as such. If you wish to read a more technical opinion, a quick Google search will lead you to many people who know much more than I do about this!
If you follow my work online, you may be aware that for the last nine months, my chosen illustration medium is the iPad Pro. Prior to purchasing my iPad, I had used a desktop iMac, Adobe Illustrator, and a very old Wacom Intuos tablet. I was becoming increasingly frustrated with being tied to my desk whenever I wanted to work. I am one of those people who works so well when I’m able to get out and find inspiration, especially when being self-employed and working from home can leave you stuck inside for days on end!
It also just so happened that all of my work equipment needed replacing all at the same time. My Wacom tablet was eight years old and on its last legs, I was a few months away from moving to New Zealand for a year of travelling, and my desktop iMac was borrowed from my boyfriend and needed to be sold before we left. I needed something really portable, lightweight, and reliable, that I could carry in my travel backpack. After numerous trips to the Apple store to try it out, I decided that the iPad Pro was the solution to my requirements and I bought one as soon as the new version was released last June. I’m not someone to spend such a large amount of money lightly, and I spent months deliberating and researching alternatives before I decided to drag my Mum along to the Apple store with me.
In all honesty, I planned to use my iPad Pro whilst I was travelling, but expected to have to purchase a new ‘proper’ desktop replacement when I returned home. However, after nine months of use, I don’t think I could ever use something else for my work. For ease of comparison, I’ll list my Pros and Cons of my experience with the iPad Pro for illustration.
I really did not expect to be able to achieve everything I did when using a ‘proper’ desktop, and so it really surprised me just how seamlessly my working style transitioned to my iPad Pro. I had read review of other artists using the iPad for sketching, and then a more professional setup for final artwork, so I was bit dubious of how well I would be able to create final artwork. However, this has not been an issue for me whatsoever. I use the app Procreate to create my illustrations, which may be its own blog post later on. The quality of my final images is comparable to when I was using Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop. I can set the canvas size, DPI, and resolution in exactly the same way as on a desktop, so I can make final artwork and not lose any quality. My next purchase will be a keyboard to make typing these blog posts and invoices a little easier!
Continuing on from the previous point, I am now so much more productive than I was before. I can draw up rough sketches for a client, send them instantly, and then continue on to the final artwork all in one file. Everything is so much faster and more enjoyable.
It is so portable! I am writing this in the Nikau café at the Wellington city gallery, on a sunny day with an almond cappuccino, and having a wonderful time. I know that a laptop can do this too, but I can literally throw (not literally) my iPad into my bag and go out for the day and start working on some illustrations, and send work to clients, from anywhere. This is honestly life-changing for me, and has immensely improved my motivation, mood, and also the quality of my work. If I’m feeling uninspired at my desk, I can pick up what I’m working on and go outside to the park and carry on working.
Battery life - so far, so good. I know this an important one for most people, and I generally find that I get about 6 hours of drawing in Procreate from a full charge, a bit less when working on a huge file with lots of layers. Without drawing, I would probably get 8 hours. When I was travelling, I had a portable solar charger, which meant endless drawing and free power from the sun! Perfect!
I was a little unsure of how well I’d adapt to drawing on a screen, rather than on my tablet, but I am so happy to be back to a more natural way of illustrating. I found drawing on a tablet to be a bit mechanical and never felt very natural to me. Obviously, I could just use a real-life piece of paper, but drawing straight onto my iPad screen feels like a perfect balance of digital and analogue. Rather than drawing on paper, scanning, editing, and recolouring, I can do everything all at once. I honestly look forward to waking up in the morning and starting to work. This sounds ridiculous, but I love to draw, and I feel that my iPad has given me back that feeling of drawing from a pencil onto paper, but with the lovely colours and efficiency of working digitally. Anyone who feels a bit disconnected from their work when using a tablet and separate screen may find the iPad a perfect compromise between analogue and digital.
Screen size. This is not personally a problem for me most of the time, but it would sometimes be easier to work on a larger screen. My iPad is 10.5” which makes it ideal for carrying around with me every day, but for larger work it would be nicer to be able to have more space. This entirely depends on the type of work you create, and how important it is for you to be able to work remotely.
The ease of flipping open the cover to start drawing makes it very difficult to ever finish my working day. I often find that I’ll spend all day working, and then carry on in the evening if I have nothing else to do, because I no longer need to sit at my desk. This is something I must get better at, because everyone needs a break!
As I have mentioned, this is not a review of the technical abilities of my iPad Pro, because honestly this is something that I have never taken the time to learn much about. A little ignorant perhaps, but if you need an in-depth analysis of the ‘tech specs’, Google is your friend here! With that in mind, I do find that my iPad can lag and slow down when I have a large file open in Procreate. If I am working on a large image with lots of layers, it can sometimes become a bit slow. So far, this has not become anything too difficult to work with, and I find that taking a break and turning it off for a while fixes this. Obviously, an iPad is never going to be as powerful as a desktop, so if you work on huge files, this may not work for you (and neither will the screen size!).
If you are committed to using Adobe Create Suite, you currently cannot do that on an iPad. As I have previously mentioned, I switched very seamlessly from Adobe Illustrator to Procreate, and found it infinitely more enjoyable and seamless to use. There are plenty of alternative apps for most creative software available on the iPad Pro, but as far as I’m aware, you cannot use Adobe software.
A minor irritation, and a bit of bad design (in my opinion, after months of daily use) - the cap of the pencil is a very weak magnet, and will fly off quite easily. It has to be removed when charging the pencil, and is so tiny that it will roll away and get lost. I have a little rubber pen cap that solves this problem (bought very cheaply from eBay!) but without that, I would have lost the cap of the pencil pretty much instantly.
In conclusion, my iPad Pro has improved my work endlessly, and so much more than I expected it to. It has not only replaced my previous desktop set-up, but allows me to create illustrations in a much more natural and efficient style. Every piece of work I have completed since last June has been entirely created on my iPad Pro, from beaches, park benches, and cafés. I now know that as long as my iPad is charged, I can draw and work from anywhere in the world, and that is an incredible and liberating feeling.