The 11 Best iPad Drawing Apps of 2018

Create something beautiful with these apps

Photo of iPad folder, showing all 11 apps featured in the article, with a finger about to tap on the screen

Choosing a drawing app is a very personal decision, since each app lets you draw lines with a slightly different feel. A simple line drawn with a pencil tool in each of these 11 apps will create a subtly distinct stroke. To get some sense of how an app works, explore the pens and brushes offered by each vendor.

Often, more powerful tools take a bit more time to master. For example, support for layers, which allow you to draw on distinct “levels” in an app (and move each level forward or back, or combine layers together) also often indicates an app intended for serious artists. In contrast, Apple Notes and Paper by FiftyThree, each work pretty much as you would when drawing on paper.

The first three apps, Notes, Paper by Fifty Three, and Linea Sketch, represent apps that most people will find easy to use. And the last three apps, Assembly, Comic Draw, and Pixaki, give you tools for specific tasks, such as building images from shapes instead of lines, creating comics, or drawing pixel art, respectively. The other five iPad drawing apps, Autodesk Sketchbook, Procreate, Concepts, Tayasui Sketches, and Affinity Designer, each offer powerful combinations of drawing capabilities. They’ll also likely take you a bit longer to fully master.

Every one of these apps has the potential to become the preferred daily drawing app on your iPad.

Screenshot of new, blank Apple Notes drawing

Apple’s Notes app arrives installed on every iPad. As a result, the Notes app is often the first app people open when they want to sketch. For a quick back-of-the napkin style scribble, the basic pen, pencil and highlighter tips work well. Almost anyone who draws seriously will soon seek other apps that offer additional options. Apple Notes works on iPhone, too.

What We Like:

  • A free, fast app you can find on every iPad (and iPhone)
  • No need to hunt for a scrap of paper when you need to draw

What We Don't Like:

  • Limited set of pens and controls
Screenshot of new, blank drawing in Paper by FiftyThree

While Paper offers fewer tools than many apps, the six tools it does have are each well-designed and draw exactly as you might expect. Each tool offers three different size tips. And you can select a section, cut it out, or tap while holding it to paste it many times on the page. There’s a blend mode, too, that lets you smear your drawing with your fingertips. Paper also works on iPhone.

What We Like:

  • When you want a free drawing app that’s a step up from Apple Notes, try Paper

What We Don't Like:

  • Paper lacks support for layers, which is often a deal-breaker for serious illustrators
Screenshot of new, blank drawing in Linea Sketch

Linea Sketch strikes a nice balance. It’s a relatively simple sketching app, with four drawing tips (each of which offers three sizes) and an eraser. But Linea Sketch also gives you access to five layers on which to draw or import photos. It also includes a selection tool, so you can cut, copy, duplicate, flip, or clear any area of your drawing. As of October 2018, the app is available for a one-time purchase of $7.99. Separately, Linea Go for $2.99, lets you work on your sketches on iPhone.

What We Like:

  • For many sketchers, this app offer an excellent balance of capability and complexity

What We Don't Like:

  • Not as many pens or tip customization options as some similarly priced apps
Screenshot of new, blank drawing in Autodesk SketchBook

Import images, choose from a huge number of brushes, draw and/or paint on multiple layers, then export your work in multiple formats. SketchBook not only serves professionals on the iPad (and iPhone), but also offers versions for macOS, Windows, and Android devices, too. Previously a paid app, SketchBook went free for people other than enterprise customers in April 2018.

What We Like:

  • A free, full-featured, multi-platform drawing app from a well-known computer design leader

What We Don't Like:

  • You need an Autodesk account, which you can create for free, to use the app
Screenshot of new, blank drawing in Tayasui Sketches

The free, standard set of drawing tools gives you access to a variety of pens and brushes you can use to draw. Sketches supports layers, too. An upgrade to Pro for a one-time purchase ($5.99) adds additional controls for each tool, unlimited layers, a fill tool, and more color and palette controls, among other capabilities. The app works on iPhone, with versions available for macOS, as well as Android tablets.

What We Like:

  • Available drawing tools and controls visible and easy to select
  • Zen mode hides most controls, so you can focus on drawing

What We Don't Like:

  • Some of the default drawing tool settings may benefit from adjustments to achieve the lines and colors you like
Screenshot of new, blank drawing in Procreate

With a large set of brushes and pens, Procreate likely already has the type of tool most people need. But if not, you can also create your own brushes. Drawing and painting in Procreate feels very smooth, whether you use the Apple Pencil or your own finger. Procreate supports multiple layers, as well. And, you can view a time-lapse replay of your work. Procreate costs $9.99 as a one-time purchase. Separately, Procreate Pocket for $4.99, supports drawing on iPhone.

What We Like:

  • A very responsive drawing and painting system

What We Don't Like:

  • If you’re looking for a technical drawing tool with dimensioning, this isn’t it
Screenshot of new, blank drawing in Concepts

The Concepts vector sketching app seeks to serve everyone from the casual drawer to the product design professional. With a distinctive circle of controls in the corner of the screen, you have fast access to brushes, layers, and precision alignment aids. The free version includes access to 16 brushes and 5 layers, while a one-time purchase ($9.99) of Essentials lets you create custom brushes, add infinite layers, and export your work in more formats, among other things. A subscription to Everything+ ($4.99 per month or $29.99 per year) brings more brushes, objects, and sharing capabilities. Concepts is also available for Windows.

What We Like:

  • Variety of payment options let different people purchase different tools
  • Designers, architects, and engineers may appreciate the precision measurement drawing tools

What We Don't Like:

  • Circular menu and customizations may take time to comprehend
Screenshot of new, blank drawing in Affinity Designer

For a one-time purchase of a penny less than $20, Affinity Designer gives you a full-featured vector graphics app that also allows you to add raster layers, too. That means you can create images that you can resize without losing resolution. With so many controls, options, and settings, novice illustrators may find the feature set a bit daunting, while professionals may appreciate the power. Versions of Affinity Designer are available to purchase separately for macOS and Windows.

What We Like:

  • Impressive combination of vector and pixel drawing tools
  • Tap the question mark in the corner to display the name of every feature on-screen

What We Don't Like:

  • You’ll need time to fully learn and master all of the controls
Screenshot of new, blank drawing in Assembly

In Assembly, you build an image from shapes. Choose from hundreds of built-in shapes and stickers, or purchase additional packs. Quickly rotate, resize or align each element. Select one or more shapes to move forward or behind others. An upgrade to Assembly Pro allows point editing: Tap on a shape, select the pen icon, then adjust the position of any point in the shape or add additional points. Assembly Pro costs $2.99 per week, with some savings if your subscribe for longer periods (e.g., $4.99 per month or $29.99 per year). Assembly works on iPhone, as well.

What We Like:

  • Stickers and shapes let people who may not sketch create images
  • Pro upgrade that adds point edit controls turns this into a capable vector creation app

What We Don't Like:

  • Much like emoji, it can take some time to find a specific shape or sticker from the hundreds available
Screenshot of new, blank drawing in Comic Draw

Comic Draw gives you everything you need to create a comic on your iPad, with full editing features available for a one-time purchase of $9.99. Write a script, layout your pages, sketch panel art, add ink and color, then add lettering to finish the task. You can then print or export your work, or share it to the Comic Connect iPad app. And there’s a version of the app available for educators to use in a school setting, too.

What We Like:

  • Combination of script, pages, and lettering all-in-one app

What We Don't Like:

  • App removes your ability to make excuses for not completing a comic. Get to work!
Screenshot of new, blank drawing in Pixaki

Easily the most full-featured pixel art app for the iPad, Pixaki includes support for multiple layers, selection tools, and multi-layer color fill options. Import photos to use as reference layers as you draw a pixel-based image. When you’re finished, export your image as a GIF, a sprite sheet, a Photoshop file, or as a PNG (or several PNG files bundled into a ZIP file, in the case of an animation).

What We Like:

  • No need to plug-in an old computer to create pixel art
  • Layers + pixels + animation = fun

What We Don't Like:

  • At $24.99, the app is priced to appeal primarily to serious pixel artists and animators