The 12 Best iPad Drawing Apps of 2020

Create something beautiful with these apps

Choosing an iPad drawing app is a personal decision since each app lets you draw lines with a slightly different feel. Each of these apps has the potential to become the preferred daily drawing app on your iPad.

The first three apps here—Notes, Paper, and Linea Sketch—are apps that most people find easy to use. Assembly, Comic Draw, and Pixaki give you tools for specific tasks. The other iPad drawing apps offer powerful combinations of drawing capabilities. These apps may take a bit longer to learn and perfect.

01
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The Drawing App You Already Have: Notes

Blank Apple Notes drawing
What We Like
  • It's a free app on every iPad.

  • Change the stroke weight for the pen, pencil, and marker.

  • Includes 120 colors.

What We Don't Like
  • A limited set of pens.

  • No infinite canvas feature.

  • Better for sketching than for complicated artwork.

The Apple Notes app is 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. Notes syncs with all your devices through iCloud. Notes has a good selection tool and a search feature that finds handwritten phrases.

Here's a cool feature for Apple Pencil users. Tap a locked iPad screen with the Apple Pencil to open a blank page.

Notes is available as a free download from the App Store if you removed it from your iPad. Apple Notes works on an iPhone, too.

02
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Smoothest Lines: Paper

Blank drawing in Paper by FiftyThree
What We Like
  • A free step up from Apple Notes.

  • A free trial is available for the Pro version.

What We Don't Like
  • It lacks support for layers.

  • A subscription is required for the Pro version.

The free version of Paper by WeTransfer offers fewer tools than many apps. However, the tools it has are well-designed and draw exactly as you might expect.

Each tool offers three sizes of tips. 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 that lets you smear a drawing with your fingertips.

Paper is a free download at the App Store with in-app purchases for multiple paid add-on options and a Pro version with enhanced features. Paper by WeTransfer works well with Apple Pencil. Paper also works on iPhone.

03
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Draw With 5 Layers: Linea Sketch

Blank drawing in Linea Sketch
What We Like
  • Excellent balance of capability and complexity.

  • Exports as a layered Photoshop file or transparent PNG.

  • Erase with your finger.

What We Don't Like
  • Fewer pen and tip customization options than similar apps.

  • A subscription is required.

  • Doesn't have vector graphic capability.

Linea Sketch strikes a nice balance. It's a relatively simple sketching app with five drawing tips (each tip offers three sizes) and an eraser. Linea Sketch also gives you access to five layers on which to draw or import photos. It includes a selection tool to cut, copy, duplicate, flip, or clear any area of a drawing.

Share your work, view it on Apple TV, or export it as a layered Photoshop file, a transparent PNG, or a flattened JPEG.

Linea Sketch is free to download. It offers monthly and yearly subscriptions as in-app purchases. Linea Sketch supports Apple Pencil.

04
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Adobe Fresco

Adobe Fresco app for iPad
What We Like
  • An intuitive interface with easy-to-use tools.

  • The basic app is free.

  • Strokes look like physical mediums instead of tablet lines.

  • Great for beginning digital artists and pros.

What We Don't Like
  • Cannot add text.

  • Can't choose the canvas or change the background texture.

  • Only 2 GB of storage with the free version.

  • A premium subscription is $10 a month.

Adobe Fresco is a free drawing and painting app designed for the Apple Pencil and iPad. This app is friendly for beginners and professional artists. Anyone who is familiar with other Adobe software will have no trouble using Fresco. Fresco is easy to use compared to Photoshop or Illustrator. The free version has 85 live, raster, and vector brushes, and includes 2 GB of storage.

The premium edition of Adobe Fresco isn't necessary unless you need hundreds of brushes and additional storage on Create Cloud.

Adobe Fresco is a free download at the App Store. A premium subscription is available but not required to create stunning graphics.

05
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Fast and Free Drawing: Autodesk SketchBook

Blank drawing in Autodesk SketchBook
What We Like
  • A full-featured, multi-platform drawing app.

  • The formerly paid app is free now.

  • One, two, and three-point perspective guides.

What We Don't Like
  • A free Autodesk account is required to use the app.

  • A bit of a learning curve for new users.

Import images, choose from a huge number of brushes, draw or paint on multiple layers, and then export your work in multiple formats. SketchBook is for professionals who use the iPad (and iPhone), and it offers versions for macOS, Windows, and Android devices. Previously a paid app, SketchBook became free for people other than enterprise customers in April 2018.

Autodesk SketchBook is available as a free download from the App Store. Autodesk SketchBook supports the second generation of Apple Pencil.

06
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Pens, Watercolors, and More: Tayasui Sketches

Blank drawing in Tayasui Sketches
What We Like
  • Drawing tools and controls are visible and easy to select.

  • Zen mode hides most controls, so you can focus on drawing.

What We Don't Like
  • In-app purchases are required for additional coloring books, stylus pressure, and layers.

  • Zooming in and out is glitchy.

The free, standard set of drawing tools gives you access to a variety of pens and brushes you can use to draw. An upgrade to Pro for a one-time purchase adds additional controls for each tool, unlimited layers, a fill tool, and more color and palette controls, among other capabilities.

Tayasui Sketches is a free app with in-app purchases for the Pro version. The app supports Apple Pencil and works on iPhone, with versions available for macOS and Android tablets.

07
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Paint and Draw Like a Pro: Procreate

Blank drawing in Procreate
What We Like
  • A responsive drawing and painting system.

  • High-quality artwork. 

  • Thousands of importable brushes.

What We Don't Like
  • Not a technical drawing tool with dimensioning.

  • Doesn't have a free trial.

With a large set of brushes and pens, Procreate may have the type of tool you need. If not, you can create brushes. Drawing and painting in Procreate feels smooth, whether you use the Apple Pencil, another iPhone-compatible stylus, or your finger. Procreate supports multiple layers, and you can view a time-lapse replay of your work.

Procreate is a paid download at the App Store.

08
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Purchase Only the Power You Need: Concepts

Blank drawing in Concepts
What We Like
  • Precision measurement drawing tools for engineers and architects.

  • A variety of payment options.

  • Editable vector sketching.

What We Don't Like
  • The circular menu and customizations take time to learn.

  • It lacks advanced typographic features.

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 five layers. A one-time purchase of Essentials lets you create custom brushes, add infinite layers, and export your work in more formats, among other things. A paid-for subscription to Everything+ brings more brushes, objects, and sharing capabilities.

Concepts is a free download at the App Store, and the sketch capability is free. However, the app offers several one-time, monthly, and yearly in-app purchases, which are necessary for many of the bells and whistles. Concepts is also available for Windows.

09
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Create Vector and Raster Art: Affinity Designer

Blank drawing in Affinity Designer
What We Like
  • An 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
  • It takes time to learn and perfect the controls.

  • Can't export files in AI format.

  • It doesn't have a perspective grid.

For a one-time purchase, the pro-grade Affinity Designer gives you a full-featured vector graphics app that allows you to add raster layers. This 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.

Affinity Designer is a paid app available from the App Store. Versions of Affinity Designer are available to purchase separately for macOS and Windows.

10
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Build a Picture From Shapes and Stickers: Assembly

Blank drawing in Assembly
What We Like
  • Includes stickers and shapes for people who don't sketch.

  • The Pro upgrade delivers a capable vector app.

  • There's a free trial of the paid Pro version.

What We Don't Like
  • Browsing the shapes and stickers takes a lot of time.

  • The Pro version requires a weekly, monthly, or yearly auto-newing subscription.

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 a shape, select the pen icon, then adjust the position of any point in the shape or add additional points.

Assembly is a free download from the App Store, but it comes with several in-app purchases that are needed for many of the app's features. Assembly works on the iPhone, as well.

11
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Create Your Own Comic Book: Comic Draw

Blank drawing in Comic Draw
What We Like
  • A combination of script, pages, and lettering in one app.

  • Lots of export options.

  • It has a simple interface.

What We Don't Like
  • There aren't any pre-made panels.

  • It's usable without an Apple Pencil, but barely.

  • It doesn't have gradients.

Comic Draw by Plasq gives you everything you need to create a comic on your iPad, with full editing features available with a one-time purchase. Write a script, layout 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.

A free trial of Comic Draw is available at the App Store. A one-time fee unlocks it after the trial. A version of the app is available for educators to use in a school setting.

12
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Draw Lo-Res Art and Animations: Pixaki 3

Blank drawing in Pixaki
What We Like
  • Don't need to plug in an old computer to create pixel art.

  • Layers plus pixels plus animation equals fun.

What We Don't Like
  • It's priced to appeal primarily to serious pixel artists and animators.

Easily the most full-featured pixel art app for the iPad, Pixaki 3 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).