A lot of artists, designers and illustrators have asked me what it’s like to work on the Apple iPad for professional work and whether it’s worth getting one over a Cintiq, a great competitor from Wacom.
Whilst I’ll try and make this review as helpful as possible, it’s worth noting I have never used a Cintiq therefore my review could be considered biased. Nevertheless, I’ll try my best to share my knowledge and experience with it in the hopes it may offer some clarity.
In case you were curious, my previous tablet was the Wacom Intuos Pro Medium, a great tool for drawing but lacked the key component I wanted most, a screen. Thus, I bought the iPad Pro 12.9" back in March 2016.
How I use it
My current workflow involves hooking it up to my MacBook Pro (which I’ve also reviewed here) and using an app called Astropad to use Mac OS on my iPad. It can also detect pen pressure and tilt so it works just like a Wacom tablet.
I’ll also occasionally use Adobe Sketch, a drawing app for iOS, for sketching out ideas and then export them straight to Photoshop through the wizardry of Creative Cloud. You’ll find a post on my blog if you want to read about my workflow in more detail.
Why I chose it
It comes at a pretty hefty £789+ for the 12.9", and that's not including the Apple Pencil which costs a further £99, but for my needs, it was a good buy. There's also the additional cost of Astropad which is one off payment of $29.99 (roughly £23) for the standard version or $79.99 (roughly £60) a year for the Studio version. But whilst it's still comes under a similar price bracket as a Cintiq (£730+) – but nowhere near as expensive as the MobileStudio (£1399+) – it's still a dear investment. It’s also worth mentioning I got mine before Apple hiked their prices up on all their products post-Brexit so it was considerably cheaper at the time.
Being 305.7 mm x 220.6 mm (slightly bigger than an A4 piece of paper) makes it's great for using at your desk but also taking around in a backpack. The slim profile means I can comfortably fit both my MacBook and iPad in my rucksack (along with many other bits and bobs) and head to my co-working space or to one of my favourite working cafes.
It also doesn't require the need to carry many cables either — since it only needs a standard lightning charger to keep the battery going (and strengthening the connection for Astropad if you have poor wifi).
Though they’re not cheap (like all Apple products it seems 😑), the nibs last a lot longer than the Wacom ones in my experience. They have a nice matt coating and don’t feel like they’re going to snap anytime soon since they’re basically a solid shape as opposed to a small stem of plastic.
Whilst Wacom tablets do a brilliant job of being used to draw, they lack the ability to be used for other activities.
When I’m not drawing, I will often use Duet to convert my iPad into a second monitor. It’s not anything ground breaking since the app has to compensate display quality for minimal lag but it’s brilliant having a portable second screen that I can use for day-to-day admin.
It’s also good to use in presentations to small groups. No need to show off my work on my laptop or in a printed portfolio – I can simply take my iPad and I’m good to go.
In my downtime, I’ll sometimes use it for streaming movies via Netflix or listening to music because the speakers on this thing are incredible considering how low profile they are. I’ll even opt to use it over my TV (granted it’s from the early noughties) or my laptop.
And it’s operating system will only get better with regular updates from Apple. iOS 11 is looking promising for iPad users by revamping it’s general interface in favour of something that works with the size of the tablet rather than just scaling up the mobile interface.
Where it falls
Astropad's display settings
Astropad is brilliant – truly, it is. One thing that it does stumble on is that it mirrors the display as opposed to a Cintiq where it’s treated as a separate display. This isn’t bad if you only need to focus on a single application but it can get cumbersome when you want to have a second window open, such as showing a reference image whilst you draw.
Whilst we’re on the subject of the display in Astropad, it’s worth noting the quality of the mirror. If you are working on a non-retina Mac, you may find the quality of your mirrored display a bit fuzzy. This is because it halves the resolution in order to keep lag to a minimum (similar to Duet)*. However this not really an issue on retina Macs as it still shows a high quality mirror despite it still halving the resolution.
*Please note, I haven’t used Astropad on a non retina Mac since November 2016 and may have been updated since then to show a higher quality image on your iPad.
The shortcuts bar
I love the many options for shortcuts in Astropad, especially in the Studio version where you can have even more than the standard version. Having said that, it can get in the way, often covering the tools panel below it. Maybe I’m just nitpicking now – it has a toggle to pull in and out when needed so it’s hardly an issue.
May be too small for some users
Depending on the type of work you produce, you may find the screen a tad too small. Having to zoom in and out can be a pain if you prefer to see a lot more of the artwork whilst you draw. Though if you’re wanting something like a 27” Wacom Cintiq, you may want to start saving because they come with a hefty price tag of £1,599.00+, and that's not including a touch screen. As far as I’m concerned, I think it’s a good size for the work I’m currently producing.
Drawing apps are just ok
The standalone drawing apps, Adobe Sketch and Procreate, are also brilliant but lack the full features of Photoshop. Perhaps it’s just me and they’re just unfamiliar in comparison to the desktop apps?
This thing takes forever to charge! Like hours!! It’s not a regular issue as it has a pretty lengthy battery life but when it does fizzle out, you better set aside an evening to charge it.
On the other hand, the pencil takes literally a couple minutes to charge and also has a decent battery life. But the way you charge it, that’s an issue in itself. When it does go, you have to take off the cap (which is very easy to lose by the way) and slot it length ways into the lightning port at the bottom. It’s very ‘first world problem’ scenario but you kind of look like an idiot just waiting for your pencil to charge at an awkward angle (not ideal if you’re in a public place).
Though not necessary, I thought I’d also mention handy accessories to improve your experience with the iPad.
Belkin Pencil stand
The Pencil is great to hold but what happens when you aren’t? It just rolls around, that’s what. If you’re a fan of the Wacom stylus stand, I can highly recommend this (though it is quite overpriced for a glorified paper weight). It also comes in a range of the classic Apple colours, silver, space grey and gold.
Price: £19.95 Buy it here
This little extra is not only cheap, but really handy if you’re prone to losing things. It’s a simple rubber tip you attach to the pencil that keeps your cap close by when it’s charging. It also comes with a similar rubber attachment for your charging cable so you don’t lose the adapter when you’re not charging the pencil. Neat!
Price: £5.98 Buy it here
I would strongly recommend a good, matte screen protector because not only will it make your screen last longer, it makes the iPad feel more paper-like when drawing. I found, when I first had my tablet, the screen was very glossy and quite slippery. This is more of a personal preference and it does effect the display a little bit, showing a bit of RGB noise where there is white on the screen but I still give it a go to see for yourself.
Price: £6.95 (for two protectors) Buy it here
A case (Moleskine and Incase)
I’ve actually tried both of these and both cases have their pros and cons. The Moleskine is great for keeping everything together (the iPad and the Pencil) and has a pretty good built in stand. Though I did find it to be quite chunky and really adds to the size of the iPad when you’re holding it.
Price: £89.95 Buy it here
The Incase one is also lovely and is my current go to case. It has a nice little pocket for the Pencil as well as a zipper to keep it secure. However, it’s a bit fiddly to carry around and like most cases, feels quite useless as soon as you take the iPad out of it.
Price: £39.95 Buy it here
At the end of the day, if you want a tablet that can be used for many applications in many places, I can highly recommend the iPad Pro. It’s reasonably priced and comes with a great deal more uses than standard drawing tablets. If you’re staying put and want something specifically for drawing at a single spot, I’d probably go for a Cintiq. They’ve been in the game for a while and know their stuff but comes with the drawbacks of having to use a plug socket to keep it running and is a bit chunky.