iPad for illustration--can someone help me think through this?

  • SVS OG

    I am thinking of biting the bullet and getting an iPad so I can work anywhere, probably with Procreate but maybe eventually with PS as well. I'm halfway between, "Dang, iPads are expensive! I should get the minimum possible," and "Dang, iPads expensive! Might as well spend a little more and get one that will last a long time."

    Anyway, I see that the main things to decide will be size, storage space, and whether it has cell service of not, and I'm up in the air about all 3. Right now I'm thinking 12,9", 250G, WiFi only, for the following reasons:

    1. It seems a larger screen would be better for artists. But I want to consider portability as well. I'd carry it in my backpack. I'm a smallish person. Any reason I shouldn't get a larger surface to draw on?

    2. I have a 2015 computer that holds 250G and it's full, so I recently bought a lightweight external hard drive and am keeping all finished projects there. Does an iPad connect similarly to an external hard drive? Is it easy to send files to PS on the computer or to external storage from an iPad? Can one send large Procreate files with Airdrop? It seems like less than 250G might fill up too quickly, but is there any reason I'd need 500G?

    3. Cell service. A big reason for getting an iPad would be to take it on vacation or other short trips. When I go to the US I have little data anyway and so it would make no sense to have cell service, but when I am traveling in Italy sometimes the WiFi where I'm staying isn't so great. Maybe I don't need it so much for drawing anyway. I'd have my phone to check messages and such. And I suppose I could hotspot the phone in an emergency. And cell service would require another monthly payment. Any considerations there?

    Any other considerations? Keyboard? Connectors? I have a regular USB port on my computer but imagine the iPad only has a USB-C port. I'll put my phone number on the pencil because it could get lost easily, but not the iPad.

    Thanks in advance for sharing your advice!

  • Hi @LauraA

    Let me answer your questions as best I can:

    1. Yes, the Ipads and the apple pencil is expensive, but so so worth it. The 11 inches in my opinion works well for some and the 12.9 for other, but both are a fantastic product so you cannot lose. I would highly recommend the iPad Pro, not ait or base iPad, as they don't have as much memory. i went for the 11 inches and i don't regret it definitely more portable...

    2)Yes, you can connect a USB or external hard drive if you have a USB to a USB-C connector. So for that reason, I would not go for a higher GIG model just to get more space when you can connect an external hard drive to make up the difference. Amazon sell great hubs, that extend your USB port to connect to 4 or more ports at once, like USB, audio jack, HDMI, etc...

    1. Unless you rely on the cell service, the wifi version is the better choice to save more costs... I only use wifi anyway. The thing to remember if you have never used apple products is the device automatically backups up to iCloud which only offers 5 GigG of space and then you have to upgrade for more...

    2. Drawing experience in Procreate is a match made in heaven, it so easy to learn and effortless to use. From a traditional art person, I found the transition so easy. Also, you can export files as a PSD to working in photoshop. There are many other really great apps like Vectonator, affinity designer, affinity photo, sketchbook, and adobe draw that can allow you to draw in vector, pixel-based, and explorer files to desktop applications to finish up.

    3. For Ipad pro extras, I would recommend 3 things - first, a decent cover that can open and adjust to different drawing levels, second a pencil grip or silicone cover for better grip on the pencil and 3rd a matt screen protector for a better drawing experience on the screen, so it doesn't slip and slide.

    As a final thought, I want to state it was expensive, but it has been the single best thing I have invested in for my art. 🙂

  • SVS OG

    @LauraA Hi! I bought a 12.9" ipad almost 3 years back. It has 64gd memory and no cell service. I absolutely love it. I imrpoved my color skills with it. I absolutely love the size 12.9 is a great size. As for carrying it in a bag, you'll hardly notice it. Sure it's a bit big but it's also ligt. Unless you're using small purses, I don't see you having a problem with it.

    As for connecting it with an external storage, I'm not really sure. I've never really tried. Despite loving my ipad, I find all of Apple's products to be very expensive. Instead, I opt to save my files online and then transfer them to my computer. It's tedious but it's cheap. I also only start doing this when I see my ipad storage almost full.

    As for cell service, I've never really found it useful. I already have a phone. Why do I need on my ipad for?

    The only thing I wish I had done differently was to buy an version with bigger storage. Like I said, I only have 64gb storage and it gets full faster than I would've liked. Going with 250gb sounds like a good move.

    I hope this was helpful. Stay safe and healthy!

  • SVS OG

    @LauraA I ended up buying the 1 terabyte iPad pro after using the 128 gb iPad pro for a few years....Procreate files eat up space very quickly if you make a million versions like i do - i was trying not to buy a new iPad..it seemed wasteful..so i got a couple of these https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07Q41P7B7/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_search_asin_title?ie=UTF8&psc=1 The main problem i had was that the procreate files did not always give a thumbnail on the ssd of what the drawing was...and because i am not smart enough to label every drawing so i can identify it by title i would have to import images that i though might be the one i was looking for...like all of my Oz pieces...major headache..... An artist made a procreate file viewer for Mac
    https://jaromvogel.com/ProcreateViewer which i have not tried yet but could be good (his work is awesome too).... Anyways long story short i got very tired of going back and forth between the hard drive and my iPad so i bought the 1 terabyte iPad...very happy with it and i should not want for memory any time soon ....and i'm trying to title my files in much more descriptive ways 🙂

  • @LauraA

    I would consider signing up for iCloud or using Dropbox storage instead of using an external hard drive. For two reasons - one, you'll want a cloud backup no matter what because drives can get damaged, lost or stolen and two they keep files essentially "offsite" so that you can just download the ones you want to look at and view on your desktop or iPad but otherwise they're just in the cloud.

    iCloud is like $2.99 a month for 500gb. I've been making art in Procreate for over a year now and I've only used up about 25gb. So in terms of affordability, iCloud might be the way to go. Also, if you use iCloud, you don't even need to airdrop anything - you just save the file to your Files from procreate, and they automatically show up on any device you have set up on iCloud.

    Definitely go for the 12.9". I regret not having those extra inches. It doesn't sound like a lot, but it's a lot. I don't think you lose too much portability - just about any functional bag or backpack is designed to hold a 13" laptop, which happens to be the same size as the larger iPad, so you really won't have trouble finding room for it in most cases.

  • @LauraA I got a larger one a couple of years ago after I was zooming in too much on the smaller ipad pro. I've got the 256GB version but still have 176GB left as I use Adobe CC cloud and dropbox for most of my files. I connect up a portable M.2 SSD hard drive (does about 800 MB/s transfer speed) to my ipad via usb-c for backing up my art files. If you use windows make sure you format the drive to exfat so your ipad can read/write to it. Do all my drawing on Adobe Fresco because there's no limits to how many layers on large canvasses, plus it has all my photoshop brushes synced up.

    I don't think it's worth getting the mad expensive apple keyboard or the cellular - I just tether my phone to the ipad when I'm not near my wifi. Another workaround for hotels and touring is a RAV power File Hub travel router. This you can use to plug all your devices into one connection and use as a travel charger too. If you need a keyboard, logitech do a much cheaper version. I've got an old apple bluetooth keyboard that I use once a year to do my accounts for the taxman!

    You can get your pencil engraved for free too, if you want to add your phone number.

  • I have the ipad 2018 (128GB). I have iCloud and OneDrive and I don't need any more space.
    About the size I never felt it was small. I got this size so I can travel with it or carry it in my bag.
    I'm not an artist who makes big gesture strokes so this size works for me.
    I've been using it for more than a year as my main working tool because I have temporarily moved to another country so I didn't want to bring my big pen&display.
    But I always have to tweak colors in PS on my laptop.

    The only thing I'm missing from a Pro is the RAM because Procreate usually gets short in layers with the base iPad when you make a big canvas (for printing for example).

    Mine only has Wi-fi and never missed the data. It's another expense!
    I don't think iPads are that expensive if you value them as your working tool. I think I would see it differently if it only was for fun but anyways I guess mine was around 400€ with the pencil. Not bad for all the use I have given it.

  • SVS OG

    Wow, thanks for all these great replies!

    First of all, now I feel confident that I can do without the cell service, and that already saves me a couple hundred euro on the iPad plus monthly service. Thanks!

    Also definitely going for the 12.9" version. Not 100% sure about the internal storage yet, but you've given me some good external options that make me more comfortable with 250GB and will help with transfer. Yes, given the need for transfer, I think external is they way to go!

    @Geoffrey-Gordon and @sigross Good point about the hub/router!

    And those accessories look handy and cheaper than Apple's! @Geoffrey-Gordon, would the Smart Folio cover that Apple sells fit the bill for level adjustment? It does seem to adjust, but it's also true that a big reason I wanted an iPad was to liberate myself from the table. That's also a good point about the screen protector and grip. If you want to add a link for those, many products available on Amazon.com are also available on Amazon.it, and I need to place an order from there anyway. I'll take a look myself as well.

    @Nyrryl-Cadiz Sounds like good advice on the size! I am already invested in Apple, and despite the initial expense I have to confess that I love the seamless experience, not only for illustration but also for everything else.

    @Kevin-Longueil Ok, so that was what I wanted to hear about space! Because like you, I replicate files. I usually end up with about seven versions of each finished illustration and they wind up with between 50-100 layers each. I do this to avoid spending so much time scrolling layers and having files that reach 1GB (which makes PS go haywire), and that's one reason my computer is full.

    And what? No thumbnails?! 😱 Maybe the viewer is the way to go.

    @jdubz Thank you for the reminder about iCloud storage, which I already have but am not using for illustration, but only for Apple apps. I have been using Creative Cloud for illustration but it has less space than iCloud. I have heard one should have both hard drive and cloud backup, so I'll definitely look into setting iCloud up to use regularly for illustration.

    @sigross Thanks for the advice about the accessories. I have an old Apple Bluetooth keyboard as well which I can use when necessary, so I won't splurge on the new one. I will put my phone number on the pencil, though. Even if I have doubts that anyone would return it, unfortunately.

    Is Fresco only available with the full subscription? What do you think of it? I am loath to upgrade from the photography plan because of the extra monthly expense, but we'll see.

    Again, thank you so much for all your help! I feel much better about the purchase now.

  • SVS OG

    @cristamay Thanks for your reply as well, Cris! Where are you living now? I also live abroad, but I have been here so long now that I am becoming quite rooted, and in fact the hope getting work from my native US is one reason I went digital.

    I do highly believe in RAM, and so I was thinking of getting the Pro. I have heard that experience is qualitatively different. Like you said, it's a matter of using it as a working tool. I think I will use it a lot!

    Thanks everybody and have a fruitful drawing day!

  • @LauraA I'm living in Tokyo with a WH visa so I didn't want my big tablet to maybe get crushed during the trip. Also apartments here are tiny!
    Digital made me the illustrator I am. It's so so so good. I can achieve what's in my mind 😃
    My next ipad will be a Pro one 😉

  • Hi @LauraA

    From my experience with iPads, consider:

    • Cellular data in case you do not have access to wi-fi.

    • Onboard max storage in case you have no internet access and must work on a project.

    • Onboard max storage if you do not want to carry external drive plus cables, etc.

    • As for managing expensiveness, you can purchase it gradually paying for it as part your monthly cellular bill. Of course, then you do not fully own it: therefore you cannot trade up directly through Apple. The alternative is to save for it. I don't know otherwise about acquiring as part of a business loan or if sometimes there are student discounts from retailers or schools.

    Be sure to confirm ahead which docks, cables, etc are proven to work with any external storage you consider. Some require power plus data options.

    Work out your file storage choices with consideration for which ones you need the original file format, the additional save of PDF, and file compatibility across programs, etc. Be careful to not become a file hoarder in order to make best use of your onboard app and file needs.

    Best wishes.

  • @LauraA Fresco doesn't come with the photography plan as Adobe says that plan is aimed at photographers. That's a bit annoying because it makes procreate much better value for money. But if you have the Photoshop single app subscription then you do get it bundled with that. My subscription is timed during Black Friday so I got the full CC package deal with 40% off. Adobe also gave me a free month at the start of lockdown.

    I do love the Fresco app as I've been Beta testing it and they keep adding great stuff to it. The two things I really wanted have been added now - clipping masks and multi layer selection. And the live water colour/oil brushes are lovely. Plus The fresco pencil is the best I've used on a drawing app.

  • @LauraA

    Is Fresco only available with the full subscription? What do you think of it? I am loath to upgrade from the photography plan because of the extra monthly expense, but we'll see.

    IMO it's pretty rough still. Definitely not worth the money considering Procreate is available at one single purchase price, so even if Fresco got close to Procreate in terms of functionality or quality, I still wouldn't pay monthly for it.

    If you needed to do a lot of selections and cropping and photo editing, I'd consider using Affinity Photo app instead since it's also just one single purchase price.

    For me, I'm already paying for Photoshop so I get Fresco anyway, but it's still clunky to use compared to Procreate.

  • I guess I'm playing devil's advocate here, but I feel like I'm the only person that the Ipad/Apple Pencil/Procreate wasn't a game changer for. I have the Ipad pro 11 inch (whatever the smallest gigabite size is). To be honest I mostly use the Ipad as a second screen to watch youtube/netflix while I work on my laptop. I tried to love Procreate but I just don't seem to create the same standard of work I can on Photoshop. Maybe it is because I am so much more familiar with Photoshop and haven't figured out my way of working in Procreate.
    I do use Procreate to thumbnail and doodle while I watch TV, but realistically in terms of expense it probably wasn't worth it as I thought I'd be doing a lot more work on it. I don't regret buying it though as I like having an Ipad to use for various reasons. Not trying to put you off buying one, just my personal experience!

  • SVS OG

    Thanks for all your additional views! I ordered the iPad this afternoon. what I'm secretly hoping is that it will force me to simplify my process somewhat, if that makes sense. And I'm hoping it will increase my ideation/drawing time overall. I understand your point, though, @eriberart. I don't know which I will end up using more, but I have seen some very nice work on Procreate, so we'll see. And I think if for some reason I didn't use the iPad, my husband would probably like to have it!

    You have some good points there, @duttychai. I'll try to look into those.

    Thanks for your help, everyone!

  • I'm all for the Ipad Pro 12,9 inch with 250G storage, got it a couple of months ago and I'm loving it! I do almost all my illustration work on it now, only do final touches in Photoshop. (But I'm currently going back and forth between two places every week so the Ipad is a lot more convinient than a Cintiq or other stationary display tablets, maybe that will change in the future. I still feel that Photoshop is better than Procreate, although Procreate is very good!). I think you will be very happy with it!

    Another Ipad related tip for illustrators - even though it's really nice to be able to draw digital while watching Netflix on the sofa (right!?), I started to feel it in my neck and wrist. And even though the Smart Folio (which I have) is good I didn't feel it was enough for longer periods of working on it. So I got this stand - Parblo adjustable tablet stand :


    I'm sure there are a lot of other good stands out there but I'm really happy with it. Feels sturdy (even when putting your hand on it while drawing) and offers many options for the incline 🙂 and it's rather small and foldable when not using it! Sorry, a little bit of a shameless plug, but I was just so happy when I found it ;P

  • SVS OG

    @KajsaH Thanks for the recommendation! I'm looking at everything in these links. And it's not a shameless plug unless you own the company! On the contrary, I like hearing what has worked for other people!

  • (Edit: Wow, I didn't realize how long this is. Hopefully there's some useful info in there.)

    As an iPad Pro + Procreate user, I'd echo much of what has been said so far.

    I like the idea of a larger Cintiq type screen and the freedom of Photoshop, but the portability of the iPad Pro is really nice. And Procreate is very good and so far worth the minor inconveniences.

    I opted not to get cellular because when I'm out and about I have decent access to wifi. But, if you rely on wifi at the places you are visiting (coffee shop, library, etc) you really want to also get a VPN service like NordVPN or ExpressVPN or something like that. Public wifi is convenient but not the safest thing to use without a VPN of some kind. (Good VPN services will still cost money, but it will be cheaper than a data plan for an iPad and most VPN services let you connect a number of devices like phones, tablets, laptops, etc.)

    I went with the 12.9" iPad Pro for the larger screen. I have used smaller iPads as well and I like the larger size.

    I got the smallest storage, which is 32 Gb. Since my iPad is not my main device, I end up archiving or storing my finished artwork files on my main computer. So, I really only need enough storage to keep my "in progress" files. So far I've had no space issues. I should also note that I do pretty much just artwork on my iPad, and don't have music, movies, etc on it to take up space.

    When I backup or archive from my iPad to my main computer, I copy three files of each final piece:

    • Procreate file
    • Photoshop PSD file
    • Flat PNG image file

    I will then delete the files off of my iPad.

    A note on backups. I do a regular onsite AND offsite backup of my main computer. I'm on a Mac, so my onsite backup is a Time Machine hard drive and my offsite uses a service called Backblaze. It may seem like overkill, but backups are like insurance. It's a pain to deal with when things are going well, but when you need it you're glad you had it in place.

    There is an app called Astropad (www.astropad.com) that lets you use your iPad as a drawing tablet for your Mac. It allows your iPad to basically become an extended display for your Mac, and so you could use Photoshop (or any Mac app really) with the Apple Pencil on the iPad. If I run into a situation where Procreate on the iPad is a bit too limiting, I can export a PSD file, open it in Photoshop on my Mac, and then use Astropad (I use Astropad Studio) to continue working on it without the limitations of Procreate. Of course using Procreate and Photoshop is different, but I've done some experimenting and found that I can create the same artwork in both and it looks and feels the same. So, just something else to consider. (Also note that the latest version of macOS does have a feature called "Sidecar" which is like this, but it's not really tailored to artists. Astropad has refined the process and so it's a pretty seamless experience.)

  • SVS OG

    @drawnbyshawn Thanks, Shawn! I have a couple of questions:

    Any reason why .PNG? I'm just ignorant. Does it save more info? I usually create .jpegs just because I can put them in the photos on my phone and upload them to Instagram.

    I don't know much about backup services, so why did you choose Backblaze? I do agree that an offsite backup is good, and I noticed that I have already used a lot of my iCloud space though I have the 50G. Photos and backups, I think.

    And finally, I took a look at Astropad, and I see that it's $12/month. I've already got a few such monthly payments, so I hesitate to get another. And I would have sidecar and a Cintiq. Is there any reason it would be worth it for me to pay for Astropad instead of just transferring it to the computer and using the Cintiq?

    Thanks for your help!

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