Is the iPad a Graphics Tablet?

iPad as a Graphics TabletHayden Scott-Baron draws on the iPad using a stylus

Apple’s iPad 2 has just been released to much acclaim: now with video chat, this tablet computer certainly packs a punch. With it’s silky touchscreen and lightweight profile it practically begs to be held like a sketchbook and drawn on. But: is the iPad a capable graphics tablet? (And by extension: is the iPhone a graphics tablet?)

The short answer is: not quite. But the iPad can indeed be a powerful creative tool, and with some additions can mimic the drawing, painting, and design power of an pen tablet display.

Pen display: ultimate digital design tool?

Wacom Cintiq
The Wacom Cintiq pen display

An interactive pen display–a combined pen tablet and LCD display–certainly has great potential as a powerful tool for artists, engineers, and designers. One of the main downsides of a standard graphics tablet, unlike traditional pen and paper, is that your pen strokes don’t appear where you lay them down. A display tablet is the best of both worlds, as you can interact with digital editing software, but directly on the screen. The Wacom Cintiq line of devices are a good example of dedicated pen displays, with sophisticated and sensitive stylus input.

Is the iPad a Pen Display?

Though pen displays have only been adopted by a small niche of creative professionals, another device with much in common to pen displays has taken the consumer world by storm: the Apple iPad. The popularity of the device has attracted a plethora of software developers, and the iPad is being widely used as a creative tool for many purposes. And unlike dedicated pen displays such as the Cintiq, they’ve got the computer built right in.

The iPad is tablet-like in size and shape and has a directly interactive high-resolution screen. What separates the iPad from a Wacom-style graphics tablet or pen display, however, is that the iPad–employing a capacitive touchscreen–is designed to be operated with fingers, . Not supporting the wireless stylus of a graphics tablet, the iPad lacks the pressure-sensitivity and precision of a serious designer’s input device. Some applications also have a noticeable lag that make them quite uncomfortable for drawing.

Unleashing the Graphics Potential of the iPad

Painting study drawing - The Last Undeveloped Hills in Brea
“The Last Undeveloped Hills in Brea”, and iPad painting by p0ps Harlow

There are a few ways to improve the iPad’s functionality as a drawing tablet. While a normal stylus or pen won’t work with Apple’s device, a blunt-ended capacitive stylus can be bought (or made) that will mimic the touch of a finger, but with the control (though perhaps not precision) of a pen. A capacitive stylus will also work to control the iPhone and iPod Touch.

Ten One Design (makers of the Pogo Sketch, one well-designed capacitive stylus) released a video teaser in mid-2010 demonstrating a software technique to simulated pressure-sensitivity on the iPad. Although their video suggests that they’d soon close the gap between the iPad an a fully-capable graphics tablet, as of 2011, pressure-sensitivity has yet to actually appear in iPad apps.

But a computer is as good as its software…

While the iPad lacks the precision and sensitivity of a full-on graphics tablet, quite a few well-designed applications have been developed that turn the iPad into a still very useful graphics tool.

Brushes painting app for iPad
Brushes painting app for iPad

Brushes is a powerful painting app with realistic brushstrokes, six layers, and stroke-by-stroke painting playback. The artist Jorge Columbo has used Brushes to paint covers for The New Yorker magazine.

The newly-released Adobe Ideas, with a free version available, is another very capable drawing app for the iPad. It draws vector graphics, and it’s files can be further edited in Illustrator on a desktop computer.

Layers and Artstudio are two other nice sketching apps.

Penultimate is designed for scribbling words and doodles, like a digital notebook.

There are also a variety of other drawing, painting, sketching, notetaking, diagramming, wireframing, and photo editing apps for the iPad that tap into its drawing tablet potential.

Is the iPad a Graphics Tablet?

No, not really, but it will aptly serve sketching and design needs for many purposes. We look forward to the day when Apple releases an all-in-one device with precise and pressure-sensitive input for serious art production.

2 thoughts on “Is the iPad a Graphics Tablet?”

  1. “We look forward to the day when Apple releases an all-in-one device with precise and pressure-sensitive input for serious art production”
    Shout it louder! ……………. Apple don’t seem to to be listening?

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