Oct 3, 2011

Draw/sketch apps for iPad review: Procreate vs. SketchBook Pro

- Edit, this review is a bit old and since both apps had updates, especially Procreate has undergone some good changes, they have more brushes which you can edit (only if you want to). In the last part of this review I said I couldn't put drawings in the photos map....which is nonsense, since a while now I can, so maybe I overlooked that part.-

Since a short time I’m the proud owner of an iPad 2. Not only my boyfriend (who is a nerd and gadget lover) did want one for a long time, I was also (and still am)convinced that the iPad is a worthy addition to my illustration hardware. I use it for digital sketching and as a digital mobile portfolio, and ofcourse when you’re mainly creating illustrations digitally it comes in handy to have a tool that shows your art just like you made it. You don’t have to print out things, I can easily connect it to my computer and update my portfolio folder.

The sketching part is however even more interesting, because the iPad is a fine piece of technology on which you can run applications that are as good as on your normal desktop computer.
My iPad is even bigger than my Wacom drawing tablet! But is it as good as a normal sketchbook?
Let’s see!

After doing some research I discovered there were many apps for the iPad in which you can draw and paint. I also bought myself a stylus (from Boxwave), because drawing with your fingers is quite awful and totally not natural to me. There are however two apps that both were rated very well:
SketchbBook Pro (link) and Procreate (link), both cost € 3,99 .

Now, these apps are pretty different but you can do the same things with them: sketch, paint or draw with different brushes, use different layers (and blending modes) and the option to undo/redo.
Just like drawing in Photoshop or Painttool SAI, though it's a stripped down version.

About SketchBook Pro

Sketchbook Pro was made by the famous Autodesk, a company who create several designing programs/applications for the computer, like 3DS Max (which I know nothing about, I tried it out once but looked really too complicated..). So many people would probably buy this because of the reliable background of its maker.

Well, they keep true to their name, the application looks professional and gives you a LOT of options. To give you an idea: you'll have 48 standard brushes, 8 slots for custom often-used brushes, many more slots to keep your other custom brushes save, 4 drawing modes (straight lines, circles, square or freehand), 30 colourpalette-places, 4 blending modes, 10 levels of undo/redo and 6 layers.

Yes, you can make custom brushes just like in Photoshop or Painter, you can adjust opacity and radius (size of the brush) and set both of those values minimum and maximum, you can change spacing, rotation angle and jitter and the squish effect.
For choosing color you have multiple options: a colourpallete in the standard menu in which you can save the colors you often use or within the brush options you'll have the well known color wheel or a more simple palette with 30 standard colors.

On top of this Sketchbook Pro offers some more options: putting text into the image or drawing in mirror mode (which is cool for getting symmetry). And for the eraser: you can also change those properties.
If you are a person who likes to spend time on making the perfect brush for your drawing, then this is exactly what you want. They even offer more brushes on their website if you are in need and if you want to you can import a new layer from the photo folder.
But honestly, for me it is too much. I like simple applications I guess, I also like simple interfaces.
Things that really bothered me are the little dot that shows you if you're using/drawing it in landscape or portrait mode. First: what does it matter? I can obviously see that from my drawing. And second: the dot that shows it really bothers my when I work, because it looks just like I made a little circle myself and when I used SketchBook Pro for the first time I tried to erase the dot away. As far as I know there is no option to get rid of it.

The second thing that bothers me is the way they use shortcuts. You have to use THREE fingers, to show the menu. And three fingers-swipe to redo or undo. I understand that one finger you can draw with, and two fingers you can zoom with, but three fingers-menu isn't really the logical next step in my opinion.
You can choose to 'always show' the toolbar, but for the rest: it's really clumsy. You can't draw and use three fingers at the same time you know. I'd always have to stop, then use my fingers, then start again.
To me, that's what makes the usability quite bad. 

The results however, the painting itself, look pretty good. I haven't been able to make something good enough to show it though.

About Procreate

Procreate was exclusively made for the iPad and it uses the Silica painting engine. It's interface consists of 9 'buttons' and 2 slides for size and opacity.

It comes with 13 standard brushes which you can see/choose by a flow image instead of the image of what the brush would look like in real life (no pencil points..), you can scroll through the brushes easily and ofcourse you can also create a new one and even import a grain and adjust is to make a new brush.
There are some standard brushes which I really like because they give more of a real painting effect!

Next to the brush button there is the smudge button. Smudging your drawing makes it look painted, because you can blend colors and make it a bit more raw instead of flat and boring ;). To me the smudge/blend brush is really cool

Procreate gives you more blending modes (normal, multiply, screen, add, lighten, exclusion)
It also gives you a colorpalette, a colorpicker (hold the brush still on the screen as a shortcut) and not a wheel but a colorsquare.

The thing I like about Procreate is its intuitive interface and usability. I can undo/redo and change opacity or size with my left hand while I draw with my right hand. I like how easy it is, uncomplicated so I can spend my time on the drawing itself instead of not knowing what brush to choose. I wouldn't call that unprofessional because the options are all there, they are just not all at the surface, but deeper. And since I don't use all those options all the time it is better that way.

About both and the conclusion

Both apps can export the images in .psd png or jpeg file. What I miss though is the option to have a folder within the photo section of the iPad where I can see the drawings and sketches. I can't upload a sketch directly to the internet. What I do know is send it to my e-mail and then download it to the photo section so I can upload it. But maybe that's just a problem of the iPad.
Another problem I had was difference in colour, but that also might have to do with my desktop monitor.

Something that absolutely isn't there is pressure-sensitivity. But I don't really miss it to be honest, I correct edges anyway, so it still can give me that sharp look.

Both apps give fine result, but until now I can't really use it for professional illustrations. The resolution is too low, I can't merge layers (or I don't know how to..), I can't change the hue/saturation/brightness/contrast and the surface is just a bit too small. I don't like zooming in the whole time. BUT I have to consider the fact that I'm still a starter with drawing on the iPad, who knows I might get used to it and make some really good things. I have done some things that I thought of: wow, this is a nice result that I couldn't create that easy on my normal computer.

The iPad proved to be a fine tool to digitally sketch on and I know I am one of those many artist/illustrators who have sometimes better sketches than finished works. I think the iPad is being a bridge between those two: make my sketches better and rendering them directly instead of working on a scanned sketch. At least for a part. (Here are some examples of drawings made on the iPad, not all by these two apps though).
 There is a big chance I might use it in the future to make a sketch for a client directly on screen while the client watches, you know. And it might look better than something on paper, because I can add instant color or texture, and that's great!