Want the Best iPad for Drawing in 2021? Read This First.

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“Take my money!” 

That’s what I was shouting at the screen when I watched the iPad Pro 2021 promo.

I thought my iPad 6 was one of the best drawing tablets out there.

But guess what, I’ve been geeking out about the specs of the 12.9-inch iPad Pro ever since Mission Implausible—the iPad Pro 5 promos.

With all the recent improvements in the iPad, which iPad is the best for drawing in 2021?

Buckle up! This is a deep dive into iPads for artists. I’ll help you figure out which one is the best tablet for you.

Our Top Pick for the Best iPad for Drawing

Product

Strength

Product Details

iPad Pro

12.9-inch & 11-inch iPad Pro 2021

The ultimate drawing tablet experience for artists who want the best and have the budget for it.

  • 120HZ screen: Reduces lag when drawing with a stylus 
  • Apple M1 chip: A superior processor allowing you to have many apps open at once. 
  • Liquid Retina XDR: Clear images, making it easy to draw in high-detail

iPad Air

iPad air

The mid-range iPad is for artists who want great performance for less.

  • Apple Pencil 2: The best stylus for artists. It’s comfortable to hold and allows for pixel-perfect precision.
  • A14 Bionic chip: Loads graphics fast meaning you can work super efficiently. 
  • Liquid Retina Display: This allows for better clarity, meaning you can create highly detailed images.

Great for beginner artists on a budget who want the Apple iPad experience.

  • Supports Apple Pencil 1: This is a good stylus alternative to the more expensive Apple Pencil 2.
  • Thin and light design: Makes this iPad easy to carry around.
  • High-quality 8MP camera: Allows for detailed photography for sketching.

iPad mini

iPad Mini

Great for artists who need drawing tablets on the go.

  • 0.66 pounds and 6.1mm thickness: Makes this iPad highly portable and easy to bring anywhere you want. 
  • A12 Bionic chip: Powerful enough to run heavy apps like Photoshop 
  • Supports Apple Pencil 1: This is a good stylus alternative for the more expensive Apple Pencil 2.

iPad Reviews

Apple iPad Pro 2021

Apple introduces new iPad Pro featuring

The Apple iPad Pro 2021 is the best tablet yet for three reasons:

  • The Apple M1 chip has up to 2X the performance of other competing chips in the market.
  • XDR Mini-LED — higher contrast ratio, higher brightness and deeper blacks for your art allows you to design high definition images with clarity.
  • Superfast 5G connectivity to check art references online and upload your artwork to the cloud on the go no matter where you are.

Pros

iPad Pro 12.9-inch is the best for Procreate and Adobe Suite:

  • Powerful processor in the M1 chip (8 core CPU & GPU and 16 core Neural Engine) meaning you can work quickly, start applications fast, and run many at once.
  • ProMotion technology— the 120Hz refresh rate that cuts down on lag and gives a smoother painting experience.
  • Crystal clear Liquid Retina XDR display and a full spectrum of colour with the laminated True Tone display allows you to draw in-depth and detail.
  • Deeper 3D detail and dynamic brushes give you maximum control.
  • Fast import of files using Thunderbolt 3 USB technology means reduced waiting times when transferring images from your PC.
  • Second-generation Apple Pencil support — easier sketching, editing shortcuts and an excellent lightweight design for maximum drawing control.

“This 12.9-inch tablet is gorgeously built, with power to match the latest Apple laptops” — PCMag

Cons

  • This bad boy is expensive! The starting price of $1099 (12.9”) shoots up by $1000 when you add on accessories and max out the storage allowance to 2TB.
  • The iPad Pro has a slight inner shadow around the edges, most notable when viewing high contrast material or a white background.
  • Portability can be a challenge if you’re an artist who creates in transit. At 1.5 pounds and 11 inches, I couldn’t grasp this tablet in my hand.

Note: The beautiful XDR Mini LED display is available for the larger 12.9-inch model.

Despite its few negatives, if you’re looking for the cream of Apple tablets, the iPad Pro is it.

 

 

Apple iPad Air 4

Apple IPad Air 4

The new Apple Air 4 is a strong second. In my experience, it comfortably replaces a laptop or desktop without overspending. It starts at $599.

I also love the intuitive touch ID on the power button at the top.

Pros

  • Stunning 10.9-inch Liquid Retina iPad Display with sharp ’painted on’ images and responsive pencil-screen interaction make for an intuitive drawing experience.
  • A14 Bionic chip, the highest performing chip second only to the M1. It has a 30% faster refresh rate of detailed graphics and 40% faster CPU performance allowing you to load applications faster and handle multiple processes simultaneously.
  • Magic Keyboard and Apple Pencil 2 support for ease in drawing and access to excellent app shortcuts
  • Sketches and handwriting convert into shapes and typed text. This allows for more refined mood boards and the ability to effectively plan your ar.t
  • P3 wide colour space offers 25% more colour range in your digital art than the standard RGB and enables HDR images. Create highly detailed art with this feature.
  • Uses the more universal USB C port making this design versatile. No more looking for compatible cables.

“The iPad Air for 2020 is a phenomenally well-made tablet that improves upon the last-gen version in a variety of ways” — TechRadar

Cons

  • More expensive than previous generations of the Air
  • The camera doesn’t sit flat on the back of the iPad, making it easy to damage without a case.

Despite a heftier price, this tablet is the best value for money and a good iPad Pro alternative.

 

iPad 8 (2020)

artignition ipad 8

The iPad 8 is your budget iPad.

Pros

  • Very affordable with a starting price of $329, an excellent choice for beginners.
  • Supports Smart Keyboard Folio and first-generation Apple Pencil, with many drawing apps available. This versatility gives you maximum control over how you do your drawings.
  • Thin and light-weight (1 pound) for easy portability

“A better processor keeps the latest basic iPad as our go-to pick for families and anyone looking for an excellent affordable tablet.”— Cnet

Cons

  • The 10.2-inch screen size feels cramped when drawing or using multiple apps
  • Doesn’t support Apple Pencil 2, which is the superior stylus
  • The lightning port cable isn’t universal

The iPad 8 is a budget-friendly foray into the lineup and although it is an entry-level product, it performs beyond other tablets of its class.

 

iPad Mini 5 (2019)

IPad Mini 5 (2019)

I think this is a tiny yet powerful tablet.

Pros

  • Thin (6.1mm) and light (0.66 pounds). Carry it in your jean’s pocket or in-hand for travel sketching or art journaling .
  • A12 Bionic chip — runs Adobe Photoshop and other demanding apps for editing pictures. There aren’t any delays, and is great for an efficient workflow.
  • Retina Display — bright screens, wide colour range and an anti-reflective coating for true-to-life art details
  • Supports Apple Pencil 1 for drawing and creating art and mood boards with ease and on the go.

“The iPad Mini 5 is excellent for the purpose for which it’s designed. This isn’t a productivity beast, nor is it attempting to replace your laptop; it’s a super-fast tablet that will slip easily into your bag” — Trusted Reviews

Cons

  • 7.9 inches makes for  a tiny canvas and can limit your drawing capabilities
  • For a mini-tablet, it’s more expensive than the standard iPad

This tiny but powerful tablet is best if you value portability above all else.

 

iPad Pro vs iPad Air Drawing Experience

My thoughts on which iPad is best for drawing are probably evident by now.

However, I thought it would be a good exercise to compare the two closest contenders for the number one spot of best iPad for artists. The ultimate tablet experience versus the best value for money.

Specification

iPad Pro

iPad Air

Storage

128GB Capacity

64GB or 256GB Capacity — dependent on model

Size

247.66mm x 178.5mm

247.6mm x 178.5mm

Thickness

5.99mm

6.1mm

Display

11” or 12.9” XDR Liquid Retina Display — dependent on model

10.9” Liquid Retina Display

Processing Chip

Apple M1 Chip

A14 Bionic chip

Display

The Liquid Retina XDR screen is the most lauded spec upgrade in the iPad Pro 2021. The XDR or mini-LED display delivers deeper blacks, brighter panels and higher contrast ratios similar to OLED.

For an artist, it means seeing more authentic colours in your artwork than ever before, especially when working in HD.

XDR combined with the screen’s higher refresh rate (120Hz), also known as ProMotion, makes the viewing experience excellent. So does TrueTone, which colour corrects the iPad display to suit ambient light.

For basic drawing and painting, these features may not shine. However, if your art workflow involves animations and video, you will love this new display.

The iPad Air has Liquid Retina but no mini-LED. At 600 nits, it’s less bright than iPad Pro’s 1000–1600 nits.

The screen refresh rate is the standard 60Hz which is still decent.

The Processing Power Difference

Much has been made of the M1 chip, and with good reason. It’s the first Apple Silicon chip to go into both mobile devices and computers.

If I were a tech geek, I would be rushing into a flood of tech jargon about the two Apple Silicon chips. Yet, I’m not a tech expert, so here’s the TL:DR on the two chips.

  • A14 chip on the iPad Air is restricted to less power because it has to function in devices with small batteries and no cooling mechanism, such as the iPhone 12 Mini
  • The M1 chip on the iPad Pro is so powerful that it’s the new Mac chip. In fact, its output is limited by iPadOS.

The A14 chip is still very powerful, making the iPad Air drawing experience seamless. What you’ll get with the Pro is better processing power for graphics and heavier apps such as Photoshop or Luma Fusion.

File Transfer Speeds

The Thunderbolt 3 Port on the iPad Pro can transfer files up to 5000MB (5GB) per second. iPad Air’s USB-C connector tops out at 1250MB per second.

Batch importing and exporting of huge files between the iPad Pro and other devices via cable has never been faster.

Now let’s get into some of the specs and accessories you should consider alongside your iPad choice.

Specs and Accessories to Consider Before Buying

Here are some in-depth drawing tablet tips if you’re a beginner digital artist.

I want to focus on features common to all iPad models.

Stylus – Apple Pencil Support

Apple Pencil (2nd generation)
artignition apple pencil first gen

Apple Pencil (2nd generation)

Apple Pencil (1st generation)

What the Apple Pencils have in common:

  • Active stylus
  • Interchangeable, replaceable plastic nib
  • Palm rejection when paired

Pressure Sensitivity

Apple doesn’t disclose its pencils’ sensitivity levels. Yet, most artists report no performance difference between the two.

  • iPad Pro, Air 4 and Mini 5 have fully laminated screens, so the image appears exactly where you placed the pencil when you draw.
  • iPad 8 has no laminated screen, but the air gap between the outer and inner screens creates a slight lag and displacement.

Apple Pencil 1 vs Apple Pencil 2

Apple Pencil 1

Apple Pencil 2

Bigger and longer

Sleeker, more compact and more pencil-like

No app shortcuts

Single and double-tap app shortcuts

Gloss finish and more prone to slipping

Matte finish

The lightning charging port is clunky and easy to damage

Support wireless charging when magnetically attached to the iPad Pro 2018 and later or iPad Air 2020

Latency in Drawing on an iPad

Latency is the delay in response after an action. So in terms of tablets, when you draw using a stylus, latency is how long it takes for the screen to react and show your drawn lines.

While the Apple Pencil has a low latency of 20 milliseconds (ms), the iPadOS 13 and later models reduce it to 9ms. This means you won’t have any wait before seeing the results of your pen strokes — making the entire drawing experience on these tablets super intuitive.

This, coupled with the Pro 120Hz screen refresh, makes drawing so satisfying.

Does the iPad Meet the Minimum Specs for the Latest IOS Apps?

Apps Compatibility

Let’s be honest here, the app we all care about for drawing on iPads is Procreate — one of the best digital illustration apps for iPad (and an absolute steal for its low cost).

Related: What is the Best Free Drawing Software for Aspiring Artists and Professionals?

All the iPad models I’ve talked about here support the latest version of Procreate.

I use support here very loosely because what you can do on the iPad Pro with Procreate is worlds apart from your options on the other iPad models.

It all comes down to these four specs.

💡 Keys Specs for Procreate

  • RAM. The more RAM, the better. It’s the short-term memory of your iPad. An iPad with higher RAM will be able to load Procreate faster, and allow you to work with larger images without delays
  • Chip. Faster processors, of which the M1 is thus far the fastest, will give better performance without app response delays.
  • Display. A high clarity display will allow you to see more detail in images, meaning you can work more accurately and make higher definition art.
  • Capacity. More storage capacity allows you to create and store larger and raw images, including uncompressed photos and videos.

Does the iPad Have the Right Amount of Ram to Suit Your Needs?

iPadOS caps each app’s RAM (short-term memory use) at 5GB. If an app exceeds this allowance, the system’s jetsam process will force-quit it.

What does this mean for artists?

While drawing on the Pro models offers limited layers, thanks to the RAM cap, you get more days of app activity saved in memory.

With the 8GB or 16GB RAM, you can pick up your drawing where you left off— even days later. Drawing on the other iPads with 3GB or 4GB RAM will give you less of this capability.

The memory cap seems counterintuitive considering the high-level performance, graphics and display specs the iPad Pro is packing. The chances are that later iPadOS updates are going to be substantial enough to justify the investment.

Just a thought if you’re planning to shift to creating art on iPad Pro.

Which iPad Is Best for Procreate?

The best iPad for Procreate is, without a doubt, the iPad Pro. iPad Pro scores highly in all four of the above spec categories.

If you’re still in doubt, consider the layers available on Procreate. They are determined by canvas size, dpi, and, you guessed it, RAM!

Yaroslav Gavrilov

It’s only logical that as the canvas size and resolution (dpi) on Procreate go up, the number of layers you can use decreases.

So, for comparison purposes, let’s say you’re using an A4 size canvas at 300 dpi (dots per inch).

Apple iPad Model

RAM

Maximum Number of Procreate Layers

iPad Pro (2021)

5GB (capped for all M1 iPads)

92 (26 before app update)

iPad Air 4

4GB

57 (19 before app update)

iPad Mini 5

3GB

25

iPad 8

3GB

25

Since layers give you better control and flexibility of your drawings on the iPad, it’s a good metric to compare. Later, I go deeper into the 5GB RAM cap for Apps.

While the iPad Pro takes the cake, the iPad Air 4 makes a good showing with the second-best memory capacity and chip performance out of the four models discussed here. Its compatibility with the Apple Pencil 2 is a much-appreciated plus.

In contrast, drawing on iPad Mini with Procreate is a sub-par experience mainly due to size. You will have to constantly zoom in and out to get the necessary details. It can get annoying pretty fast.

Other Drawing Apps on iPad for Illustrators

Adobe Fresco is a more expensive, subscription-based alternative to Procreate. You might want to opt for it for two reasons:

  • You’re neck-deep in the Adobe ecosystem, and you want a familiar app
  • You’re looking for the best iPad app for painting

Let me elaborate.

While Procreate is excellent for a wide range of iPad artwork, Adobe Fresco leaves it in the dust when it comes to their live brushes. They are so intuitive that they mimic oil and watercolour brush strokes.

ADOBE, STOP ROBBING US

ADOBE, STOP ROBBING US

ADOBE, STOP ROBBING US

All things considered, Adobe is $10 per month, while Procreate has a one-time cost of $9.99.

I recommend testing the free versions or trials of apps before committing your hard-earned cash. Some other great drawing apps to test include:

  • Autodesk Sketchbook
  • Ibis Paint
  • Inspire Pro
  • Affinity Designer
  • Affinity Photo
  • MediBang

Magic Keyboard vs Smart Keyboard Folio

The iPad Air 4 and iPad Pro support these two keyboards, but they’re in no way comparable or interchangeable.

The Magic keyboard has:

  • A trackpad that makes navigating between apps and the control centre easier. It has excellent shortcut gestures, similar to the ones on Mac.
  • A USB- c pass-through port which allows for inductive charging of the iPad once it’s snapped onto the keyboard
  • Backlighting for its keys just like a Mac computer
  • 1 mm of key travel when you type, which makes it feel more like a keyboard

Apple Magic Keyboard (for iPad Pro 11-inch - 3rd Generation and iPad Air - 4th Generation

The Smart Keyboard Folio has none of these four characteristics and is inferior. The only advantage is the price.

Apple Smart Keyboard for iPad (7th and 8th Generation) and iPad Air (3rd Generation)

Feature

Smart Keyboard Folio

Magic Keyboard

Dimensions

10.12 x 7.52 x 0.91 inches

10.18 x 7.96 x 0.87 inches

Weight

5.3 ounces

1.81 pounds

Cost

Cheaper model

More expensive but has better features.

For an artist, the Magic Keyboard has better input and gesture options that improve your productivity. It’s also easily adjustable to the angle that best supports your work style or recreation.

 

 

Portability

iPad mini with Apple Pencil

Hands down, the most portable iPad for digital art is the Mini. But, there’s a power and canvas size trade-off.

These three models are all the same size, but the thinner bezels give you a bigger screen size for your canvas:

  • iPad 8 – 10.2–inch display
  • Air 4 – 10.9–inch display
  • Pro 11” – 11–inch display

Suppose you like to sketch or plan art concepts on an easily portable device before refining on a computer. In that case, the mini is a decent iPad for illustration and probably the best iPad for sketching on location.

A scenario such as sketching on the train for a travel journal or travel series comes to mind. You want to capture the broad strokes quickly and need one hand free for drawing or multitasking.

FAQ’S

Is 64GB Enough for iPad Pro Artist Storage?

64GB is enough for an artist who is diligent in uploading every single file to the cloud or backup. If you’re not that artist and you like to have years of art on hand, you’re better off getting more storage.

128–256GB is a good storage range for average Apple iPad use, like drawing and saving large files and a few large apps. iPad 8, Mini and Air 4 get you within this storage range.

For artists who want to eventually get into commercial work, you should have iCloud backup equivalent or more significant than your iPad storage capacity. Failure to backup your work is not an option for professional artists and even for serious budding artists.

For animations, you need the iPad Pro, which ranges from 128GB to 2TB. That translates to a price leap of $999–$2099.

Do I Need Cellular Connectivity for Drawing?

While not essential, cellular data is a godsend when your WiFi is spotty. Upgrading to cellular data will cost you $100–130, depending on the model. The 2021 iPad Pro is the only model that comes with 5G.

You can use your phone’s hotspot in a pinch, but I would highly recommend having cellular connectivity if you can spring for it.

Which iPad Has the Longest Battery Life?

All four models discussed here will give you up to 10 hours while surfing the web using Wi-Fi and 9 hours when using cellular data.

The iPad Pro 2021 is thicker with a bigger battery, but it also packs more processing power (8-core GPU and 8-core CPU). It still evens out at the Apple standard for all the rest.

2021 Apple 12.9-inch iPad Pro

Of course, when using drawing apps like Procreate outdoors at full brightness, you will find that the battery life drops significantly since it is not typical usage.

Should I Get a Matte Screen Protector for Drawing With an iPad?

It depends. Most matte screen protectors in the market reduce the gloss of the screen and create more traction for the pen. This gives you more control over your drawing, and the paperlike feel is more natural.

The downside of matte screen protectors is experienced by artists who frequently draw outside in bright daylight. They make it harder to see what’s on the screen in the glare of day. Choosing to use one depends on your preferred drawing setup.

The Apple 12.9-inch iPad Pro 2021 is top of the range if you want the ultimate tablet experience. It could strain your budget with a starting price tag of $1099.

It would be unfair not to mention that if you already have the iPad Pro 2018 or 2020, you might not need to splurge on the M1 iPad just yet. This chip is still new, and iPadOS and many developers need to up their game to exploit the stellar hardware fully.

If you want the best performance but couldn’t care less about the top-end specs, the iPad Air 4 is your best iPad Pro alternative for artists. It has the best balance of size, performance and pricing compared to the other three tablets.

2020 Apple iPad Air

Should you opt for either Pro or Air, the Magic Keyboard and Apple Pencil 2 are indispensable tools for any digital iPad artist.

For the Mini and the iPad 8, the 1st generation Apple Pencil is a must.

For the expert bargain hunters or beginners looking for the best iPad for art, the entry-level iPad 8 is a good start and outperforms other tablets in its class.

The Best iPad for Drawing: The Final Verdict

The Apple iPad Pro is by far the best iPad for drawing. The Apple M1 chip is evident in its high speed and capabilities, making drawing on this iPad an easy and super intuitive experience.

I also really like how high contrast the screen is, which allows for maximum clarity in my art. On other tablets, it’s harder to work intricately on a lower-quality screen — and this shows through in the drawing. I didn’t struggle at all with the iPad Pro.

 


Featured Image from: Pixabay by AleksMakowski

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