Buyers guide: so you’ve bought/been given a tablet…?

For the past few years I’ve changed from being a desktop based computer artist to a mobile one. Tablets and phones have revolutionised the way I work and I’ve been lucky enough to work with some wonderful people and at some wonderful places as a result.

Because of this I’m often asked questions about which is the best art app/tablet/styli and that’s increased over the past couple of days (mainly on twitter) which I suspect is down to the amount of devices that are being bought or given. I’m always happy to chat about what I’ve found works well (or not) so, since I’ve been asked and typed the same things into Twitter and Facebook a few times here’s my FAQ for those who have art in mind and tablets to play with.


Apple Apps:

Art Rage and Art Studio both do an excellent job of transposing real world materials onto glass screen (although keep in mind that if you’re buying the apps for an artist used to real world materials the limitations might grate more than an app which doesn’t try to emulate traditional tools as much).

Brushes v2 is glorious, v3 (the current version on the app store) is not and is, at best, unfinished. I was told it would be updated in December but that didn’t happen. I do hope Taptrix manage to return it to the dominent position it once held.

Sketchtime, Noteshelf and Clibe all have good ‘pen tip’ aspects to them and, of course, Paper by 53 is an all conquering notebook app that out-moleskines a moley and is a deserved winner of an Apple app of the year award.

Eazel is quirky and odd, Sketchshare was excellent but has been (hopefully temporarily) removed from the app store. Procreate is very powerful and has (I think) the best pressure sensitive stylus support of the available apps. It also has a brilliantly powerful brush editor which reminds me of the similarly powerful (and previous Apple award winning) Pixelmator desktop app.

Foldify is a wonderful and genius art app. It gives you a papercraft net for you to draw on in a range of shapes and, in real time, you see your drawing transposed onto the 3d object. Fabulous stuff can’t wait to share it with the students.

Photography apps such as Boinx You Gotta See This, Autostitch Panorama, Elasticam, Snapseed, Picframe, Halftone and Incredibooth all make me happy. Generally the apps are not very expensive and the barrier for testing them out to see which works best for you is fairly low.

On both Android and iPad there is also Autodesk’s Sketchbook Mobile. It’s a fabulous app with… a quirky interface. Took me YONKS to get used to it but Sketchbook is a very good app to use on all three (including Win 8 here) platforms.

Which are my favourites? Brushes v2, Adobe Ideas, ArtRage with Procreate getting more and more use.

Android apps:

Slimmer pickings here I’m afraid and that which is there is a pig to find… Photoshop Touch is not anywhere near as feature rich as the desktop version but is still good fun to use (and the app I spend most of my time in on my trusty Galaxy Tab). Adobe Ideas is a fuller application with a lot to recommend it – I always describe it as the best set of felt tips you ever had. Both are available on iOS as well as Android – the main issue being that Ideas has been significantly updated on iOS and has languished on Android.

UPDATE (16/1/13): Adobe, late last year, announced that a number of touch apps would be discontinued on the Android platform. It’s hard to speculate why as the only information is that which Adobe is passing on but, basically it looks like the numbers weren’t there to continue developing – however whether this is user numbers of financial ones I can’t guess at. I don’t think (from having read prior interviews on the subject) that the teams on Touch apps are that large and the feature set  of the Touch apps is nowhere near as large as that of the desktop ones so the decision to stop developing it is a head scratcher. In a similar manner to the Photoshop and Illustrator suite of Adobe desktop tools Photoshop and Ideas were the Adobe 1-2 punch on tablet. To discontinue one on a major platform seems odd… I assume and hope it’s the precursor to a more integrated touch suite, maybe. That’s the optimist in me speaking. Then again it could say something less positive for the place of higher value art apps on Android as an OS.

Ironically I REALLY like Samsung’s S Note app for drawing on. The UI works well and it’s a joy to draw in and on. The gallery isn’t as good as it could be but it’s a fun app to draw in. For Android tablets without the S Note app Paintrala has the eact same feature set.

After that? Autodesk’s Sketchbook Mobile is very powerful yet saddled with a criminally clumsy UI, Watercolor Pencil is a very fun app to use, if it works on your tablet (not guaranteed, doesn’t on mine). Fresco Paint, My Paints, Masterpiece, Markers et al are all much of a muchness; good – ish on an Android tablet but indicative of the relative lack of treasures to discover.

I do like Infinite Painter and, to a lesser extent Infinite Design. Impression is OK (more a re-skinning of the Samsung note app with a very odd gallery system) and Paintrala is trying to do something interesting with crowd sourcing and evaluation artwork – an Instragram for doodlers.

And, of course Draw Something is, while not an excellent art app, excellent fun and I’ve come to fully enjoy the app and the way it’s changed my painting. (Note: Draw Something Pro is pretty much a waste of time and only adds a few cursory updates – more colours and bombs – rather than giving you anything useful such as a zoom tool, opacity, colour picker etc).

Which are my favourites? Photoshop and Ideas, Infinite Painter, S Note.


Trickier to explain, what’s good for me may not be good for you. I sort of like, but don’t love, the Alupen for example but know others who swear by them. The excellent Mia Robinson loves her Nomad Compose long hair brush whereas I far prefer the short hair version.

Some suggestions then:

A Nomad, Sensu or eKit paint brush will mimic the feel but not the pressure sensitivity and variable width of a brush. This may be something that puts off an artist even though it may seem, initially, the better choice. They are all lovely brushes and I fully enjoy using them.

A ‘fashion stylus’ search on eBay will give you a bonkers plastic tip stylus that I like a lot. Looks like a dental tooth pic and mimics the first generation of Dagi styli – worth a punt for a quid or two. It’s certainly a quirky conversation starter.

The Jot Pro and Dagi are both hard plastic disc meets mechanical pencil styli- Both give you more control and viewing angles on the screen but are very technical feeling in the hand. Also – they’re very noisy giving you a distinctive tip tip tap tip sound while drawing.

The fabric styli (Trent, Boxwave, Stylus Sock) are excellent fun and move in a friction free manner on the screen. The Stylus Sock Pro is by far my favourite of this type of stylus – cheap and available on

The Pogo Sketch Pro is a lovely, graceful feeling stylus with a very fragile tip. Needs to be treated well, always reminds me of a glass dip pen to use. A lovely object and a very nice stylus.

On the less graceful side; the Cosmonaut and Alupen are heavy and solid slices of stylus, very comforting to hold. The Nomad Play is a lovely paint brush for younger children to use and join in with. It’s made of wood, for the most part, which confuses me as to how they then make it conductive. Talking about wood the Plai eStylo 1.1 was a kickstarter that I backed but the one sent to me was either hopeless or defective. Regardless; it works terribly while feeling light and comforting.

Update 2: it appears I wasn’t the only one to be sent a defective eStylo with a recent Kickstarter update from the company receiving a less than warm response from the majority of the backers who replied. To be fair to them they said that they would send out replacements to the people who were mentioning the less than inspiring original version sent out but, on the flip side of my fairness, they’ve now said that to me three times and I’ve yet to receive a replacement. I like the feel of the eStylo a lot. Wood is a very nice feeling material and it was light and positive in the hand to use. The fact that it barely connected with the screen was the dealbreaker. Hoping that a future update allows me to say nice things about the eStylo 1.8 (which is the version I’m told I’m being sent).

What’s the best one? That’s like asking Picasso if he could make do with one brush – each stylus has a character and feel, a machine it works best on and others it suits less.

My favourites on iPad are the Nomad Compose Short hair  and the Stylus Sock. On Android I tend to like the Pogo Sketch Pro and Nomad the most.

The styli I’ve not mentioned so much are the next gen of capacitive (which all are – mimicking the static charge the glass needs to take from your finger to work) and pressure sensitive styli such as the Jot Touch, Pogo Connect and Hex3 Jaja. I’ve got the first two of the three on that list but haven’t played with them enough to actually work out if I like them or not. They certainly aren’t as immediate and lovely as the S-Pen on the newer Samsung devices are. In the short term I’ll say that I prefer the Pogo in terms of barrel size and that it uses an AAA battery rather than a rechargeable one like the Jot. It also, on the face of it, seems to convey the feeling of pressure sensitivity better than the Jot but I do want to use them both more before I start saying with any assurance which is the best way to spend £80. I wouldn’t use the number 1 gadget store again, that’s the one thing that I came out with.

Hope that helps! Long winded I know (brevity has never been my strength). If I’ve missed something give me a shout on @kercal or look up some of my videos on youtube (channel: apaulio).

If you wanted to read more (you mad, crazy fool you) then there is a whole 100+ pages of such blather (mostly iOS related though) in my tablet art book which can be found here: Apple being Apple it only works on iOS 5 and up in updated versions of iBooks, on only on iPad too, but for those happy few it’s there for you to read a sample or buy a copy of if that pickles your onions.

And, of course, Happy New Year! Hope that 2013 is a good one for all of us. Now that the Mayan threat has been lifted it’s party party party time and we can stop all this recession nonsense? Hope so.

((updated again after BETT with a few more apps in the screenshots 🙂 )).

New Update: Feb 2013.

A new app has surfaced: DrawQuest. It’s a complete corker – out Draw Somethings Draw Something by a long distance imo. Love it to pieces. Check out recent posts on my blog for more info.

On the stylus side I’ve recently bought a replacement Dagi stylus and it’s fabulous. Works especially well on the Surface RT. Like it loads, especially the Dagi Accu Pen. More details here.

One thought on “Buyers guide: so you’ve bought/been given a tablet…?

  1. Hi I wrote you on Flickr and you gently answered me sending me the link to this page.
    Your infos were pretty handy thanks for this post.
    I have a galaxy tab2 10.1 and I really want to draw with it. I have a wacom bamboo stylus but I have to admit I’m not really satisfied with it. For an almost correct accuracy stroke I have to press really heard to get it. I was wondering if it might exist something like the S PEN which has not the classic rubber ball end as the other stylus but it seems not compatible with my tablet. According to me the right stylus would have to be harder and of course if it has a smaller pointer it would be better, particular with app which don’t allow zoom-in features like the great: Zen brush app.
    I rode your sharing about styli but I was wondering if you had any tip or infos for my precise case.
    Thanks a lot.

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