The Best iPad for Drawing

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I make no secret of the fact that I am an iPad fan. 

In fact, that’s putting it mildly – I absolutely love my iPad tablet, and use it all the time for drawing – both on the go and in the studio. 

In fact, so many people have seen me with it that I hear the same question again and again – Should I buy an iPad for drawing?

I am also asked what iPad artists actually use and which iPad is best for artwork. 

I myself am fortunate enough to have and use an iPad Pro, with its amazing Liquid Retina display, and to me it seems like a no-brainer. 

If you can afford the Pro, you get the Pro.

So, as much to force me out of my own blinded-by-love mindset as much as to help others make a decision as to which iPad is right for them, I thought it would be a lot of fun to compare the four basic iPad models:

iPad Pro

iPad (Standard)

iPad Air

iPad Mini

In my review of the best Apple iPad to use for digital art in 2020, I have opted in each case for the largest amount of ROM memory. 

I have always found that my saved files tend to pile up, and even when I take the time to organize, archive and back them up I still like having a lot of them with me on the tablet, for reference or inspiration or as a kind of super-portable portfolio to show potential clients.

Is a 32 GB iPad enough for drawing? 

Yes, for sure, but maybe not for storing, and I don’t want to worry about that or run out of room.

But to be clear, if you have a concern about budget, and are sill wondering which iPad you should buy – for example, a 32 GB or a 128 GB Standard iPad, either will perform at the same level, and the only difference will be in how many files you can store on them.

I have also used a few different drawing and digital art programs in my comparison of the different Apple iPads currently available, including:

Procreate

Adobe Fresco and Adobe Illustrator Draw

Inspire Pro

Affinity Designer and Affinity Photo

MediBang

Apple iPad Current Models Specifications

First, let’s get the technical stuff out of the way, followed by me giving some of my own basic impressions related to those specifications, and then my experience using each of these tablets for drawing. 

Hopefully along the way we can answer some basic questions:

Which iPad is the best tablet for artists?

Is Apple iPad a good tablet for drawing?

Which iPad is the best for drawing?

Which iPad should you buy?

The Best iPad For Drawing in 2020 - Comparison Chart

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Image Model Best for Drawing? Display Size Resolution RAM Storage Price

iPad Pro 12.9

12.9"
2732 by 2048px
6GB
128GB-1TB

iPad-Air

10.5"
2224 by 1668px
3GB
64GB or 256GB

iPad-Standard

10.2"
2160 by 1620px
2-3GB
32GB or 64GB

iPad-Mini

7.9"
2048 by 1536px
3GB
64GB or 256GB

Are Specifications Really Important?

As I understand resolution relative to size, three of the tablets in my iPad comparison – the Pro, the Standard and the Air – have the same relative resolution, which is extremely high – around 265 pixels per inch. 

The smaller iPad Mini actually has the highest relative resolution, with nearly 325 pixels per inch.

This bears out in use too – the Mini, for such a small screen, actually displays quite well. 

Everything is smaller, but I felt like I was seeing pretty much as much detail as I was with the larger iPads – the Standard and the Air, at least; the Pro is kind of another story.

The iPad Pro has a clearly superior display on all counts – quite a statement, considering how brilliant the display is on the other three! 

With the iPad Pro I always feel like I am just seeing more detail, more (and more accurate) colors and a more coherent and complete overall picture of whatever image is on the screen.

As an artist, this gives me a level of engagement and of confidence which lets me think less and worry less, and concentrate more on the art, with a certainty that what I’m doing is also what I’m seeing. 

Everything just clicks, without any second guessing or repeated efforts, and my mind is more empty and focused.

The Mini and the Air have apparently clearer images than the Standard, though the numbers don’t quite explain why, and the Air has truer colors, which are also more vivid and energetic, and has better transition and shading between colors, less apparent false color interaction and more true differentiation between colors and shades.

The numbers do indicate that the Pro has better brightness than the other three, and this is also my experience. 

It’s not just that, though, but something about the Liquid Retina screen which – apart from very expensive professional tablets – is the best I’ve ever seen. 

The Pro’s screen makes all images not just bright but energetic and alive. 

There is a depth and a kind of geometric accuracy and rightness which I can’t even put into words, but which I always feel when using the iPad Pro – this comes through with the others as well, for sure, but not quite on the same level.

But, that said, all four screens are beautiful. 

I would be happy with, and could do my work on, any of them with great success and satisfaction. 

They all offer more than sufficient resolution, brightness, color accuracy and range and light accuracy and range. 

In fact, they are all superb in each of these areas, and provide a display suitable for the most demanding professional or fine artist.

It is my perfectionism, and the joy of knowing and feeling that I am closer to my vision and my work, which makes the iPad Pro my clear favorite. 

This is a truly special display and, truth be told, it is not just its accuracy which makes me more confident. 

The Pro’s splendid screen always makes my artwork look so good!

If I were going to rank the four current models to determine which Apple iPad has the best display, I would do so as follows:

Which iPad Has The Best Display for Drawing

ipad with the best display

$ 1,649*

*This was the price, at the time of publishing

  • Superior Color Accuracy
  • Superior Apparent Resolution
  • Superior Brightness and Life
  • Bottom Line: The most accurate display of my art and my work, and thus the most useful

ipad with the 2nd best display

$ 779*

*This was the price, at the time of publishing

  • Best in Class Color Accuracy
  • Superb Apparent Resolution
  • Superb Brightness and Life
  • Bottom Line: For significantly less money, this is a really impressive and imminently usable display – not, though, reaching the level of the Pro.

ipad with the 3rd best display

$ 629*

*This was the price, at the time of publishing

  • Best in Class Color Accuracy
  • Superior Apparent Resolution
  • Superb Brightness and Life
  • Bottom Line: For a smaller screen, this is an incredibly good display, and if you can work on a smaller surface it will offer a near perfect representation of what you are doing

ipad with the 4th best display

$ 459.99*

*This was the price, at the time of publishing

  • Excellent Color Accuracy
  • Superior Apparent Resolution
  • Excellent Brightness and Life
  • Bottom Line: Even when it has equivalent specifications, the Standard iPad seems less accurate and less engaging than its siblings, but compared to any other brand or operating system this is an incredibly good display

Which iPad is better for Drawing?

But enough about how they look – how do they work? 

This question should be somewhat qualified, since for an artist the display is of utmost importance. 

Really, you need to see colors, relationships, shading and dynamic range, errors and issues – all of it – with true accuracy, or your work may not, well, work.

But the same is true when you’re moving a stylus around on the screen, and the same word is perfectly suited here as well – accuracy.

When I’m working I know just how wide a line needs to be, just how dense shading should be, at just which angle a perspective element needs to be, the exact spatial relationship between elements, the perfect size of this or that object, on and on. 

Hopefully I’m not actually thinking about any of those things, but I do know – in fact, the more I think, the less I know. 

Wow, that sounds all Zen and stuff…

Accuracy, to me, means that when I’m working I can accomplish all of those things with absolute precision. 

If I tilt my pen, or apply more or less pressure, I want the pen to respond with perfect precision and perfect reliability and repeatability. 

When I lay the pen onto the screen, I want the dot, the beginning of the line, whatever I’m doing, to appear instantly and precisely where I put the nib.

As soon as these things don’t happen, I lose my flow, get back in my head, start second guessing my tablet and pen (maybe even myself and what I’m doing) and will have to start over – maybe even several steps earlier. 

I can’t emphasize enough how vitally important an accurate, responsive, reliable and predictable pen to screen interaction is!

How are the iPads for Latency?

I have spent a lot of time with these four tablets, and can honestly say that they all perform splendidly in all of these regards. 

Each of them offers superb performance as regards latency – that is, there was never any significant delay between the movement of my hand and stylus and the appearance and development of the image on the screen.

That said, there is an almost imperceptible difference between iPad models in this regard. 

The Pro, perhaps because of its ProMotion technology, superior processor and increased RAM, was absolutely perfect in this regard. 

I never once had to even think about it. When I moved my hand, the image always kept right up with me – at any speed, with any color or intensity, and no matter how large or complex the file or drawing.

The Air and Mini were also absolutely top-notch. If there was even the slightest issue with latency, it was never enough to pop me out of my flow. 

And the same could be said about the Standard iPad, although I did notice a tiny lag sometimes, particularly with fast motions and larger files or particularly complex images.

How is the iPad Display for Drawing?

I’ve already talked a bit about color range and accuracy, but in actually drawing on the screen this becomes a pretty big deal.

I recently wrote an article comparing two popular plug-in (that is, not portable) drawing tablets – Huion vs Wacom – Which One is Better: 2020 Comparison – and in it I mentioned the need, with inferior tablets, to keep looking away from the tablet and onto my MacBook’s screen to check for the actual color, as opposed to the slightly off color the tablet might be displaying.

With a stand-alone tablet, though, you can’t do that. 

The tablet is running the whole show, and you don’t have a better monitor in front of you to make sure everything is as you want it.

Luckily, as far as color accuracy, range and subtlety, all of the models in our buyer’s guide for the best Apple iPads for drawing were absolutely great. 

I worked with confidence with all four of them, feeling like I was seeing on the screen what I was seeing in my head, and that all of the colors looked right.

The iPad Pro, however, was slightly better in this respect. 

Forgetting about the numbers and features, and instead referencing my familiarity with standard colors, my experience and, to be honest, my beloved MacBook Pro and its best-ever color display, the iPad Pro was always spot on. 

This too allows me to just flow uninterrupted in my work, and makes my sessions better and more enjoyable.

How are the iPads with Glare and Parallax?

A couple of other factors in allowing me to really get into my work and create with true spontaneity – or prevent me from same – are glare and parallax. 

Glare, obviously, is the reflection of light from behind or above which makes the screen difficult to see and can obscure detail. 

Parallax is the difference between where the pen’s nib touches the screen and where the corresponding created image appears – the less, the better, and for some artists the only acceptable amount is none.

Three of the iPads in this buyer’s guide – the Pro, Air and Mini – have anti-reflective coating and fully laminated screens, which reduce glare and parallax respectively. I have to say, though, that this was not much of an issue for me with any of these tablets, including the Standard iPad. 

When I compared the iPad directly with the other iPads there was definitely a glare, and when I was doing fine detail drawing, or working underneath brighter studio lights, it was sometimes an issue.

The iPad Pro, iPad Air and iPad Mini had no such issues with glare, and all four of them (especially the Pro) have such nice, bright screens that the finest detail, the thinnest lines or faintest outlines were easily visible.

The anti-reflective coating on the Pro, Air and Mini does seem to offer a tiny bit more resistance, which allows for slightly more control with the hard nib on either the Apple Pencil or the Wacom Bamboo Sketch – not a big deal, but it did allow my drawings that slight increase of detail and subtlety, and me a little more confidence and control while drawing.

These three tablets also have fully laminated screens, which are said to reduce parallax – and again, parallax is the difference between where the stylus’s nib touches the screen when you’re drawing and where the line you’re creating actually appears, a difference which tends to increase towards the edge of the screen.

Here I have to say that I couldn’t tell much difference at all. 

All four Apple tablets, which really do seem to be engineered and designed with artists and their work in mind, really have accurate, sensitive and responsive pencil-screen interaction, and parallax never once made me pause.

Bottom Line: Which iPad is best for Digital Art?

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  • My Rating: 5.0+ ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

A truly superior tablet for drawing and digital art, the iPad Pro does everything nearly perfectly.

  • Accurate, bright and engaging display of color, details, geometry, depth, light and shadow
  • Essentially flawless and totally controllable interaction between pen and screen (and so between me and the tablet)
  • Light, sturdy and with a quality build
  • Great feeling and handy stylus (the Apple Pencil II)

It all adds up to make drawing on the iPad Pro a pure joy. I can do more, do it more quickly and enjoy the work more, and my artwork not only looks better, but thanks to the iPad Pro it actually is better

My Recommendation: Apple iPad Pro 12.9 inch with 1 TB and Cellular

  • My Rating: 4.9 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Admittedly not quite at the level of the best-ever Apple iPad Pro, the Air is nonetheless an enormously satisfying tablet, which will allow any artist, on any level, to work to their full potential – and then some. 

A stunning display, quick and responsive interface and, again, the legendary Apple fit and finish – at its lower price level, clearly the best choice on the market.

My Recommendation: Apple iPad Air with 256 GB and Cellular

  • My Rating: 4.8 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Offering performance, interaction and accuracy at the same level as the iPad Air, the Mini is another truly superior tablet for drawing or any kind of digital art.

It is not that much less expensive, though, and the smaller screen is certainly somewhat less usable, so unless you must have the smallest unit, I would opt for the Air.

Either way, though, you can’t lose!

My Recommendation: Apple iPad Mini with 256 GB and Cellular

  • My Rating: 4.6 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The lower rating I’ve given to the Standard iPad is relative to the other three models – and it does offer slightly lower levels of performance and satisfaction compared to those incredible tablets. 

When compared to other brands/operating systems, though, the Apple iPad feels, looks and acts better and, in my opinion is a superior tablet for drawing and digital art – and for many other things.

My Recommendation: Apple iPad 10.2 Inch with 128 GB and Cellular

Which Pencil is Best For My Apple iPad?

Please remember that none of the tablets in my list of Best iPads for Drawing in 2020/2021 come with a pencil or stylus, which must be purchased separately. 

While The Apple Pencil or Pencil 2 (for the iPad Pro) may seem like the obvious and default choice, there is at least one excellent alternative.

There are, in fact, several pencils, or styluses (or, if you like, styli) available for the iPads, and if you’re wondering which pencil is best for the Apple iPad, here is a very brief roundup. 

I am including only the three best choices, and have for now omitted any that don’t, for instance, offer tilt or pressure sensitivity. 

I will soon write a more thorough review and comparison of the best stylus to use with an Apple iPad, but now just the basics:

Best Pencil for iPad

$ 99*

*This was the price, at the time of publishing

Pros

  • Compatible with all models on our 2020 iPad buyer's guide
  • Great feel
  • Hard nib is accurate and predictable
  • Low Latency
  • Pressure and Tilt Sensitive

Cons

  • Gets Lost
  • Not as easy to charge

Bottom Line: A great pencil for any iPad, accurate and responsive, suitable for the most demanding work or the most discerning artist.

Best Pencil for iPad

$ 129*

*This was the price, at the time of publishing

Pros

  • Improved feel (flat edge)
  • Improved finish (matte finish stays looking nicer)
  • Programmable button for switching functions
  • Handy magnetic storage/charging
  • Low Latency Pressure and Tilt Sensitive

Cons

  • Only compatible with iPad Pro

Bottom Line: A better and more useful pencil, with an even more natural feel. The programmable button is incredibly useful and natural once you get used to it. If you’re getting a Pro, this is the best Apple option.

Best Pencil for iPad

$ 39*

*This was the price, at the time of publishing

Pros

  • Best Battery Life
  • Fully compatible with IOS and all iPads
  • Great feel
  • Thin nib ideal for detailed drawing
  • Programmable buttons
  • Less expensive Includes both firm and soft nibs

Cons

  • Slightly heavier (which some will actually prefer)

Bottom Line: The Wacom is a perfect alternative to the Apple Pencil, and a great tool for professionals as well as beginners, but with an iPad Pro I would still prefer the Apple Pencil 2.

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