Drawing on the iPad, a year later

So about a year ago, I bought an iPad. Along with hoping for it to help me at work, I was planing to make the iPad my go to thing for drawing. Even after I got the ridiculously priced, Wacom “pen,” I thought with some practice, the iPad would be the best thing to draw with ever.

Yeah, no.

Here’s the biggest problem with it. The lack of a good tool. In order to save some money, I bought an iPad 2, not knowing there would be a lot of nice pressure sensitive add-ons that would be coming out last year for the iPad 3 and beyond. That sucked, as my biggest gripe with using the iPad for drawing is that there is no sensitivity– which yes, I knew going in, but when the option is there but I can’t get it, is frustrating to say the rest.

And then there’s the whole “pen” thing. The Wacom pen is awful. Any pen is awful with that sponge for a tip. It takes away all precision in a drawing. For Christmas this year, in another effort for me to not regret getting the iPad for drawing, I got the JotPro, which works much better, yes. But that tip is still frustrating. There is still a lack of precision, although that lack is a much smaller margin, I will admit. The JotPro has another downfall: the tapping. Drawing on the iPad, no matter how lightly you touch the screen, you hear the tap tap tap tap. And it will scratch scratch scratch your screen as well. Yes, I have a shield on it, but some of the scratches in the shield are so deep, I’m worried what the tablet’s face will look like when I take it off. I do like using the JotPro, but it’s not a replacement for the more traditional Intuos I have for my real computer. And seeing as the Intuos doesn’t have a screen, and that’s my biggest disconnect with the Intuos, the iPad has not warmed my heart.

Now this makes it sound like I hate my iPad, which is the exact opposite. It has been incredibly useful at work, and for working on this site in particular, thanks to the WP app. I’ve read dozens of books and comics on the iPad, and have lost many MANY games of Catan. It’s great as a computer on the go, especially when it comes to reading and writing.

But as an art tablet, it’s not there yet.

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So what I didn’t mention last post was that I had finally taken the plunge into the tablet market and bought myself a refurbished iPad 2. I chose this for a number of reasons, but the bottom line really came down to price. While the new Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 or the SurfacePro would have been awesome to get, in the end I wanted to spend less money, and still have something that could function in my work-day life (I needed a laptop for work) as well as my art work life (I wanted touch tablet to produce more digital things). I got my iPad with a handy case (with a bluetooth keyboard) AND a WACOM Bamboo stylus for cheaper than I would have buying a new Galaxy Note, or even a new iPad for that matter. And instead of having to eat ramen and vegetables for a year, I’ll only have to do it for a month, and even in that month I can splurge and maybe even eat some tofu as well lol. Plus yay recycling! I’ve always had a good experience with refurbished items (knock on wood), so when I decided to make this move, refurbished items quickly became practically all I was looking at.

Sketchbook Pro delivers with sketching capabilities in the same way as I have grown to love.

I would be lying if I didn’t say I was nervous about the drawing aspects on the iPad, however. I had talked to friends and read everything I could about artists working on the iPad. It wasn’t until one of my old co-workers bought one and an art app for it and let me try it that I decided to get my own. With my finger I was comfortable enough with the touchscreen, I figured that with a stylus everything would be roses right?

Well, sort of.

When I was looking for reviews on using the iPad as a formal illustration tool, all I could really find were written reviews and they really didn’t go into the whole “not having pressure function” aspect of creating, plus most of them, for comparison, would just draw stick figures. That does not help a person determine whether it is for them or not– am I right?

So this will be a review of using the WACOM Bamboo stylus on the iPad screen.

First of all– I just have to come out there and say that I hate the soft nib. With a firey burning passion do I hate it. Well, at least when I’m drawing. If I’m just using the stylus as a pointer for other apps, then I can see the appeal. But ULGH as a drawing tool it’s horrid. I was under the impression that the stylus would come with extra nibs and the other option (the hard tip), as the actual WACOM tablets always do, but that was not the case. In fact, in taking apart the pen, I’m not exactly sure how to get the nib off without really pulling. I’m going to have to find a how-to video on how to change it. So I have to spend a bit more money to get a hard nib and try that out. This may change my experience on the tablet.

However, despite my hate, the stylus performs well. My only other complaint would be the thing that many other reviews have praised– the weight. Every review I’ve read have said that the stylus was weighted perfectly. It’s not. It’s too heavy. I like working with light pens, as I’ve found weighted items wears my wrist down and makes it hurt much much faster than a light pen would. The stylus is heavier than a normal stylus for the Intuos tablet, which is probably slightly only too heavy for me.

I’ve only used the Sketchbook Pro and Wacom’s own Bamboo app, but both have worked really well– much better than I was expecting. The Bamboo app in particular is very fascinating to use. While there are no layers, you can get some awesome effects by layering the highlighter tool using multiple colors. It would be difficult to do anything finished with the set up of the Bamboo app, but I do find the limited options frees me up a little? I know, my brain works weird.


There are a few down falls. In Sketchbook, I’m constantly trying to flip my pen over to erase, which doesn’t work– but that’s a habit from working on a Intuos tablet. I also don’t think extreme detail work is going to be possible. The nib and the limits of the iPad are going to hold you back. You can zoom in, but even then trying to zoom in you might accidentally place a mark instead of zoom. I use zoom a lot when I am working digitally, because I am used to doing fine detail work. You can do this with the Sketchbook program, but zooming in, I’ve noticed will up your lag time, if that’s something that bugs you (I could deal with it).

An attempt at a finished product in Sketchbook Pro

But what about my biggest concern about making this dive– the lack of pressure sensitivity? My background in digital illustration started with an optical mouse, so not having pressure sensitivity was nothing new for me. It hasn’t really bugged me all that much. If I want a smaller or bigger point, I change the brush size– no muss no fuss. In fact, Sketchbook makes this really easy once you are used to using the palette tool. The lack of the sensitivity, in fact, has kind of showed me how much I don’t really use it in my digital illustrations as I should, to be honest, because I am adjusting the opacity and brush width just about as frequently. The only thing that is driving me mad is the soft tip on the stylus itself.
Can I sketch on the thing? You bet. Can I create a final product? Who knows. The more I work with it, the more comfortable I have gotten, but I’m still missing the fine tip precision of the Intuos pen. The soft nib on this stylus feels like a mushy thing I push against the screen that may or may not draw where I wanted it to.

Maybe all I need is more time…