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The Best iPad and Stylus for Drawing on Your iPad

One of the most common questions I get from creatives who want to draw on their iPads (or want to upgrade to a new one) is “which model is best for drawing/lettering/creating patterns?”.

I’ve been drawing on my iPad and selling the art I create on it since 2018, and I’ve gone through three different iPads over that time period, so I’ll tell you a lot of “lessons learned” over the years below.

Screen Size

One of the first things you have to consider is screen size.  Is there a “best” screen size for drawing?  I don’t think so!  I do however think that there are a few important factors to consider when choosing one:

  1. Do you need to be mobile?  If so, smaller may be better as the bigger screens do mean more weight and more bulk to carry around.  When I was traveling in Thailand, I went with the smallest screen available at the time and was happy to have less weight to carry.
  2. Do you have back issues or trouble seeing?  I’ve found that as I’ve gotten older, and carried around heavy babies and toddlers, my back and eyes have been less tolerant of staring at a small screen low on the table.  Now I use the biggest screen possible and prop it up in various positions throughout the day to avoid back and eye strain.
In the end, I found the smaller screen frustrating because I had to pan around my drawings and zoom in and out a lot.  The larger screens also come with more powerful processing so you can make and save files faster.

Stylus

I have to be honest and tell you that I’ve never used anything other than the Apple Pencil, but I did a lot of research on it before buying and can tell you that there aren’t any others out there that can complete with the lifelike feel and pressure sensitivity!  Personally I think it’s more than worth the cost of an Apple Pencil to have the closest to life-like feel possible.

Storage

How much storage do you really need?  And how much space does a pattern file take up anyway?  This is another case where the answer depends a lot on your personal use of the device.  I am what you might call a “storage hog”.  I create large files (my Affinity patterns are 6000 x 6000 pixels with a 12,000 x 12,000 artboard) and I have more Procreate stacks than I’d ever admit to you.  I also create a lot of screen recordings and store some of the footage for my Instagram Reels on my iPad.  In case you didn’t already know this — video files are huge!

All that to say, I am an extreme case, which is probably a good thing for you all to see.  Could you be worse than me?  Maybe, but you’d have to work pretty hard to fill up more storage than my indecisive creative brain does.

This is a screenshot of my current storage situation.  I do a yearly file dump where I put all important files in cloud storage and delete everything else (obviously I haven’t done that in a while!).

I am a little embarrassed to show this to you all because it feels like I’m opening my closet and letting you see all the junk fall out of it, but let this serve as proof that I am willing to embarrass myself to help you all make a decision about your creative careers!

In terms of individual files, typically large Procreate files (3000 x 3000 pixel canvas with a lot of layers) take up under 10MB.  Large Affinity files (6000 x 6000 with a 12,000 x 12,000 pixel preview made with vectors) take up about 5-20 MB each.

Processing Power

Some apps are not compatible with older iPads with low processing power, so it might be helpful to look at the apps you are interested in to see if the iPad you are considering is compatible.  You can Google something like “what iPad models are compatible with (insert app)”.

Apps like Procreate have different layer limits depending on the device you have, so if you work in Procreate, consider that having the ability to use more layers is usually easier and less layer merging for you to think about!  This thread might be helpful for anyone who wants to learn more about layer limits and devices.

Refurbished or New?

My first two iPads were refurbished and they worked just as well as the brand new one I have now.  Of course there are a few things to look out for when buying refurbished though!

  1. Does it come with any damage?  Something like a scratch on the back doesn’t bother me, but a mark on the screen?  Don’t even bother.  That little mark will drive you nuts every time you draw!
  2. Is it sold directly from Apple or a source you trust?  I have never had a problem buying refurbished devices, but I have heard horror stories from other designers.  Obviously the guy selling “refurbished” iPads out of his trunk is not as reliable as buying straight from Apple or a local shop you trust.
  3. Does it come with a warranty?  It’s nice to be able to go home and create a few drawings/patterns with a device before deciding if you want to keep it.  If there are some fishy bugs popping up in the first few days, you need to be able to go back to the seller and ask for a refund without any pushback!

Summary + My Model

To sum it up, obviously we all want the most storage, highest processing power, and biggest screens we can get.  BUT processing power is probably the most important consideration because it limits what apps you can use and how many layers you get in some apps like Procreate.  Screen size is a secondary concern because it can be a struggle for someone with physical limitations to work on a smaller screen.  And storage is not that important because you can save everything in cloud storage as you work!  That being said, it can be a pain to constantly back up artwork in cloud storage when you’d rather be drawing.

You can see my exact iPad model here and the specs are:

  • iPad Pro (12.9 inch) (6th Generation)
  • 1TB Storage
  • Paperlike Screen Protector (protects from scratching and makes it easier to draw!)
  • ZUGU Case (magnetic snapping for drawing in different positions easily)

I hope that helps you make a decision about your next iPad purchase and helps you keep in mind that the most important thing is that you get to draw whenever you want, not how much storage you have or how big your screen is.  Get the iPad you can afford, then work hard to sell some of your art so you can buy yourself the top-of-the-line device you really want!

**The posts on this blog may contain affiliate links which means I get a commission of any sale of the products, but it doesn’t increase the price for the purchaser.

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