This post is long overdue, especially considering I work mostly with digital painting. You can find the counterpart to this post, My Favorite Analog Drawing Tools, in this blog post here.
So here it is— a simple list of all my favorite digital drawing tools! I've tried so many drawing apps and tools, and these are winners.
It feels really natural to draw on the iPad Pro with the Apple Pencil. I'm not an Apple fangirl so I am completely unbiased in this assessment. Try it in an Apple Store first, as it is a big investment. I think the smaller iPad sizes work fine if you're just starting out or doing simple drawing, but for me I really love the 12.9" Pro version.
You really do need to use it with the Apple Pencil to get all the benefits—I used to have a bunch of styluses ranging from Fifty Three's Pencil to Adonit's Jot Pro, but they pale in comparison to the Pencil (I feel like Apple purposefully makes it hard for theirs to compete).
J also has the Microsoft Surface Tablet and it doesn't compare in terms of pressure sensitivity which is so important for drawing.
If you are not illustrated for a profession you really just need the iPad Pro and Pencil. Actually even some professionals are migrating completely to the iPad Pro. But for me, I still need to do final work on the computer because there are still some capabilities that the iPad Pro doesn't do as well, especially in the pen pressure sensitivity category.
Enter the Wacom tablets. They dominate in this field. I have been using the Wacom Intuos Pro for a long time now and I really like it. One benefit vs. working on a screen tablet is that you look forward at the screen instead of straining your neck down. I honestly find the small and medium sizes work about the same for me (I have one at work and one at home), but medium does feel a little more free if you have the budget for it.
I do still think Apple's line of computers work best for creatives. I actually don't really like Apple's approach to business so I tried to migrate back over to a PC, but Microsoft still hasn't caught up for my UI/UX priorities. Just my opinion, but most creatives do use Apple for a reason, at least for the time being. I have been using a Retina 15" Macbook Pro for many years and it's still holding up.
It's been a dream of mine to own a Wacom Cintiq. Last Christmas I got a Wacom Mobile Studio Pro and I was so excited. It's a laptop and screen tablet in one. I thought it would be the answer to everything.
I tried to love it, but it just didn't work out. Wacom makes great tablets but not very good computers. I personally concluded it's best to stick to a dedicated computer and a dedicated drawing tablet. Waiting for new models to come out before I try that route. I'll update this post when I do!
4. A Note For Beginners
If you look at these products, you'll probably be a bit sticker shocked. I sure was when I started looking into them more seriously. Even the iPad is a luxury! If you're just starting out with digital drawing, I would recommend getting a cheaper Wacom tablet and use your computer with the $10/month Adobe Photoshop Creative Cloud plan. See if you like it before you commit to anything more expensive.
I started out with a Wacom Bamboo, which they've discontinued and now the equivalent is this Wacom tablet. It's totally more than enough for a beginner!
1. For Sketching and Color Testing: Procreate
I absolutely love Procreate. It is worth way more than the $10 the developers charge. Buy it today if you have the iPad. It's so powerful and they keep improving it. I love drawing with it, and do most of my sketching and initial design work with it. It's way better than Adobe's iPad drawing apps.
2. For Elaborate Digital Painting: Adobe Photoshop
Procreate is amazing and you probably don't need more than that if you are a hobbyist. For more complicated digital painting, I still need Adobe Photoshop. it's also just way better for illustrations mixed with graphic design and photo editing. It's very powerful.
While I was annoyed with the subscription model of Creative Cloud at first, it's really grown on me. Since it's now my work, I think Creative Cloud is totally worth the $50/month for the full suite. There's a lot of interlinking that is quite helpful.
3. For Designing and Storyboarding: Concepts
Designing and storyboarding are a bit different than sketching and digital painting, even though both involve me drawing. For the former, I like using this app called Concepts. I used them for a long time before they reached out to me after seeing a post I tagged them in. I subsequently worked on an illustration for them as well as writing an article for them (which ended up being one of their most popular ones), all about storyboarding. Check it out here.
4. A Note About Astropad
There's an app for the iPad called Astropad that allows you to connect your iPad to your computer and use it kind of like a Cintiq. Some people really like it. I don't like that the Pro version is a subscription model, given that it still has some lag issues for me. I also find it not quite replacing my Wacom, so I don't currently subscribe to it (I did buy the regular version before they changed their payment structure, but I rarely if ever use it).
It might be worth giving a try if you have an iPad Pro and no other tablet. It can really be quite powerful if you can use it as a pseudo Cintiq!
Let me know if you have any questions or any favorites I missed :)