When it comes to graphic design, there’s no need to be locked to your desktop anymore. There are loads of fantastic design tools on the App Store tailor-made for the iPad, so let’s look at the best of the best you can download right now.
Over the past few years, the iPad has been growing as a viable creation machine in the realms of photo editing, video production, and graphic design. The latest iPads are more powerful than ever before and developers are achieving incredibly impressive feats in the world of app development. Now creation programs on iPad can rival their desktop counterparts fairly well, but if you’re interested in an iPad graphic design app there’s still some stuff you need to know first.
Update, 8/5/21: Checked all picks for accuracy and relevance. Added Adobe Illustrator, and adjusted links and wording as needed for accuracy.
The range of design tools available on the iPad can vary a lot. Some focus on being additional tools for people who still primarily use desktop applications, while others try to replace those desktop applications entirely.
If you’re looking to do a lot of work with logos and graphics on your iPad, you’re definitely going to need a vector image editor. Vector images, unlike raster images (which are your typical JPG and PNG images), do not lose any quality when their size is increased. This makes it the go-to format for logos and graphics, as they need to be used in a lot of places in a lot of different sizes.
Vector editors can also have a slew of differences among each other when it comes to UI, the focus of the app, and the features. One feature to take note of is color models, as they can be very important depending on the work you do. The two most common are RGB for digital design and CYMK for printed design. RGB is included in most (if not all) design applications, while CYMK is rarer to see. Some apps that don’t support designing with the CYMK color model still feature CYMK color previews, which can be used to make sure the final design won’t get messed up while exporting into a CYMK document.
When it comes to supplementary tools, these can help out any designer, regardless of the type of design you do or the platform you primarily work on. They just make your life a little bit easier.
Finally, photo editors deserve a quick mention, because they do feature some graphic design capabilities. We focused on design-centric apps for this list, but a good photo editor is still a useful tool for any designer to have.
So, with all that covered, let’s talk about some apps.
You can edit using unlimited layers, use the expansive text and shape creation tools, design using a wide range of color models (which includes CYMK), use multiple artboards for multitasking, and even edit vector and raster images at the same time. This level of power means you can create designs and artwork on your iPad that are just as complex and amazing as anything you’d make using desktop tools.
If you’re coming from the desktop version of Designer, the biggest difference you’ll notice is the new touch-friendly design. But even with those changes, the iPad version still shares that same smooth and modern feel that makes the desktop version such a pleasure to use.
For professional designers who want to move their work over to an iPad, or new designers that want to dive in deep right away, Affinity Designer is an obvious choice. There is an upfront payment of $19.99 to use the app, but if you’re serious about graphic design it will definitely be worth it.
If you’re on a tight budget but still want to use a professional-grade tool, then Vectornator X is the app for you, as it’s completely free. Its toolset isn’t as deep as something like Affinity Designer, but it’s still a capable vector editor.
The main feature Vectornator X boasts is its unique card-based design. This makes it so you can solely focus on the tools you’re using at the moment, with the various sliders and buttons making it easy to precisely adjust your designs. The app also has advanced object creation tools, deep text options, and even a CYMK color preview. Vectornator X has enough features to produce great work, but you might run into the occasional missing tool (especially if you’re used to the power of desktop programs).
Of course, Vectornator X being completely free balances that out and makes this a fantastic option (especially for new designers).
Graphic may not be free like Vectornator X, but it still boasts a powerful feature set that makes it worth looking at. Graphic, like Affinity Designer, was brought over to the iPad from desktop, and still keeps a very “desktop” feel for its UI. So, if you use your iPad with a keyboard and mouse, you’ll feel right at home in Graphic. That doesn’t mean it’s poorly optimized for touch input though, as the app is still great to use with your finger or Apple Pencil.
It allows for the same complex text and shape creation as the other two apps previously mentioned. You can also use unlimited layers, design using the CYMK color model, and utilize multiple windows and artboards for multitasking.
With this impressive feature set, Graphic is still a great option for professional designers looking to transition to the iPad. It only costs a one-time payment of $8.99, so it doesn’t break the bank either.
Adobe is well-known in the creative world, and it brought over a nearly complete version of its desktop graphic design tool Illustrator to iPad. Naturally, Adobe Illustrator is a very powerful program that you can get a lot of mileage out of if you’re a designer. There’s the excellent drawing, object creation, text, and color tools you’d expect out a vector editor, along with Apple Pencil support to fit in with the iPad. Adobe has the benefit of being the industry-standard as well, so working with other designers will likely be easier if you’re using Adobe’s file format and app.
The largest misgiving of the app is that it doesn’t support CYMK or any other alternative color models… on its own. This is something Adobe is working on, but for now, the only way to use other color models besides RGB on the iPad is to create a document on desktop (which does support CYMK, along with direct conversions from CYMK to RGB documents) with that model and use Adobe’s cloud storage to edit it on iPad. If you’re heavily dependant on other color models then, at least for now, Illustrator isn’t your best option despite its varied toolset. Hopefully, Adobe updates this sooner than later.
Adobe Illustrator costs $9.99 a month which includes the full app, many fonts and other assets provided by Adobe, and access to Adobe’s cloud storage.
Adobe Illustrator is great, but if you want some smaller, more focused apps from Adobe, they’ve got a great selection available for iPad.
Adobe Fresco is mostly focused on digital art rather than graphic design. It’s still worth looking at for designers though, as it edits vector images and uses the same file format as the desktop version of Illustrator—meaning files can be passed back and forth with ease. You might not be able to create many graphics or logos in Fresco, but if a large part of your design work focuses on digital art, it’s definitely a useful tool to have around.
Adobe Fresco is free to download, but you get some bonuses for purchasing the premium version for $9.99 a month. This includes 1,000+ Adobe-made brushes, 100GB of cloud storage, and Photoshop for iPad packaged in.
Adobe Comp, on the other hand, focuses on logos and graphics. Using Comp, you can create basic vector images and layouts that can then be moved over to desktop programs like InDesign, Photoshop, and Illustrator to be expanded upon. The feature set isn’t as deep as a full design app, but if you need to do some simple work on the go, then Comp is the app to get it done with.
Adobe Capture is an interesting tool. It scans any image for objects, patterns, and fonts. This allows you to turn raster images into editable vector images, utilize detected patterns in designs, and finally get the name of that cool-looking font you see on that one storefront every day. Without a doubt, Capture will prove extremely useful to any designer.
All three of these apps are free to download, and you can use them for as long as you wish without paying. However, if you want access to cloud storage in Comp and Capture, you’ll need to pay $1.99 a month in exchange for 20 GB.
These apps were also clearly made to be used in conjunction with Adobe’s desktop design programs like Illustrator and InDesign. To access those on desktop, you’ll either to need to pay for them separately ($20.99 a month each), or get them in the Adobe Creative Cloud Suite, which includes all of Adobe’s programs and costs $52.99 a month. (Cloud storage is included in both options.)
Inspiration can mean the difference between a logo being utterly fantastic or flat-out boring. Paper aims to help you with this—not only does it feature a solid set of digital drawing tools, but it also has many features for gaining inspiration from the work of other designers. You can practice your skills with the included tutorials and guides, read creativity prompts to get your mind running, then save everything you create in the app’s journaling system (although that’s only in the paid version). When you’re in between projects, Paper should prove to be a useful app to take a break with and reenergize your creative spirit.
If you want access to even more features, such as additional brush and color options, you’ll need to get Paper Pro, which costs $11.99 a year.
Behind any great logo are a few initial sketches to form the base idea. Sketching can be a vital part of the design process for many people, and it’s what Concepts was made to help with. You can sketch out your ideas with various brushes, apply some simple color and shading, and even place down images for reference right in the drawing space. It’s basically just a digital sketchbook, which is all you can really ask for.
Concepts it free to download, but you’ll be limited to 16 brushes and only 5 layers to work with. If you want to remove those limitations and gain access to even more tools and features (such as shape creation), you’ll need to get the subscription which either costs $4.99 a month, or $29.99 a year.
Typography can be time consuming, but if you just want to add some cool-looking text to a single image, then Typorama may be your savior. After loading an image and selecting a few premade styles, it automatically creates some great-looking text over your image. From there, you can adjust location, color, font, and even merge the text with the photo to give it your own spin. If you’re using the paid version ($5.99/mo or a one-time payment of $29.99), you can even incorporate your own logo and use the finished images commercially.
Typorama is free to download, but if you want to remove the “Made with Typorama” watermark and insert your own logos into designs, you’ll need the “PRO” version.