Is it possible to use an iPad Pro as your only working device? That question’s been on my mind since I put my hands on mine. I have talked before about using one as your one and only working tool if you are a blogger or a developer. Today, I want to talk about the possibilities of the iPad Pro for designers.
Sounds interesting? Let’s go then!
Why Would Designers Want To Replace Their Laptops With The iPad Pro
As I wrote in my previous post, I fell in love with my iPad Pro as soon as I bought it. Apart from a blogger, I am a developer, writer, musician, and entrepreneur, so I use it for quite a diverse number of things.
Its light weight makes it also a winner for digital nomads like me. I love being able to carry all my work with me in such a small, thin device. Last but not least, it’s half the price of a MacBook Pro. I got mine for 650€ only.
While designing is definitely not my area of excellence, I have worked as a designer in the past, and as a micropreneur, you need to have knowledge in many skills, even if you are not an expert on them. For my own projects, I frequently design the visual interfaces, wireframes, and most aspects of the visual design.
I have the Apple Pencil, and even though I was skeptical at first about its usefulness, I think it’s an amazing tool and a great companion for your iPad Pro. If you draw, design logos, or even sketch ideas, it’s an investment worth considering.
If you are into the minimalist, “less is more” mindset, the iPad Pro has important advantages when compared to a laptop.
However, before you decide to replace your laptop with an iPad Pro, there are some things to consider.
Can You Really Use An iPad Pro As Your Only Design Device?
That question depends a lot on two aspects:
- What kind of designer you are.
- Your background.
- What tools you use on a daily basis for your work.
Let’s talk about them.
One Size Doesn’t Fit All
There are many different types of designers: graphic designers, UX designers, multimedia artists, art directors, interior designers… There would be difficult to talk about them all in this article.
These designers use very different tools every day. While the iPad Pro is a very capable device, and its hardware is desktop-class performant, its operating system -iOS- is still the exact same one that powers your iPhone. It’s like buying a Tesla and attaching it to a tourist train to be towed.
This important limitation plays a crucial role when using the iPad Pro for professional activities. Ultimately, your chances of replacing your computer with one of them will depend on the availability of the right tools for your job.
Your Background Matters
The iPad Pro, even with the keyboard, is not a laptop. The touch interface and the Apple Pencil require some practice before you work comfortably with them. It will all depend on your background as a designer. Are you a Windows or a Mac user? Are you used to work with drawing tablets?
If you are a Windows user, your learning curve will be a lot steeper. That’s because you will have to adapt to the Apple ecosystem first. Conversely, if you use a MacBook or iMac as your main device, it will take you a lot less to start working with the iPad Pro.
What Tools Do You Use On A Daily Basis?
While most “old-school” designers rely on tools such as Photoshop or Adobe Illustrator -the
landmarks behemoths of design-, there’s a new wave of designers focused on a more modern market. Nowadays, designers usually work on technical projects: wireframing, mockups, mobile app design, web design, UI/UX design, etc.
As a result, the tools have changed considerably. Gone are the days of Adobe Photoshop supremacy. If you go to any startup hub or co-working space, you will see designers working on Figma, Sketch, or even Canva. It’s only natural, since the needs of the customers are completely different now.
Tools Available On An iPad Pro For Designers
Hence, let’s have a look at the tools you have at your disposal.
For Pure Graphic Design
This area is where the iPad Pro fares better when compared to your laptop. That’s because there’s no shortage of good sketching and drawing tools. Let’s review some of them.
Procreate is a professional graphic design tool. In my mind, it’s quite similar to photoshop, only easier to use and with a more simple interface.
The selection of drawing tools in Procreate is outstanding. Combined with the Apple Pencil, any professional designer can create quality illustrations, logos, visual assets or paintings.
Additionally, the tool controls are not only intuitive, but have been placed in a very smart way. You can focus on your design while having all the tools two clicks away.
Another must-have feature of a professional tool, layers, is available here too. That means that you can create rich, elaborate illustrations combining layers. All in all, you won’t probably find every single feature of Photoshop in Procreate, but for 95% of your needs, it’s does the job magnificently.
Paper is not really a professional tool, meaning, you won’t be delivering a design made with it to a customer. However, it’s a very convenient tool for doing quick drawings, sketching out ideas, or brainstorming with your clients.
Paper was one of the first quality drawing tools to appear for the iPad Pro. Additionally, it was one of the very first to take full advantage of the possibilities of the Apple Pencil. That, the fact that it’s free, and its super-simple interface, are all good reasons to include it in your repertoire.
While not a commercial project, I have used Paper to create the artwork and graphics for my game “Sympho: Adventures in Space”. Everything you see at the game, from buttons to the main character, from the background to the enemy animations, have been drawn with Paper on the iPad Pro.
Affinity Photo and Affinity Designer
Affinity Photo is a professional photo editing tool from Serif. Similarly to ProCreate, it tries to be the next “Photoshop killer“, and in my opinion, it might certainly be. They have versions for desktop (macOS) and iPad Pro (iOS).
You have of course all kinds of tools for professional photo editing, as well as for drawing. However, where Affinity Photo shines is in applying effects to the images. It has a large collection of high-quality effects that allow you to do very interesting things, from altering the lighting and colors of the scene, to modifying the shapes and playing with ambiance, movement, and light.
I would dare to say that, in some scenarios, you may be able to use these tools for businesslike results.
For UX And Wireframing
As I mentioned, Sketch is not available on the iPad Pro, and there seems to be no plan for porting the app to iOS. Figma also won’t work on the iPad Pro. They all suggest that the reason is that the touch interface on the iPad Pro will “ruin” the experience. However, I strongly believe it’s because they don’t think it’s going to be profitable at all.
So what do we have left? Let’s have a look.
Affinity Designer is as close to Sketch as you get in the iPad Pro. It’s developed by Serif, the same team that developed Affinity Photo. This tool, however, puts the emphasis on vector design.
The amount of tools available is simply mind-blowing, and also the integration between vector graphics and rasterized elements. You have all kinds of vector figures, curves, and shapes, but also brushes, sketching pencils, lenses, gradients, etcetera.
While its interface has not been specifically designed to work with web and mobile app wireframes, like Sketch, it has every feature that you love from Sketch, including flawless vector manipulation, symbols, gradients, and a complete set of export options.
Affinity Designer is the closest you can get to Sketch on the iPad. It is a decent tool if you need to work with vectorial stuff. Still, it has a complex user interface that takes time to get used to, and you don’t have as many resources as you can find for Sketch.
However, the problem here is the speed. In my experience, it takes a lot more time to do anything on the iPad than on the laptop. That’s an important factor when you are doing professional work and have deadlines you can’t miss.
Invision is one of the most well-known web applications for creating mockups, and to this day, one of the best. Most designers I know use it on a daily basis. Initially available as a web app only, they ported it to iOS, although with limited capabilities.
Unfortunately, you cannot create or modify prototypes on the iOS App. That’s a big disappointment. You can, nonetheless, open them to share them or show them to a customer.
However, InVision iOS App allows you to create and modify freehand projects. These allow you to create quick prototypes. They work like sketches, with the exception that it identifies and creates basic figures (such as rectangles or circles) automatically for you. That makes for a fast and easy prototyping experience.
A very cool feature is the ability to work collaboratively in these Freehand projects, in a completely interactive way. Several people can work together at the same time in the same project, from the iOS App or from the website, and the results are refreshed instantly for the rest of the team.
There are other tools available for the iPad Pro for wireframing but, honestly, they are not very useful for professional work. However, there are some of them that may be interesting for you to check out.
One of them is Adobe Comp CC. While it allows you to create mockups easily, the interface is not as intuitive as it should, and the results are not very professional, not to mention that it’s missing essential stuff like vector manipulation, shapes, symbols, etc.
Another tool for simple, clean wireframes is Pattern. The idea of the application is great. You can add simple minimalist device frames and then add shapes and draw on top. The problem is that the interface is not very intuitive to use, and the gestures have not been wisely thought on this application, so you will end up spending a lot of time for simple things such as selecting a figure. It will take you a lot of time building a serious prototype using this app.
Finally, another app worth mentioning is Marvel. It may be interesting for those of you who prefer drawing your wireframes on paper. It basically creates the frames for you, according to the device that you choose for your project, and allows you to photograph what you just drow and embed it in inside.
None of these tools are, in my opinion, good enough for professional work.
For Logo Creation
Simply put: there are no good logo design apps for the iPad. Unless you can use one of the previously mentioned ones like “Affinity Design” or “Procreate”, you are out of luck.
Many “Logo design” apps on the App Store just offer a bunch of templates that you can tweak a little, like Logoscopio, Makr, Designmatic or Logos by Tweak.
Others allow you to actually draw something on your own, but they don’t support vector graphics and their drawing tools are very limited, almost childish (think Microsoft Paint circa 1994). InstaLogo falls into this category.
Finally, there are some other apps that will allow you to play with geometric shapes. By means of altering the rotation, angle, number of elements, and spin of some polygons, you can come up with some kind of original geometric figures. However, it’s something you can use for inspiration or playing around with ideas, not for a truly professional logo design. LogoMaster falls into this category.
For Social Media Design
Believe it or not, one of the most demanded profiles for designers today is someone to take care of the social media branding and campaigns for a startup or company. While community managers find themselves doing this job with some of the tools I’m going to describe, it takes a designer to get the best out of them.
There are very good tools for social media design on the iPad Pro. They are not the most flexible, super-professional tools out there, but allow you to quickly do your job. Honestly, in social media, where the audience attention span is less than 15 seconds, spending 5-10 hours building a mind-blowing design for a campaign -using more professional apps like Sketch- only makes sense for Fortune-500 companies.
Canva started as one of the best-kept secrets of community managers. Initially only available as a web
The idea is simple, it contains dozens of pre-made designs for every layout and social network you may need. You can easily customize everything, including images, text, and typography.
There are two great things about Canva that I love.
First, it’s so simple to use. Do you need a design for a twitter post? You just select the “Twitter post” layout, choose one of the templates, and start working.
Secondly, it gives you a very complete selection of Google Fonts to choose from. This is a winning feature for me, and something that I miss in the next best offer, Adobe’s Spark Post.
If you are into design, the word Adobe may not inspire the best vibes on you. They have great tools, but their pricing schemes have always been abusive, to say the least, and they are infamous for taking advantage of their almost monopoly position for some years.
That’s why it was a surprise for me to find out they offered this great tool for free. Well, it’s not completely “for free”, as designs generated with the tool include a watermark. But as far as I know, you can easily delete the watermark for free by clicking on it.
The idea is very similar to Canva. They have quite a huge amount of templates to choose from, so it’s really easy to always find one that fits your idea.
Another cool feature of Spark Post that Canva misses is the ability to resize a design even after you have finished with it. That means that you can design a cool profile cover for Facebook and then resize it for a Twitter post or an Instagram story. The app does an excellent job adapting the elements contained in the design to other layouts.
All in all, I still prefer Canva, only because it gives me more confidence. I can’t help but wonder if Adobe will decide one day to stop allowing you to remove the watermark. This tool is great, but not worth the Adobe’s subscription fee.
While there’s a lot of stuff designers can do on an iPad Pro, it is not 100% ready to replace your laptop.
The iPad operating system and the scarcity of professional tools that can replace Sketch or Invision are a major problem to work on serious projects. That said, if tools like Canva, ProCreate, or even Affinity Designer and Photo can replace most tools of your daily workflow, it’s more than probable that you can ditch your laptop and just work on the iPad Pro.
Otherwise, the iPad Pro can be an excellent companion for your laptop. The Apple Pencil and the great drawing and sketching tools available (like the aforementioned ProCreate or Affinity) can be the perfect addition to your arsenal. Still, not a full replacement for a laptop by far.
The iPad Pro is an amazing tablet, and it’s being adopted by more and more professionals every day as their de-facto working device. I have talked before about using it as your one and only tool if you are a developer or a blogger. In this article, I wanted to discuss the possibilities of the iPad Pro for designers.
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