What’s the Best iPad for Drawing in 2021?

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If you’re in a hurry and don’t have time to read the article, then the best iPad for drawing is the 2021 iPad Pro 11-inch, as it has a better screen than the 12.9-inch version.

With the vast array of models of iPads on the market, it’s difficult to know which is the best Apple iPad for drawing specifically, as most reviews focus on aspects of the iPads that are just not relevant for artists.

In this article, I cover all of the most recent versions of each type of iPad, and show you what makes the the best iPad for artists, as well as give you an option for the best budget iPad for drawing.



The Best iPad for Drawing [2021]

My Top Pick

The Best Drawing iPad

  • Super-fast M1 chip noticeably speeds up your workflow
  • 120Hz refresh rate means no lag when drawing
  • Compatible with the Apple Pencil 2 with magnetic storage and wireless charging
  • Fantastic battery life and low weight makes this easily portable
  • Beautiful colors on the high res screen
  • The Best iPad for Procreate
With peerless performance from the M1 chip, 16GB of RAM in the larger capacity models, and a 120Hz refresh rate which means almost no lag from the Apple Pencil 2, along with the ability to use Photoshop and Procreate, the 11-inch iPad Pro is my pick if you want an iPad Pro for drawing.
As an artist reviewing the iPad Pro models, the 11-inch model beats the 12.9-inch, not only because it is cheaper and lighter and therefore better value for money, but also because it doesn’t suffer from the light bloom of the larger model that you see on a dark screen, caused by the XDR technology.
Colors look beautiful, and the contrast and brightness are perfect. When combined with the low weight of just over 1lb, and the thirteen and a half hours of battery life, you get a device that is almost impossible to fault if you want an iPad for a drawing tablet.

What is the Cheapest iPad for Drawing?

The Best Budget iPad for Drawing

  • Excellent value for money
  • 10.2-inch screen is in the sweet spot for portability and usability for most
  • The original iPad, with a tried-and-tested design
  • The cheapest tablet for Procreate
  • No wide color display
If you are on a strict budget and are looking for the best cheap iPad for drawing, then you can’t go wrong with the latest iteration of the original iPad.
It lacks the wide color display and storage options of the iPad Pro, and is generally slower to use, but with a 10.2-inch screen that is an ideal size if you care about both usability and portability, and a high-res screen that beats most Android competitors, the original iPad is ideally situated for those new to digital art, and is my pick for best iPad for beginner artists.

The Best iPad for Artists Comparison Table

Compare the iPad Pro for artists along with the other iPads in the below table.

iPad

Chip & Storage

Screen Size & Resolution

Pros / Cons:

Check Price

 

[The Best iPad for Drawing]

M1 Chip

128GB - 2TB Storage



11"

2388 x 1668

Pros: 120Hz refresh rate; Supports Apple Pencil 2; Super fast M1 chip



Cons: Quite Expensive

M1 Chip

128GB - 2TB Storage



12.9"

2732 x 2048

Pros: Very large screen; M1 chip; 2D backlighting

Cons: Expensive; Light bloom

A14 Chip

64GB / 256GB Storage

10.9"

2360 x 1640

Pros: Good trade-off price to performance; Wide color display; Light

Cons: Low RAM; Limited storage

A12 Chip

64GB / 256GB Storage

7.9"

2048 x 1536

Pros: Pretty cheap; Extremely portable; Wide color display

Cons: Old chip & less RAM; Small screen


[The Best Budget iPad for Drawing]

A12 Chip

32GB / 128GB Storage

10.2"

2160 x 1620


Pros: Very cheap; 10.2-inch screen is ideal size for many

Cons: Low RAM & limited storage; No wide color display


Is iPad Pro Good for Drawing?

Many beginner artists have questions about whether the iPad Pro is good for drawing, is the iPad Air good for drawing, or even ask, “can you draw on an iPad?”

The simple answer is that the iPads are good for drawing, whether iPad Pro, Air or any other model, particularly when using the Apple Pencil, as they have beautiful high resolution displays, with crisp, clean colors and a near lag-free tactile feel to using the Pencil, that is very much like using pen and paper.

Painting on the iPad is perhaps less natural, as the Apple Pencil has a hard tip that most closely replicates real pencils and not brushes. If you are particularly interested in digital art painting, then a drawing tablet like the Wacom Intuos Pro would be better suited to you, as these come with changeable nibs, including felt nibs which are very much like using a brush. This drawing tablet is not standalone though, unlike the iPad.

All of the iPads featured in this article are good iPads for drawing and work well with Procreate. My pick of the best iPad for Procreate is the iPad Pro, with the 11-inch model specifically the best iPad Pro for Procreate.

Drawing on the iPad Pro

What to Look for in the Best iPad for Illustrators and for Drawing?

When you are specifically looking for an iPad for illustrating or for drawing, your requirements will be different from those looking for an iPad for all-round home use.

From my experience, I have come up with the below list of criteria that I feel are the most relevant when comparing iPads for artists. These are the criteria that I have used to score the iPads, to sort them from best to worst.

Full explanations of each of these follow, so that you can be sure that my criteria fully cover the uses that you have for your iPad.

  1. Screen Size & Resolution
  2. Screen Color Accuracy and Gamut
  3. Internal Storage & Memory
  4. Apple Pencil Compatibility
  5. Processor
  6. Value for Money

1. Screen Size & Resolution in Good iPads for Drawing

Screen size is often a compromise between weight and portability, and usability.

It helps to have a larger screen for drawing, as you can more clearly see your artwork, and gain the ability to make more precise drawing strokes, but if the screen is too large, the iPad becomes too heavy and cumbersome to use and carry for long periods of time.

After using many tablets, my preference for screen size is in the range of eleven to twelve inches as measured on the diagonal axis, as this is the sweet spot that gets you the best of both worlds.

For screen resolution, you generally want the highest than you can get. Although all iPads have very high resolutions compared to Android drawing tablets, the iPad Pro series have noticeably sharper, higher res displays. This means that they can better display the fine details of your work without you having to zoom in, saving you an extra step than can disrupt your workflow.

Sketching on iPad

2. Color Accuracy in iPads for Digital Art

The display screens in iPads are not manufactured by Apple directly, but are third party panels, often manufactured by LG or Samsung, who are well known for producing very high-quality color-accurate displays.

Apple do not provide details on color accuracy of their screens, or the percentage of the sRGB color gamut that they cover, but do have a proprietary ‘P3 wide color display’ signifier for those panels that can display a particularly large amount of colors, above 100% of sRGB.

All iPads are color accurate, and most share essentially the same display characteristics. The only exceptions are the original iPad, which does not have a wide color display, and the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, which has an XDR display with mini LEDs acting as the backlight. This dramatically increases contrast and gives better black levels, but at the expense of light ‘bloom’ and bleed between light and dark areas.

iPad for artists

3. Internal Storage & Memory

When you are dealing with large image files, internal storage can become a pressing issue. It might seem that 32GB is enough memory initially, but you will find that this quickly gets used up, and then you are reliant on the cloud, as unlike with most Android devices, you can’t upgrade iPad storage with SD cards.

Don’t forget that any programs you install will also use internal storage – something like Procreate can easily take 30GB as you add brushes and image files over time.

If you are dealing with complex palettes or lots of layers, then RAM can become an issue, as if this runs out, you are left with a much slower iPad until RAM can be freed up.

I’ve included the amount of RAM in each tablet in the full reviews below. Using the iPad Pro, you are unlikely to hit a situation while drawing that you run out of RAM, but using the original iPad, you will have to be more careful with the number and complexity of image files that you have open.

iPad drawing

4. Apple Pencil Compatibility in the Best iPad for Sketching

It goes without saying that drawing requires a stylus. Although you can use your finger on the iPad, you get a far superior experience using the Apple Pencil, which allows you to make far more accurate drawing strokes and add delicate details with precision.

There are two generations of the Apple Pencil, with any iPad that can use the second generation also able to use the first, although the reverse is not the case.

The Apple Pencil 1 and 2 both have very similar drawing performance, although the second generation feels more like a real pencil than a plastic pointer, and also has a clever magnetic storage and wireless charging solution with the iPad Pro models.

The Apple Pencil 1, by contrast, cannot natively be stored with the iPads, and must be charged through a lightning connector.

This makes a huge difference to usability in practice, and means that the Apple Pencil 2 is a real step-up, offering a far more premium feel and experience over the Apple Pencil 1.

Procreate for iPad

5. Processor in the Best iPad for Art

With Apple’s latest range of processors for iPads, the iPad Pro’s now sport the M1 chip, which is the same processor found in recent MacBooks. This makes a huge difference for general performance when using the iPad Pro over the standard iPad, although Adobe programs like Illustrator are not yet setup to be optimized to this new chip.

Older models of processor behind the M1 chip include the A14 found in the iPad Air and the older models of iPad Pro, which is itself about 30% faster in graphics processing than the A12 found in the iPad and iPad Mini.

But overall, if you really want to optimize your workflow for speed, then the M1 in the iPad Pro is the top choice, and is part of the reason I consider this model to be the best iPad for art.

iPad for digital art

6. Value for Money and the Best Budget iPad for Drawing

If budget is not an issue, then you can go straight to the top iPad for drawing, the iPad Pro, but this is quite an expensive proposition for most.

You need to carefully weigh up what features really matter to you, as you might find that the speedier processor and extra RAM of the iPad Pro is not something that you will take advantage of with your art.

In this case, you can save some money, and get a cheaper model that from your perspective will still offer the same performance, such as the iPad Air.

Ultimately, know that whichever iPad you go with, they are all fantastic devices that will make a real, positive difference to your drawings and to your art.


Reviews of the Best iPad for Artists and for Drawing

Full reviews of the best iPads for artists are below. I have ordered them from what I consider the best to the worst for the average artist, but you might prefer a different ordering if your requirements are not close to the average.


1. 2021 Apple iPad Pro 11-inch (3rd Generation)

The Best iPad for Drawing

My Top Pick
Specifications:
  • Chip: M1
  • RAM: 8 GB / 16 GB (1TB+ storage models)
  • Storage: 128 GB – 2 TB
  • Screen Size: 11″
  • Max Resolution: 2388 x 1668
  • Apple Pencil Compatibility: 2nd Generation
  • Colors: Wide color display (P3)
  • Battery Life: 13.5 hours
  • Weight: 1.03 lbs (466 grams)
  • Pros:
  • New M1 chip is very fast
  • 120 Hz refresh rate is far superior than the Air / iPad for drawing with the Apple Pencil and screen looks great
  • Outstanding battery life and low weight
  • 2nd Gen Apple Pencil can be magnetically attached to the iPad Pro for storage and charging
  • Cons:
  • Quite expensive
  • Not all apps make use of the M1 chip yet

Display

The screen doesn’t quite match the Samsung Galaxy Tab S7 Pro in terms of sheer colorfulness, but looks much more natural as a result, with the P3 wide color display giving color accuracy that is very hard to beat – this is well over 100% of the sRGB gamut.

The 120Hz refresh rate of the iPad Pro’s means that there is almost no discernible pen lag when, especially when compared to the 60Hz refresh rate of the cheaper models. It’s almost like the on-screen cursor is magnetically attached to the nib of the Apple Pencil 2.

Speed

The M1 chip gives super fast execution of any commands and complex transforms or other computationally intense work in Photoshop or Procreate. The 8 or 16 GB of RAM (depending on storage capacity) means that there is rarely any slowdown, even when you load up the tablet with browser tabs, image files, and anything you can think of.

Not every program makes use of the M1 chip’s speed advantage yet – Adobe have notably not developed their apps for it yet – but this is sure to come, and in the meanwhile, all native programs are markedly faster than old models of the iPad Pro.

Overall

If you wanted to know which iPad is the best, then for me it would be the 11-inch iPad Pro. I would consider this the best iPad Pro as although it does not have the slightly larger screen of the 12.9-inch model, it comes in at half a pound lower, and doesn’t show the light bloom of the XDR display of the latter. It also saves you a significant amount of money, which makes it the best value for money out of all the iPad range.


2. 2021 Apple iPad Pro 12.9-inch (5th Generation)

The Largest iPad for Drawing

Specifications:
  • Chip: M1
  • RAM: 8 GB / 16 GB (1TB+ storage models)
  • Storage: 128 GB – 2 TB
  • Screen Size: 12.9″
  • Max Resolution: 2732 x 2048
  • Apple Pencil Compatibility: 2nd Generation
  • Colors: Wide color display (P3)
  • Battery Life: 10.5 hours
  • Weight: 1.5 lbs (682 grams)
  • Pros:
  • Very large screen
  • 120 Hz refresh rate is ideal for drawing
  • 1600 nits peak brightness using HDR really helps boost contrast
  • Unique 2D backlighting display with 2596 local dimming zones to create much deeper and more realistic blacks
  • Cons:
  • Light bloom around the edges of shapes is particularly noticeable
  • Expensive

Display

Those looking for the best iPad for drawing and animation might think that the larger, more expensive version of the iPad Pro, the 12.9-inch version, would be the best, but this is not the case.

Although the screen size is excellent, the other specifications largely match the cheaper 11-inch iPad Pro. The problem is that the XDR screen of this 12.9-inch model suffers from a significant problem of light bloom. This is caused by the blacks being much deeper, which is a positive, but results in lighter areas bleeding into the blacks in areas of high contrast.

As many use a dark background when drawing, this means that light bloom is particularly noticeable for artists, and can be quite distracting.

Speed

Both the M1 chip and the large amount of RAM mean that this iPad Pro is as fast as the cheaper 11-inch model. You will have no memory problems, and are very unlikely to run out of storage space if you go for one of the higher capacity models.

Overall

Although the 12.9-inch iPad Pro and Apple Pencil 2 makes an excellent Apple drawing pad and pen in most respects, the light bloom of the screen, plus the extra weight and cost puts in behind the 11-inch version in my reckoning.

If you want the larger 12.9-inch screen, but not the light bloom, then you can try to find the older 2020 iPad Pro, although bear in mind that this lacks the M1 chip and is noticeably slower than the current iPad Pro’s.


3. 2020 Apple iPad (8th Generation)

The Best iPad for Drawing on a Budget

Top Budget Pick
Specifications:
  • Chip: A12
  • RAM: 3GB
  • Storage: 32GB / 128GB
  • Screen Size: 10.2″
  • Max Resolution: 2160 x 1620
  • Apple Pencil Compatibility: 1st Generation
  • Colors: Normal color display
  • Battery Life: 10 hours
  • Weight: 1.08 lbs (490 grams)
  • Pros:
  • Excellent value for money
  • Original iPad with tried-and-tested design
  • 10.2-inch screen can be the sweet spot for size
  • The cheapest iPad available
  • Cons:
  • Only first gen Apple Pencil support
  • No wide color P3 display
  • Low internal storage

Display

As an affordable iPad for drawing, you miss out on some of the perks of the more expensive models, like the P3 wide color display. But the color accuracy, resolution and contrast are still superior to most Android tablets with which this directly competes on price.

Side-by-side you can see the difference with the display of the iPad Pro, but on its own, the iPad can still blow you away with Apple’s usual sharp, clear display, with natural, bright colors.

Speed

With only 3GB of RAM and the older A12 chip, this iPad for digital art can take a few seconds longer to process computational heavy tasks in Procreate, but it always gets there, and is able to do anything you ask of it from a drawing perspective.

You only get first generation Apple Pencil support, which means charging via the lightning port, but the actual drawing performance is largely on a par with the iPad Pro and Apple Pencil 2, albeit with a little more lag.

Overall

The original iPad may not reach the heights of the iPad Pro, but when you take price into account, it is excellent value for money, and my pick for the best iPad for drawing on a budget.


4. 2020 Apple iPad Air (4th Generation)

Excellent value for money

Specifications:
  • Chip: A14
  • RAM: 4GB
  • Storage: 64GB / 256GB
  • Screen Size: 10.9″
  • Max Resolution: 2360 x 1640
  • Apple Pencil Compatibility: 2nd Generation
  • Colors: Wide color display (P3)
  • Battery Life: 10.5 hours
  • Weight: 1 lb (458 grams)
  • Pros:
  • Very good trade-off between price & performance with the A14 processor 30% faster in graphics processing than the A12 in the standard iPad
  • Wide color display nearly matches the iPad Pro
  • Lightweight, yet with a nearly 11 inch screen
  • Compatible with the Apple Pencil 2
  • Cons:
  • Low amount of RAM is not ideal for photo editing
  • Limited internal storage

Display

A high resolution 10.9-inch panel with the P3 wide color display is as good as you would expect, giving bright, natural colors in a screen with a good amount of contrast and sharp detail.

In fact, this display is the closest you will get to the iPad Pro display, and is for me an excellent budget choice for those not quite able to afford the high price of the iPad Pro.

It doesn’t have the high refresh rate of the iPad Pro, meaning slightly more lag when drawing on the iPad Air using the Apple Pencil 2, but you have to look carefully to notice this.

Speed

There is no M1 chip, but the A14 chip in the iPad Air for drawing is not that much slower in practice, although the 4GB of RAM can cause some slowdown if you have a lot of layers in your drawing file or want to do something particularly computationally complex.

Overall

With Apple Pencil 2 compatibility, a screen size in the sweet spot for most people, and a price that is about half that of the comparable iPad Pro, the iPad Air for artists is the tablet for you if value for money is your main criterion.


5. 2019 Apple iPad Mini (5th Generation)

Most Portable iPad

Specifications:
  • Chip: A12
  • RAM: 3GB
  • Storage: 64GB / 256GB
  • Screen Size: 7.9″
  • Max Resolution: 2048 x 1536
  • Apple Pencil Compatibility: 1st Generation
  • Colors: Wide color display (P3)
  • Battery Life: 12.5 hours
  • Weight: 0.66 lbs (300 grams)
  • Pros:
  • One of the cheapest iPads
  • Extremely portable with its small screen and light weight
  • Excellent battery life
  • Wide color display for lovely colors
  • Cons:
  • Older A12 chip and less RAM makes photo editing harder
  • Small screen
  • Doesn’t use USB-C

Display

Although the iPad Mini comes with only a 7.9-inch screen, not much larger than some phones these days, it still packs in the P3 wide color display, plus a high resolution, meaning that it is still very usable for drawing.

Indeed, the low weight and long battery life make it the most portable iPad, and ideal for those always on the move.

Speed

The A12 chip matches that in the original iPad, and shows the same level of performance – it can take a few seconds longer to perform complex actions, but always gets there in the end.

Drawing on the iPad Mini has some lag, but is generally very good, although remember that the first generation Apple Pencil must be charged via a lightning connector, not wirelessly as with the second generation Pencil.

Overall

If maximum portability is your most important metric, then the small size and very light weight (this is the lightest iPad) mean that the iPad Mini is exceptionally easy to carry around, and the long battery life should keep you drawing all day.


Read More:

Compare iPads for photo editing

How to choose a laptop for drawing

See the best laptops for artists

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Hi, I'm Tim Daniels, photographer and photo trainer, founder of Lapse of the Shutter and creator of the totally free Lightroom Develop System. I've travelled to (probably) 30 countries over the last few years, taking photos and licensing them around the world, and creating lots of free photography learning resources. Read More ...

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2 Responses

  1. Ceridwen Oldridge
    | Reply

    This article is extremely helpful. thank you!
    I have a XP-Pen Artist 15.6 Pro display drawing tablet, and honestly prefer drawing on the iPad Pro with procreate app, the pencil just feels better. I might just be sick of being stuck at a desk, though.

    • Tim Daniels
      | Reply

      I agree that the iPad Pro offers a better drawing experience than XP-Pen, but I think the difference is much less clear cut with Wacom’s tablets.

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