Last updated on March 7th, 2020 at 02:07 am
With very capable hardware, a high precision stylus and excellent graphic design software, the iPad is now a real alternative to a laptop or desktop for graphics work.
We’ll examine all the iPad models available as of early 2020, along with official Apple iPad accessories, run through their pros and cons and give you some idea of whether an iPad is the right choice for graphic design.
iPad Air 3 (2019) – Best All Around
Best All-Around iPad. Powerful and light, the go-to option for most graphic designers
The third-generation iPad Air and fifth-generation iPad mini launched side-by-side in 2020, both with identical internal specs, with the six-core A12 Bionic processor, 3GB of system memory, Apple Pencil support and either 64GB or 256GB of storage. The iPad Air is larger though, with a 10.5-inch display as well as being slightly more expensive.
With identical performance, any preference depends on portability and screen size. Some will prefer a larger screen to work on, which is probably better for graphics work and illustration, but the advantage of the iPad mini’s light weight and portability makes it easier to whip out on a long journey and carry on with work. However, weighing just 1 pound the 10.5-inch iPad Air is already an astonishingly light computing device. It’s a tough choice.
One major hardware difference with the iPad Air is the Smart Connector, located along the side, which allows you to hook up Apple’s official Smart Keyboard accessory. That could swing the decision in the Air’s favor.
- Best all-round iPad for graphic design
- Powerful six core A12 Bionic processor
- 10.5-inch display optimal for graphics work
- Smart connector available for Smart Keyboard accessory (might be necessary for some admin/office work).
- Weighs just 1 pound!
- Not the most affordable iPad
The New Apple iPad (2019) – Best Value
Affordable, lightweight and more than capable
In the world of iPads the iPad Pro as the most expensive, the iPad mini for is most portable and the iPad Air is the best all around for most people. These are all somewhat expensive compared with competing tablets (especially Chromebooks).
That’s why Apple sells a slightly cut-down, more affordable model it simply calls iPad, which received its most recent update at the end of 2020.
Crucially though the 2019 iPad now has the same 3GB of system memory found on the other iPads, and starting at $329, it’s a much more affordable way to own an Apple tablet. The A10 might sound old but Apple’s processors are so advanced the A10 still performs very well. We’d certainly recommend this affordable iPad for light use, as an iPad for children, or older relatives.
- Most affordable iPad
- Now with Apple Pencil support
- More system memory
- Laminated display
- Up to 128 GB storage
- 3 GB of system memory (up to par with other, more expensive iPads)
- A10 Processor is a few generations behind
iPad Pro (2018)
The most powerful iPad has an amazing new design
The third-generation iPad Pro introduces a new design that sees the biggest change to the appearance and functionality of the iPad in years. With squared-off edges and thinner bezels, and getting ride of the home button, it almost results in an edge-to-edge display.
On the inside, the iPad Pro uses a six-core A12X Bionic, the same processor found in the iPhone XS, but with double the graphics performance. The iPad Pro is available in 64GB, 256GB, 512GB and 1TB storage capacities.
As standard it has 4GB of system memory, more than on any other iPad, but interestingly, the 1TB model is offered with 6GB of system memory, the most in any iOS device ever!
It’s impressively lighter too, the 11-inch model weighs just about 1 pound, while the 12.9-inch model is just 1.4 pounds, which is a highly impressive weight reduction.
- Light and slim, powerful
- Just barely over 1 pound
- A12x Bionic processor has twice the graphics performance of iPhone XS.
- Fantastic 120Hz, colour-accurate display
- Up to 1TB of storage and 6GB of memory, most in any iOS device ever!
- 12.9 inch screen is largest yet, great for detailed graphic design.
- Most pricey of iPads
- 4th-generation model due sometime in 2020, so may want to wait it out.
iPad mini 5 (2019)
Ultra portable and ultra powerful, iPad mini is fantastic
Being the lightest (300.5g) and smallest (7.9-inch) iPad, the fifth-generation 2019 iPad mini is in an entirely different class to every other iPad. It’s so small it’s almost pocketable, but it presents the same excellent computing experience you get with the iPad Air, with the same screaming fast six-core A12 Bionic processor, 3GB of system memory, Apple Pencil support and either 64GB of 256GB of storage.
A fifth-generation iPad mini is capable of running even the most highly detailed games, head duty graphics editing applications, illustration and note taking, 3D modelling, audio software and more without breaking a sweat. It’s by far the most powerful mini tablet there is.
Unfortunately, it lacks an official keyboard, unlike the larger models. You’ll have to look at third-party accessories here, such as the backlit Zagg Folio iPad mini 5 keyboard case.
- Relatively affordable
- Same A12 Bionic Processor as other iPads
- Same memory (3GB) as bigger iPads
- Apple Pencil Support
- Smaller screen not ideal for graphic design
- iPad mini design remains unchanged since the first version
That’s all we’ve got for iPads, but you may be interested in some accessories to help with your graphic design work. See them below!
Best iPad Accessories for Artists and Graphic Designers
In order for artists to take full advantage of the iPads or other tablets, they’ll need some accessories. We’ve gone ahead and wrote up a quick guide to help you make the best decisions, enjoy!
Apple Pencil / Pencil 2
Has Apple reinvented the stylus?
Steve Jobs may have dismissed the use of a stylus when the iPhone first launched, but that didn’t stop Apple from later releasing an official stylus for use with iPad, which has raised the bar for stylus performance and quality and vastly improving digital graphics illustration as well as handwriting recognition supported throughout iPadOS.
Apple Pencil is a high precision stylus with just 9ms latency, resulting in exceptionally fluid drawing and writing. Pressure sensitivity as well as a wide variety of brushes supported in Apple’s own apps, such as Notes, add a new layer of functionality to the iPad, making it easy to scribble down notes, make annotations to documents and sign forms, in addition to the aforementioned precise illustration for graphic designers.
Notably, to use Apple’s nifty Sidecar feature in MacOS Catalina that turns your iPad into a second screen for your Mac, you have to use a Pencil as touch interaction won’t work.
The only problem with the first generation Apple Pencil is that it’s a bit clunky. The removable charging tip is easily lost and there’s no easy way to store it with the iPad. That’s why Apple sells a second-generation Pencil 2, for use with the iPad Pro only. It magnetically attaches to the tablet and charges wirelessly, making life a whole lot easier.
- High precision, low latency.
- Great battery life.
- Charging tip on first-generation Pencil easily misplaced
- Pencil 2 only works on iPad Pro
Apple Smart Keyboard / Smart Keyboard Folio
One of the best options for typing on an iPad
Apple’s official Smart Keyboard line comes in three flavours. There’s the Smart Keyboard, which works with the iPad Air, iPad (2019) and previous-generation 10.5-inch iPad Pro, models which all have a Smart Connector to supply power and data to the keyboard. As well as attaching magnetically to the iPad to hold securely in place, the keyboard folds back behind the iPad when not in use, the whole case offers good rear scratch protection.
Then there are two versions of the Smart Keyboard Folio for the iPad Pro (2018), one for the 11-inch model and one for the 12.9-inch model. Slight design changes with the Smart Keyboard Folio improve portability when the keyboard is attached, and the larger keyboard has a bit more physical space, and feel less cramped as a result.
Both Smart Keyboard and Smart Keyboard are brilliant to type on and don’t add much to the weight or portability of the iPad. Although the keys are made out of a hardened felt-like material, they are laid out with the same satisfying key travel as classic butterfly keyboard design, and really bring a computing-like experience closer to the iPad, which might be useful when working with complex graphic design tablet software.
- Great to type on
- They’re all pricey
Apple AirPods / AirPods Pro
The ubiquitous earbuds work great with iPad too
AirPods need no introduction. Chances are you’ve already seen someone wearing them today, a testament to the pervasive nature of Apple’s wireless bluetooth earbuds, which have been an absolute smash hit with consumers all around the world. They pair very nicely with all iOS devices, from the iPhone to Apple Watch, and the iPad is no exception. In fact, as long as you’re signed in to a single iCloud account, your AirPods will simply be picked up by your iPad automatically for immediate use.
The biggest criticism of AirPods is their sound quality, leaving a little to be desired compared with other manufacturers of bluetooth headphones and earbuds. That’s one reason for the pricey AirPods Pro, Apple’s recently launched new AirPods design, which gives a selection of ear tips for an even better fit in different shaped ears, and of course, vastly improved audio quality.
- Fit snugly in most people’s ears
- Work well with all Apple products
The hardware and software in Apple’s iPad has evolved significantly since the first model was unveiled exactly ten years ago. Additions such as a high-resolution display, stylus and keyboard support, more storage, better cameras, more memory and considerably more processing power has transformed the iPad into a formidable computing device that is now a valid alternative to a traditional laptop for graphic design.
In particular Apple’s A-series processors are absolute performance beasts, and the processing power of the latest iPads is enough to leave behind the entire range of Android tablets on the market, even overtaking some Intel processors in benchmark tests.
The iPad range now includes four models, differing in screen size, performance and affordability. The iPad Pro stands out with a completely new design, the highest iPad performance and availability in a giant 12.9-inch format, which is fantastic for working on detailed visual work.
Combined with Apple’s exceptionally high quality Pencil stylus and the newfound flexibility added in the latest iPadOS operating system, the iPad is now a great platform for portable graphic design. This is supported by increasingly high quality iPad graphics software. Adobe recently launched an iPad-specific version of Photoshop, and there are also some fantastic alternative graphic design applications on iPad, such as Serif’s Affinity suite, Pixelmator and ProCreate.
Older Options to Consider
Some older options to consider (can be found for cheaper prices and/or refurbished):
Apple iPad Pro 12.9
This iPad is our choice as the best option for digital artists. It’s been tried, tested, and proved capable of handling all types of artistic work. It is the perfect representation of the dynamo-comes-in-small-packages saying.
Artists have the option of buying this iPad brand new or going for a refurbished one. It is smaller than the normal artists’ laptops. However, in the world of iPads and tablets, it is quite gigantic. With a screen resolution of 2732 x 2048, and 264ppi, it’s perfectly fine for most artistic applications.
A refurbished iPad is cheaper; hence, more affordable to an artist who still has only a few dollars to spend on the best iPad. A brand new iPad has several impressive internal improvements that make it worth spending money to buy.
It has an impressive 120Hz screen. As stated above, notable improvements have been made internally to make it more effective and suitable for artistic work. It has a good battery life; hence, no need for worrying about constantly charging it.
Arguably, the biggest complaint with this iPad is the price. Whether you want the refurbished or brand new iPad, you will still find the price a bit high. However, the price should not be too much of an issue when you know the iPad will not disappoint.
Apple iPad Mini 4
Apple iPad Mini 4 is one of the fastest tablets on the market today. It is the sort of gadget that any artist would dream having. It has a smaller body than its predecessor ñ iPad Mini 3. Its build quality is just as excellent as any other Apple product you will ever purchase.
You can trust it for a spectacular display. The display is both clear and bright. You will not have to worry about squinting and straining to see images on its screen. It has a smaller battery, which still outperforms most in the market today too.
One of the biggest attractions with this iPad is the vibrant screen. Everything is clear and looks much better when displayed on the screen. It operates on iOS 9, which is perfect for multitasking, so the artist never has to stop doing any important task.
It performs solidly. Therefore, artists can work in the full knowledge that nothing will go wrong. It has a respectable battery life to prevent the need for charging and recharging the device all the time, which could hamper the progress of any work an artist is doing.
The iPad has a few cons too. For example, the rotation clock is no longer available. Compared to iPad Air 2, this one falls short in many aspects. It does not perform as admirably as iPad Air 2. Also, mots artists will not be happy that there is only 16GB worth of storage in the base model.
Apple iPad Pro 9.7
Undoubtedly, iPad Pro holds the distinction of representing all that artists should expect from tablets moving forward. It performs incredibly. It has the quality that is to be expected of any Apple product. The iPad simplifies even some of the most complex drawing and sketching tasks.
Its iOS is upgradeable to iOS 11. It has a battery that charges quickly. Experts have often described it as the best iPad Apple ever built. Though it is in a smaller and sleeker body, it still delivers a similar level of ìProî like other products.
It has one of the most fantastic screens. The slim design accompanied with topnotch build quality ensures that artists get value for money from this gadget. It is renowned for the incredible power that it delivers when performing any kind of task.
It also has one of the best iPad cameras ever made by Apple. Artists often need to use the camera when taking photos for inspiration. It borrows a lot from iPad 12.9 and iPad Air 2. The screen is color and vibrant.
Although the iPad Pro 9.7 is quite effective, it still doesn’t offer the opportunity for multitasking that other gadgets are renowned for. Its RAM is also much smaller compared to the larger models. It also has a cramped optional keyboard.
Apple iPad Air 2
An iPad with a resolution of 2048 x 1536 will not disappoint artists. That is what they can look forward to with this iPad. It has Wi-Fi connectivity. It has 16GB hard disk drive and 2GB RAM. Its 8MP iSight camera is just the best at taking the kind of photos that inspire any artist.
Artists never have to worry about their iPad going off even when far from any source of power. The iPads battery can last up to 10 hours without recharging. Its multi-touch display relies on IPS technology. It is portable and contains excellent features.
The iPad is easy to use. Any artist can learn to use it in a few minutes. It is portable; hence, the ideal iPad for any artist who travels a lot. It is durable, so the artist never has to worry about replacing it anytime soon.
Its battery lasts long ñ for up to 10 hours. Therefore, artists do not need to concern themselves with thoughts of recharging it while busy finishing their work to beat a looming deadline. With a thin and beautiful aluminum design, powerful ABX chip, and touch ID, make it yours.
Although the battery lasts 10 hours at a time, it could be better considering what artists derive from other similar products. The mute switch, which was available in its predecessor, is no longer on this iPad.
Apple iPad 10.5
The tablet isn’t for every person. It is for the artist who knows what is best and is prepared to pay whatever it costs to get it. The iPad still has the basic look, appearance, and design associated with all iPads.
It is bigger, wider, and taller than any other iPad you probably ever owned.
It is well built. It is aesthetically appealing before even considering other factors. It has a 120Hz screen, which is twice what was common with the older versions of iPads. The iPad provides a smooth and fluid experience.
This iPad is a winner on many fronts. It has the most amazing display. It delivers extreme power all the time. It works brilliantly well with the Apple Pencil, which more artists are using today for their drawings, sketches, and illustrations.
The promise and potential of iOS 11, which this iPad comes with, is something worth waiting for with great anticipation. It also has one of the most amazing cameras. This iPad wasnít designed to work with any iOS from the past. It is designed for the future-focused artist.
It has more speakers, keyboard connection port, and sufficient support for Apple Pencil, better cameras, and a more powerful processor. It is also bigger and faster. It is fitted with a bigger screen too.
It is still not powerful enough to replace the laptop from an artists life.
As an artist, being able to work on the move is something that we can’t emphasize enough. It means you are able to work when you feel your creative juices flowing and don’t have to wait until you get home. An Apple iPad is an excellent iPad that you can consider adding to your arsenal of artistry tools.
- Available in two different styles and sizes
- Comes in three different colors – Gold, Silver and Space Gray
- Being the latest iPad model, it comes with some excellent features and has undergone some upgrade making it a worthy investment
- Work without any interferences thanks to the 10-hour battery life
- For maximum security and to keep your documents and work safe, this iPad has a touch ID fingerprint sensor
- Ability to record your videos in 1080p quality
- The Apple pencil is included which means you can easily draw, sketch or take notes using your iPad
- Boasts of a 9.7-inch retina display and a 20148 by 1536 resolution
- This iPad is preferred by most artists and has received some positive ratings
- Besides drawing, this tablet can be used for other tasks such as checking email, notetaking, taking photos and videos as well as for media consumption
- Very fragile hence can break even with one drop
- It doesn’t have the best of speakers
Artists depend on wide-ranging tools to do their work. They need these tools to practice, improve their skills, and draw masterpieces. One such tool is the iPad. The choice of an iPad or tablet depends on a few factors. Some of these factors include accuracy, size, and pressure sensitivity. Some artists choose a tablet that enables them to draw for fun while others want the sort of gadgets that enable them to draw professionally. The popularity of iPads stems from the fact that they are replete with all the right specifications an artist needs. Below is a list of the best iPads for artists.
iPads no doubt have a number of benefits and features useful to any artist who is a fan of technology. However, just as with phones and any other electronics, there are things that you need to consider when you go looking for an iPad. Otherwise, you might end up with an expensive piece of technology that doesn’t meet your needs. Check out the iPads discussed above.