With touchscreens getting more sensitive and devices getting more powerful, the possibility of falling down the rabbit hole of making digital art is literally at your fingertips.
From apps for quick sketches on your phone to sophisticated graphics tablets that turn each stroke into binary code, there’s no reason not to unleash your imagination and nurture a new artistic talent.
We’ve rounded up five fantastic illustration apps for you to try, as well as an array of devices to help with your artistic outpourings—for all budgets and levels of skill.
The hardware you need to make digital art
Anyone can make digital illustrations with just a smartphone and their fingers, or a computer, keyboard, and mouse. But if you want to get serious about your digital art, consider investing in a tablet and a stylus, which will provide greater control and detail. There’s plenty of drawing hardware out there, so we’ll highlight just a few of your options here.
Naturally, Apple tablets lead the pack. They’re excellent choices for artists, especially with so many creative iOS and iPadOS apps around. You can draw on Apple’s standard iPad or iPad mini with your fingers or a third-party stylus like the Logitech Crayon ($70 on Amazon). But for best results, invest in the new 12.9-inch iPad Pro (starting at $749). Only the Pro models work with the excellent Apple Pencil stylus ($90 on Amazon).
The Android scene isn’t quite as healthy, offering fewer strong tablet contenders than Apple. Your best bet is the Samsung Galaxy Tab S7+ ($679 on Amazon), which comes with Samsung’s own S Pen.
Microsoft’s Surface Pro tablets-cum-laptops (available from $797 and up) are also well worth considering. All of these products work with the Surface Pen ($68 on Amazon). And they run the full-fat version of Windows 10 (and soon Windows 11), so you can load your Surface with traditional desktop programs like Adobe Photoshop, as well as apps specifically geared toward tablets.
If you’re planning to do your drawing on a desktop computer or laptop, rather than a tablet, you can still improve your setup with specific hardware. For example, if your display is touchscreen-enabled, you can sketch with a stylus rather than a mouse.
To really kick your computer drawings up a notch, consider investing in a graphics tablet like the Wacom One ($400 on Amazon) or the more advanced Wacom Cintiq ($650 on Amazon). These devices can hook up to your computer, whether you own a Windows or a Mac, immediately digitizing anything you sketch by hand.
All in all, you’ve got a lot of options. But before you part with any money, try to borrow a friend’s tablet or test out a graphics tablet in a store to work out the best approach for you. It really depends on the gear you’ve already got, how much money you’re willing to spend, and how seriously you take digital illustration.
The best apps for making digital art
Sketchbook brings professional-level digital drawing tools to your device. The app has everything you need to create your own masterpieces, from advanced selection tools for highlighting parts of the canvas to hundreds of customizable brushes. We’re also big fans of the app’s interface, which is lightweight, unobtrusive, and intuitive.
The app used to have paid tiers, but it made all of its features available for free in June 2021 when it became its own company. The platform is also available on Windows and macOS, so you can load it onto any of your gadgets and come up with impressive and realistic results.
Even in the packed field of drawing apps, Procreate stands out. It’s fast, powerful, and easy to pick up, with hundreds of highly customizable brush types to pick from and high-resolution canvases that let you get down to the tiniest of details. You can also create custom brushes of your own—with more than a hundred customizable settings, including texture, strength, and shape—if you need even more options. It also offers an intuitive drag-and-drop way to combine layers, a wide choice of filters you can slap over your work, and extra features like blurring.
[Related: The best apps for iPad Pro connoisseurs]
It’s no surprise that Apple itself once featured Procreate as one of the best iOS drawing apps, and it’s currently one of the most popular iPadOS apps for digital artists. The one downside is that there’s no stripped-down free version of the app—if you want to try it, you have no option but to pay $10. If you have the cash, you definitely won’t be disappointed.
Procreate is $10 on iPadOS.
One of the standout drawing apps for Android, Artflow is free for anyone to try out. Without paying the one-time unlock fee for the Pro version, however, you’ll only be able to access a limited version of the platform, particularly the number of layers and undo steps. We’d say the low price for the full app is well worth it, as the upgrade brings a host of different drawing tools and brushes to play around with.
Those are the basics, but where Artflow excels is in the way it simulates the dynamics and flow of real paintbrushes on screen. The app works with high-resolution canvases and pressure-sensitive styluses such as Samsung’s S Pen, giving you plenty of flexibility and control over your drawings.
Artflow is free for Android, with a $6 Pro version.
For free, fun, beginner-friendly doodling on Android, iOS, and iPadOS, we’d recommend Tayasui Sketches. Although you can get extra tools and styles by paying extra, the free version alone is still very strong. This app is one of the easiest to just open up and start drawing with, thanks to the simple way that brushes, layers, and colors are arranged.
Tayasui Sketches doesn’t have as many sophisticated filters or tools as some of its rivals. But that doesn’t mean you can’t create some wonderful pieces of digital art with the app, whether you’re aiming for a watercolor or a charcoal look. It also includes the option to import your own pictures if you’d like to use a pen-and-paper doodle as the foundation for your artwork.
Adobe Photoshop is still the No. 1 platform for digital artists, and it may be just the best platform out there whether you draw on an iPad or on a computer. Its main focus is photo editing, but it has such a breadth of brushes and tools that you can also use it for sketching and artwork. On the downside, you will have to pay a monthly subscription fee to use it, and Photoshop has a steep learning curve.
Any artwork you see on billboards, in magazines, or on the web has probably been through Photoshop at some stage, which is a testament to how pervasive this program is. If you don’t want to pay right away, sign up for a 30-day free trial to explore everything it has to offer. During that window, you’ll be able to test out all the brushes, fills, gradients, selection options, and the new magic digital tweaking tools powered by artificial intelligence.
Adobe Photoshop is $10 per month for Windows, macOS, and iPadOS.