I hear some graphic designers have started using an iPad for creative work. But why? I guess it might be okay for drawing since it’s thin and light and you can buy a stylus for it, but there are so many other pen-computing options available, and there are so many other aspects of graphic design that software available for the iPad seriously fails at.
1. Photoshop on iPad isn’t real Photoshop
A couple of years ago, there was a lot of hype about Adobe bringing the real Adobe Photoshop to the iPad. When it was released every article about it had the “Adobe brings real Photoshop to iPad” headline, and then in the first paragraph explained that it was not the real Photoshop and only had a limited subset of features compared to the Photoshop version that one would normally use on macOS and Windows. There are so many features missing! It doesn’t even have the same menus. Forget about anything advanced like channel operations or custom plug-ins.
2. No InDesign or decent Typography design for that matter
It’s not easy to get your font collection into an iPad. I have fonts from the ’80s that still work on macOS and Windows, but getting them into an iPad is not an easy thing to do. We switched from QuarkExpress to InDesign around the turn of the century and InDesign has been essential in the Graphic Design business for just about anything print-related. I create data merge templates that interact with database tables for creating automated print layouts all the time. I use global regular expression print programming styles to create formatting rules for typography across documents. None of that is remotely possible in any iPad graphics apps that I’ve seen so far.
3. Lack of my preferred apps
Besides the big ones like Adobe CC, none of the other high-end design programs that I normally use or would ever want to use are available on an iPad. Affinity Designer might be one exception, but still… What about 3D animation/design programs like Maya, Lightwave, Blender, Dimensions, etc.? Could I design 3D exhibit mockups, environmental design sculptures, product packaging, or signage on an iPad? Not likely, and certainly not easily.
Often in web design or electronic environmental design displays or kiosks or social media posts, I’ll want to create some animations to help display the information. Adobe AfterEffects and all of those 3D programs are great for this too. So again… not really possible on an iPad Pro.
4. Photo editing & culling
As a graphic designer, I do a lot of photography too. I may need to set up still life photos of food products in a shooting tent, or any kind of package products, or I may photograph events, or building interiors/exteriors for signage mockups, or people interacting with each other, or people headshots, or emergency response set-ups for the American Red Cross during the aftermath of 9/11. Websites and printed products rely on photography. Often I might be on location and need to do some photo editing right there during the shoot.
Maybe my client wants to post articles during a conference right after a session ends, or maybe we want to do some culling right away. Adobe Lightroom on the iPad is actually pretty good, except it still has limitations. The most annoying one is that you have to “import” the entire library before you can start doing anything. With the Wacom MobileStudio Pro that I usually bring on remote shoots, I can open Adobe Bridge, point it to the SD card slot, and start culling & editing right away. And it’s the same interface as on my desktop workstations!
I’ve been using Bridge since before it was announced by Adobe, so that’s one reason I like it over regular Lightroom. The other reason is that it’s faster for me since I don’t have to import files into a database. The second most annoying thing with Lightroom on iOS is that you can only work with one photo at a time whereas, on macOS or Windows, I can apply changes to huge selections of RAW files at the same time. On Linux, I’ve been enjoying Darktable and RawTherapee as well, and again those don’t have iPad equivalents.
When it comes to tethering for photography, iOS is kind of weak as well. The Nikon Camera Control app that I would use on iOS is kind of awful. On my Windows tablets, however, I have a fairly awesome qDSLRDashboard program which works pretty beautifully. qDslrDashboard is open source as well and there are versions for macOS, Windows, Linux, Raspberry Pi, and Android… There was an iOS version, but it was removed by Apple.
5. Goofy foreign UI designs relative to what I’m used to
Illustrator Draw on iPad is nothing like Illustrator on Windows & macOS and neither is the other Illustrator app called Illustrator for iPad. Why do we need two again? I’ve been using Illustrator for decades, and the iPad versions are nothing like what I’m used to. It’s completely different and most of the features I rely on are completely absent.
Illustrator Draw also depends on non-discoverable gestures, which are known to require more cognitive energy to memorize versus a more-obvious user interface design which requires less cognitive energy. That being said, Illustrator’s interface on macOS and Windows has remained very consistent since Illustrator 7.0 in 1997. I can switch between macOS and Windows all day and the Illustrator user interface has been the same between the two platforms for 24 years. Illustrator Draw and Illustrator on iPad however, are completely different. What’s more… Illustrator on Windows has a “Touch” workspace that enables a nice touch & pen-friendly user interface. Do you think that UI would be the same as the touch UI in Illustrator on iPad? Well, it isn’t. Not at all.
This is true for Photoshop for iPad as well as Premiere Rush and every other Adobe app on iPad. I found the Photoshop for iPad use interface to be terribly designed in the “easy to learn” sense. Even though I’ve been using real photoshoots for 26 years, the iPad version’s interface is unrecognizable. I couldn’t even tell how to paste an image. What the heck is that big white circle button supposed to be? Why should I invest in learning these mystery-meat user interfaces that break consistency when the app capabilities don’t even come close to their desktop equivalents anyway?
6. Using an iPad Pro as a companion device doesn’t make sense
I hear that some people justify using an iPad for graphic design as a companion to a full desktop Mac or PC. It can be used as a pen display for a desktop computer with some extra software, but I already have much better pen displays on my desktops. It can also be used to do some things locally while syncing your files to the desktop computer for more-complicated tasks. That’s all well and good, but I can do that with a Macbook or a Windows tablet/laptop too… AND, if I use a Windows tablet as my companion device, I can have exactly the same full-featured graphic design programs installed.
That also means I don’t have to waste cognitive energy learning a foreign interface for the “lite” versions of graphics programs that are available on the iPad. Nor do I have to waste cognitive energy memorizing which functions are possible on the iPad vs. which functions are possible on my desktop computers because my “companion” device would have exactly the same functions (just a bit slower perhaps). Personally, I think being a bit slower at doing everything I need to do is a lot better than being faster at not doing the things I need to do. That is unless it’s unbearably slower of course.
7. I want to learn new programs to expand my skills
While to me it doesn’t make much sense to invest cognitive energy in learning an iPad app that only has a subset of features of what you can do with more powerful desktop software… it does make sense to invest in learning new programs that do provide additional features and capabilities that expand my skill set. I have yet to see an iPad app that does anything better than what I can already do. However, I do frequently see new Windows, macOS, and Linux programs that I certainly would like to learn and maybe add to my toolbox. Things like Sketch, Lunacy, Affinity Publisher, Zbrush, Sculptron, Unity, Darktable, Davinci Resolve, Renderman, Foundry Katana, Houdini, etc. might currently be over my head, but if I want to keep growing, a lot of those programs might be good to learn. None of them are available on an iPad. If you use only an iPad for graphic design, your ability to expand your skillset will probably be very limited.
8. Scraping plastic across glossy glass is not my favorite drawing experience
I’m sure people can get used to it, but after using Wacom Cintiq displays and tablets for decades, the Apple Pencil and the iPad’s glass display just don’t feel like a comfortable drawing experience. I really don’t like the screen glare either, but that can be remedied somewhat with some antiglare screen protectors. Screen protectors can also modify the feel of the pencil on glass experience, but I really don’t enjoy trying to install screen protectors either.
9. Thin bezels are bad for drawing.
I suppose this one depends on how you hold the stylus/pencil while drawing. I like to rest the side of my hand on the drawing surface for more stability and accuracy. If you use the stylus like an Asian calligraphy brush or oil painter, then maybe you don’t rest your hand against the surface. Anyway, thin bezels kind of suck for pen interaction because then the side of your hand that’s resting on the drawing surface for stability is going to fall off the edge. This is especially annoying when accessing user interface elements on the edges of the screen, and they’re all on the edges of the screen. Professional grade drawing tablets and displays have wide bezels that give your hands a lot of room to stabilize your drawing fingers while being able to reach every part of the active area. This is the same reason that your desk in school is wider than the sheet of paper you might be writing on.
10. The Apple Pencil’s double-tap gesture isn’t as good as real buttons
It’s cool that Apple added a double-tap gesture that can be programmed to switch tools on the Apple Pencil, but Wacom’s programmable hardware buttons and eraser end tip are so much better. Firstly, Wacom’s pen buttons can be programmed for modifier keys that can be held down while using the pen. You’ve also got more programmable buttons. The Wacom Pro Pen 2 has 2 programmable buttons and a programmable eraser tip in addition to the drawing tip. The Wacom Pro Pen 3D ads a 3rd programmable button which helps a lot for additional modifier keys that are certainly going to be useful in many 3D programs. Plus the buttons are easy to find and differentiate by touch, and they can be invoked with a simple squeeze. A double-tap on the Apple Pencil requires a lot more finger movement which reduces the stability of the pencil in your fingers. It requires more physical movement, which is less efficient.
11. Charging the Apple Pencil
I’ve used battery-powered pens plenty of times in the past and it’s hugely annoying when picking up the stylus and it doesn’t work because the battery is dead. Some pens have an extremely long battery life that lasts for months or years, but the Apple Pencil only lasts 12 hours before needing a recharge. It does recharge pretty fast and the new one can charge while it’s magnetically attached, but still… I’m way happier with the battery-free Wacom Pro Pens and Intuos and ArtZ pens that I’ve been using for decades.
12. The Apple Pencil doesn’t have screen hover indicators
Over the decades, I’ve grown used to seeing a tool indicator on the screen beneath my pen tip when using a pen display. This is extremely useful! While looking at the content I’m working with, I can instantly tell what tool I’m using. I don’t have to look around for other “selected tool” interface indicators. It’s right there at the end of my stylus! Furthermore, when I have a brush selected, I can see an outline of the brush’s shape that indicates which brush I’m using as well as the size of the brush. I swipe a touch ring in the bezel or hit a keyboard shortcut to change the size of the brush while I’m looking at it hovering over the content I’m working with. In some programs like Corel Painter, the hover indicator even shows me a representation of the angle that I’m holding the brush at. Apple’s Pencil doesn’t work that way.
13. Keyboard shortcuts
Graphics programs on iPad tend to have very weak keyboard shortcut support. Photoshop for iPad only has a small list of them. None of the iPad apps have discoverable keyboard shortcuts and I haven’t seen one app with customizable keyboard shortcuts. On macOS and Windows, we can easily see what the keyboard shortcuts are because they’re listed in the menus or the tooltips. Plus, we can program keyboard shortcuts for things we do very often.
Why are keyboard shortcuts good? Well, they speed things up a lot. With an iPad Pro, you’re probably holding the iPad in one hand and using the pen in the other hand. That’s a waste of the other hand that’s not interacting with the software. Okay, maybe you’ll get a stand or something so you can poke the screen with one hand and use the Apple Pencil with another… that’s better, but it’s still not very efficient since you need to move your eyes around the screen in order to look at what each hand is going to poke at. With keyboard shortcuts or hardware express keys or a programmed remote for my non-dominant hand, I can build tactile motor memory for my preferred functions and activate them by touch WITHOUT looking. I can keep my eyes on the content and my dominant hand on the pen, while controlling the pen’s behavior using my non-dominant hand and tactile controls instantly without moving my eyes or losing the spot I’m working on with my dominant hand. It’s much more efficient.
Maybe if you only ever want to do sketches and drawings and paintings digitally on a fairly small iPad screen, then an iPad would be ok. If you ever want to grow to do any other aspects of graphic design like UI design, 3D design, environmental design, web design, print design, signage, animation, etc. It seems like the iPad is going to be a very limiting factor.
Does Apple even really care about creative professional fields anymore anyway? Sure, in the ’80s, Macintosh computers were great for graphic design since they had good support for postscript printing and fonts and a great graphical user interface for the time, but today there are just as many if not more professional creative tools on Windows and Linux with just as many if not more professional creative hardware options. I still think Adobe, Wacom, Autodesk, should make a Creative Pro Operating System so that creative professionals and the software/hardware developers that support us won’t have to be a slave to Apple’s demands.
Have I just not bothered to use an iPad & Apple Pencil long enough to see the advantages? Let us know in the comments below.
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