The Apple Pencil has reignited my love of drawing

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The Spider-Man drawing above was created entirely on the iPad Pro using Procreate and the Apple Pencil.
The Spider-Man drawing above was created entirely on the iPad Pro using Procreate and the Apple Pencil.
Photo: Adam Tow

The Spider-Man drawing above was created entirely on the iPad Pro using Procreate and the Apple Pencil. After many years, my love of drawing has been reignited and transported to the digital age.

Friends of mine from childhood, high school and college remember me as someone who loved to draw. Armed with reams of continuous pin fed dot matrix computer paper from my father’s workplace, my elementary school friends and I would draw battleships and castles. Our fortresses featured various dungeons, moats and parapets to defend the inhabitants from the invading hordes. Our vessels would have multiple 16-inch cannons, missile launchers, and enough anti-aircraft, anti-missile, and anti-submarine weaponry to repel any assault on our naval fleet. As I entered middle and high school, I began reading comic books and drawing Spider-Man, Iron Man, and Batman in my sketchbooks.

Yet, as much as I loved computers, I never took a liking to drawing digitally. Tools like Illustrator still confound me to this day for anything but the most simplistic projects. I remember buying one of the first Wacon Intuos tablets, but I could never get used to the experience of looking at the screen while drawing on the tablet. It felt unnatural and I yearned for that 1:1 experience. I realize that many people have no problem with this approach, but it just wasn’t for me. I’ve tried numerous styluses, both dumb ones and those with Bluetooth for my iPhone and iPad, but none could replicate the feeling of drawing on paper.

Today, Wacom has its Cintiq line, Samsung has the Galaxy Note 5 which features a halfway decent stylus in the S-Pen (though the screen is too small for the type of drawing I would like to do) and Microsoft has Surface tablets which come with high-precision styluses. As a longtime Apple user, however, I could not bear myself to switch platforms.

With all that said, one can imagine my excitement with the announcement of the iPad Pro and the Apple Pencil. The videos depicting the Pencil in action were impressive, and I waited with great anticipation at midnight of launch day to order the Pro and Pencil. While I was able to pick up my iPad Pro on day one, my Pencil was backordered for three to four additional weeks. In some ways, this was good, because it gave me the chance to become more familiar with the differences in the iPad Pro compared with my other iPads. It features the best software keyboard that I have used to date, one that I can conceivably use for typing long form text and editing HTML documents.

I didn’t buy the iPad Pro for typing; I bought it to draw! So last week, I began calling Apple Retail stores around the peninsula, asking if they had any Pencils in stock. I was initially told that all Pencils were backordered, and that they wouldn’t be arriving for weeks. Then, I read reports that small batches were indeed arriving at retail stores, including the one nearest to my house. I went to that store on the morning of the 19th. The specialist informed me that while none were in stock at the moment, more were coming later in the day. So, back home I went and waited until after lunch. As I entered the Apple Store, my eyes went directly to the shelf  where the Pencils should have been. My heart sank when I saw an empty shelf. Fortunately, my prayers were answered; they had 10 more in the back!

iPad_Pro_Drawing_2

Up until now, I have been using an Adonit Jot Pro Bluetooth Stylus and Procreate on an original iPad mini for my digital illustrations. Shown above is a page from a children’s book that I am making for my son. While the Jot Pro was certainly better than using my fingers, I have not been entirely satisfied with it. The lag, the weird plastic disc at the tip, and the buttons that I kept pressing by accident were annoying. The lack of good palm rejection in all of the iOS apps I’ve tried to date made drawing an awkward experience.

The Apple Pencil resolves all of these problems to my satisfaction. It has the least lag or latency of any stylus I’ve ever used due to the high sampling rate between the Pencil’s movements on the iPad Pro’s display. The tip of the Pencil is small and precise; where I place it is where the digital ink appears. I know Wacon tablet users love their buttons, but I like the fact that there are no buttons on the Apple Pencil; there’s nothing to accidentally press. Finally, palm rejection is extremely good across several applications like Paper, Procreate, and Notes. I am so glad to be able to place the side of my hand right on the screen without worrying that a big splotch would appear! And while there remain times when I see a stray ink mark, it happens so infrequently that it’s not a problem for me.

Procreate from Savage Interactive is an excellent painting application that offers multiple layer support, perspective tools, dozens of pre-set brushes, and an easy-to-use interface. It also records everything you do in the app, making it easy to see how I went from a blank canvas to the finished Spider-Man drawing.

It’s only been a few days, but to say that I am satisfied with the Apple Pencil is an understatement. For artists like me who never got accustomed to drawing on graphics tablets like the Wacom Intuos, didn’t want to plunk down the cash for a Cintiq, nor felt the need to switch platforms, the Apple Pencil and the iPad Pro is a game changer. And the great thing is that this technology is only going to get better. I’d welcome using the Apple Pencil on a smaller iPad for those times when I want a more portable drawing system. I’d also like to see better iCloud support in Procreate so that I can easily switch between art projects on all of my devices. I fully expect to do much more drawing in the future, now that the technology has matched my expectations.

Lastly, I pulled the old Apple Bluetooth headset dock to function as a charging stand for the Apple Pencil. I connected a 30-pin to Lightning adapter to the Pencil’s female-to-female Lightning adapter to complete the system. The port for the headset is magnetized, so the Pencil’s cap won’t roll off the table.

Using an old iPhone Bluetooth Headset dock as an Apple Pencil dock.
Using an old iPhone Bluetooth Headset dock as an Apple Pencil dock.
Photo: Adam Tow

This is a guest by Adam Tow, a Bay Area technologist, photographer, and Newton fan. Tow is a senior producer at Re/code. This post first appeared on his personal blog.

 

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  • MWinNYC

    Thanks for the review! I also bought the Pro to draw (I am a medical illustrator, surgeon, and former instructor at The Cleveland Institute of Art). I am still waiting to get my hands on the Pencil. Mine won’t ship for another 3 weeks. Every store here in NYC also gets daily shipments (30-40), but they are quickly being snatched up when doors open in the morning by people who are selling them on the black market, or Ebay. And, of course, Apple store employees refuse to reserve one for me when the next shipment arrives. I am quickly losing interest in this product and might return everything, and just forget about it. I really think Apple’s sales policies in this situation REALLY suck! I was told that I should go on-line every morning, and by chance, I might be able to reserve one for in-store pick-up if that option exists at that time.

    • Lohith

      I was frustrated with their shitty policy too. People are buying all of them at once and then selling them on ebay/craigslist. I lost interest and returned my ipad pro today.

    • Ambiguous Anarchist

      Honestly, there is a 2 per person limit. Beyond that, employees can’t do much. BUT If any come in, they show up as available for pickup, on the website. So that’s your way to see if there is any stock and if you can reserve one before walking in. Try that, as well as asking if they have them in the back. It’s how I was able to get my hands on one!

      • MWinNYC

        I was at the Upper East Side store in Manhattan a few days ago and one of the sales associates told me that they were selling 10-15 Pencils at a time to people- looks like that store didn’t get the “2 per customer” memo! There are literally 100s for sale on Ebay as I type this. Many sellers have 10 or more for sale. Anyways, I just ordered one from Best Buy today- it has already shipped and will be delivered to me in 2 days.

      • Justice4Ureserved©

        The problem is not just people buying them up and reselling them, the problem is people who paid for one on release day, have about 2 more weeks to wait. Any company who lists an item like this as in stock, then says 4 to 5 weeks to ship, is lying about being in stock.

  • Ambiguous Anarchist

    Im an illustrator. Ive drawn primarily with paper for ages. In the last few years Ive moved alot and lugging around my ever expanding collection of paper drawings has become a chore and I put them all in storage a year and a half ago and have been doing art primarily with Procreate on the ipad (the closest thing to Photoshop which before was my primary digital coloring tool) to create drawings from start to finish or to do lineart before moving them to photoshop (since it has the handy PSD export format which now is even better than before).

    But I still found it hard on an iPad Air (1) to render complete complex works of large scales on that device because I like to work in many layers and procreate on the iPad Air 1 has a very tiny limit for layers on large scale pieces. (as few as 3 or 7, when working in retina specs for example)

    But since I got the iPad Pro and Apple Pencil… that feeling of drawing with paper and pencil is back with a vengeance and I am able to produce full comic book pages from start to finish on the iPad Pro and Procreate without having to do the annoying “Draw here, Color there” dance I was doing even just a week ago… I fully agree with you, the dumb and bluetooth styluses from the past all felt “weird”. They had gummy tips, annoying in the way buttons, and most of them squeaked (nevermind the latency). And I too have owned SEVERAL Wacom tablets, and never quite got over the hump or not looking at what I was doing. Astropad and other such apps helped a little, using the iPad hardware the same way one would use a cyntique, to paint on Photoshop on the Mac, but even that had very extreme latency issues.

    But drawing with the Apple Pencil is SO EFFORTLESS, so realistic, the latency so small… its such a joy, palm rejection is amazing, and using my finger to smudge while I use my pencil to draw or color is so close to the real deal, I don’t plan to ever bring my old art equipment out of storage if I can help it.

    Great review :)

    • Sporting my “Told you so” face

      Man, you’re making the wait for the pencil just that much harder. I just want you to know that.

      • Ambiguous Anarchist

        Sorry, not sorry? ;) I finished a whole comic page, start to finish. Man, so much better than a Wacom! I know how you feel, but the payoff is so gooood, it’s worth it!

      • Sporting my “Told you so” face

        Man, I’m crying. My pencil is on its way here this week I can’t wait!

      • Ambiguous Anarchist

        Just a few more days, you can do it!!

      • Sporting my “Told you so” face

        Oh yeah, I’m watching my notifications like a hawk. I’ve been waiting for this ever since the first iPad. Hey, have you ever checked out Nikolai lockertsen’s work in procreate? He’s been making some pretty sweet wok on the iPad for years now. Look him up on YouTube. His latest video is ‘iPad pro art “the pad” – iPad drawing from Nikko’ and prepare your eyes for razzel dazzle!

  • heretiq

    Nice article. Correction: The Jot Pro is not a Bluetooth stylus. It is passive and has zero lag and zero offset on my iPad Air 2. I am using the latest Jot Pro and I have tried the Apple Pencil with iPad Pro. The Jot Pro is as precise as the Pencil — especially when used with a good drawing app like ProtoSketch, etc, but obviously lacks all the active features of the Pencil. In fact, the Jot Pro is so good, that I am happy to use it with my iPad Air 2 until Apple releases a smaller iPad that is compatible with the Pencil.

  • Dale Steele

    Adam, great review, even for a non-artist like me. I’ve enjoyed your work before & and thought you might sneak in a reference to drawing with a Newton, back in the day. I’m still deciding on replacing my iPad mini with a faster and/or larger one. Sketching is a secondary but very enjoyable feature for me. This article complicates my decision. Thanks! Dale

    • Dale: Good to hear from you again; I would definitely check out the other reviews of the iPad Pro and see it in person. There’s nothing comparable on the iOS side for sketching like with the Pro and the Pencil. I too went from the iPad mini (1st generation). Not only is the size difference striking, but the performance is so much better than the mini (which is basically an iPad 2).

      As for the Newton, all I did was doodle on mine. The resistive touch screens back then just weren’t up to par for doing serious drawing. But, those devices painted a picture of what was to come 20 years later!

    • Ambiguous Anarchist

      The media playback (sound volume and video quality) which is my secondary use for the iPad is also cinematic quality. So for either one, the iPad far surpasses all other models, and is still a worthwhile investment, in my opinion.

  • I am still skeptical on the ipad pro and pencil (in my country and specifically my town, I have neither seen nor tested the products). I’m an illustrator myself and I use wacom cintiq a lot. Based on your experience as an illustrator, would you recommend the product?
    I really want to get it but I dont want to be disappointed.

    • Walauweee: I don’t have much experience with using the Cintiq, so I will refer you to this article and video here:

      http://www.cartoonbrew.com/tech/drawing-tablets-head-to-head-ipad-propencil-vs-surface-pro-vs-wacom-cintiq-companion-122103.html

      He compares the iPad Pro and Apple Pencil with a Wacom Cinitq and a Microsoft Surface Pro 3. If you have the opportunity to handle the iPad Pro / Apple Pencil at your nearest Apple Store, I would do so before ordering one.

    • Ambiguous Anarchist

      Return policy at Apple has extended until Jan 8, for holiday purchases. Now’s the time to buy if you want prolonged testing period for returns, in case of dissatisfaction. The cintiq is out of my budget range, and only works for stylus use, the iPad is multifunctional, and cheaper by comparison.

      I used cintiq simulacrums, like astropad, to use my iPad as a cintiq monitor, with photoshop on my Mac, and it’s laggy, low Rez, and not as good. In my mind, as a Wacom replacement and multi purpose tool, it far surpasses the cintiq in my experience. Try it, it can’t hurt with the extended return policy, and you may find yourself falling deeper in love with it than you may have expected. Even with delayed shipping times in December.

  • Ambiguous Anarchist

    Soooo many boxes. Scanning is the best option for optimal lighting, and then you can retrace on procreate if you’re interested in doing so.

  • Justice4Ureserved©

    It is really bad when Apple says there is a 4 week wait one day one but ship them to retail stores. It’s like Apple saying they care more about retail than online sales.