Best iPhone apps for artists: draw, sketch & paint on your iPhone

Our pick of the best apps for artists, including Adobe Color, Procreate Pocket and Brushes.


After the iPhone arrived in Summer 2007, app developers lost little time in exploiting the camera and touchscreen functionality. Very soon the world saw a host of low-cost creativity tools and gadgets and innumerable retreads of wacky photo apps.

Fast forward to today and the latest versions of Apple's pocket powerhouse offer a Retina display and 64-bit performance, are powered by super-fast processors and the iPhone camera offers even greater creative potential.

As a result, this past year has seen a refocus on high quality creative tools for the iPhone. You can still apply cartoon frames and wacky props, if you really must, but iPhone users now also have far more innovative tools and much more powerful capabilities 'on hand'.

Among the old stalwarts and new arrivals there are some gems that should be on the home screen of any digital creative with an iPhone, and we've chosen a selection to get you inspired.

Some of your own favourites, such as Adobe Ideas, may no longer be in development, but let us know what apps you use and tell us why you love to use them.

Adobe Color CC

The technology previously known as Kuler has come to the iPhone with the Color CC app.

Simply put it allows creatives to capture colours using the iPhone camera and save them as themes that are immediately available in other Adobe applications, including Illustrator CC and Photoshop CC.

This is an app that is made for a designer armed with smartphone, able to inspire art from everyday objects and collect tones and colour from the real world to use as swatches in your digital content.

The app requires an internet connection and free Creative Cloud membership.


Taptrix Brushes

Brushes is a free, full-screen painting app with an accelerated OpenGL-based painting engine and the ability to record and replay paintings.

Designed exclusively for iOS, it has full support for Retina screens and offers 64-bit painting on the latest iPhones. It can create paintings with dimensions up to 2048x2048 and move work between your iPhone and iPad devices.

It offers brush sizes up to 512x512 pixels with adjustable brush settings, over a dozen parameterised brush shapes and simulated pressure. Brushes also offers extensive layer-based capabilities and colour controls.

Other features include background autosave, unlimited undo and redo, support for layered PSD files, integration with Dropbox and Twitter and Facebook support.

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Procreate Pocket

“The best sketchpad is the one that’s always on you” so says James Cuda, CEO of Savage Interactive, who recently released Procreate Pocket, an iPhone version of its Procreate iPad app for mobile art creation.

The 64-bit Procreate Pocket sports a 4K cinema canvas for iPhone users, with 60 fps painting and 1080p video recording to record your brushstrokes.

The £1.99 app offers 12 handmade brushes on up to 10 layers at 4096 x 1714 pixels, with 18 layer blend modes to aid compositing.

Pro tools like Curves, HSB adjustment, Sharpen and Gaussian Blur are on hand, as are speciality tools such as Move, distort, shear and ColourDrop

This new kid on the block uses iOS 8 sharing features to provide access to AirDrop and iCloud for multiple file formats including layered .procreate and PSD files, JPG and 24-bit PNG, as well as supporting AirPrint.


Adobe Brush CC

Taking the Kuler/Color approach that stage further, Adobe Brush allows you to turn any photo into a custom painting tool.

You can zoom, crop, and mask your image to focus on any part of the photo you need for your brush design.

Brushes are automatically backed up and also synced to Creative Cloud, so CC subscribers can access them right away in Photoshop, Illustrator and Sketch.

The app requires an internet connection and free Creative Cloud membership.


ASKetch

ASKetch is a simple procedural sketching program intended to give a charcoal feel to your art.

Andrew Kern designed the £2.49 tool from the ground up to take advantage of the multi-touch interface of iOS devices, and to allow you to forget about the tools and concentrate on your work.

“It stays out of your way so you can simply draw,” says Kern. “It is perfect for both beginners and advanced artists, from figure drawing to cartoons to abstract masterpieces. Easy to pick up and hard to put down.”

ASKetch makes great use of gestures. Zooming is accessed via a reverse pinch when the menu is displayed and thereafter allows you to do detail work without and brush pixelation. Another pinch will scale or rotate the image, while a swipe gesture on the pencil button switches back and forth between hard and soft drawing modes.

You can tap the selected pencil to toggle between black, white, and coloured drawing, while rotation of the pencil circle changes the line width.

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Adobe Shape CC

Shape offers a simple way to capture and create shapes on an iPhone, wherever inspiration strikes.

It works a bit like the Live Trace tool in Illustrator in that you use the iPhone camera in that you can take a high-contrast photo of anything - including objects, designs and drawings - and convert it into editable vector art.

The resulting vector file can be used immediately in Illustrator CC and Adobe Illustrator Line via Creative Cloud Libraries.

The app requires an internet connection and free Creative Cloud membership.


iColorama S

This £1.99 photo-editing and painting app by Enrique Garcia offers over 500 brushes and extensive capabilities, with effects ranging from simple image adjustments to complicated maths transforms.

The app has a sophisticated interface, offering textures and painting presets. as well as tools like history, masks, text and deformations.

Direct sharing to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr and Flickr is integrated within the app.

The developer promises there will be no in-app purchases and that the app is updated based on requests from the sizeable Facebook group community.


Adobe Photoshop Mix

Mix brings the compositing power of Photoshop to the iPhone for easy-to-use photo editing on the move. Non-destructive photo enhancements, selections, the ability to cut out and mix images, and more are part of a Creative Cloud connected workflow.

Mix steers close to 'fun app' territory by allowing you to cut out and combine image selections, apply preset looks and automatically enhance or adjust an image. However it can also open Adobe Photoshop documents, individual layers from PSDs, and images from Adobe Lightroom mobile.

The latest version uses the iOS 8 Touch Size feature to make more precise selections with just your finger, and adds Instagram as a sharing option as well as enhanced Facebook sharing.

The app requires an internet connection and free Creative Cloud membership.

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Autodesk SketchBook

This professional-grade painting and drawing application has the same paint engine as its desktop counterpart, and sports a full screen workspace.

SketchBook offers fluid pencils and customisable and preset brushes with 2500% zoom, allowing you to capture everything from your smallest doodles to your biggest ideas all in one place while on the go.

You can organise your sketches in SketchBook’s gallery with multiple view options, albums, and flexible ordering or save and store your works of art on your iCloud or Dropbox account.

The basic version is free, but some tools requires you to sign up for a free SketchBook account in order to be unlocked.

The £1.49 Pro version offers advanced tools including time-lapse record, ruler guides, advanced gradient flood fill and a brush library with over 100 preset pencils, pens, markers, and brushes, including new Synthetic and Smudge brushes.

There are full layer controls, including layer grouping, multiple layer transform, and layer blending modes, as well as selection tools such as the Marquee, Lasso and the Magic Wand.


Autodesk 360

Our final app isn't purely an artists tool, but designers of many types may find this free app useful.

Formerly AutoCAD WS, Autodesk 360 lets you review, edit, and share AutoCAD files on iOS devices. You can view, redline, add comments, and make changes to drawings digitally on your iPhone.

Designed specifically for users with little or no CAD experience, the app makes sure your files are compatible with the same DWG format used by other AutoCAD products for a seamless workflow.

It can open 2D and 3D DWG drawings uploaded to a free AutoCAD 360 online account, and offers the ability to work offline and upload changes later. Tools such as Snap allow drawing and editing shapes with accuracy, while multi-touch zoom and pan can easily navigate large drawings. The app lets users see all aspects of a DWG file, including external references, layers, and image underlays.

It allows real time editing and sharing of drawings for revisions, and lets you access and edit drawings using existing cloud storage services such as Dropbox, Box, Egnyte, and Buzzsaw.