Hex3

The Best iPad Sketching Equipment for Your Mobile Digital Sketching Studio

I've been sketching exclusively with an iPad for the last year and a half. I've also conducted a few workshops on the subject now (just did one for an Apple Store last Friday), and been asked many, many times about the equipment I use. While I have written about some items before, I thought I'd do a post that summarizes my top-recommended gear and accessories for easy reference.

The core of the Ultimate Mobile Digital Sketching Studio: An iPad and the app, Procreate

The core of the Ultimate Mobile Digital Sketching Studio: An iPad and the app, Procreate

iPad

I'm still using the original iPad Air and love it. The iPad Air 2 was released in October 2014, and is even lighter, and more powerful. If you're serious about sketching on the iPad, I'd suggest you get the latest model, with the largest capacity you can afford (Tip: don't buy 16GB iPads - you'll be wasting a ton of time trying to manage space). This will future-proof you for at least 2-3 years. 

If you have an older iPad and wonder whether you'll still be able to use it, the oldest you can use with a good pressure-sensitive stylus is the 3rd generation iPad, released in 2012. Apple started using Bluetooth 4.0 technology then, and this is the standard for all the best styli on the market now.

Guess what the pros use to create? After testing multiple art/sketching apps, I can confidently say that there's nothing like Procreate. Simple yet highly customizable, it stays out of your way while ensuring that all the tools you need are easily accessible in a clean UI.

Still my favorite stylus! Remember that the nib is modified though.

Still my favorite stylus! Remember that the nib is modified though.

Stylus

After testing many (detailed reviews coming in the following weeks), my top favorite is still my old Wacom Intuos Creative Stylus. This is the first generation model, released late 2013. I have tested the 2nd generation model, and unfortunately cannot recommend it until Wacom fixes some of its serious bugs. The good news for you guys is that the old model is now considerably cheaper! The not so great news is that for best results, you should modify it with the Jaja nibs by Hex3 that I listed in my previous post. Fortunately, once you have the tips in hand, the modification is quick and very easy. (You could do it in 15 minutes tops.)

I have also tested the latest Adonit Jot Touch with Pixelpoint (what a mouthful!) and that's what I recommend if you'd like to get a good pressure sensitive stylus without needing to modify anything. This is a new release and is pretty good. Full review coming up in the following weeks.

This tablet holder takes sketching on the iPad to a whole new level. Absolute awesomeness!

This tablet holder takes sketching on the iPad to a whole new level. Absolute awesomeness!

iPad/Tablet Holder

This one raises eyebrows wherever I go, and after using it every day for hours on end, I can also highly, highly recommend it. The Twist 360 is an extremely versatile universal tablet holder. I love that it can accommodate most larger tablets (sorry, 7" tablets - Kindles, iPad Minis - don't fit, but I'm testing one that does and will post that later). The Twist 360 is a wonder that allows me to hold my iPad in a myriad ways, stand it horizontally or vertically, with any degree of tilt I desire, even hang it. It takes sketching on the iPad to a totally different level and I'm totally dependent on it!

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Capacitive Gloves

I have hunted high and low for a pair I like and tested several that I didn't. These gloves from Agloves are awesome. Woven through with conductive silver in bamboo fabric, they're really comfortable and allow me to to use multi-finger gestures on my iPad while serving 2 purposes: keeping my hands warm in cold weather, as well as erasing smudges on the screen! haha! I like that the entire glove is capacitive, not just the tips. These are very light and pretty thin (exactly what I was looking for) and so may not be sufficient for you if your winters are very cold. Agloves has thicker, warmer versions for that.

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Great Seating on the Go

I've being doing a lot of urban sketching, and when you're out and about, good, solid, ergonomic seating is paramount. While evaluating my options, I decided that what I purchased had to fulfill 4 important criteria:

  1. my choice had to be as light as possible 
  2. had to be really well-made and last me at least 10 years 
  3. pack really small
  4. support my lower back! 

Here are my favorite options, ticking all the boxes and working better in slightly different situations. The Helinox One Camp Chair was my first purchase. It's really quick and pretty idiot-proof to set up, and packs to about the size of a sneaker. Weighing in at under 1kg and under 2lbs, I can pick it up with my little finger. This beauty is also so comfortable to sit in, and yet is strong enough to take 350lbs! It leans back a bit, and is probably not for those who like to be very upright. (I do find that slipping a jacket behind me is an easy fix for that when i do want to sit up straighter.) Another plus: the curve of the fabric cups my elbow, thus supporting my arm for the hours I spend outdoors sketching. When it's time to kick back, have a drink and swap sketching stories under the trees, wow- this is the absolute best chair to stretch out and relax in!

The Helinox One has a larger footprint and takes about 20-30 seconds to set up however. When I know that I won't have much space (think museum interiors and narrow sidewalks) and want almost instant setup and takedown, my seating of choice is the Walkstool 55 XL. It comes with its own handy mesh bag that you can sling over a shoulder. I really wanted something that would fit into any of my backpacks, however. Telescoped, it's a compact 14" long, and love that this stool can be used at 2 lengths: short and fully extended. There are several sizes, so you can pick one that suits your build. The seat is large and comfy, and I was delighted to find that (in addition to lightning fast setup) I automatically sit up straight when I use it. Slouching takes effort when I'm on it, so my posture instantly improves!

Neither of the 2 seating options is particularly cheap, but pick any up and you'll feel instantly that they're built to last. I've used a lot of bargain basement clunkers that were either bad for the back or heavy as hell. Truly, you get what you pay for, and as sketching outdoors is something I do so much, I realized I should just invest in solid, dependable options. These are light, strong, very durable and ergonomic to boot! I figured if I got 10 years out of them, these would each only cost me about $10 a year. When you look at it like that, they're no brainers, really.

Do you have other equipment to recommend? I'm always on the lookout for gear that improves my on location sketching experience. Please add your suggestions in the comments! :)

Mod your Wacom Intuos Creative Stylus for Durability and Accuracy

Rubber nib or see-through tip? I decided to go for an option that saves me nibs and gives me accuracy!

Rubber nib or see-through tip? I decided to go for an option that saves me nibs and gives me accuracy!

If you read my previous post, reviewing the Wacom Intuos Creative Stylus, you'll know that I love it but was unhappy about how the little rubber nibs don't last very long. I had resigned myself to having to buy more every now and then, the way I used to replenish stocks of paper, pens and paint before.

While exploring the Procreate Forum, I found a thread by Germ770 explaining his brilliant idea for a simple modification that makes the Wacom ICS more accurate. (Some users don't like the rubber nib at the end and prefer to see exactly where stylus tip meets screen.)

I couldn't find clear step-by-step pictures of the process anywhere, so after successfully modifying my own stylus, I thought I'd post clear instructions here for the benefit of anyone looking for a similar solution.

It's really quite simple. Hex3 makes a stylus called the Jaja. (I haven't used the Hex3 Jaja so can't say how it works.) Its tips are metal, teflon-coated discs that allow you to see the point at which your stylus touches the screen. If you find it difficult to be accurate with rubber nibs, you'll like this.

The shaft of the Jaja tip goes into that little hole at the tip of the Wacom ICS. The hole is almost a perfect size for the shaft.  The images above are only meant to show you where the hole is.  The  right  way to fit everything is illustrated in the images below.

The shaft of the Jaja tip goes into that little hole at the tip of the Wacom ICS. The hole is almost a perfect size for the shaft. The images above are only meant to show you where the hole is. The right way to fit everything is illustrated in the images below.

Hex3 has also made it possible for users to buy only those teflon tips for US$14.95 a pair (they ship internationally). These in turn can be inserted into the tip of a 0.7 metal-bodied mechanical pencil, creating an instant stylus. The result doesn't have pressure sensitivity, but the following mod will give you that and accuracy.

On top of that, I've found, like other users of this mod, that I don't need to buy Wacom nibs so often anymore because these teflon disks are really long-lasting! I'll update this post when I finally replace the first disk. (The great thing is, I have a spare because these tips come in pairs!)

Once you've received your Hex3 Jaja Teflon nibs, here's what to do:

Here are the steps to modifying your Wacom Intuos Creative Stylus with a Jaja Teflon tip. Easy!

Here are the steps to modifying your Wacom Intuos Creative Stylus with a Jaja Teflon tip. Easy!

Just in case, here are some accompanying notes for the images above:

1. Cut a Jaja Teflon tip to size to 1cm from the top - this length allows it to sit perfectly in your Wacom stylus case when finished. (Updated edit: I now cut my tips to 1cm. Longer than that results in easier breakage. Be careful not to cut off too much, but make sure the metal tip doesn't stick out too much either. The tip should be flush to the rubber nib.)

2. Position the Teflon tip shaft in the center of the Wacom rubber nib and push it through slowly,  (you might want to use a torn nib so you don't need to damage a new one) then slide it it carefully into that little hole in the center. The shaft of the Jaja nib sits almost perfectly in the little hole at the tip of the Wacom ICS's metal tip. 

That’s it! The rubber nib holds the Teflon tip perfectly in place. Having used this solution for about a month, I have to say I'm really happy with it.

When done correctly, your stylus will fit perfectly in its case, even with your new nib.

When done correctly, your stylus will fit perfectly in its case, even with your new nib.

How has my Wacom ICS improved?

• I don't wear rubber nibs down anymore (I did buy some spares before getting the Jaja tips). 

• Users who've done this hack say they've been happy with this solution for months - nothing is wearing down, and I'll update this post when mine finally need replacement.

• The Teflon metal tips should last for months if not longer, and your initial purchase consists of 2, so you have a spare! 

• And no, these tips do not scratch your iPad's screen. (The iPad's screen is made with Gorilla Glass, which is harder than most metals.) In fact, I don't use a screen protector at all. I used to think they were necessary, but read that the iPad Air's screen is extremely strong and scratch resistant. 4 months into ownership of my iPad Air, I can say it's fantastic.

I will say that being careful is always a good thing. You should be aware of the environment in which you're sketching, especially outdoors. Both iPad and stylus are valuable equipment that need to be treated sensibly. Before use, check that nothing is trapped under the Teflon disk. In an environment that may be very dirty and gritty, I suggest being really careful not to get any gritty bits under the disk which might scratch the screen as you slide it across the glass. 

Personally, I clean my screen frequently. I often wear a glove, cut of the tips of the thumb, index and middle finger, and this cleans my screen while allowing me to rest my hand now and then. I haven't experienced any problems at all, and I've done plenty of sketching outdoors on windy days.

Hope that helps and please let me know if you've tried this or have questions!

*UPDATE *

I've used the Hex3 tips with my Wacom ICS for about 6 months now, and I thought I'd add an update on how things are going.

1. I've never had any tips wear out on me yet. They all glide smoothly and work great. 

2. My biggest issue has been tips breaking, although it's no fault of the tip. The first time, my arm was extended, stylus in hand as I was about to position myself to sketch standing up. A kid ran into me and the impact snapped the head of the tip. I subsequently began carrying spares. (A spot of Blue Tack or similar cradles my spare in my Wacom ICS case)

3. I also had another tip break when I slipped my stylus into the pocket of my cargoes, and forgot it was there. By the time I got home, the tip had also broken off. Now my stylus goes right back into it's case immediately after use, and the case rides safely in my cargoes.

4. I once lost a tip because it fell out and landed in grass. I didn't realize the tip had fallen out, and combing areas of the lawn I'd been on drew a blank. (Surprise, surprise) That issue is now solved by using a teeny bit of blue tack in the inside of the rubber nib as I insert the tip. That little bit of stickiness has prevented the tip from slipping out of place.