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


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.


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!


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.


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! :)

Sketching with an iPad

In the course of urban sketching or life drawing, I am often approached by the curious who are fascinated by my choice of medium.

“Is that an iPad?” is often followed by “What app are you using?”

I’ve even been asked a few times, “You can draw on an iPad, but can you draw on paper?”

I thought it would be good to post some questions I am often asked, along with my replies. For those who want the really short version, here's the essential information:

I've found that the combination of iPad Air + Procreate + Intuos Creative Stylus = creative awesomeness!

Is that an iPad?

Why yes it is. I use an iPad Air and love it for many reasons. After getting used to the feel of the rubbery stylus nib gliding over glass, the lines between mediums disappear. 

What app are you using?

My app of choice is Procreate

I have tried many art apps for the iPad including Sketchbook Pro, Sketch Club, Art Rage, Inspire Pro and Brushes. They all have their pluses and minuses, but Procreate is the only app that, to me at least, makes drawing and sketching natural and efficient. 

What are you using to draw with?

I am currently using Wacom’s Intuos Creative Stylus. (My review on it is here.) 

I used to use Ten One Design’s Pogo Connect with my iPad 3, but it does not work with the iPad Air due to hardware differences that can’t seem to be fixed. I got the Creative Stylus shortly after I found that the Pogo Connect would only make chicken scratches with my iPad Air. The Creative Stylus is an amazing tool! The only thing I’m not so happy about is that the rubber nibs wear out very quickly. (Are you listening, Wacom?) But pencils need to be sharpened, and pens, paint and paper get used up… I chalk up the occasional purchase of nibs to materials I need to replace every now and then. 

The Intuos Creative Stylus comes in a great solid case, complete with space for spare nibs (you get 2 extras with purchase) and a slot for a AAAA spare battery.

The Intuos Creative Stylus comes in a great solid case, complete with space for spare nibs (you get 2 extras with purchase) and a slot for a AAAA spare battery.

Do you use your finger?

I could use my finger, and do in a pinch, but choose not to because it’s harder to see what I’m doing. I’m a huge Apple fan but disagree with Steve Jobs on this point - the iPad does need a stylus; at least for drawing and painting. But that’s just me. I am well aware that there are many iPad-based artists who are happily using their own digits.

Can you draw on paper?

The iPad has been around for about 4 years. I’ve been drawing for a little over 40. I did learn to draw on paper (although my parents might interject that some walls and furniture should be included too). 

What made you decide to use an iPad?

I made the switch for several reasons. The short answer is ‘convenience’, but there’s a lot more to it than that. 

Perhaps it would help if you understood the challenges I had. (If you’re an artist too, you might empathize):

  • lots of stuff to store: a large assortment of paper (used and unused) and sketchbooks of all sizes and types, not to mention pens, brushes and related accessories (You should know that the average home in Hong Kong is about 500sq feet)
  • the need to store and care for original artwork properly
  • smudging
  • fading
  • scanning artwork 
  • lighting and photographing artwork larger than A4 size
  • retouching scanned artwork (spend a few hours cleaning up pencil artwork, then let’s chat about how fun that is)
  • correcting color fidelity of artwork in Photoshop
  • packing gear (I used to regularly carry watercolors, an assortment of sketchbooks, pens, inks, pencils, color pencils and brushes, along with accessories like rags, water containers, palettes etc.)
  • forgetting gear
  • cleaning gear
  • the weight of said gear and associated consequences
  • the cost of constantly buying more materials all the time

This workflow might help you appreciate how I sketch now:

  • be inspired by a sight
  • find a place to sit/lean
  • whip out iPad and Intuos Creative Stylus (seconds to set up)
  • turn iPad on and launch Procreate
  • have fun sketching (a fully-charged iPad battery lasts me about 7-9 hours of sketching, making a full day out very possible)
  • export hi-resolution jpgs, and or a stroke-by-stoke video in seconds, as soon as I’ve completed a piece
  • close my iPad, return the stylus to its case and slide everything into my backpack

And at home:

  • Wirelessly back up original artwork files to Dropbox & Box and hard drives at home. The jpgs I exported are also in iCloud (auto backup), therefore available almost instantly in iPhoto on my Mac
  • upload artwork to website and social media (and if I had an iPad data plan while sketching, I could have uploaded work immediately)

Other advantages of going digital:

  • the undo button
  • painting in layers  
  • an arsenal of media with no extra weight
  • ...not forgetting all the other usual reasons people use an iPad; it's like those magic hats with no bottoms from which I can pull out my library of notes, books and magazines, my music collection etc.

The other fact some people fail to consider is, using an iPad has turned out to be much more environmentally friendly than I first thought. I hardly consume any paper / paint / ink / pens now. Have you ever thought about the resources required to produce all the paint, ink, pens etc? And not much of that is recyclable. And some of it is toxic too (think packaging, paints with heavy metals like cadmiums, and their accompanying fumes). 

“But your iPad had to be manufactured too. How long will that last you? What will become of it when you upgrade?” 

Good questions. The truth is, I keep all my gadgets and fix them if they don’t work. Or pass on stuff I don’t use. My Mom is using my first iPad. If she didn’t need it, I’d use it in other parts of my home; as a recipe holder in the kitchen, a magazine reader by my bed (ooh - more paper saved!) And in a couple more decades, I thought it would be interesting to create an art installation with all these gadgets that have contributed to my creative output.

Please note that I don’t claim to have all the facts and figures to support my hypothesis that using an iPad could be greener than traditional media. You have to admit that it’s worth contemplating though, and if you know of a reputable study that makes such a comparison, I’d love to hear about it.

Would you go back to using paper?

To that, I’d say, "Never say ‘never’ ". I absolutely love what the iPad + Procreate + Intuos Creative Stylus allow me to do now, but if there’s something I want to do that is not achievable on an iPad, sure. Paper, canvas, board or concrete… bring it on!

What’s that handle-thingy you use on your iPad?

What you see is a device called the Bracketron Twist 360. It's not an iPad case. It's more of a tablet holder that can set your iPad in any orientation you can think of.

I’ve tested many kinds of iPad cases, and whenever I upgrade my device, get a little irritated at the wasted covers and cases I can no longer use because of a few millimeters difference in size. I wanted to find something durable and extremely versatile to use with my current iPad, whether or not it grew or shrank by an inch or so. I also wanted a way to prop my tablet up in any orientation I choose. All this and more I found in the Twist 360. 

I hope this has given you some insight! I welcome questions and will add relevant ones and my replies to this list as they come up.