Sunday Mailbag

June 12th, 2011 | Posted in Mailbag

Q: Is drawing/painting on an iPad anything like drawing on a Cintiq (other than screen size)?¬¨‚Ć I’m weighing my options, as a Cintiq is clearly more expensive than an iPad, but I don’t want to be frustrated by going the cheaper route.

A: There is no comparison. The Wacom Cintiq or any pressure-sensitive tablet or tablet-style computer is FAR more capable for drawing and painting digitally than an iPad.

The drawing capabilities of the iPad or similar devices (for simplicity’s sake, I’ll use the term “iPad” to mean all such tablet devices) are distant secondary thoughts to the functionality of their multi-touch screens. iPads have no pressure sensitivity, which is crucial to easily creating thick and thin linework, mimicking the use of natural tools like brushes, controlling the opacity of washes and paint and many other versatile functions. Many pressure-sensitive tablets like the Wacom Intous line also include “tilt” sensitivity, which while not something crucial does come in handy when using certain brushes and creating certain looks, which of course the iPad also does not have. On top of that, the iPad’s screen is designed to only respond to the touch of skin, and there is no precision stylus that works with it. The “styluses” you see that are made for the iPad have marshmallow-like pillows at the end of them, roughly the size of a fingertip, that provide the input an iPad needs but are hardly natural-feeling instruments. The iPad was designed as a finger-tip interface mobile mini-computer, and the ability to draw and paint on it was not something anyone concerned themselves with in its development. Can you do it? Yes, you can. Is it ideal? No.

A Wacom Cintiq, Intous tablet or similar device, on the other hand, has been designed from the ground up with only one purpose in mind: to mimic natural drawing and painting movements and input. You use instruments that feel and react like pencils, pens and brushes. The pressure-sensitivity mimics your hand’s pressure when drawing on paper, or can be used to control opacity, color and other variables to mimic techniques like washes, drybrush, etc. The tilt sensitivity some of these devices have can control the direction and reaction of individual bristles in a brush. This hardware has no other purpose, and is vastly superior to things like the iPad for creating art.

The downside to using Wacom products is that you need a separate computer to do it. There are several PC based “tablet” computers that allow for drawing right on the screen like a Cintiq, but they get mixed results. It depends on your purpose with them. If the idea is to do digital sketching while on the move and you want to do something more than finger-paint, then something like the Hewlett Packard HP-TM2T tablet PC might be your best bet. It has a Wacom digitizer in it, so pressure sensitivity works in PhotoShop (only 256 levels, but that’s as good as it gets with these types of PCs). There used to be a MacBook custom conversion service from a company called Axiotron, but they have disappeared from the face of the earth, and reports of their credibility were not good.

I personally have a 21″ Cintiq at home and a 12 WX portable one for the road. There are a lot of cables and such, so it is not truly portable in the sense I can use it on the airplane or the coffee shop, but it works great in hotel rooms if I need to bring work with me. I use it with a MacBook Air, and it’s great.

Invariably when I post something like this that denigrates the art uses of the iPad, I get a few folks who disagree and then post a link to some brilliant piece of art they created on their iPad. That’s great, bully for you. I could probably do an internet search and find an even better piece of art created by someone somewhere using nothing but a spork, melted crayola crayon bits and cow manure. That is also great, but why would anyone want to do that? Likely someone could assemble a car from it’s component parts using nothing but Popsicle sticks if they put their mind to it, but why would you do that when perfectly good tools are available? Artists are a resourceful bunch, and they can make art using just about anything given the time, ingenuity and determination. My point is that there are easier ways, and in the digital world using devices made to do what you are looking to do is going to be easier and better than doing it with something not designed for your task.

Thanks to Connie Nobbe for the question. If you have a question you want answered for the mailbag about cartooning, illustration, MAD Magazine, caricature or similar, e-mail me and I’ll try and answer it here!


  1. Connie says:

    Thanks so much for this information! Very helpful.
    And I’m still laughing about the spork, melted crayon bits and cow manure!!

  2. Larry says:

    “…find an even better piece of art created by someone somewhere using nothing but a spork, melted crayola crayon bits and cow manure.”

    Oh, you mean this guy.

    He does work in Cheetos, cheese puffs, crayola crayon, eyeliner, bar-b-que ribs, ketchup, and apparently anything else that is laying around. I don’t know if he’s ever worked in manure, but there are plenty of artists producing that already.


LA Workshop no. 2 underway today!

Workshops Ad

Dracula ad

Doctor Who Ad

Superman Ad

%d bloggers like this: