Best iPad for artists iMore 2021
An iPad is a great tool for any artist that works digitally, especially when combined with the best drawing apps for iPad and Apple Pencil. These tablets are portable while still being powerful, and no iPad exemplifies that quite like the 12.9-inch 2021 iPad Pro, which offers the largest iPad display available, so you get the biggest blank canvas, along with power that outclasses many other laptops and drawing tablets.
- Best overall: iPad Pro 2021 (12.9-inch)
- Best alternative: iPad Pro 2021 (11-inch)
- Best value: iPad Air 4 (2020)
- Best on a budget: iPad 8th-Generation (2020)
Best overall: iPad Pro 2021 (12.9-inch)
If you want the absolute best iPad for artists in 2021, you're going to want the latest generation of the 12.9-inch iPad Pro. It can get pricey (like MacBook Pro pricey), but what you get is the most powerful tablet Apple's ever made, with an even better display, M1 SoC, Face ID support, and more.
Let's start with screen size. The iPad Pro's 12.9-inch display is a great canvas size for your art, whether you're sketching, painting, or editing photos — that still lets you be mobile. The new Liquid Retina XDR display in the 12.9-inch iPad Pro offers incredible color accuracy and shows off HDR images and video in all of its glory. So you're getting the richest blacks and most vibrant colors. It's also a ProMotion display, meaning that it will run at up to 120Hz. This is great when working with the Apple Pencil, as your strokes appear on the screen nigh-instantly, like a real piece of paper, and renders more fluidly than it would on other iPads. But ProMotion is about more than running at 120Hz. It also means that the display will adjust dynamically based on the content on the screen. You'll experience faster refresh when working on a piece and slower refresh when you take a break to watch a movie or TV show.
When it comes to power, the iPad Pro is truly an impressive machine. The M1 chip is the same one that is found in the latest iMacs, MacBook Air, and MacBook Pro. That means you get an 8-core CPU, with four of those cores for performance and the other four for efficiency. It also packs in an 8-core GPU and 8GB of RAM on the 128/256/512GB models, or 16GB RAM on the 1TB and 2TB options.
For drawing apps like Procreate or photo editors like Pixelmator Photo, this extra power can be invaluable for smoother painting or sketching experiences or applying photo edits more quickly. Every one of your apps, as good as they'll be on something like the iPad Air, will be even better on the iPad Pro.
The 12.9-inch iPad Pro combines impressive power and a large, beautiful display in a top-notch mobile artistic tool.
Like its predecessor, this iPad Pro features Face ID support. I find Face ID is fast enough to unlock my iPad just as soon as I turn on the display. At this point, it's not really something I think about, compared to Touch ID, which you have to think about, even a little, whenever you use it. Everything from unlocking my iPad to authenticating website details is better with Face ID.
The 2021 iPad Pro works only with the new second-generation Apple Pencil when it comes to digital sketching, painting, and other artistic projects, which magnetically attaches to one side of the iPad. That attachment point also serves as an inductive charging space for the Pencil, so you can carry it around with you and charge it at the same time without having to stick it out of the charging port of the iPad Pro itself.
For photographers who shoot with their mobile devices, the iPad Pro's cameras are even better this time around. You get a 12MP Wide with ƒ/1.8 aperture and 10MP Ultra Wide lens with ƒ/2.4 aperture and a 125-degree field of view. There is also 2x optical zoom out, digital zoom up to 5x, Smart HDR, and more. There is also still the LiDAR scanner that was introduced in the 2020 models.
The front-facing TrueDepth camera is a 12MP Ultra Wide lens with a 122-degree field of view and ƒ/2.4 aperture with support for Portrait mode, and more. And to top it off, the new TrueDepth camera can be used for video calling with Center Stage, which uses the new resolution to digitally crop in and "follow" you as you move around in the frame. Center Stage works in pretty much every video calling app that you may use regularly, so it's one of those built-in features and requires no additional setup.
The front-facing TrueDepth camera is a 12MP Ultra Wide lens with 122-degree field of view and ƒ/2.4 aperture with support for Portrait mode and more.
Using the Pencil is mostly the same experience as it has been on other iPads. The Pencil recognizes things like tilt and pressure applied to the tip and supports palm rejection. It has a new matte finish, which feels better than the glossy finish of the first Pencil. The Apple Pencil also has a small gesture area on its flat side, which you can double-tap to switch between your two most recent tools quickly.
Now, the size of the iPad Pro might not be for everyone. To many, the 12.9-inch iPad Pro might simply be too big to be completely practical. Of course, I would take an even bigger iPad, but to each their own. If you want an iPad not as your primary artistic tool but instead as a supplement to your Mac or something similar, a smaller size might be just right for you. The same goes for if you need it to fit in slightly smaller bags. The recent redesign may have brought down the overall footprint of the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, but it's still a large tablet.
The biggest strike against the 12.9-inch iPad Pro is price. iPad Pros have always been more expensive than their non-Pro counterparts, but at just north of $1000, the 2021 iPad Pro might be a big ask for some. It's another $130 when you throw in the Pencil. It's absolutely the biggest and best iPad screen you can get, and it has a lot of power behind it, but just be aware that you're going to be forking over a lot of money for that screen and that power.
But if you can spend the money and want the absolute best tablet you can get for your art, the 12.9-inch iPad Pro is the one to get.
- Expansive 12.9-inch Liquid Retina XDR display with ProMotion
- Packs in Apple's M1 chip
- Improved cameras with Center Stage
- Up to 16GB RAM
- Supports 2nd-gen Apple Pencil
- Size might be too much for some
- M1 chip limited by iPadOS
Best alternative: iPad Pro 2021 (11-inch)
There's honestly not much to be said about the 11-inch 2021 iPad Pro that I haven't already said about its larger counterpart. I split them into two entries because their size and display really make them two different products when it comes to artistic endeavors.
One of the great advantages of the 11-inch iPad Pro over the 12.9-inch model and the 10.9-inch iPad Air is that it straddles the line between the portability of the old 10.9-inch Air and the power of the 12.9-inch Pro. This means that the 11-inch iPad Pro is about the same physical size as the previous 10.9-inch iPad Air model, with an ever-so-slightly larger screen. That might not sound like much, but even the slightest difference adds up to more than you might think when displays are around a foot in size. With 11-inches, it is still a decent size for drawing, photos, and any other artistic activity. I still prefer the larger 12.9-inch screen, but you might be willing to make that trade-off.
The other big trade-off between the 11-inch and 12.9-inch iPad Pro (2021) is the fact that only the 12.9-inch comes with the Liquid Retina XDR display. The 11-inch still only has a regular Liquid Retina display, so the 12.9-inch edges it out just slightly in terms of HDR content, vibrant hues, and deepest blacks. However, the regular Liquid Retina display still looks great. It should still be a great screen for anyone who deals with art or graphic design and values portability over power.
And despite being smaller than the 12.9-inch model, both iPad Pros have the M1 chip inside, so you still have an 8-core CPU and 8-core GPU. It also has 8GB of RAM with 128/256/512GB models and 16GB RAM for the 1TB/2TB options. Both also have around the same 10-hour battery life, cameras with Center Stage support, and more. It's really just the size and display that are the differences between the two.
While I would always go with the bigger screen, if the size and increased portability of this iPad Pro make it more appealing to you than its bigger sibling, it's still an excellent, powerful choice.
- Also packs in M1 chip with up to 16GB of RAM
- Smaller and lighter than 12.9-inch Pro
- Face ID
- Liquid Retina display with ProMotion
- Support for 2nd-gen Apple Pencil
- Still a bit pricey
- Some might want a bigger display
- Does not have the Liquid Retina XDR display of the 12.9-inch
Best value: iPad Air 4 (2020)
The iPad Air 4 walks the line between the lower-priced (iPad 8th generation) and the larger screen real estate of the 2020 iPad Pro lineup, making it the best overall iPad or most people. At 10.9 inches, the iPad Air offers decent screen real estate for drawing and painting, as well as an excellent portal for inspecting and editing your photos.
The iPad Air 4 also has something sure to be very important for a wide variety of artists: Apple Pencil 2 support. Unlike the cheaper models of iPad that only support the first-generation Apple Pencil, the iPad Air 4 can take advantage of all the sensitivity and features of the Apple Pencil 2. It charges when it's latched onto the side of the iPad Air 4, just like it does on the iPad Pro, so you don't have to worry about sticking it in the Lightning port,
With the iPad Air 4, you get a machine with an excellent balance of screen size, power, and price.
The biggest shock of the iPad Air 4 is what lies inside — the A14 Bionic chip, which has a fair bit of power behind it. It has Apple's newest mobile chip powering the whole thing, something the iPad Pro can't even boast about, which makes the iPad Air 4 extremely responsive and speedy, no matter what task you throw at it. This will be, for many, the perfect mobile artistic platform.
The Air also has a laminated True Tone display. A laminated display combines the touch layer of your iPad's screen and the LCD display layer into a single piece, leaving no gap between them. This is important as you'll have a display of better overall quality than a non-laminated display, producing better images with a more vibrant range of colors. True Tone is great because it adapts the display's temperature to the light of your current room, making the display appear more as though the room is lighting it. It's not overpowering, but if you find this disruptive to your artistic workflow, it's easy enough to turn off from Control Center.
So, why is the iPad Air 4 just the best value pick and not the best overall? Mostly, it comes down to screen size, design, and feature set. On the surface, the iPad Air 4 utilizes mostly the same design as the 11-inch iPad Pro. However, if you look closer, you can start to see why the iPad Pro is still the best around.
While a better 12MP camera is included on the rear, the front-facing camera remains a 7MP FaceTime HD camera. Even though the iPad Air 4 looks like it would perform FaceID, you actually unlock it via Touch ID, which is inside the power button located on the top of the iPad. This might be a pro for some, but in the months since I've been using Face ID, I feel like I'm taking a step backward whenever I have to use a device with Touch ID. Additionally, the iPad Air 4 doesn't have a ProMotion display, meaning you won't get that buttery smooth display that can up to120Hz that makes scrolling and other fluid motions on the screen crisp and clear. On top of that, you also miss out on the four-speaker system the iPad Pro has and the newer dual-camera array, which has a LiDAR sensor) and an additional 10MP ultra-wide rear-facing camera.
Still, for many, the iPad Air 4 is going to be a slam dunk. At $599, it starts at a whole $200 cheaper than the 11-inch iPad Pro and offers quite a bit of the same features. If you don't need the few "pro" features that the iPad Pro offers, the iPad Air 4 is the clear winner for artists.
- A great balance of price and power
- Reasonably large screen
- Apple Pencil 2 support
- Excellent display
- No ProMotion display
- No Face ID
Best on a budget: iPad 8th-generation (2020)
If you're on a budget but still need the best iPad for artists, then look no further than the 8th-generation iPad (2020). This may be the entry-level iPad, but it is still great for budding artists, especially since it has first-generation Apple Pencil support. The A12 Bionic chip is still plenty powerful for basic drawing, sketching, watching videos, reading, writing, and much more.
You get a beautiful 10.2-inch LCD Retina display that delivers incredibly sharp and detailed graphics and text with the iPad. Even though this is the second smallest display, it still gives you plenty of room to draw and sketch with your Apple Pencil with the greatest drawing apps on the App Store.
Speaking of Apple Pencil, the 8th-generation iPad may only have first-generation Apple Pencil support, but it's still a fine tool for any digital artist. With Apple Pencil, you're getting the best iPad stylus out there that works wonderfully with your iPad. You'll be able to seamlessly draw with tilt and pressure sensitivity, as well as palm rejection, so there won't be any unwanted marks on your sketch. Just know that the first-generation Apple Pencil only charges up via Lightning and doesn't support wireless charging like the Apple Pencil 2. And the first-generation Apple Pencil is completely cylindrical with no flat edge, so it may be prone to rolling on a flat surface.
Either way, the 8th-generation iPad is still a great choice when it comes to the best iPad for artists if you're on a budget.
- Plenty of space with 10.2-inch display
- The A12 Bionic is still great for the price
- Supports first-generation Apple Pencil
- Very affordable
- Up to 128GB of storage
- Starts with only 32GB
- A12 outdated compared to other models
- Only works with first-generation Apple Pencil
Unleash your creative side with the best iPad for artists
The 12.9-inch 2021 iPad Pro is an excellent, powerful tablet that's great for whatever kind of art you create, which is why we have chosen it as the best iPad for artists. Its large display should give you enough room for your work, while its size shouldn't prevent you from taking it wherever you need to go. After all, it's similar in size to a 13-inch MacBook Air or MacBook Pro, which fit in a lot of the best laptop bags. Plus, it packs in the beautiful new Liquid Retina XDR display, so you get the absolute best colors, and it is the best way to view HDR content.
The ability to magnetically attach the Apple Pencil 2 to the side of your iPad Pro could not be a more welcome addition. Not only can you now easily bring your Apple Pencil with you, but since it acts as an inductive charger, the Pencil is always charged and ready to go at any time inspiration strikes.
Developers have done their best to take advantage of the powerful M1 chip in the iPad Pro. While apps like Procreate are still great on the rest of these iPads, they really shine on the iPad Pro. From new features like tapping support on the Apple Pencil to the increased graphical power on the 8-core GPU compared to previous models, the latest iPad Pro is perfect for your artistic endeavors, no matter how demanding they are.
While other iPads might be more portable or less expensive, they don't quite match the overall experience of using the 12.9-inch iPad Pro for a creative endeavor. If the 12.9-inch size is a little too unwieldy for you, then the 11-inch iPad Pro is the second best alternative — just know that it won't have the Liquid Retina XDR display, but it still packs in the M1 chip and all the other goodies.
Credits — The team that worked on this guide
Christine Romero-Chan is a senior writer and editor at iMore. She's been using iPads since they debuted, and while she's no artist herself, she understands what an artist needs when it comes to the best iPad.
Joseph Keller is the Managing Editor at iMore. An Apple user for more than a decade and a half, he spends his time learning the ins and outs of iOS and macOS, always finding ways of getting the most out of his iPhone, iPad, and Mac.
Lory Gil is the former managing editor of iMore. She also fancies herself a bit of a rock star in her town and spends too much time reading comic books. If she's not typing away at her keyboard, you can probably find her at Disneyland or watching Star Wars (or both).
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