In this artlcle, we’ll look at the pros and cons of a few popular and high quality graphic design apps on the iPad.

Due to the complexity of each app, I won’t be able to go into detail of each app. If you want to learn more about how viable graphic design is on an iPad, read this article instead.

When I talk about graphic design, I’m referring to mostly graphics not drawn by hand, and graphics that may involve text. The apps should have tools that allow you to create graphics with precision, layout tools and ability to handle text layout, character and paragraph adjustments.

The apps should be able to create the follow types of graphics listed below:

  • Print projects: Posters, flyers, name cards, brochures, magazines
  • Web design: Web banners, ads, layouts, Youtube thumbnails
  • User interface design: Icons, UI elements, mockups
  • Charts and graphics: Pie charts, bar graphs, tablets, schematics, flow charts, maps, blueprints
  • Branding: Logo, branding identity, packaging design, book covers
  • Illustrations: Book or print illustrations, web illustrations, lettering, calligraphy, comics

I’ll also be talking about the productivity aspects of these apps, such as the types of file formats they can export, whether they can work with external displays, keyboard shortcuts, file management, font installation etc.

Graphic design can be made with drawing apps too, but that’s not the focus of this article. To make this article more complete, I’ll still list out some of the more popular drawing apps you can check out:

  • Adobe Photoshop
  • Affinity Photo
  • Adobe Fresco
  • Concepts
  • ArtStudio Pro
  • PaintStorm
  • Procreate
  • Clip Studio Paint
  • Sketchbook
  • Medibang Paint Pro
  • Infinite Painter

And to work with photos, there’s Adobe Lightroom.

I personally prefer to do graphic design work on a desktop or laptop. The one downside or limitation common to graphic design tablet apps is they only offer a subset of features compared to the desktop version. If I need to draw, the iPad is better for the task since the Apple Pencil is a great drawing tool.

Alright, let’s look at the graphic design apps available on the iPad.

Adobe Photoshop

Version 4.0 tested (Oct 17, 2022)


Photoshop is probably the most well known drawing and graphic design app in the industry. This app is subscription based and these are the monthly prices:

  • Adobe Photoshop + Adobe Fresco + 100GB cloud storage: US $20/month
  • Adobe Photoshop + Adobe Lightroom + 20GB cloud storage: US $10/month
  • Adobe Creative Cloud (includes all apps) + 100GB cloud storage: US $50/month

This is an extremely capable graphic design app that professionals have relied on for years. The main thing to note here is the tablet version of Photoshop only has a subset of features and keyboard shortcuts from the desktop version of Photoshop.

Just by comparing the limited list vs full list of keyboard shortcuts, you can get an idea of how many features are missing.

Files you create are automatically saved to Adobe cloud storage. If you are a professional, plans with 20GB or 100GB online storage may not be sufficient. So you’ll probably have to upgrade to the 1TB online storage at extra cost. Even the all-apps-included Adobe Creative Cloud plan has only 100GB online storage.

It is possible to work with offline files and save files to the folder. But when you open (via import) those Photoshop files from your folder, your working files are now on the cloud and when you save, they are saved to the cloud and not back to your folder. Adobe makes it inconvenient for you to work with offline files so that you’ll be hooked to buy more online storage.

With Adobe Photoshop v4.0, you can’t create CMYK documents.

For font management, once your fonts are installed to the Adobe Creative Cloud, those fonts will be available to all Adobe apps.

External display support is not possible with Photoshop on iPadOS 16.1, but it should be possible in the future. There will not be pen support on external displays though.

More details at https://www.adobe.com/products/photoshop/ipad.html

Adobe Illustrator

Version 3.0 tested (Oct 17, 2022)


This is the powerhouse graphic design app in the industry. This app is subscription based and cost US $20/month and comes with 100GB online storage, and it’s also available from the $50/monthly Adobe Creative Cloud plan.

This app has many features for creating vector graphics, layout and is great at handling text.

The tablet version of the app only has a subset of features from the desktop version. You can compare the limited list vs full list of keyboard shortcuts to get an idea of how much the feature set is reduced.

CMYK files can be created.

Files you create are automatically saved to Adobe cloud storage. Adobe Illustrator files are quite small in file size unless you have embedded images, so the included 100GB online storage is likely sufficient for work purposes.

For font management, once your fonts are installed to the Adobe Creative Cloud, those fonts will be available to all Adobe apps.

External display support is not possible with Illustrator on iPadOS 16.1, but it should be possible in the future. There will not be pen support on external displays though.

More details at https://www.adobe.com/sg/products/illustrator/ipad.html

Affinity Photo

Version 1.10.5 tested (Mar 15, 2022)


Affinity Photo is the competitor to Adobe Photoshop and is a great graphic design app that can be used for drawing too. This app is pretty much a must-buy if you’re a graphic designer and you don’t want to pay monthly to Adobe. The price is a one time purchase of US $20. The desktop version is US $50.

This app has a good set of graphic design tools although it’s still a subset of tools compared to the desktop version. There’s a decent amount of tools for handling text. You can search Affinity Help online to see the list of features and keyboard shortcuts.

Files are saved, automatically, internally within the app. There’s also the option to save the files externally to iCloud Drive or to the folders on the iPad. If you have Apple iCloud backup, you can just save the files internally within the app as all your files will be backed up to iCloud.

Affinity Photo and import and export to a huge variety of file formats.

Creating CMYK files is not possible with this app yet.

Font installation is possible through Preferences from within Affinity Photo.

External display support is buggy with iPadOS 16.1, but it will definitely get better in the future.

More details at https://affinity.serif.com/en-us/photo/ipad/

Affinity Designer

Version 1.10.5 tested (Mar 15, 2022)


Affinity Designer is the competitor to Adobe Illustrator. This app is great for graphic design and layout, and has a good amount of tools for handling text.

It’s a one time purchase of US $20 and is kinda a must-buy for graphic designers who don’t want to use Adobe apps.

Files are saved, automatically, internally within the app. There’s also the option to save the files externally to iCloud Drive or to the folders on the iPad. If you have Apple iCloud backup, you can just save the files internally within the app as all your files will be backed up to iCloud.

Affinity Designer can import and export to a huge variety of file formats.

Font installation is possible through Preferences from within Affinity Designer.

CMYK files cannot be created

External display support is buggy with iPadOS 16.1, but it will definitely get better in the future.

More details at https://affinity.serif.com/en-us/designer/ipad/

Vectornator

Version 4.10.6 tested (Oct 26, 2022)


Vectornator as the name implies is a graphic design app for creating vector graphics. This app was US $8 but is now amazingly free and hence is a must-get app.

You can download the app to see the pre-loaded detailed illustrations from other artists to get a sense of what this app is capable of. This app has a good selection of tools for creating graphics design and illustrations.

File types that can be imported are JPG, PNG. TIFF, HEIC, VECTORNATOR, SVG, PDF, AI, SKETCH, FIG, WACOM. Files can export to JPG, PNG, AI, SVG and PDF.

Files are saved internally on the iPad with the option to move to iCloud. If you have iCloud backup, there’s no point saving the files externally to iCloud.

Text adjustments are quite basic. You can adjustments to kerning, tracking, line height/spacing, alignment and justification, bold, italic, underline, strike. What’s missing is paragraph adjustment tools that you can find in Adobe Illustrator and Affinity Designer.

Fonts have to be installed via another all called Fontinator from the same company.

Amadine

Version 1.4.3 tested (Nov 1, 2022)


Amadine is vector graphic design app available on the iPad and Mac. The tablet app is available through subscription at US $10/year or a one time purchase of US $30. The desktop app is a one time purchase of US $30.

Amadine can be used to create vector illustrations. Text handling is good too and includes paragraph adjustments.

File types that can be imported are SVG, EPS, JPEG, TIFF, PNG, PDF, AI. Files types for export at JPEG, TIFF, PNG, PDF, SVG and EPS (desktop version only).

iFont

Tested version 10.4 (Sep 28, 2022)


Fontinator is a font management that’s a one time purchase of US $5. All fonts installed through iFont are made available to other apps.

iFont has integration with Google Fonts, Dafont and Fontspace and can install fonts from those websites directly without leaving the app.

Affinity Publisher


Affinity Publisher was launched in Nov 2022 for Windows, MacOS and iPadOS. This app is great for designs who work with web or print design, and will come with multi-page functionality and lots of tools for handling text, character and paragraph. This is the last piece of the puzzle to the complete suite of graphic design apps on the iPad. I wish the Affinity apps are available on Android too.