Creating art on the iPad Pro is a joy. It got me to draw every day—something I hadn’t done since college, and I’m not alone. The iPad Pro and Apple Pencil is one of those hardware pairings that just inspires creativity.
Since the release of the original iPad Pro, dozens of professional drawing and illustration apps have found their way into the App Store. The best among them, Procreate and Clip Studio, provide excellent art creation capabilities. Good enough that dozens of professional artists of every stripe have ditched their old tablets in favor of the iPad Pro. Just have a search through #ipadpro on Instagram and you’ll see what I mean. But even the best art apps on iPadOS have some irritating quirks you wouldn’t have to deal with on a desktop or laptop.
Managing files, importing and exporting your work, adding new brushes—all of these routine tasks require app juggling to work right. It’s frustrating because the iPad Pro and Apple Pencil should be a digital artist’s ideal companions. They’re small enough to fit anywhere you’d put a sketchbook, but sensitive and responsive enough to give even the best tablets a run for their money. The solution is better software, and Adobe has something in the works that might fit the bill.
Until now, Adobe’s drawing and illustration offerings on the iPad have been pared down versions of its desktop applications (with a few extras). You could draw with scalable vectors in the Illustrator app or use fixed, lifelike brushes in the Sketchbook app, but each one was hamstrung by limitations.
Adobe Fresco wants to bridge the difference. It’s a professional-grade digital art suite that lets you create fixed or scalable compositions. Illustrator and Sketchbook will continue to exist, but unifying their features into one art suite could attract more professional artists than they ever did on their own.
Fersco is also fully integrated with Adobe’s Creative Cloud ecosystem, which syncs across devices. It was purpose-built for the iPad Pro and Apple Pencil to give digital artists a fully-featured desktop-grade art creation app nestled in with their existing desktop apps, with a couple tricks up its sleeve.
Oil and Water
Kyle T. Webster Courtesy of Adobe
Live brushes are Adobe Fresco’s main event, headline feature flagship. Fresco’s live brushes use a built-in graphics engine to simulate the behavior, color, and texture of watercolor and oil paints. You can choose the size and texture of the brush, and the pressure you use will change its intensity.
Fresco includes more than 1,800 digital brushes designed by artist Kyle Webster. It’s a massive brush library built into Adobe Creative Cloud. Search for the kind of texture, vibe, or material you’re looking for and Adobe will show you a sampling of professionally designed digital art brushes.
Once you’ve chosen a brush, paint flows from it as if it were the real thing. Watercolor paints pool and swish across the screen like they would on canvas, giving every painting a unique sense of texture and balance.
Painting digitally has many benefits, too. If you prefer precise, clean watercolor compositions, you can set boundaries to keep colors from running into one another. You can also alter the flow, intensity of the paint, and how the fluid interacts with other elements on the page. Even when I was performing simple tasks, like trying to capture the colors of a sunset, Fresco’s watercolors felt liquid and intuitive.
Adriana Villagran Courtesy of Adobe
Oil painting on an iPad may seem heretical to purists but Fresco replicates the feel of painting with real oil and pigment in a way I haven’t seen before. You can blot your oil in one spot on your canvas and mix colors right there to find the perfect blend. There’s something meditative about mixing colors on the canvas rather than just picking values from a color wheel. The paints behave like real paints, meshing together to create new colors which you can sample directly with your brush. You can also adjust whether or not your brush will refill itself; As you paint your colors get less and less vibrant because there’s less “paint” on your brush.
There is a learning curve, like any Adobe product, but Fresco feels more approachable than many of its denser programs. There are even tutorial videos built into the app to show you what it can do, and how you can better use the more advanced features. The tutorials are intuitive, helpful, and helped me brush up on some of my skills that had sagged in recent years.
Jing Wei Courtesy of Adobe
There have been pro-grade art apps on the iPad Pro for a while now. Procreate and Clip Studio are the reigning champs, used by tons of different digital artists, and for good reason. They turn the iPad Pro into a professional workstation you can carry with you anywhere you’d take a sketchbook. But there are a couple features they lack. Chief among them is a reliable way to manage your files.
Adobe Fresco’s integration into Creative Cloud means you don’t have to think about saving, backing up, and syncing files between your iPad Pro and your desktop, laptop, or smartphone. Your files live everywhere you have Creative Cloud installed, so you don’t have to worry about losing files as you ship them between your devices. This also means you can export your work directly into other Adobe apps like Illustrator and Photoshop if you need to apply some finishing touches or prepare an illustration for printing. Eventually Fresco should also become available outside the iPad.
Auto-syncing to the cloud isn’t all creampuffs and daffodils, though. It does cost money. If you’re not already a Creative Cloud subscriber, it’s yet another monthly subscription that costs $21 to $53 per month, depending on your plan. Procreate, on the other hand, is a one-time purchase of $10.
Brian Yap Courtesy of Adobe
Adobe Fresco will officially release in late 2019, first on iPad and then other platforms. It works well on any iPad with Pencil support, but you’ll get more details on the iPad Pro. Read our iPad buying guide to learn more about Apple’s lineup.
Fresco has been a fun app to try. It put a smile on everyone’s face who I let try it, and should work well for seasoned digital artists or newcomers with an iPad, Apple Pencil, and a desire to draw. Taken as a whole, Adobe Fresco is a great choice for aspiring and professional artists. It’s easy to see it becoming a new standard for digital art, but how quickly it’s adopted will remain to be seen.
Note: When you buy something using the retail links in our stories, we may earn a small affiliate commission. Read more about how this works.
More Great WIRED Stories