Ten iPad apps for designers (and the rest of us)

Xavier Verhoeven
16 December, 2010
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A common opinion about the iPad since its release is that it’s a device for consumption only – its creative abilities are apparently not up to par with its big brother, the Mac, so it’s to be ignored and forgotten by anyone who needs to do ‘real’ work. Granted, the iPad won’t run InDesign or Photoshop, nor are you particularly likely to write a novel on one. But, as a companion device when out on the road or in tandem with your design workhorse, it has a lot going for it. And like those bloody ads keep reiterating, there’s likely to be an app for what you want to do. Better still, it’ll probably be cheaper than similar Mac software.

(This article also appears in the December/January issue of Desktop magazine. It looks pretty nice in print – maybe you should go buy a copy.)

  • Adobe Ideas (free)

    From drawing up rough sketches and mock-ups to full-blown illustration, Adobe Ideas is a handy drawing app to have on your iPad. And, best of all, it’s free. You can choose the size, opacity and colour of your brush, and, for when you stuff up, there’s an eraser and an endless undo button. You can start with a blank canvas or use a photo stored on your iPad. You can even grab a colour scheme from a photo – you won’t be able to customise the colours, but it’s a nice quick way to grab the tones of an image. When you’re done with your masterpiece, you can email it from within the app, and the file can even be edited later on in Illustrator. Also try Quill ($1.19) or Freeform ($12.99) if you’re after a vector drawing app.

  • SketchBook Pro ($9.99)

    If you’re serious about illustration, SketchBook Pro by Autodesk will let you draw to your heart’s content. This app results in more painting-like images than the previous vector options and, in the hands of an artist, is capable of resulting in beautiful images. It’s pretty simple to get going, with the app presenting a walkthrough of the features and tools on first opening. The multi-touch is used particularly well, with three-finger swipes in various directions undoing or redoing the last few actions, or bringing up the brush palette. Brushes ($9.99) is a similar painting app that won an Apple Design Award this year, if you want even more options.

  • Typefaces (free)

    When you’re designing with text, it can take hours to trawl through and find the right font. But with your iPad at your side, and Typefaces installed, you can check out the glyphs for a particular font, or sample your text of choice in any one of numerous options. It includes all the regulars, from Arial to Zapfino. But don’t expect too many non-standard options. If you need more expandability, try Font Book for iPad by realazy. It’s $5.99, but lets you install TTF and OTF fonts via iTunes File Sharing.

  • iFontMaker ($9.99)

    This is the most expensive app we tried out (but by no means the most expensive available) and, frankly, it’s worth every cent. If you’ve ever wanted your own handwriting as a font, this is the way to get it. The app presents every letter of the alphabet, along with a number of symbols in Helvetica, ready for you to trace over or redesign in any way you see fit. iFontMaker a pretty powerful app – all strokes are vectors based on particular points, so you can nudge them into place if you’re not happy with the first try.

  • C64 Paint XL ($3.99)

    If you’re feeling nostalgic for the days of eight-bit design, there’s no reason why your shiny new iPad shouldn’t be able to help out. Step in C64 Paint XL, the app that will both retro-fy the photos on your iPad and let you painstakingly colour in images of your own, pixel by pixel, with its 16-colour palette. If nothing else, you can make yourself a cool new-old Twitter avatar.

  • Dropbox (free)

    If you’re going to be doing any serious editing on the iPad, there’s a good chance you’ll need to share the images with someone else, or easily transfer them to your Mac. Dropbox fills this need perfectly. When installed on your computer, there’s a folder that looks and feels like any other, but stores everything online. On the iPad, you can access all these files, and add your own photos and videos easily. Then you can share files with colleagues in an instant, from wherever you are.

  • App Layout (currently $5.99)

    If you’re looking at designing apps (and let’s face it – pretty much everyone is), there are a number of options out there. App Layout is good, in that it lets you drag and drop familiar interface elements onto your virtual iPhone or iPad, but it’s not all that user friendly. SketchyPad appears to have a nicer interface, but is more of a wireframe designer. I recommend you have a look at some screenshots to see which is best for you. iMockups and Interface HD also offer similar abilities.

  • Getty Images (free)

    While this app is free, to get a lot of use out of it, you’ll need to be spending some cash on a Getty subscription. But it’s a perfect example of when your iPad and Mac can work together to get the job done. While you’re busy waiting for Photoshop to run your scripts, you can open Getty Images and find the ideal stock photo or editorial image for your next project. The app offers up a mosaic of the newest images, and you can easily search for the perfect picture.

  • Masque ($4.99)

    Masque is a handy and simple to use image editor for the iPad. Open a photo, choose a brush, eraser or gradient tool, in combination with one of the eight effects (including black and white, blur, saturate and cool, for example) and edit away. It’s useful for small touch-ups or making black and white images with colour features.

  • Minimal Folio ($3.99)

    Once you’ve played around with all of these, your design folio is likely to be exploding with options. If you’ve ever wanted to be able to carry around a cool and stylish digital folio, Minimal Folio is for you. You can present images or videos in columns and rows, so that you can flick through them with all the hard stuff like sliding transitions taken care of. It’s a neat way to integrate photos and video into the one place, and will make it easy to show off your skills.

Know some other must-have iPad apps for designers? Add them in the comments below.

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