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How To Use an iPad as a Drawing Tablet: A Comprehensive Guide

Updated: November 14,2022

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Ever since Apple released the first iPad in 2010, artists have been searching for a way to use the device to make visual art. This comprehensive guide covers everything from setting up your iPad for sketching to the specific digital artistry apps you can use with it.

Read on for some tips and tricks regarding how to use your iPad as a drawing tablet and take your creations to new heights.

What Is a Drawing Tablet, and How Is iPad Different?

There are essentially three types of drawing tablets: the graphics tablet (also known as a screenless drawing tablet), pen display tablet, and standalone pen display. Within these categories, there is a wide range of drawing tablet brands on the market.

Graphics Tablet

A graphics tablet has no screen, nor can it run apps. Instead, it needs to be connected to a computer and used as an additional input device when using software such as Photoshop, Krita, etc. Whatever you draw will appear on the canvas in your app of choice, and you’ll need to get used to not looking at the tablet’s surface to track your work.

Drawing Pen Display Tablet

A drawing pen display tablet is similar to a graphics tablet in that it has to be used in conjunction with a computer. However, the difference is that this drawing tablet has a screen, and you can see what you’re drawing when looking at it.

Standalone Drawing Tablet

A standalone drawing tablet is a computer - it houses a screen, and doesn’t need to be connected to another device to run. Since it contains similar hardware to a desktop, such as a processor and RAM, it’s able to run digital art apps on its own, and you’ll be drawing directly on the canvas.

IPad vs. Drawing Tablet

The iPad is a tablet created for general use, and is a part of the Apple ecosystem. It’s different from drawing pads in that it can be used for many purposes, such as Facetime, playing games, and surfing the net. On the other hand, a drawing tablet serves only one goal, and that is, of course, creating digital art.

A drawing tablet has its advantages, given that it was created with artistry in mind, and most of them are compatible with the much broader suite of creative programs available on a Windows PC.

Therefore, whether you want to use an iPad as a drawing tablet, or purchase an actual pad designed specifically for drawing will depend on your existing hardware, as well.

How To Set Up Your iPad For Drawing

There are two main ways of setting up to draw on your iPad:

  1. Use it in conjunction with a desktop or laptop computer
  2. Use it as a standalone device

If you want to use the iPad in conjunction with your PC’s primary display, you should go through the following steps.

Step 1: Download and Install an App for Connecting Your iPad to Your PC

The main ways to use your iPad with a PC or with Mac computers include installing an app that will allow you to connect your computer to your iPad. The best apps for this are Duet Display and Astropad Studio. These apps transform your iPad into a secondary display for your PC.

Duet Display was developed by a couple of ex-Apple engineers and is available for macOS, Windows, iOS, and Android. The desktop version is free to download, while for iOS and Android, you need to purchase the app.

The setup is simple: All you need to do is connect the iPad to your computer with a charging cable upon installation of the app on both devices. After that, you’ll be able to see your creations on your PC or Mac display.

Astropad Studio is another excellent option, but keep in mind that it’s only available for macOS and iOS. You may also purchase Luna Display, which allows you to connect your computer and iPad wirelessly.

Step 2: Connect Your Apple Pencil

For the ultimate experience while creating iPad drawings, you’ll need to use a stylus pen. As you’re probably already aware, the ideal pen to use with your iPad is the Apple Pencil. The way you set it up depends on the type of pencil you have.

The First Generation Apple Pencil is connected to the iPad via a lightning connector, while the Second Generation Apple Pencil has a magnetic connector. All you need to do is click on “pair” after plugging your pencil in.

Step 3: Pick a Program

Selecting an adequate drawing program is crucial for turning your iPad into a drawing tablet, as this is where all the magic happens. Make sure to compare multiple Windows and Mac apps and do your research into features before making a decision. Some of the most popular programs for creating digital art include:

  • Procreate
  • Adobe Photoshop Sketch
  • Autodesk Sketchbook
  • MediBang Paint Pro
  • Krita
  • FireAlpaca
  • CorelDRAW
  • Inkscape

If you’d like to use the iPad as a standalone device, just skip step one, and you’ll be ready to use your iPad to draw.

Using Drawing Software on iPad: The Basics

One of the most popular drawing apps that can be used on the iPad is Sketchbook, so we’ll use that program for demonstration purposes. Here are the basics of drawing on the iPad using Sketchbook.

Step 1: Activate Pen Mode

Since you’ll likely be using your Apple Pencil, it’s recommended to change your settings so that the app only recognizes stylus input, not your fingers. To do this, you should open “Menu,” go to “Preferences,” and select “Apple Pencil” under “Pen connection.”

Step 2: Learn the Basic Gestures

Gestures are very convenient, as they facilitate the drawing process. Some basic ones available in the Sketchbook app are:

  • Pinch in/out - zoom in/out
  • Double tap on the upper left corner - clear the canvas
  • Three-finger swipe left - undo the previous action
  • Three-finger swipe right - redo the previous action
  • Three-finger swipe up - open the Color Editor‍
  • Three-finger swipe down - open the Brush Library

Keep in mind that these default settings can be changed to your liking.

Step 3: Adjust the Brush Settings

Sketchbook offers a wide variety of brushes, categorized according to type, including Basic, Legacy, and Texture Essentials. There are two sliders on the left of the canvas of this iPad drawing app, which allow you to easily change the settings. The upper slider optimizes brush thickness, while the one below is for opacity.

Step 4: Experiment With Different Features

When using an iPad as a drawing tablet and creating digital art in general, one of the most valuable tools you have at your disposal is layers. Layers allow you to segment your canvas, so you can work on each part independently. Thus, if you make a mistake while working on one layer, you can erase it without ruining what’s underneath it.

Furthermore, the Transform tool lets you move around the selected parts of your drawing. There’s also the handy “Symmetry” feature, which mirrors the highlighted part of your drawing. It’s handy for creating mandalas, kaleidoscopic patterns, and portraits with even eyes.

These are just some of the basics you should know about as a digital artist equipped with an iPad, iPad Air, or iPad Pro. We encourage you to experiment with other features that will help you unleash your creativity.

Wrapping Up

As you can see, there are multiple ways to use an iPad as a drawing tablet, depending on the app you choose. Whether for work or play, making art on an iPad will bring out your creativity, so have fun and experiment away!


Is Procreate free on the iPad?

No, Procreate is not free. It costs $9.99 and is available solely for iOS.

Can you connect an iPad to a PC?

Yes, you can. Using your iPad as a drawing tablet for a PC requires downloading an app that would connect your iPad to your computer, such as Duet Display or Astropad Studio.

How do I use my old iPad as a drawing tablet?

All you need to do is connect your iPad to your PC via an app, set up your Apple Pencil, and install a drawing app. If you need more information on how to use an iPad as a drawing tablet, you can refer back to our article.

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With a degree in humanities and a knack for the history of tech, Jovan was always interested in how technology shapes both us as human beings and our social landscapes. When he isn't binging on news and trying to predict the latest tech fads, you may find him trapped within the covers of a generic 80s cyberpunk thriller.

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