Illustrator on iPad Is Interesting but Has Issues to Overcome

Maciej Duraj
Nov 26, 2020 · 7 min read
Image for post
Image for post
My own design using Illustrator on iPad

Anyone who owns an Apple product, or in the case of many of us: many products, may be familiar with Adobe graphic design and creative suites. The Mac in the 80s and early 90s became synonymous with publishing and later graphic design, which in many ways is tied with Adobe’s dominance in this field. This is one facet that separates it from Microsoft up to this very day, even though most apps or software are available cross-platform.

I am also a fan of the Amiga even though I never experienced it when it was at its heigth or when it originally debuted as a I was just a child in the 1980s. However, the Amiga in a way, or at least it seems to me, paved the way for 90s-and-up Apple. The original Mac was monochrome and could not compete with it in multitasking or graphics. It was also behind in creative software as Amiga had EA’s DeluxePaint. However, over time, or at least when Amiga failed as a computing concept, Apple became the creative system to use.

Image for post
Image for post

This brings me to the present day with the Apple iPad. The iPad was for along time seen as a big iPhone and not really a device worthy of consideration when it comes to producing content. This slowly changed over time in many industries like writing, journalism, video, but graphic design was always far behind as Adobe kept its flagship products on desktop (even though the Mac as I outlined above seems to have taken over in ease of use as the platform for creatives.

Image for post
Image for post
My design using iPad Illustrator

I own a couple of Macs including a Macbook Air I have connected to my 60' HDTV for both graphic design and web browsing and an older iMac I use for gaming via Windows-OS Bootcamp. However, the iPad is really the device I use all day. It is the device I use for video production via iMovie and uploads to YouTube; it is the device I use often for media consumption such as Netflix and gaming; and lately it is also my graphic design go-to platform.

I love the ease-of-use of laying down on my couch and using the Apple Pencil to create digital illustrations using Procreate or Artstudio Pro. I often start my ideas this way and later export these designs to my desktop software, mostly Illustrator or Photoshop, via iCloud. I can save a file as a PSD or AI file then continue my work on desktop this way.

However, recently I was truly surprised. Recently, Adobe actually released a very functional and interesting Illustrator application on the iPad. Please keep in mind that I have heard how badly Photoshop turned out on the iPad, despite not even trying it as I use Artstudio Pro as my version of mobile Photoshop.

Illlustrator is a vector application that has been around for many years on desktop and is now available on the iPad, albeit in limited form. It is a vector program allowing you to create vector shapes and forms that unlike raster-based applications, can be enlarged or shrunk without image quality loss.

This is amazing news to iPad fans and owners as it means the iPad is truly becoming noticed as a graphic design platform and Wacom tablets that connect directly via software to Adobe apps such as Photoshop or Illustrator no longer dominate the field.

However, this is a but… and a big one at that: the app still has long ways to go. At its present state, I would call it more of a desktop version’s supplement, rather than a full-on replacement. It will set you back a $10 monthly subscription fee using Adobe’s Cloud service and allow you to shift files (or work on files across hardware across desktop and mobile.

When I say it is not the same I mean it is still in rough shape, but shows promise. It does not offer such features as the ability to trace raster drawings or raster imagery into vector. It does not offer a full-on Recolor Artwork feature, but this can be easily made up with using the pencil with a fill color or other options. It also has a hard time sometimes realizing when you zoom out of the canvas vs selecting images where your finger or even Apple Pencil touched.

Image for post
Image for post
I designed this scene using iPad Illustrator

Despite these nagging issues, as I mentioned, it shows great promise and is already worth the $10 monthly subscription fee. It is superior to desktop Illustrator in some ways such as using the pen tool or even the pencil in many ways. if you use desktop Illustrator you may know how painstaking and time consuming it is to trace the outlines of an image then do something like a clipping mask to erase the background. In the iPad version the Apple Pencil truly shines and makes it a breeze.

The shape builder tool is also very easy to use on iPad and you do not have to worry about turning strokes to fills or outlining strokes or anything of that sort. Basically, it is simplified but does vector graphics in a profound and easy-to-use way: less features, but in certain aspects, more functionality.

Using transform commands is quite different as everything is touch based and sometimes unwieldy. Filters are either missing or do not exist. However, this is still a very early version of the program and for anyone who already owns the desktop variant, it can truly make your workflow better or easier.

It is a great work-in-progress app and shows the potential of desktop software being converted to the iPad, which we may see more of with the recent Apple silicon making an appearance and all. It also shows that you can create great designs without touching desktop these days. Simply use the iCloud to save your design across this new Illustrator app, Artstudio Pro or Procreate for really amazing design options that not long ago would have been cutting edge on the desktop.

Sure, both Photoshop and Illustrator on desktop have way more features and options, but sometimes using less creates better design. Anyway, I wanted to share some of my work I have been experimenting with using this new Illustrator and some variants when later exporting it to iPad apps such as Procreate for added designs:

Image for post
Image for post
Image for post
Image for post
Added a raster effect via iPad here and versions below
Image for post
Image for post
Image for post
Image for post

Below are two examples of me starting or experimenting my work on the iPad’s Illustrator app and then moving it to iPad raster apps for added design options for web export:

Image for post
Image for post
I created the shapes in Vector, later moved it to Artstudio Pro on iPad for further work with shadows and background
Image for post
Image for post
I created the shapes in Vector (part 2), later moved it to Artstudio Pro on iPad for further work with shadows and background

The iPad is becoming a great mobile graphic design piece of hardware or a mobile way to take your designs on the go and continue to work on them with the Apple Pencil using apps like Illustrator. In many ways, it is becoming a full-blown solution for many designers who may not need all the options or bells and whistles of the desktop apps or simply found solutions for their needs).

Here is a video I found highlighting some of the iPad Illustrator’s features and what it offers:

When using the iPad version of Illustrator, you may notice some things that make it even superior to the desktop version of the software. For instance, besides the aforementioned Apple Pencil support and the pen or pencil tools, it also will allow you to preview shape builder shifts before they take place. The app’s symmetry options are also worth noting in terms of accessibility that allow you to create mirror images of your design or even pattern designs in grids or circles.

This is a great way to get into vector graphics as the iPad Illustrator is much more accessible and direct, via touch, to the more robust desktop sibling. In many ways it also offer superior features or support and it will only get better over time.

Image for post
Image for post
Another illustration or design I created mixing vector work with raster background for a 3D effect of sorts.
Maciej Duraj

Written by

I am a tech journalist and an aspiring artist-graphic designer. My sites include https://maciejduraj.com and https://artisticcounterculture.com.

Mac O’Clock

The best stories for Apple owners and enthusiasts

Maciej Duraj

Written by

I am a tech journalist and an aspiring artist-graphic designer. My sites include https://maciejduraj.com and https://artisticcounterculture.com.

Mac O’Clock

The best stories for Apple owners and enthusiasts

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store