Someone either much wiser or just much snottier than me once said, “Painting is easy. Art is hard.” These apps can get you painting on your iPad. Is it art? It depends on who you ask – just don’t ask that guy.
Brushes – iPad edition ($7.99. Steve Sprang) I know, I know, “stop right there.” For years, Brushes has been the gold standard of painting apps for the iPhone, and the iPad edition was re-engineered to take advantage of the new platform. Work in up to 6 layers, and blend them in various modes.

Select from a full desktop-worthy color picker, save your favorites as swatches, and undo and redo to your heart’s content. The kicker: a replay of every brushstroke, in-app. That means you can work on a smallish file on your iPad, and replay the work you did on a higher-resolution file on your desktop computer. No wonder national magazine covers have been painted with this app. (Also, read our Brushes for iPhone review.)
Layers – Pro Edition for iPad ($5.99, J. Benjamin Gotow) Like Brushes, Layers allow playback of your painting, but only to “watch it come to life.” Its canvas is limited to two sizes, neither larger than one megapixel (1028 x 1028.) But within these limitations, Layers packs a wallop. Up to five layers with adjustable, fifteen customizable brushes, intuitive pinch-and-spread pan/zoom, and minimal lag time make Layers perfect for the digital painter that isn’t wedded to the print medium at the end of the line. Compare paintings with a Layers community, comment, and receive feedback.

Sketchbook Pro ($7.99, AutoDesk) AutoDesk’s been making graphics programs for desktop computers for as long as there have been desktop computers, and Sketchbook is the App they ported first to the iPhone and then to the iPad. It’s just what it sounds like: a single sub-megapixel resolution of 768 x 1024, with a lot of artistic freedom and tools. AutoDesk thought through their multi-touch interface and brought a whole new meaning to “fingerpainting” – you use swipes, pinches, and spreads to get around, pan, and zoom, and Sketchbook brings pressure sensitivity to its brushes.

Artstudio for iPad ($2.99, Sylwester Los) Artstudio offers standard painting tools, like brushes, buckets, and airbrushes, and borrows tools like dodge/burn from the photo editing world.
Artstudio takes pains to bring the beginner along, offering tutorials in styles of art, and within a 1-megapixel or smaller world, delivers fast performance for its impressive level of complexity. Multi-touch navigation, nearly unlimited undo/redo. If you never need to move to print reproduction, this is a full-fledged professional painting app.

Artist’s Touch for iPad ($5.99, Artamata, Inc.) If you’re a photographer but wish you were a fine artist, Artist’s Touch is for you. Artist’s Touch will turn your source picture into a “digital blueprint,” then let you fill in the textures and colors, or you can work from a blank canvas. Artist’s Touch doesn’t think in terms of painting effects; it more accurately gives you digital art tools modeled on real-world equivalents, like charcoal, pen, oil paint, or watercolor, and includes the texture of your canvas in your options.
Sketches 2 ($4.99, LateNightSoft X.L.) Easy and intuitive, Sketches 2 is not an art app that makes you feel you got maximum bang for your art school buck. In fact, it’s more of an app for making flyers for your non-art-school party.

It’s a sketching program “for the rest of us,” and it does things the rest of us do, like integrating maps and type so you can make a map to the non-art-school party, and clip-art, so you can illustrate it. If you never painted a bowl of fruit or a reclining nude, but you want to draw a mustache on a photo or devil horns on a downloaded painting, Sketches is your app.

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