Painting up a Storm - Paintstorm on the iPad Pro

When it comes to making digital art, the two questions I see the most are:

  1. What brushes do you use?
  2. Can I use my iPad?

There seems to be a HUGE desire to escape the PC/MAC and Adobe in favor of something magically different, cheaper and better.  The iPad seems to get the brunt of those hopes and dreams.  

First - If you want to work in concept art or in a studio, learning and being versed in Photoshop is basically a requirement.  It's pretty much the only game in town, and if you're going to be using a studio's equipment, that's your option....so if you don't know Photoshop yet, I can't recommend learning to digital paint with anything else.

Second - You can paint beautiful pictures on anything.  I have a friend who makes amazing, amazing work on a Nintendo DS.  It's not the tool, it's the user.  BUT - Tools help.  While you might be able to make magazine quality photos on a pinhole camera, you're going to be faster and more consistent with a DSLR.  Same applies for digital painting.

A year ago, I would have put painting on the iPad in the same category as the DS - Kinda cool for sketches, some weirdos seem to get good results, but not for the average person.  With the release of the iPad Pro and the iPencil, the hardware became capable of "real" work, but I have not been a fan of the tools.  Even ProCreate just doesn't feel like a full program to me.  Great for sketching, and maybe getting there...but not the answer.

Also a year ago, I started seeing people talk about this weird "Paintstorm" program for $20 on the PC.  I picked it up and really liked it, but I already know how to use Photoshop, and frankly, I like it for painting.  Paintstorm was cool, and I liked the more oil-painterly blending brushes, but it wasn't a game changer, and I put it away pretty quickly.

This summer, I found Paintstorm for the iPad.  OH YEAH.  As I said, it occupies almost the same space as Photoshop on the PC, and the UI is basically exactly the same on the iPad.  It doesn't rely on "triple taps" to undo, or any of those weird tablet finger controls that I can't stand.  It has menus, and buttons, and a way of interfacing that I am already very familiar with.  SCORE!!!

The brush engine, frankly, is better than Photoshop's for painting.  I don't know it well enough to be comfortable yet, but it is extremely powerful, flexible and complete.  It reminds me of the Corel Painter set.  You can input Photoshop brushes, which is amazing, but it only keeps the shape, not the settings...less good, but if you like stamp brushes for things like people or mechanical bits, and you have a huge library already, this is really handy.

My standard resolution is 4700x2000 for most of my work, and Paintstorm seems to handle that just fine, even with multiple layers.  Like most of the newer iPad art programs, it supports a host of layer modes, so you can use "Darken", "Multiply", "Soft Light" or "Color Dodge" - Big win for me.

Brush resizing is a "button+drag" combo that works really well.  Sampling is a button on the screen as well. In both cases, your left hand can control the options while your right does the painting.  Reminds me of buttons on my Cintiq, and works great.

You can import images, and save in multiple formats to your photo library on your iPad, to a directory to be synced with iTunes, or directly to Dropbox, which is what I tend to do for saving .PSD files.

One thing I still need to figure out is the lasso tool, but I know it's there and waiting for me :)

Oh yeah, a HUGE feature that is missing from Photoshop - Mirroring.  Paintstorm lets you make mirrored strokes across up to 10(!) axis.  This is great for designing, and I've used it a ton to make "magic fx".  It also has a "snap to perspective" tool.

Simply because of the limitations of the iOS, some things are more difficult, like importing texture layers and file management....but I could make finished illustrations on this thing, and it wouldn't take me that much longer than doing it on a PC.  I did a painting this week almost entirely in Paintstorm, and just exported it for a bit of lighting and post-adjustment in Photoshop...which is what I used to do when I was using Corel Painter.  

The iPad Pro + iPencil isn't really that much cheaper than an Microsoft Surface, which could run full Photoshop, so I'm not sure this is a cheaper toolset as a replacement - but if you have an iPad already, or you are more of a Mac person, I can definitely recommend this toolset combination for plein air painting, sketching or working while you travel.

You can find the Paintstorm website here.  At $20, it's more expensive than some of the other iPad painting apps, but compared to "real" programs, it's still a steal.

I hope this was interesting/useful!  Please share and help me spread the love :)