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[Ask us!] Digital Graphic Recording – Are Apple iPad Pro and Pencil the (only) way to go?

So, do the iPad Pro 9.7″ and Pencil work for digital graphic recording work?

Many Graphic Recorders have asked:

Can I abandon my Wacom pen tablet now that I have my iPad?
Can I live without my Macbook now that I have an iPad Pro 9.7″ and Pencil?

I’m ready to share my thoughts after testing it recently on a digital visual summary (studio work) of organisational achievements for a client. The artwork was designed to be printed as a 8m x 1.5m display.


1. So, do the iPad Pro 9.7″ and Pencil work for (live) graphic recording work?

(+) With the right apps (Adobe Draw, Procreate etc.) and brush settings aligned to your personal preference, yes.

(+) Colour picking from photos/images stored on iPad is easy.

(-) For a while I was reluctant to bring the iPad Pro and Pencil out because of the limited casing choices (where I am based). You’ll need a good protective casing (unless you aren’t particular about ruining the finish) that can be angled appropriately, and which has a Pencil holder/loop.

(+)Pencil charges quickly (30% in 15 seconds via the iPad Pro).

(-)However, you’ll have to monitor Pencil battery levels yourself – you only get alerted when there’s 5% remaining so if it’s a live assignment that can be a pain.

(-) Depending on what casing you use, you may need to remove it before charging the Apple Pencil. Protective casings tend to be very thickly constructed around the ports so it can be near impossible to connect the Pencil for charging.


2. Can I abandon my Wacom pen tablet (if you were using one…) now that I have my iPad?

(-)I’ve tried out AstroPad (app) which is a great solution for making the iPad Pro work like a Cintiq. However, because the (laptop/macbook) screen won’t fit fully on the iPad Pro and there is still some lag in registering input, I find the Wacom pen tablet easier to work on if I need CONTROL with Adobe CC on desktop.

(+) iPad Pro is better for drawing smooth intuitive lines though. So now I sometimes connect both the Wacom and iPad Pro as tablets.

(+) Wacom (at least the Intuos Art Medium or smaller) are lighter to carry around.


3. Can I live without my Macbook now that I have an iPad Pro 9.7″ and Pencil?

Short answer: NO. For very large scale work (e.g. in this case, a 8m x 1.5m wall), I would have to work with Adobe apps (e.g. Draw) and export the work to Adobe Illustrator to ensure that the client gets quality, readable vector files in a commonly used file format for print and use.

Adobe apps for iPad are very specialised and have pared down functionality, and are not meant to replace the desktop programmes. Each has its place in the workflow.

(+) If I am working on a very large and elaborate piece, the iPad Pro comes in handy for icons which I can combine into the larger work on computer. It is also excellent for hand-tracing (over photos).

Combining (typed) type and hand-drawn illustrations within the same iPad app is challenging while keeping open the option to export as AI (or AI-friendly format) for editing is… impossible for now, as far as I know. (Using AstroPad doesn’t count as you’re using desktop programmes via mirroring on the iPad Pro).

While the iPad Pro and Pencil are not Macbook replacements for me, I still find myself using them often enough to justify the purchase. There are some productivity gains from drawing faster, but much time lost in playing too many games between work sprints on the same device…


What works best for you when it comes to Digital Graphic Recording? Share your thoughts with us at the comments below!


Want expert answers to your Graphic Recording and Graphic Facilitation questions?
Email us at hello [at] picturepeopleplan [dot] com and we might just feature yours next! 

Leave a Reply


  • Karin says:

    thank you for the offer, to ask questions.
    I am a Graphic Recorder & Illustrator and like to do live recordings. Now I am wondering which is the best tablet for that purpose.
    I am looking for a tablet & pen for live graphic recording and also for illustrations. What products you had good experience/would recommend and why?
    I am looking for an new model, that is why I ask (below your recommendations 🙂
    ( In general I am using apple products, but I am not sure if that is the best tablet to pic? Tho it should work together with my macbook Air).
    I hope you can help with your experience. Looking forward to your feedback.
    All the best,

    • Kailin Huang says:

      Hello Karin and sorry for missing out on your question earlier!
      I have not tried the new iPads but personally I find the older iPad Pro (9.7″) sufficient for my needs. As I do quite a bit of editing (using Adobe software) between iPad and Mac, Microsoft Surface has not been an option.
      I will admit that the iPad (all models) have some features that could do better e.g. how the Apple Pencil is charged (it can’t be used while charging), potential overheating at times, battery issues with some apps, and occasionally pricking of electricity… but it is otherwise a safe choice!
      If you’re already adept at working on a pen tablet connecting to Macbook, Wacom has good choices. The use of a pen tablet requires some hand-eye coordination though, but it can be a much cheaper and viable option.
      Do note that nearly all devices would project in standard screen ratio (4:3).


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