Choosing the best tablet for your needs can be difficult and intimidating. The sheer number of models, advanced features, and price points can make the choice overwhelming. It’s no wonder we look like deer in headlights when we walk into the store. When looking for a tablet for Procreate, you’ll need an Apple product. But which iPad is the right iPad? Do you need an Apple iPad Pro or can you get away with a regular iPad? Let’s walk through some of the most important things to understand when looking for the best iPad for Procreate. While we’re at it, let’s look at an alternative for those who are concerned about the price tag and on a budget.
Tech Made Simple for the Artist or Crafter
I looked just like that deer in the headlights when I went shopping a few Christmases ago. I knew that I needed a new iPad to run the Procreate app, and that’s how the conversation started with the salesperson hiding behind the counter, avoiding eye contact with me. “The what app?” he said.
I wanted to say that I’d heard Procreate was one of the best drawing apps around (and could be used to make stickers, trace photos, design brushes, create those perfect padded sticker borders everyone loves, and even make engraving designs). But I held back, noticing the Christmas rush had already taken a toll on the fellow. After asking questions about floor models and receiving shoulder shrugs, it was clear I was on my own. “Thanks,” I said, “I’ll figure it out. Merry Christmas!” And I did.
To save you that experience, I wanted to share with you what I figured out all those Christmases ago…
The first thing we need to do is understand the different iPad versions that are out there. There are four different models to choose from. Each model has a generation number associated with it. Every time Apple upgrades a particular model, they bump the generation number up by one. It’s safe to assume that a higher generation number of a particular model is better in some way than a lower generation in that same model (for example, the iPad Generation 8 has a faster CPU than the iPad Generation 7).
This is the original iPad model that started it all. In general, this is the most basic and cheapest iPad available. The current version is Generation 8, which has a 10.2″ screen and supports the Generation 1 Apple Pencil (more on this later).
The iPad Mini is a smaller version of the iPad and has a compact 7.9″ display. While the screen is smaller, it is a better display than the iPad in terms of color and contrast. The iPad mini also supports the Generation 1 Apple Pencil (more on this later).
The iPad Air is thinner, lighter, and more powerful than the iPad. Its display is a bit larger with 10.9″, but the display itself is much better than the iPad and iPad Mini. Not only is the color and contrast better on the iPad Air, but the picture is sharper and clearer. In addition, the compute power within the iPad Air is better than the iPad as well, and it supports the Generation 2 Apple Pencil (more on this later).
The iPad Pro is the flagship of the iPad models. It’s the mother of all iPads. It’s more powerful than most laptop computers and could be a laptop replacement for some folks out there. Okay, I’ll stop now. But in terms of compute power, it does have a faster CPU than the other iPad models. It sports two different screen size options (the 11-inch and the 12.9-inch), and both models support the Generation 2 Apple Pencil (more on this later).
iPad Pro 11-inch
As its name suggests, the iPad Pro 11-inch has an 11” display. The screen quality is better than the iPad, the iPad Air, and the iPad Mini with better color and contrast. The picture is sharper and has a higher refresh rate (meaning everything will move smoother).
iPad Pro 12.9-inch
As the name suggests, the iPad Pro 12.9-inch has a 12.9″ display. The screen on the 12.9-inch iPad is even better than the screen on the 11-inch screen. It has a higher resolution and uses a different back-lighting system that makes the picture more dynamic and true-to-life. In terms of screen quality, this is as good as it gets.
When looking at an iPad for use with Procreate, there are specific features that we want to take into account. The point is to avoid regrets in the future. Let’s face it, iPad tablets can be expensive, and finding out you purchased the wrong one months later is not going to be a highlight for anyone.
The Procreate app is primarily a graphical design application, so the iPad screen essentially becomes an artistic canvas. In general, artists would like their canvas to be as large as possible, which means they want a large display. This allows the artist to see the full composition of their piece and as much of it as possible at one time. However, price may become a more important “feature” than screen size. In general (when price isn’t the most important factor) screen size matters and tends to be most important feature to consider.
The screen of the iPad Pro 12.9-inch screen touts a large piece of real estate. It’s the size of a piece of paper (8 ½” x 11”) and is the largest screen available.
Note: Screen sizes are measured diagonally, so while the screen is 8 ½” x 11”, when you measure it on the diagonal it measures 12.9”.
The screen size of the iPad Pro 11-inch and the iPad Air (10.9”) are so close in size they are indistinguishable. The iPad Pro 11-inch screen is technically wider by 0.02”. If we’re talking about playground bragging rights, that extra width on the Pro will make you feel like the cool kid- and king or queen of all you survey.
But the iPad itself is “close enough” to these with a 10.2” screen. Its width is reduced by 0.22” compared to the iPad Pro-11-inch.
The screen size of the iPad Mini is obviously smaller. It would be tough to call it a “mini” otherwise. It has a compact 7.9” screen. If portability is your primary concern, this might be important to you. However, if you have any vision issues, or you want to be able to see your entire canvas in detail as you create, then using the smaller screen could frustrate you. Saving up a bit more to purchase a larger iPad is really something to consider.
Ever since the iPhone was invented, we’ve learned that our fingers could be our pointers and our mice, so we threw away our styluses for the digits we already carry with us. However, our fingers are really too large and inaccurate and not the best stylus to use on Procreate, so we may need to go back to the early 2000’s and find ourselves a stylus. Or do we?
Yes, you can use any old stylus on your iPad, but none will quite measure up to the Apple Pencil. The Apple Pencil is really the best iPad stylus out there and Procreate is designed to be used with this stylus. Using it in Procreate will make your brush strokes precise down to the pixel, something that may not be possible with another stylus.
The most amazing thing is that it senses both the tilt of the pencil and the pressure you are exerting on the pencil. That means, that when you are drawing with the side of your Apple Pencil, Procreate will be able to recognize that and respond accordingly. The pressure sensitivity means that when you press harder on the screen, Procreate will darken your brush stroke, or conversely lighten your stroke if you are using a light tough. The normal stylus can’t do that. You’ll just get a brush stroke that has had its stroke manually defined. This makes the Apple Pencil the closest thing you can get to drawing with a pencil on paper.
There are two separate versions of the Apple Pencil, and your choice may dictate which iPad you purchase, so let’s take a look them both.
The Apple Pencil 2nd Generation has a number of features. First, it attaches to the side of your iPad magnetically, and while attached it charges wirelessly. This is terribly convenient, because not only do you have a place to put it, but when you pick it up next time to use it, it’ll be charged and ready to go. It’s also perfectly weighted and the right length so it feels like a natural extension of your hand- much like a normal pencil or brush would feel.
As long as we’re talking about wireless things, the second-generation Apple Pencil can also pair with your iPad wirelessly. All you need to do is attach it to the side of the iPad. The iPad recognizes it and begins using it. It’s seriously so cool.
Lastly, but definitely not least, the second-generation Apple Pencil allows you to double tap the side of the pencil to change the tool you’re using. In Procreate, you can define which tool is associated with that double tap. By default, you can move between your drawing tool and your eraser. It doesn’t get any easier than that. The current models of the iPad Pro and the iPad Air support the Generation 2 Apple Pencil. Some older generation models are supported as well. You’ll get so used to this feature you’ll find yourself doing it even when you’re using regular pens or pencils.
While the Apple Pencil 1st Generation has the precision, tilt, and pressure features that the second-generation pencil has, it does lose the features described above. In order to pair and charge the first-generation Apple Pencil, you’ll need to take the cap off the back of it, revealing a lightning plug, and plug it into the lightning port at the bottom of your tablet. If you have an iPad model that uses a USB-C connector, you’ll need an adaptor of some kind (not sold by Apple). This is not recommended.
Of course, the loss of features means that the price of the 1st Generation pencil is less. In terms of compatibility, the iPad and iPad Mini support the Generation 1 Apple Pencil. Some older generation iPad models are supported as well.
When we’re talking about memory or RAM (Random Access Memory for those who want to geek out with me), we aren’t talking about storage capacity. We are talking about the hardware needed for the app to run. Normally, we don’t really care so much about how much RAM is in an iPad. The operating system (iOS) is really pretty good about hiding that from us. It turns out, though, that Procreate does care in some respects and that might make you care as well.
Procreate uses a concept called Layers, which allows you to stack changes onto your design. For example, I might have a picture on one layer and add text to that picture by placing the text on another layer that sits on top of the picture. The text is on the picture, but the picture is undisturbed and in its original format. I can make whatever changes I want in the layers above without modifying the picture. It’s a way of adding to your original image without being destructive, a key advantage to creating digitally.
The number of layers you can create depends on the amount of RAM available and also the size and quality of the Procreate canvas. The larger the canvas and dots per inch (dpi) in use by the canvas, the more RAM consumed when a layer is added. When you create a canvas within Procreate, it will tell you the maximum number of layers you can create on that canvas.
To give you a frame of reference, an iPad with 4 GB of RAM using Procreate with a 10” x 10” 300 dpi canvas can create 55 layers. While this may seem like all the layers you could ever want, they tend to go fast when you start to depend on them and you’re creating large projects. Especially, if you’re using the animation capabilities of Procreate- each animation cell is a separate layer and each time you group layers that’s a separate layer as well. You’ll notice you run out of all those layers fast.
The current versions of iPads have the following RAM sizes:
|iPad 8th Generation||3GB|
|iPad Mini 5th Generation||3GB|
|iPad Air 4th Generation||4 GB|
|iPad Pro 11-inch 3rd Generation||8GB or 16GB (see note below)|
|iPad Pro 12.9-inch 5th Generation||8GB or 16GB (see note below)|
Note about the iPad Pro: As of this writing, the operating system (iOS) only allows a single app to utilize 5 GB of memory, regardless of how much memory is in the iPad. This means that Procreate can only utilize 5 GB – no matter which version of the iPad Pro you have. Procreate did announce that they are ready to utilize more than 5 GB of RAM in the latest version of Procreate whenever the application is allowed to do so. It will take an iOS update to allow this to happen, and we can probably assume we’ll get one of those eventually. It’s just not there now.
Within Procreate, there is a maximum size to the canvas you can create on each model. Here are the maximum sizes in pixels for each of the latest iPad models.
|iPad 8th Generation||7,327 x 7,327|
|iPad Mini 5th Generation||8,192 x 4,096|
|iPad Air 4th Generation||16,384 x 4,096 or 8,192 x 8,192|
|iPad Pro 11-inch 3rd Generation||16,384 x 4,096 or 8,192 x 8,192|
|iPad Pro 12.9-inch 5th Generation||16,384 x 4,096 or 8,192 x 8,192|
There are some Procreate features that are only available on certain models of iPads. Here are the features that are affected by iPad model.
Color Panel History
Within the Color Panel you can create whatever color you can dream up. A history of the last ten colors used is available on the iPad Pro only.
The FacePaint feature takes a canvas and maps it to your face using augmented reality (AR). This feature can be found in the Reference Companion window. It’s available only on the iPad Pro, the iPad Air, and iPad. While fun, this isn’t a key feature when creating digital art.
Best iPad for Procreate
Now the moment of truth. We’ve taken in quite a bit of information to get this far, and we’ve considered it all when looking at the different iPad models and different iPad options. Which iPad is our top pick for Procreate? Drum roll please…
The 12.9-inch iPad Pro 8 GB! (That was a little anticlimactic, wasn’t it? We all kinda knew it was coming.)
The iPad Pro is going to be the best machine for Procreate for those who are looking for exactly that. And it’s not just the digital artists and graphic designers who will benefit from it. Here are the reasons we chose it:
- The 8 1/2″ x 11″ screen is the same size as a sketch book. If you’re used to sketching, the transition will be almost seamless. When it comes to screen size, you could be disappointed by going too small. Yes, you can still get the job done with a smaller screen, but you’ll find that you will wrestle more with repositioning the canvas on the screen than you would with a larger screen.
- It supports the superior Generation 2 Apple Pencil. The convenience of charging and storing the Apple Pencil by attaching it magnetically on the side of the iPad is hard to pass by. You won’t lose it and it will always be ready to go when you want to use it.
- Choosing the reduced 8 GB option was not difficult. Right now, Procreate can’t use more than 5 GB. The only reason to purchase the 16 GB model would be for those power users who use multiple memory-intensive apps at the same time, or for those who are looking to replace their laptop with the iPad Pro.
- The maximum canvas size and the model-specific features did not weigh heavily on our decision. While having a history of color palettes is convenient, it wasn’t a reason to choose the iPad Pro, and neither was the FacePaint feature.
Runner-up Best iPad for Procreate (and for Those on a Budget)
Let’s face it, the 12.9-inch iPad Pro is expensive – plain and simple. For those of us who are looking for a budget conscious option, we have a runner-up for the best iPad for Procreate… the iPad Air.
Here are the reasons why the iPad Air makes the most sense for those on a budget:
- The iPad Air starts at almost half the price of the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, and is a few hundred dollars cheaper than the 11-inch iPad Pro.
- As mentioned before, the screen size between the 11-inch iPad Pro and the iPad Air is indistinguishable.
- You have compatibility with the superior Generation 2 Apple Pencil.
- The 4 GB of memory (RAM) available in the iPad Air will be enough for the average user. The Procreate power users may find it inadequate, but most people won’t fall into this category.
- If you’re on a budget, the maximum canvas size and the model-specific features likely won’t be enough to sway you to purchasing an iPad Pro. They’re convenient and fun, but probably not worth the extra money.
Best iPad Accessories for Procreate
Jen’s Take as an Artist
Aside from the Apple Pencil (which seems mandatory and less of a choice), our top choice for the best iPad accessory for Procreate is the Zoegga Paper Screen Protector.
I’m not really one for screen protectors, but this brings an aspect to the iPad screen that was never there before. It makes it feel like and act like paper. The problem with a naked screen (or glass protector) is the flat surface. It’s extremely slippery and almost unnatural so your stylus wants to slide across the screen. Instead, the Zoegga Paper Screen Protector is a rougher paper-like texture that adds friction – just a little resistance to your stylus.
Before I got this screen protector, my hand would feel fatigued from gripping the stylus and limiting the movement on the glass. This also made my marks seem less natural and loose. Using a protector with a paper-type texture solved these issues and brings you yet another step closer to the feel of using an actual canvas or sketchbook. Leaving you free to slip into that creative flow and just enjoy the experience.
Another accessory you may consider is getting a protective case for your iPad. My favorite cases are Fintie brand. This brand has lots of models and designs, plus it does a great job of protecting your investment. It also allows you to travel with my iPad. Sitting by the lake drawing on a summer afternoon? Oh yes, you can if you’ve got a good case! Be sure to get one with a place for your stylus- it works really well to have them together at all times.
Curious About What You Can Do with Procreate?
Check out our Procreate tutorials! We’ve made tons of stickers, taken sketch notes, created designs for engraving, card making, and more. and even made gifs and posts for social media.
Legit, the iPad Pro was THE best Christmas present ever, with the Apple Pencil Gen 2 being the second best.
I also love how easy it is to create designs for my Cricut projects, in my post, How to Make a Leather Hair Barrette with the Cricut Desbossing Tool, I talk about how amazed I was to go from a quick sketch in Procreate to a cut and debossed leather barrette on my Cricut in less than 20 minutes. This program will rock your world and makes learning a complicated graphic design program a nonissue for those who’d like to create their own original designs. It’s absolutely amazing.
Thanks for reading this article on the best iPad for Procreate. I hope that it helped demystify the tech for you. If you have any more questions, please feel free to comment below. And if you’d like to remember this post for easy reference later don’t forget to pin the image below!