There are a ton of fun sketching apps for the iPad, but none of them offer the power of some drawing tools that you'll find on the desktop. Today, a small developer is trying to bridge that gap. It's releasing an app called Astropad that allows you to use your iPad as a sketch board that transfers over to apps on your Mac. That means you can load up Photoshop, grab a stylus, and start drawing on your iPad while using all of the tools and brushes that you'd normally have access to.
Astropad is fast, accurate, and easy enough to use
On a basic level, Astropad is just a fancy screen-sharing app, but it's the "fancy" part that really makes a difference. In short: it actually works. The app makes your iPad display whatever is on your Mac's screen, and when you draw on it, your marks immediately show up on both your tablet and computer — there usually isn't any lag, which is pretty important while drawing. You can load up any app that you want, but you'll probably want to be using a professional creation app to get the most benefit here.
The desktop's image also comes through crisp and clear on Astropad. "What you see on the iPad is the same thing you're going to see on the Mac," Matt Ronge, one of the two developers behind Astropad tells The Verge. "It's built with extremely high levels of quality. You never have to second guess it."
You can draw on Astropad with your fingers, but you're going to want to use a stylus. The app supports any stylus made by Adonit, Wacom, and Hex3, and the developers plan to add support for FiftyThree's Pencil soon. Using those styluses will give you pressure sensitivity and added accuracy — plus, sketching with a stylus is generally easier and a lot more fun.
Astropad is not without limitations, though many of those come from the iPad itself. The iPad is meant for finger input — not stylus input — so anyone who needs to do particularly detailed drawings may not have the best luck here. Each stylus's pressure sensitivity is also going to give you different results, and they're usually far from what you'd get with an actual pencil. That all said, Astropad makes the best of what it's got. If you're already familiar with the limitations of iPad styluses, you aren't going to find any new roadblocks here.
Photographers may find Astropad useful for retouching
That means that Astropad will likely be more useful to someone doing sketches than to someone looking for a precision tool, but there's a broad range of uses between those two that it can nicely serve. Astropad is also a great option for photographers looking for a way to apply dodges and burns to their images, as you can easily paint them on. Notably, there is another app offering these features, Air Stylus, but it doesn't work as smoothly and is far more frustrating to set up.
Astropad goes on sale today for $49.99 (students will be able to get it for $19.99) from the developer's website. That's certainly pricier than the average drawing app, but Astropad's intention is to offer an alternative to something like a Wacom tablet, which is usually far more expensive — anywhere from a couple hundred dollars to over a thousand. Yes, you'll get more precision on a Wacom, but Astropad is a very workable alternative at a relatively low cost. Plus, it takes advantage of a device that you already carry around.