Today we’re going to look at one of the most powerful vector illustration applications you’ll find on the App Store: iDraw. This excellent app goes well beyond providing you with a few simple brushes and gives you the power to create professional quality artwork on your iPad using many of the same tools you’re used to on a desktop computer.
We’ll go over why it’s different than the other drawing apps you’ve seen and dive into the rich feature set so you can get the full story before you decide whether or not to make the purchase.
Another Drawing App?
After playing with fun but basic applications like Adobe Ideas and even impressively featured apps like SketchBook Pro, I was wondering when we would start to see really powerful vector-based artwork creation and editing apps on iOS.
As crazy as it sounds, I was pretty much looking for Adobe Illustrator in a mobile app. The apps mentioned above provide lots of tools for creating great artwork, but where’s the bezier pen tool, editable paths and boolean commands?
These are just some of the tools that serious graphics professionals have come to rely on for their work and without them, a drawing app is more of a fun toy that a useful tool. Fortunately, you’ll see all these and more in iDraw.
When you first open up iDraw, you’ll see a gallery of canvases. By default, you should have five of these already in your library. Four of them outline the basic features in iDraw and the fifth is a sample piece of art created with iDraw.
If you hit the “Help” button in the top right, the basic controls for the app will pop up. These are all fairly intuitive when you start using the app and I found there was very little that I actually needed instruction on.
To create a new document, you tap on the button at the top left of the screen. This will bring up a screen containing nine different background options for your canvas, including blueprint, grid, image and more.
After you’ve selected your background, you’ll be taken into the main iDraw interface. As you can see below, it looks fairly basic: there’s a strip of tools along the bottom and some controls in each of the corners. However, there is a ton of functionality tucked away in this interface.
The toolbar along the bottom of the window contains the following: the move/selection tool, pencil, brush, pen tool, line, curve, rectangle, ellipse, polygon, star, text and image. As you would expect, each tool has it’s own unique set of options.
The Brush and Pencil
The brush and pencil tools work exactly like you’d expect: drag your finger to draw a line (an iPad stylus works well here). When you select one of these tools a little window pops up at the right that allows you to set the width of the stroke.
Using the controls in the bottom right, you can set the line color and opacity as shown below.
The really nice thing about using these two tools is that as you draw there is an auto-smoothing effect that really helps in creating nice, clean curves. Sometimes though this can make it difficult to draw sharp edges so I’d like to see some support added for controlling the amount of smoothing that takes place.
Another thing that I noticed about sketching in iDraw is that there is a noticeable lag when compared to Adobe Ideas. In fact, I didn’t notice it until I went back and tried Ideas after spending a long time with iDraw. The Ideas brush is very responsive and does its work very fast whereas in iDraw, if you quickly draw a circle, you wait about a half a second for the shape to complete.
The Pen Tool
As I mentioned about, one of my favorite things about iDraw is that there is a bezier pen tool. As a long time Adobe Illustrator fan I simply can’t live without this tool and I was happy to see it implemented so well here.
Since everything you create in iDraw is vector artwork, you can not only edit the handles and points of lines that you draw with the pen tool, but also those drawn with the brush, pencil and shape tools.
Shapes, Fills, and Gradients
When you select a shape tool, you’ll get an option to set the corner radius, number of sides, etc. With shapes you can not only set the line color but the fill color as well.
One nice feature here is that you aren’t stuck with solid colors but can actually create your own gradients.
To aid with various aspects of the main tools, the top toolbar has various secondary commands that perform a number of advanced actions. For instance, by tapping the “i” when you have a shape or stroke selected, you can adjust the stroke of an object and add a background image or even a drop shadow.
In the Geometry tab, you can set an object’s position, size and rotation and choose to lock either the entire or object or just the aspect ratio for proportional scaling.
In the Arrange tab, you can create groups, align objects and flip geometry vertically or horizontally. These commands are great but I’d definitely like to see the addition of a “distribute” command to easily apply even spacing to objects.
The same button that holds the Arrange tab also holds the modify tab. This was a pleasant surprise as I didn’t expect to find Illustrator pathfinder-like options in an iPad app! These commands are awesome for creating complex geometry from simple shapes.
The little gear icon allows you to set various aspects of your canvas. You can change the size and the background in addition to adjusting the grids and rulers.
Finally, you also have a basic set of commands for making selections and performing cut/copy/paste operations along with an undo command (multiple undos supported).
No professional art program would be complete without a system for layers and iDraw doesn’t disappoint. You can have as many layers as you want, independently activate or deactivate their appearance, arrange their order and even merge them as needed.
I would like to see some support added here for layer opacity and grouping, but the features already present are admittedly more than I’ve seen in other apps.
Now Go Buy It!
iDraw is an excellent application and is really one of the first that I’ve used that made it feel like I had a professional layout tool on an iOS device. Aside from the few feature suggestions I made above, this app has everything I have been looking for and I come back to it daily for quick sketches that I can then export to Illustrator.
I absolutely think that iDraw is worth the $9.99 price tag and definitely recommend that you give it a shot if you make your living as a designer or artist. You might also check out Freeform, a very similar with the same price point. I haven’t tried Freeform yet but it looks like the feature set might be a bit narrower, though I’m sure it has its strengths.
Leave a comment below and let us know what you think of iDraw and how it stacks up to other vector editing applications you’ve tried such as Freeform.