Wednesday, March 30, 2011

iMad Scientist: Procreate iPad App Review

For the next few posts, I'll be reviewing my experiments with various iPad paint apps. I'd very much welcome comments & tips if you have experience with these apps, or any questions if you are looking into the subject yourself.

This image, "Springy" was created using Procreate with the Nomad Brush. The spring diagrams in the background are from a vintage technical book, scanned & imported into photos. (Please click for a full-size view.)

This app has some very appealing characteristics, but in its current incarnation, it doesn't quite suit my style, as I'll explain below.

Ease of Use
By the time I picked up Procreate, I'd already worked with several apps, so I'm not sure how it would strike a newbie, but it seemed fairly straightforward to me, & the developers offer a very helpful pdf user's manual to help work out any mysteries. The app works smoothly with none of the lag I've experienced with some others, & from what I've heard, user support is unparalleled.
The undo/redo depth is outstanding, allowing for 100 levels! The non-interpolated 3200% zoom is easy to use, fast, & allows great precision. This is probably my second-favorite feature of the app.

Procreate has 8 built-in brush shapes, & is unique among paint apps (as far as I know) in allowing the user to create or import custom brush shapes & textures. This goes not only for the brush per se but also erasers & smudge tools. This is without a doubt the app's BEST FEATURE & would make it a favorite for brushes if not for one serious limitation: there is no minimum radius adjustment, so creating a tapered, precisely shaped brushstroke is all but impossible. (There is the ability to adjust radius to speed, but only to a degree, & control is iffy.) Even if you don't use tapered brushstrokes, a minimum radius feature would be extremely useful for better eraser control. There are, however, interesting adjustment possibilities for texture scale & shape rotation, as well as scatter, fall-off & spacing.

The layers palette is unusually deep for an iPad app, allowing for a luxurious 16 layers. It's fairly easy to handle when it comes to merges (down OR up), reordering, clearing, transforming & duplicating layers.
Alas, it falls short in blending effects. Only opacity can be adjusted: no multiply or screen functions here. When I work in non-digital media I use a lot of glaze effects, so when working digitally I'm a huge fan of multiply, the digital equivalent of a dark glaze. That makes this limitation the app's WORST FEATURE as far as I'm concerned. Luckily, according to the developers, future upgrades may add blending effects, & in any case, if you are an alla prima type, their absence might not bother you at all.

The palette offers a large color-chooser & HSB sliders. The palette is easily accessible & the tap-hold eyedropper feature works fairly reliably, though it seems it will only sample from the active layer. {Edit: Please see my comment below.} Unfortunately there doesn't seem to be a swatch palette, so it's not possible to save favorite colors.

Procreate allows you to import multiple images from your saved photos or photo library, & to flip these (as well as your working canvas) horizontally & vertically, in addition to scaling.

Saves & Exports
Auto-saves & also makes it easy to save the file or a copy of the file at will without much fuss. You can also duplicate the file in the gallery, or export via e-mail.

The gallery is elegant & simple in design, with large images against a dark gray ground. You can really only see one image at a time, but it's fairly easy to scroll through.

I have high hopes for this app. It's the newest on the market & the developers seem extremely responsive. I have a feeling that in the future, with a few developer tweaks, it will become a favorite. Currently, though, it's not the dream app I'd hoped for.

You can find more iMad Scientist paintings & reviews here.


Jim Doran said...

Nice write up.

I've been working on iPad APPS for work. As such, I've neglected to investigate apps like this.

Thanks for sharing.

Curious Art said...

I just received the following comment from Savage Interactive, the makers of Procreate:

"Thanks for taking the time to review Procreate. I might add, your artwork titled Springy, is very cool. A unique style and feeling to the piece.

Your review reads honestly and well is structured. A few comments which we thought might be of use:

Creating a permanent tapered brushstroke option, is something we may look at implementing if there is demand for it. We can see it would be a very useful addition to Procreate. Why not post up an idea and see if its something others want!

With respect to layer blending, this is something we cant wait to bring to Procreate. As you mention in your review, we will indeed be developing layer blending in the future.

Because Procreate is built on our custom painting engine–Silica–the entire canvas is built using OpenGL and the brushes are actually driven by pixel shaders. We're currently examining ways to implement a layer blending pixel shader, whist maintaining 16 layers an the soon to be released 1920x1408px canvas size. Lookout for more information as we get into it.

And its great to hear your finding custom brushes useful. Its a really nice way to explore new and imaginative tools. We're also in the process of making this feature, even better. Also just to clarify, the colour picker does sample all layers :)

This is a long term app for us and we have some tremendous features planned for Procreate. So keep an eye out for some free stuff coming your way over time.

If you have any other ideas or suggestions, please don't hesitate to discuss on these support boards. We're almost always here :)

Thanks again for your review and we look forward to seeing more of your unique art style...!"

This speedy, yet thoughtful, reply certainly proves what I'd already heard about SI's responsiveness! I have a feeling this app will become a real star over time.

p.s. I did post the tapered brush suggestion on their forum. If you have suggestions of your own, here's the link:

tickbite said...

Thanks for the review. I have been looking for good reviews on all the painting apps, so as soon as I found your blog, I bookmarked it.

I'm expecting my iPad in the mail by the end of the month, and from what I've read on the internet so far, my favorite app is "Inspire Pro", but I'm holding off on buying an app until I read your thoughts. My main gripes about Procreate is the small canvas size right now, but who knows what'll change in the near future ...

Erik said...

Nice review, have you tried the 1.5 update already? It solves most of your gripes you mention here? Love your art by the way.