Procreate vs Illustrator for iPad

Procreate and Illustrator for iPad represent two schools of thought when it comes to digital art creation: pixels vs. vectors.

That’s a big deal, because the type of art that you want to create can be heavily influenced by the elements you use to make it.

With that in mind, when would it be beneficial to use Procreate over Illustrator or vice versa? Are they even really competitors or are they just neighbors in the creative space?

Let’s find out.

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Illustration: Vectors vs. Pixels

Many decisions go into the creative process. One of the first decisions you’ll need to make is what tools to use. Depending on the type of work you'd like to produce and its application, some apps make more sense to use than others.

This is the heart of the debate between these two apps and, depending on your creative needs, everything may come down to one fact: Adobe Illustrator for iPad allows you to create vector-based illustrations while Procreate is used for pixel-based content.

But what does that even mean, and why does it matter?

Let's break it down.

Vector graphics and art are produced using a series of mathematical equations that tell your program the precise location of the points on your document to create curves and shapes.

This means that vector-based artwork is infinitely scalable with no loss of quality, regardless of size or shape. The downside here is that vector-based graphics often lack the creative (bitmap-based) brushes and coloring options that you see in raster-based apps.

Raster graphics rely on collections of dots or pixels to store all of your graphics information. They don’t rely on mathematical equations; instead, the quality is determined by the number of bits per pixel.

While this does give rasters some distinct advantage in terms of shading and color variety, it also limits scalability. When you try to scale pixel artwork past a certain point, images become blurry and soft around the edges as your software tries to spread the same number of bits across a larger surface area.

That’s why it’s critical to understand the resolution of your canvas when using any raster or pixel-based software tool (like Procreate).

With this understanding we can conclude that there are certain times when it'd be better to use vector apps like Illustrator or Affinity Designer compared to pixel apps like Procreate. The nature of vectors allows them to be infinitely scalable making them great for large-scale uses like billboards, or vinyl murals.

As a lettering artist, I often use Illustrator to plot points using the Apple Pencil and the Pen tool to create a vector drawing of a sketch. This is a common practice but there can be a learning curve if you don't reference a few tutorials first.

Thankfully Illustrator has more to offer in the way of creating with vectors. If you're looking for a more traditional feel to your drawing experience, you have a choice of three types of vector brushes in Adobe Illustrator:

These tools allow you to draw out your strokes like you would with a Procreate brush. The key difference is: If you highlight your strokes in Illustrator, you'll notice that there are points along your lines.

#caption#In both Procreate and Adobe Illustrator for iPad, you can use traditional drawing tools to mark out lines in a natural way. However, when you do this in Illustrator, you’ll notice that your lines (paths) are actually marked with small boxes called anchor points. These can be used to manipulate or transform your line at any time.

#alt#An image representing a black line drawn on a white canvas in both Procreate and Adobe Illustrator for iPad. The line drawn in Adobe Illustrator is marked by various anchor points — represented as small, white boxes — along its length.

Vectors are known for being clean and sharp which poses a challenge for artists looking for more texture and personality in their work.

While vector brushes like Hand Drawn, Grunge, and Ink Paint (Illustrator’s default brushes) do offer both texture and personality, if you're not used to vector graphics, things might look a little off.

If you want to merge traditional art with the technical markup that Illustrator provides, you can use the Vectorize tool. This allows you to take your raster images and turn them into vectors. Depending on the quality of the image you're trying to convert, the results can be hit or miss.

Procreate is a powerful drawing and painting app with 100+ incredible brushes built in by default. You can produce stunning results that will look like you're working with traditional materials. With the 5.2 update, you can even import and paint on 3D models. This really has taken the idea of painting to the next level. You can also push things further with materials and effects in their expanded Brush Settings menu.

Not to mention, you can easily incorporate both programs into your workflow by starting a rough sketch digitally in Procreate and bringing the image into Adobe Illustrator. I often do this when I know I want my final piece to be vectorized.

While Procreate operates on its own, Adobe Illustrator can rely on other apps like Capture to handle functions like color palette creation. Color palettes can be created in both apps using images taken from your device camera but only Procreate can use images you've already taken and generate palettes from them. This makes digital drawing and creation that much easier for artists.

Related: 30+ Best Procreate Color Palettes

Verdict

Tie. Many artists (myself included) create both pixel-based and vector-based artwork. This isn't really a question of if pixels are superior to vectors or vice versa. It's more about when it’s best to use one over the other.

It can also serve as a fun experiment for you to try and create in a new way. The results might just surprise you. As with most things it's best to know what the application of your final piece will be and then go from there.

Interface

If you have a background in graphic design or digital art, you've probably been using Adobe programs for a while. (After all, they are industry standard.)

With this past experience in mind, there's a certain familiarity to Illustrator on the iPad. The layout is simple, and all of the tools you'll need are all on one screen. As you navigate using the Toolbar on the left and the Taskbar on the right, you'll see classic tools like the Pen tool, Shape tool, and Artboard tool (just to name a few).

#caption#Adobe Illustrator’s Toolbar and Task Bar are remarkably straightforward, especially if you’ve used Adobe software tools in the past.

#alt#An image depicting the user interface for Adobe Illustrator with toolbars located on both the left- and righthand sides of the app window.

Procreate is even simpler in its presentation, featuring just two rows of tools on the top left and right of the screen and sliders for Brush Size and Opacity.

Other features, like editing your brush settings, are hidden behind a series of menus that allow for fine-grained control over your visual experience.

It’s worth pointing out that rooting around in the submenus is not for the faint of heart. The sheer number of options within these menus can be overwhelming if you're navigating the app as a beginner.

#caption#In Procreate, you’ll find fewer menu items to distract you from your art, but the nested submenus (located behind the menu buttons in the top left) can be difficult to navigate.

#alt#An image depicting the user interface for Procreate, which features a limited selection of buttons along the top menu bar and left side of the application to maximize the drawing canvas (located in the middle of the screen).

If you're ever stuck in Procreate, there are a number of tutorials on their YouTube channel to help you find your way. You can also reference the handbook.

Adobe Illustrator for iPad came onto the scene in late 2020, making it one of the newer apps Adobe has released for mobile users. The company has taken the same approach to this app as it did with Adobe Fresco and Photoshop, where the app features an in-app tour. This is huge for new users as they learn to translate their digital creations into these new mobile experiences.

In terms of customization, both apps allow you to switch your controls between the left and right, and toggle light mode and dark mode settings. It’s nothing groundbreaking, but it's something.

Both apps are actively maintained and see regular updates multiple times a year, so there’s always a lot to explore and be excited about as an artist.

Verdict

Adobe Illustrator.

There is a long legacy of UI and design that comes with being in the Adobe software suite. The comfort that it provides for both casual and experienced users is something that most likely won't go away (unless they fix what isn't broken.)

While Procreate has a nice presentation that centers your focus on your artwork, it can be a challenge to move beyond the basic functions of the app. But, no matter how you choose to create, you can always rely on the community of artists behind both apps to help you out.

Price

When it comes down to it, price plays a huge role in which software we use as artists. Since 2012, Adobe has been using a monthly subscription model for their entire suite of programs, and Illustrator for iPad is no exception. This version of Illustrator falls into a number of bundles that you can purchase in order to use it.

These are your options if you want access to Adobe Illustrator for iPad:

The Adobe Design Mobile Plan gives you access not only to Illustrator for iPad but also to Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Fresco and Creative Cloud Express on the iPad. Adobe Photoshop and Fresco offer photo editing and drawing and painting respectively while Creative Cloud Express is a graphic design social media software that allows you to create posts and graphics with ease. This bundle was designed to give users all the apps they would need for design and digital illustration on the iPad.

Related: Adobe Fresco vs Procreate

When you purchase any of these plans, you get 100GB in Cloud Storage which is a major benefit to using Adobe apps. If you've never tried Adobe Illustrator before, the Single App Plan comes with a 7-day free trial which lets you test it out before you commit to the monthly subscription.

The All Apps Plan is the most expensive because it gives you access to all 20+ apps that span desktop and mobile experiences. If the interest is there but the prices are still too steep, keep an eye out for sales. Adobe regularly offers deals and discounts (sometimes up to 40% on their plans), so you can save big if you buy at the right time.

Procreate has always been a one-time single app purchase. For Procreate your options are:

The price makes Procreate a very accessible software tool for almost any digital artist.

Plus, there are only two versions of the app: Procreate for iPad is the original Procreate while Procreate Pocket is specifically designed for iPhone. The Procreate team has paid a lot of attention to their users and has taken care to engineer their apps are properly optimized for the latest Apple devices. They've been laser focused on iOS since day one, and that doesn't look like it'll change anytime soon.

Verdict

Procreate.

The price of Procreate remains one of its biggest appeals for artists who are looking for the best software at the best price. Procreate is a powerful app that has constantly introduced advanced features, including material brushes and 3D model painting, to make their app even more appealing to artists.

While Adobe subscription plans usually come with access to more than one app, the numbers don't lie: After paying for a one month subscription to any of these plans, you'll already be paying more than you would if you just purchased Procreate and Procreate Pocket outright.

Gestures & Features

While Adobe has a long legacy of desktop software, their history in the mobile space is still relatively new.

Procreate, on the other hand has been around for over 10 years, allowing them to position themselves in a way that has made them trailblazers for digital art creation on the iPad. Basically, you can thank them for the two-finger tap to undo and the three-finger tap to redo that you'll also find in Illustrator for iPad.

A unique feature of Adobe mobile apps has become the Touch Shortcut. It's a small button that changes the behaviors of different tools or actions when you touch and hold it. Use it to constrain the proportions of your shapes, control your handles and more. Its capabilities are expansive so the app contains a full list of the primary and secondary functions.

Both programs allow you to add text to your work with a huge selection of fonts to choose from. In Illustrator, Adobe Fonts is the online fonts library that gives you access to 20,000+ fonts from hundreds of type foundries.

Procreate gives you access to all of the fonts in the iOS library, as well as three default fonts: Eina, Impact, and Jack Armstrong BB. You can also install your own fonts into both apps. This gives you the flexibility to use typography in your work however you'd like.

On a side note, if you're looking for more Procreate fonts, here are 20+ of our favorites.

Verdict

Procreate. The app has set the pace and the trend for other drawing apps and their gestures.

While Adobe is seemingly playing catch up, Procreate’s innovations have made it possible for them to adapt their mobile experiences to the current landscape.

Illustrator’s Touch Shortcut is also a fun and useful tool, but you'll have to try it for yourself to see if it enhances your ability to create.

Limitations

One of Procreate's greatest limitations in its decade-long history has been layer limits. In the 5.2 update, they worked hard to increase the layer limit amount across the newer iPad models. You can check to see how your iPad model could have increased layer count here.

Like Procreate, Adobe Illustrator is limited to the iPad, meaning that it won’t work with Android or Windows tablets, which makes sense given that the iPad is such a popular tool with digital creatives.

However, Adobe Illustrator Draw is a solution available to Android users who want to draw on non-Apple tablets and export those results to the desktop version of Photoshop or Illustrator.

Any app with a desktop equivalent will also find users drawing comparisons. This is particularly true in Adobe’s case because of its history with desktop software.

Adobe Illustrator for desktop is one of the company’s flagship products. Unfortunately, you won’t find all the tools in the desktop version available in Adobe Illustrator for iPad. The mobile app doesn't offer support for all object types like gradient meshes, or effects like adding blur, or drop shadows.

When opening cloud documents, any unsupported object will feature a '?' icon letting you know that it is not editable. The good news is that Adobe is always taking suggestions for features from users, so be sure to let them know if you’re running into roadblocks around cross-compatibility.

In the Price section, we saw that Procreate also has an iPhone app called Procreate Pocket. Currently, Adobe Illustrator is limited to just the iPad app version. This is likely the case for a good reason — Do we really want to plot points on our phone? — but it's worth noting since most of the other mobile apps like Fresco and Photoshop have iPhone apps as well.

At present, one of the biggest appeals of Procreate is the ability to import custom brushes. Right now, Adobe Illustrator doesn't offer this option to users. Instead, you can create your own brushes using objects drawn on your canvas.

And while I have an appreciation for both pixels and vectors, neither of these apps could handle each other's brushes.

Verdict

Tie.

Limitations are relative to the artist. Everyone's tools for creating are different but it looks like Android and Windows tablet users will have to hold off on using these apps.

While you're able to use Illustrator on your iPad and desktop, the limitations to certain features and object support can make parts of your document behave strangely.

If you're really looking for an app that you can use on other devices besides iPad, I suggest you check out our review of Adobe Fresco vs. Procreate right here.

Further reading

Exporting

Compatibility is important, and that also includes exporting and sharing your work with the world.

Adobe Illustrator can export to the following formats:

  • JPEG
  • PNG
  • SVG
  • PDF
  • PSD

#caption#With Illustrator’s export, you’ll have the option to choose an export type, a desired resolution and quality, and how many Artboards you want to export before you start the exporting process.

 

#alt#An image of the Adobe Illustrator for iPad Export tool. This tool features a left sidebar with export options, including Format, Color model, Quality, Resolution, and Artboard selection.

Because of its use of Artboards, you have the option to set ranges for which parts of your document you want to include in your final export. This is one of the best features that's been carried over from the desktop program because you can include multiple ideas and versions of a concept in a single document.

The other thing to consider is that Illustrator isn’t just a standalone software. It belongs to the Adobe product family, and that provides enhanced functionality.

Adobe Fresco users can export their documents straight to Illustrator for iPad or desktop. This is due to the vector capabilities in Fresco, which allow you to create using a number of vector brushes. Once you're done you can edit each point precisely using the Path tool in Illustrator.

Procreate can export to the following formats:

  • Procreate
  • PSD
  • PDF
  • JPEG
  • PNG
  • TIFF
  • PDF
  • PNG Files
  • Animated GIF
  • Animated PNG
  • Animated MP4
  • Animated HEVC

#caption#Procreate’s Share function is located in the Actions menu. Use this option to share your entire document or a set of layers to any listed file type.

#alt#An image showing the Share function within the Action menu of Procreate. The menu features the ability to share images and layers in up to six different formats.

This file export list is extensive because Procreate has animation capabilities as well which call for support of motion formats.

The 5.2 update also introduced Page Assist, which was designed to be used for comics, books, and storyboards. With this feature, Procreate exports these documents differently from standard documents. Simply put, Page Assist identifies each layer as a page, and adds enhanced navigation for artists that use layers like multiple pages of a single document. As a bonus, when you export your content as a PDF, all individual pages will be exported in sequence for easy fast collation and review.

Verdict

Adobe Illustrator.

Being able to use multiple artboards within the same document gives it a slight edge over Procreate. The option to expand your creative output through additional apps like Adobe Fresco is also a huge plus.

The Page Assist feature is definitely nice to see from Procreate but the export capabilities are a little less intuitive and will take longer depending on your format.

Organization, File Management, & Cloud Storage

Keeping files organized and easy to access is important for every digital artist.

Adobe Illustrator organizes your work into a few sections:

  • Home
  • Your Files
  • Shared with you
  • Deleted

#caption#The Home menu in Adobe Illustrator gives you quick ways to create new art, access recent files, and more.

 

#alt#An image depicting the Home screen for Adobe Illustrator for iPad.

You'll find all of your most recent files under the Home section. You also have convenient access to creating a new canvas quickly, and can even check out the New and Upcoming features for the app.

The Your Files section is where you get to organize your files and create folders that help you keep your documents together. In this section, you can also organize your files by date or by name. If you ever delete a file, it will go to the Deleted section where you can choose to restore it.

Shared with you is where the documents you've exchanged with collaborators can be found. This is a newer Illustrator feature where comments can be added to work in progress, and sharing project files with others can be done through a shareable link.

On the other hand, Procreate keeps things simple with their Gallery view. This is where you'll find all of your documents. From here you can create Stacks or groups of documents by selecting individual documents or quickly dragging and dropping.

One thing that all premium Adobe apps have in common is that they include cloud storage. Illustrator subscriptions provide you with 100GB of storage in the Creative Cloud. This means your documents are syncing and saving in the background and you’ll be able to pick up where you left off on desktop or mobile. This kind of flexibility and security with your files is huge for digital artists.

Procreate relies mainly on the iCloud backup of your device and your initiative to manually save your work to your Files app. Unlike with Illustrator, anything that you delete can't be recovered so you should be very careful when managing your files.

#caption#With Procreate, you can group your files into Stacks for fast and easy navigation.

 

#alt#An image depicting the Procreate home screen. The screen features five columns of artwork arranged as either individual artwork or stacks of similar artwork.

If you're a regular Procreate user, I highly recommend establishing a workflow for saving your work. I like to backup my documents in at least two file formats. One version as a Procreate file and another as a JPG or PNG so that it can be read in programs outside of Procreate.

Verdict

Adobe Illustrator.

The power of the Creative Cloud is an undeniable advantage. File syncing takes a lot of the anxiety out of possibly losing your files.

The fact remains that no matter which app you choose, neither is perfect, and having a good workflow for saving and backing up your devices is still something all artists need.

I've experienced losing all my Procreate files before, so believe me when I tell you, it's as bad as you'd imagine it to be.

Final Verdict

You’ve probably figured out by now that there really is no winner or loser here. Each app has its own unique advantages and you choosing one over the other will largely depend on the application of the work.

If you’re still not sure which app is for you start by asking yourself these questions:

1. Will my artwork need to be scaled into different formats?

If so, Adobe Illustrator is probably the better choice because of how vector-based graphics work.

Keep in mind that Illustrator for iPad also allows for a .PSD export, so it would be possible to transform your vector art into a pixel-based format, if needed, at the cost of scalability.

2. Will this incorporate a photo with a set resolution? Procreate is great for handling pixel-based graphics. While you could import your image to Illustrator, your design would need to work around that pixel-based limitation.

At that point, it makes more sense to use Procreate (since you’re already limited by the size of the imported image) to take advantage of all the unique, pixel-based tools that Procreate has to offer.

3. Will this artwork be used for social media?

Procreate or Adobe Illustrator for iPad will both work for this, so it mostly comes down to preference and your personal toolkit.

Procreate offers a greater selection of versatility when it comes to brushes and true-to-life shading, but vectors have their own distinctive art style.

Once you've asked yourself these questions, you should be ready to jump into the right program and get to work.

Writer’s Choice

Personally, I enjoy using both apps, even though I find myself using Procreate more often for my art and client work.

Adobe Illustrator for iPad is a great program when I need added flexibility in the scale of the work I’m creating.

A majority of the work that I do is created on my iPad, so having access to Illustrator enhances my mobile workflow.

Wrapping Up

And there you have it: a closer look at two of the biggest digital creation apps for your iPad.

Without a doubt, both Procreate and Illustrator for iPad are exceptional apps with a lot to offer, depending on your needs and artistic style.

Both apps definitely have a place for a versatile artist — and so does Paperlike!

If you don’t already know, Paperlike is a screen protector for the iPad designed to make the surface of your iPad more closely resemble a page right out of your favorite sketchbook!

Paperlike adds friction and stroke resistance to your screen so that you can create smooth, precise lines when drawing with your iPad and Apple Pencil.

No matter which app you use, your Paperlike will help you get a better feel for creating on your iPad with the increased resistance that offers a more natural drawing experience.

Grab yours today!