A week ago I got an iPad.

It’s a really freakin’ cool device! It just feels so good to use it in place of my Netbook. The form factor is so…natural. Usually at night I kick back on the couch with the netbook and do my web browsing, but even with the small screen it’s still a pain to balance on my knee while hosting a cat on my lap. Then I add a Wacom tablet and there’s cables and balancing and annoyed cats. But with the iPad it’s so much more like holding a magazine.*

Now, it’s no secret that the iPad is not a complete replacement for a “real” computer. It’s a media consumption device, not a creation one. Well, at least that’s the common logic. I thought I’d see how well I’d go making some of this week’s comics with the thing.

The first thing I had to figure out were the tools. Now since Photoshop isn’t out yet for the thing…well not the REAL Photoshop anyway…I had to find some new apps for the task of drawing with.. After some poking around in the AppStore I found Brushes and Sketchbook Pro.

Now, let me be clear: pretty much every review of Brushes and / or Sketchbook Pro out there sucks. They’re all really superficial and don’t answer the “how good are they at making comics?” questions had for them. So, I ended up buying both.

Monday’s comic was mostly done with Brushes. The user interface is really simple, with a menu along the bottom giving me quick access to the pen and erase tools, as well as eyedropper, undo / redo and layer control. You can have up to six layers, which I thought would be well enough since I usually just use two or three in Photoshop to do the comics but I found I kept running out fairly quickly. Thanks to the simple user interface (I love how simple the colour picker is and the way you can easily scale and rotate your image is a God send) I was up and running within minutes. For an app called Brushes, the range of control you have over your brushes is pretty limited and they lean towards the paint brush range instead of pens which is what I’m used to.

Comparatively, Sketchbook Pro gives you so many options it’s pretty intimidating for the first ten or so times you attempt to use it. These tons of brushes available, a very extensive colour wheel selection, and a barrage of gesture controls for you to remember. It is not a pick up and play app by any stretch of the imagination. It’s pretty much the difference between Notepad and Word.

After a few days though i have to say I far prefer Sketchbook Pro. It’s far more versatile, gives me way more control over the quality of the image, has better handling of layers (though it’s annoying that exported files present layers you’ve included but set to ignore) and has much better export options. Brushes just let’s you export out as a flattened .png file, but Sketchbook let’s you export out as a .psd file with all your layer information intact. It also lets you export straight out to services like Flickr which is a nice touch.

I felt kind of clumsy using the iPad to draw – like I was finger painting and having to learn the basics all over again. since your hand covers up half the screen while you’re drawing you have to learn how to draw downwards and towards you. The same issue came up this week since im also learning how to draw with a Cintiq- but that’s a story for another blog post.

I also felt a level of imprecision while drawing. My finger isn’t as adept at keeping a straight line as a pen, so there’d were wavy lines all over the place that I kept having to paint over. As you can see the Monday and Thursday strips were pretty…fuzzy? Maybe that’s just practice being needed. Wednesdays strip was created with a combination of iPad and Cintiq. The was no way I could do that bikini girl on iPad…yet.

You might have seen my YouTube video where I drew that sketch of Plant-Man using Colors! On the DS and you can see the replay of it being made. Brushes has that feature too, but until I buy a Mac I won’t be able to share those playbacks with you since the software required is Mac only. That seems silly – Why not bundle it with the iPad app and export it as a movie file (or even straight to YouTube)?

Both of these tools arent a complete solution. I still needed to export out the files to Photoshop and copy the images into one file, add borders and copyright text, and save the final image in the various formats i need for storage and web presentation. This isn’t as big a problem as I would initially think, especially now that I have Splashtop Remote Desktop which gives me full control over my PC from the iPad. I highly recommend that app.

So…can the iPad be used for comics? I’m not too sure. I think a lot of the answer lies within how good your comic is. I mean, let’s be honest, Funny Webcomic isnt a shining beacon of artistic talent so it’s not a great leap between badly drawing a comic on paper and badly painting one on an iPad. If you make a comic that actually looks like it’s had more than five minutes of effort put into it then youre likely to just get frustrated with the comparative low tech on offer compared to your beloved Photoshop.

I’m going to keep at it for the next few weeks and report back. Keep an eye on the comic and let me know if you notice any improvement! Ha just kidding as if that’s going to happen.

* First magazine I read on this thing? Back issue PDFs of Zzap! 64 of course. Crazy to think the same Chris Anderson who edited the first issue is now a multi gazillionaire running TED talks and Wired. And Gary Penn before the horrors of video game development got to him! Etc.