The Tattooers Guide to the iPad Pro

by Alex Ellis September 08, 2016 6 Comments

The Tattooers Guide to the iPad Pro

Tattoo Smart was founded with the intention of connecting tattooers with all of the ways that a digital design workflow could help an artist progress. Over the past few years, we've been using expensive computers with Wacom Cintiq pen displays to allow us to do some pretty incredible things with our artwork, but there has always been a missing link between the computer novice/ street shop tattooer and the pro-level software and hardware. Until now...

There's no denying the tremendous affect that the iPad Pro, along with the Apple Pencil, has had on tattooing in the past year. We've all seen countless artists posting up their first digital piece this year. The fact is, tattooers are flocking to digital art quicker than we ever predicted. As a Wacom Cintiq/ Clip Studio Paint user, at first I was hesitant to consider drawing on a smaller, less capable device. However, I now find myself routinely recommending the iPad Pro and apps like Procreate and Paintstorm to beginners who are transitioning into digital for the first time. With benefits such as ease of use, portability, and lower up-front costs, the iPad Pro is quickly becoming our favorite solution for those who are just starting out with digital tattoo design. 

We asked tattooer and Tattoo Smart Contributor Alex Ellis to write a detailed blog post about his experience with the iPad Pro. Alex has made a huge contribution to our community by creating some wonderful Procreate brushes that we carry here on the site, and also by his daily work sharing all of your iPad Pro creations through his @ipadprotattooteam Instagram account. What follows is Alex's guest blog post, we hope you find it helpful as you consider all of the options with digital tattoo design. -Russ Abbott


The Tattooer's Guide to the iPad Pro

All text and images (C) Alex Ellis 2015


Today I would like to go over why I decided to make the switch to digital design along with my experience in the transition and how I feel it has helped me become a more efficient artist. I will also go into detail on some of the apps I recommend for designing tattoos and creating color studies for clients.




My first experience with digital design was in 2012. I picked up a used iPad2 for roughly $150 and started searching for drawing apps in the app store. I came across Procreate and immediately I was intrigued at the idea of having a wide variety of tools combined in a small portable tablet. At the time, I was mainly drawing with Prisma-color pencils, which did not travel well. I seemed to always forget the color I wanted or not have a good pencil sharpener. Not to mention they run out, break often, and have to be replaced.


I enjoyed using the iPad 2 for a few months, but due to the limitations of the hardware, I was only able to sketch on the tablet and not render a final outline for my stencil. This was a huge turnoff to me and ultimately led to me abandoning the iPad altogether.  Fast-forward to 2015, I was still interested in the idea of digital design, but I wanted a more portable option than a lot of the Wacom devices I had seen at the time. That’s when I came across an ad for the iPad Pro. After doing a little further research into it, I had a strong feeling it would be the product I had been looking for. I was on a trip to Texas when I decided to pick one up at a local Best Buy and give it a shot. At that time there was only the 12.9 inch models with the following options and prices :

  • $799 USD (32 GB WiFi only)
  • $949 USD (128 GB WiFi only)
  • $1,099 USD (256 GB WiFi only)
  • $1079 USD (128 GB WiFi + Cellular)
  • $1229 USD (256 GB WiFi + Cellular

Not knowing if it would be completely what I was looking for, I opted for the 32gb wifi only model for $799. The way I saw it, I had an iPhone that I could use as a hotspot so I didn’t find it necessary to spend the extra money for one of the cellular models. When it came down to the decision of storage capacity, I have multiple external hard drives that I could transfer and back my files up to, so I felt 32gb would be plenty. I also purchased the Apple Pencil ($99) and a protective case for around $50. I could not wait to start using it! After doing some searching on Google I came up with a list of drawing apps I wanted to try and proceeded to download them.


I have spent countless hours watching Youtube tutorials and messing around in many of the available apps. Hopefully I can save you some time and get you off on the right track. 

Procreate is the first app I would like to talk about. It is definitely my favorite all around app for drawing. I really enjoy the brush customization options and clean workspace. Procreate also records your drawing strokes automatically so you can export a time-lapse video of the entire creative process. Here's a video of a sleeve design I exported directly out of Procreate:

I have found these videos to be great for promoting and getting attention on my various social media sites. Some of Procreate's other features include 128 beautiful brushes with 35 customizable settings for every brush, 250 layers of undo and redo, and a continuous auto-save feature so you never have to fear losing your work! Procreate is also very user friendly and easy to navigate which I find to be invaluable for those who have less experience with digital art.

Perhaps the best reason to choose Procreate is that you can create and share your own custom brushes with others. By creating your own pattern or shape sources and experimenting with brush settings, you can create extremely useful tools such as tattoo liners & mags, ropes, snakes, and chains

*Designed in Procreate on the iPad Pro using my Liners & Mags brush set and the Fusion Ink Digital Palette

Allthough Procreate is a fantastic app with many features, there are still a few very helpful tools it does not have at the moment. Which leads us to my next app recommendation…Sketchbook.

Sketchbook has quite a few nice features, but the main features I find myself using (that are not available in Procreate at the moment ), are the symmetry tool and the spherical and rectangle guide.

The symmetry tool is great for saving time when working on many different types of designs such as skulls, daggers, and ornate framework. Using this tool, everything you draw on one side, mirrors in real-time on the other side. This allows you to draw in perfect symmetry!

Some of the areas I find Sketchbook to be lacking however, is the inability to create fully custom brushes coupled with a limited selection of stock brushes. I also find Sketchbook to be a lot less forgiving of any slight wiggles when creating my line work. The symmetry tool in Sketchbook only gives you the option of a horizontal or vertical line of symmetry. Regardless of the limitations, Sketchbook is definitely an app that I am always finding useful for many different projects. 

Paintstorm is the last drawing/ painting app I would like to touch on for now. Paintstorm is the most fully-featured, professional level digital art app available at this time, it is still very new on the scene and therefore, tutorials are hard to find. The developers of Paintstorm clearly wanted to create an app that could offer the same, if not better, features of the most popular computer software such as Photoshop and Clip Studio Paint. All of these features have the downside of requiring more tiny buttons and menus that must be learned and understood. 

Some of Paintstorm's top features include full control of all brush options including the ability to paint in color gradients, a wide selection of wonderful stock brushes, stroke stabilizer, usable color mixer, and up to 10 mirror lines of symmetry. The mirror lines of symmetry can be extremely useful in designing mandala type imagery and things of that nature. Paintstorm is a very impressive and powerful app with an amazing amount of tools but it can be overwhelming and hard to navigate at first. Ultimately, I feel like it’s a great app worth mentioning, but it's really best to try out once you're ready to spend some time experimenting with all of it's various features. 

Astropad ($29.99) is an app that you install on your Mac and your iPad that lets you use your iPad Pro as a drawing tablet for your Mac. Doing so allows you to draw in programs installed on your Mac like Photoshop and Clip Studio Paint. Back when I first got my iPad Pro, Astropad was still new and there were serious problems with latency. Unable to deal with the lag between brush stroke and rendering, I put it on the back-burner in hopes of improvement with a future update.  Recently, a new update that promised drastic increases in performance peaked my curiosity, so I decided to give it another shot. To my surprise, the difference is like night and day! Now the app definitely feels a lot more practical and useful. Due to the success of the latest version of Astropad, I can safely say that the iPad Pro is now a viable option for working with the more professional computer software programs such as Photoshop and Clip Studio. (As long as you have a Mac computer or laptop).

In closing, switching my shop to digital design with the iPad Pro has saved me money on art supplies and paper.  I've saved time drawing and creating color studies. More importantly, It has helped streamline my daily workflow in a more efficient, productive, and less stressful manner. I now have the ability to create art on the go, in situations I couldn’t before. This allows me to utilize more of my time in a productive way and helps me be as prepared for my appointments as I can possibly be. To me, something that saves you stress and helps you operate more smoothly is priceless, and that’s just what the iPad Pro does.

Alex Ellis
Forget Me Not Tattoo Studio & Gallery
Ocala, Florida
@alexellistattoo / @ipadprotattooteam


Alex Ellis
Alex Ellis


6 Responses

Aaron Patrick
Aaron Patrick

November 28, 2017

Being a pro tattooer of 22 years & my better half being a 15yr professional. We are both dedicated solely to pen/ink/pencil/paper/brush/canvas/board as our only art/tattooing medium.
I just ordered our very 1st tablet 20mns ago(iPad-pro 128gb).
I am completely clueless here on what to get that will improve our art for 2018 & beyond. I need recommendations on which specific tattoosmart apps to get since we are beginners here. Specifically the ones that will not give us to much aggravation?
Any & all help will be tremendously appreciated as we are allready fiercely dedicated tattooers looking to learn from the younger generation of digital artists.
Thank you in advance for all your help.
Aaron & Cat

steven mast
steven mast

July 15, 2017

Excellent! Thanks. I’ve been tattooing for almost thirty years, having come up under Dana Brunson in Cincinnati. I dabbled with photoshop early on (the 90’s), but never felt it improved my work flow or life in any meaningful way. The Wacom products seemed too remote and expensive, so I stayed analog. I’ve recently had my introduction to the iPad Pro and Apple pencil and finally feel the technology is delivering on it’s promise. Your article has helped push me to finally pull the trigger on some new hardware. Thanks again for the great article.


March 20, 2017

Is there a forum where people can get together and ask questions/share their experiences using the IPad? I know there are hashtags to follow on IG but anything forum based?


March 14, 2017

Can I achieve the same results with an ipad air 2 compared to an ipad pro?


November 15, 2016

Thank you!!! We are looking into going digital at our shop and this has been super helpful :)

Jonathon Eckoldt
Jonathon Eckoldt

October 01, 2016

Hi Alex
Thank you so much for sharing your experience and knowledge with these apps. It’s really really helps to get to the meat and potatoes of what these tools can do

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