Adobe Draw is a “vector drawing” or illustration app for iPad with Apple Pencil support. A “vector drawing app“ (like Sketch or Adobe’s Illustrator) creates images with mathematically defined curves, lines, and shapes (vectors) instead of pixels. These sorts of drawing apps are often used for logo and icon design, or designing the user interface for software. In the hands of artists, these tools can produce flat color illustrations which can look like intricate cut-paper designs or ink drawings. It’s also possible, using carefully drawn shapes, transparency, and gradient fills, to create realistic images.
Because the image is built from a list of instructions, and not a tremendous grid of pixels, the files tend to be smaller, and interestingly are resolution independent. That is, you can print them on a billboard or a business card and still have crisp, sharp edges. The list of instructions can be saved as a formatted text file - a Scalable Vector Graphic (SVG) - which can be used in any modern web browser. On the web these images can stretch from a tiny icon to a giant hero image. This potential in particular is existing to me. I think there is artistic potential in scalable web images.
Adobe Draw is available for iPhone, iPad, Android devices, and ChromeBook. The app focuses on free-form drawing with 5 brush heads (and an eraser), layers, and some simple shape tools. Each brush can adjust its color, diameter, shape, and opacity. See a quick tutorial here.
Each brush gets its own color selection - choosing brush 1 and setting its color, then bouncing over to brush 2 means you have now changed colors. By default, Adobe Draw assigns some contrasty, cartoony colors to each brush.
Changing aspects of the brush requires first selecting the brush, and then adjusting each aspect of the brush. Changing colors requires opening a color picker every time. The color picker supports selecting from color families (like triads or analogous colors), keeps a history of selected colors, and provides some pre-built color palettes. None of this is particularly easy to get to. The color picker has multiple tabs and modes. The behavior is fidgety and inconsistent. The color picker doesn’t retain state between use. If you open the color picker, and navigate to an included palette, you must navigate back again the next time you open the picker. This sounds trivial, but it means that while using the app you are dancing with the color picker about as much as drawing.
It is possible to tap-and drag the color chip out onto the canvas to select a color - so the smart work-around is probably to scribble out a pile of colors on your workspace and select from there while ignoring the color picker.
It is possible also to create color palettes with a second Adobe app called Adobe Capture - I have not played with this feature yet. While it seems logical to have an app dedicated to capturing things - it’s painful to require two apps to create a color palette.
Adobe Draw uses gestures (swiping, tapping, etc) for many interactions. This is maybe to be expected on a tablet app - but the actions are not discoverable.
For example the shape tools allow you to drag a shape (circle, square, lines, etc) on to the workspace where you can fill the shape, trace the shape, “stamp” the shape (trace the entire shape in one go), and even erase from the shape. But the only thing you see when you pull out a shape is a dashed line, an “X” and a slider. The slider adjusts the width of the shape. There are no controls for fills, scaling, rotating, etc. These are all done with gestures. Now gestures are fine and perhaps the right tool. But other apps will indicate that the gestures exist by providing visual indicators or secondary control handles.
In order to discover the gestures, I had to watch an in-app tutorial on how to use shapes. This is incompatible with the app’s stated goal as a quick and direct idea capturing tool.
There is a round, tapered, flat, chisel, and “terminal” brush shape. The terminal brush is a chisel tip with a little nubbin on the back. It behaves like an ink pen might.
Generally these all work well. Realistically you will use the round and the flat brush almost exclusively.
I did find that the Apple Pencil support combined with a tiny brush size make it possible to capture your hand writing as a vector graphic. This has some interesting possibilities.
Escaping the app
Adobe Draw requires an Adobe Creative Cloud account in order to use the app. Your drawings are saved locally and maybe exported to Adobe’s cloud storage where they can be retrieved. If you are already working in Adobe’s ecosystem, you can push images from Adobe Draw directly to Photoshop or Illustrator on your desktop computer. However, if you want to use your work elsewhere you might find it a bit of a struggle.
Adobe Draw allows you to share your artwork as a PNG file at screen resolution - this is mostly for quick sharing in a text message or an email. You can also save the file as a PSD (Photoshop) document at 300 dpi - which is suitable for continued work. Many applications can read Photoshop documents (like Pixelmator) so this is a pretty useful option. But if you want to retain the vector-y goodness your only option is to export to Illustrator via Creative Cloud or to save as a PDF.
The PDF does save a vector graphic - but it is written in such a way that it confounds Sketch when I open it. I did find that if I copy from the PDF in Preview and paste into Sketch - the image works just fine and then can be exported as an SVG. This makes it a bit tedious to take full advantage of Draw in a web workflow (unless you’re paying for Illustrator - and lets face it. Web folks are using Sketch these days).
The exported, copied, and saved SVG is below:
Overall Adobe Draw is just OK - it’s a bit glitchy. Sometimes touches are not registered. When the application relies on mystery gestures for basic operation, this can be infuriating. The app does tend to hang and crash from time to time, but so far hasn’t lost any work. The drawing tools are quite nice - free-handing vector art has a lot of creative promise. Hopefully the app will improve over time, becoming more stable and allowing more output options.