10 iPad Apps for Cartoonists and Comic Book Creators

Recently I wrote an article for the Mass Transmit Broadcast Blog about 10 iPad apps for designers. I decided it would be fun to write a similar list that appealed to my other life as an amateur cartoonist and comic book creator.

I want to preface this list by saying that I understand that the iPad’s primary purpose is to consume media. It’s really, really good for that. As far as creating media… Listen, this is not going to replace a Cintiq drawing tablet and I wouldn’t expect any cartoonists to start creating a lot of serious, finished work with it but I think there are some great apps out there that could prove very helpful to both artists and writers. Once you have an iPad, you find yourself carrying it around with you everywhere so suddenly it becomes somewhat of a highly functional sketchbook that you can use to work out some ideas even if you’re away from your desk or studio.

Here are ten iPad apps that I think cartoonists and comic book creators might find useful:

1. Comics by Comixology, Graphic.ly, etc.
FREE plus the cost of the comics
I’m sure I don’t need to explain what these guys are all about. We all know that the iPad is a great way to read comics and there are a ton of great apps out there for doing so. Comixology and Graphic.ly are at the top of the heap (with Comixology being also responsible for creating most of the publisher-based apps like Marvel, DC and Image). The reason I’m listing it here though is for its use as a source of reference. Recently, The Walking Deadwriter Robert Kirkman noted how he has every issue of his comic loaded on his iPad for when he is writing on the road and needs to refer back to a scene in a previous issue. That’s certainly a good use of the portable library aspect of the iPad for creators like Kirkman that are working on books with a sizable back catalog to look back on. For the up and coming artist, I can see using these apps to keep a bunch of comics by your favorite artists handy to look at for tips, technique and inspiration. Even when you’re at home it would be much easier to call them up this way than to dig through boxes or book shelves.

2. Brushes
You probably know Brushes from the huge splash it made on the iPhone when people started using it to make impressive little paintings like this one that appeared on the cover of The New Yorker. The iPad version of course gives you a much more reasonable space for finger painting but again I wouldn’t expect most people to be doing serious work with this program (despite the examples you see that show what can actually be done). But then again I’m not a colorist so who knows? What I could see you using it for is doing some nice little color studies to test out ideas while riding the train or sitting back in front of the TV.

3. Sketchbook Pro
As nice as Brushes is I’m a little partial to Sketchbook Pro because its focus is more on drawing than painting. Once you get used to the rather complicated and – at times – unintuitive interface you can actually do some nice little sketches with this app. Pick up one of these styluses and it will start to feel like you’re really drawing. If only they made the iPad pressure-sensitive it could start to give your Cintiq a run for its money.

What I’ve mostly been using Sketchbook Pro for is thumbnailing out pages of my own comic, Nathan Sorry. It’s great for rough sketching like this and by exporting it to my photo library I can use it with the next app on the list.

4. iMockups
Technically, iMockups is for creating wireframes for websites and mobile apps. It’s great for that but I’ve been using it to create “wireframes” for my comic pages. After importing my Sketchbook Pro thumbnail from my photo library I can add little text blocks to help me block out where my dialogue will go and how it will flow with the art. This is all stuff I’d normally do in my sketchbook and it’s usually not pretty. Lots of scribbling and redos. If I’m adjusting dialogue on the fly, doing it digitally like this is pretty helpful before I start drawing up the finished page.

5. Moodboard
FREE for the Lite version, $6.99 for full version
For the planning stages of your comic, Moodboard is a fun app for pooling together some words and images that will set the set the tone for your upcoming work. In advertising we call these “ideation boards” and writers might call them “bibles”. It’s a great method for starting the creative process by creating a collage of outside influences and your own gestating ideas. With this app you can import photos, add titles, notes and create color palettes. You can pull photos in right from a Google search or import sketches from your iPhoto Library. It’s pretty fun to play with because you can pinch and grab the items you spread out on your corkboard background and arrange them anyway you want. The free version let’s you do a lot and if you like it you can upgrade to full version which allows for a little more of everything.

Speaking of corkboard, a similar app to this is Corkulous. I actually heard about this one when writer Matt Fraction tweeted about it recently. Corkulous is a little more notes-focused but does a lot of the same things.

6. Writer
For the writers out there, there is a brand new app designed by Information Architects called simply Writer. And simplicity is what this app is all about. The idea is to immerse you in your own writing by removing all the bells and whistles that a lot of writing programs adorn themselves with – toolbars, fonts, styling, etc. Some might get a little nervous by how far they’ve taken the simplicity though (no cut and paste, no spell-check).  Of it’s few, spartan features the standout is “focus mode” which blurs out everything except the three lines of text you are currently working on.

If you need more bells and whistles though there is always the popular Evernote. Evernote is great for compiling various notes on a project (outlines, scripts, etc.). Or for episodic writing, you can separate chapters into separate “notebooks”. There are a lot of useful features like tagging, searching and sharing. Plus it’s all saved to the “cloud” so you can jump over to your desktop or laptop to pick up where you left off.

7. iFontmaker
For some people, this app might be the reason you’ve been looking for to justify your iPad purchase. iFontmaker lets you create your own hand-drawn font and then export it as a TTF file to use on your main computer. The interface is very elegant and it’s kind of fun to sit and draw out all the characters and glyphs. It’s missing some editing tools that would let you really fine tune your creation but for comic artists that want a font that looks like it was made by the same hand as their artwork this is a pretty good solution.

8. Dropbox
Dropbox is a pretty integral app for a lot of people. It is used to access all kinds of files when you’re on the go. All you need to do is copy them to a Dropbox folder on your computer and you can open them from your iPad. What I like to do is drop in whatever reference images I’m using on a particular drawing so I can prop the iPad up and have a great view of the photo while at the comfort of my drafting table.

9. Getty Images
Speaking of reference photos, Getty Images, the premier stock photo source has a really nice app that let’s you browse through their library. If you sign up for a free account you can create lightboxes to save images into. This is another great way to find reference photos while sitting at your drawing table.

Along the same lines there’s also the Google Mobile App with which you can use the ever helpful Google image search.

10. Netflix
FREE plus the cost of a Netflix subscription
A lot of artists love to work while listening to a movie in the background and Netflix Instant Streaming has become a popular choice for this. To push this to a more useful approach though, Netflix can also be a great resource for reference and inspiration. It’s true that they may not have a lot of new releases available right now for Instant viewing but there are a ton of classics, foreign films and documentaries that might be just what you’re looking for to spark some ideas. Working on a noir, crime comic? Why not play Orson Welle’s in The Third Man while you’re working. Need some inspiration while planning a pretty surreal scene in your book? There are a bunch of Fellini films available. How about that Civil War comic you’re doing? Just search for Ken Burns.

What other apps have you tried? What are your favorites? Even better: What apps do you want to see someday? Feel free to comment below.

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  • http://www.doink.com Karen Miller

    Full disclosure I work for this company: DoInk sells an ipad App http://bit.ly/fYUjmD that enables Flash like animations to be created on the iPad http://bit.ly/gprYzA We have a number of schools using it to teach students how to animate. Here’s a tutorial: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8MYPfkTc4GU Questions? Please contact Karen@doink.com

  • Katie

    This was a big help! I’m working on a comic of my own, and just purchased an iPad for this specifically. Thank you very much for the suggestions ;)

  • http://dempseystudio.blogspot.com TimothyDempsey

    Strangely, this post only briefly displays – and then disappears from my iPad.

  • Anonymous

    Timothy, yeah I think my server was having issues yesterday I think so that was probably why pages weren’t loading properly.

  • http://slumberground.com Carsten

    Rich, have your recommendations and breakdown of beneficial content creation apps changed since you wrote this article?

  • Rich


    That’s a good question and I feel like I should write an updated article at some point. But for the most part my recommendations wouldn’t change. It’s kind of personal and subjective though. I’ve moved away from using the iPad too much in the actual comic-making process but still use it for research, reference, etc. I know a lot of people that can do pretty great work on an iPad using Sketchbook Pro or Brushes but I found for my own process it only added layers to the process. But I think everything on this list is still pretty valid. The only one I might cross off is Fontmaker which I found to be a waste of time although again that could just be me. Someone else might make great use of it.

  • sparesoul

    Hands down it has got to be the app Sketch Club! The app is as solid for drawing as it gets, but there is something that makes it the ultimate app for artists… the community! Just click on “browse sketch club” in your menu and prepare for the most amazing artistic experience! Just google sketch club sparesoul for a taste of what’s possible!

  • Swetha

    Rich….what do you think about comics head??

  • Rich

    I haven’t heard of it. Can you tell me a little about it?

  • Swetha

    Hi Rich,
    Sorry I took a while to get back! It is an ipad app i recently tried out – Comics Head. http://www.comicshead.com – very neat , fair amount of characters and scenarios for amateurs like me! Kids love it! I use it as a story telling tool and allow kids to choose characters and expressions. What do you think about it?

  • Ute Schnute

    I’m looking for an iPad- App to put my sketches together as a little. Movie. I do the sketches in brushes. And want to import them to an App which brings them tu run? And of ourse I need to add music from my itunes Library. Do you know some helpful App. That would be so great.

  • Your welcome

    It’s them South Park homo
    wankers trying to monopolize everyone’s material

  • Sandra Schroeder

    If you use one of these apps, can you then publish your work without a copyright issue?