Best iPad for Procreate (2021) – Easily Compare and Make The Right Choice

The Procreate app is only available on the Apple iPad, but with so many options, it’s hard to figure out which is the best iPad for Procreate! Which one should you buy? In this article I’m going to help you make a decision on which iPad you should get for your circumstances.  (Scroll down to see the difference in number of layers between my 2018 and 2021 iPad Pros!)

Procreate app drawing of a cute cat. Which is the Best iPad for Procreate?

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With all of the things you can learn on Procreate, you’ll want to make sure your iPad is one you’ll be able to create on for hours and hours.  Once you get into using Procreate, you’ll find a huge library of art and lettering tutorials on Youtube and Skillshare to keep you busy.  Learning to use Procreate was one of the primary things I’ve done over the past year to cope with all that has been going on.  

I’ve owned several different versions and sizes of the iPad and based on my experience, this is the iPad I preordered with the new announcement.  

Important Considerations when Choosing an iPad for Procreate

Procreate is an amazingly powerful tool for digital lettering and illustration. To get the most out of Procreate, you’ll want to make sure that you purchase the one that’s right for you. There are lots of things to compare between the models, but I’m going to compare the models on just a few relevant specs to help you decide which iPad to buy.

I will be discussing the following (you can click the links to jump to that section):

Will Procreate Work on Your Current iPad?

You may already have an iPad and it’s possible that your iPad already has what you need to work with Procreate!  Procreate works with all of iPads that became available after 2015.  This means the only  iPads that are not compatible with Procreate are the iPad Air 2, the iPad Mini 4, and the iPad 5.   

If you already have an iPad, you can totally just get started with what you have.  Just get an Apple Pencil and START.  

The iPad you have is the best iPad for Procreate app right now because it’s the one you get to use!

To find out which iPad version you have, go into Settings, select General, then select About and your version will be listed under Model Name. Here is a picture of mine:

How to tell which iPad you have

Current iPad Models

There are four models of iPad currently available from Apple, and these are the ones I will be comparing.  Here’s a brief description of each one:

iPad 8th Generation:  The 8th generation iPad is the basic model of the iPad without any bells and whistles.  It works with the 1st generation of the Apple Pencil.  This is the least expensive version of the iPad and comes with a storage capacity of either 32 GB or 128 GB.  In my opinion, 32 GB is way too small, so I don’t recommend getting that one…though it will work.  I just think it will get annoying really fast because you’ll have to offload stuff all the time.  That said, the price of this model makes it the best budget iPad for Procreate.

iPad Air 4th Generation:  This is the newest iPad Air, released in 2020 with a faster processor than all of the iPads prior to the 2021 iPad Pro models.  It comes in some pretty cute colors.  It is a bit more expensive than the 8th generation, but likely worth it because the storage capacity is higher and it has more RAM, which I’ll describe shortly.  This iPad uses the 2nd generation of Apple Pencil.  

iPad Pro (2021):  These are the pro versions of the iPad and also the most powerful.  There are two sizes, the 12.9 inch version and the 11 inch version.  Although the newer Air has a faster processor, an extra core in the processor of the pro versions causes them to continue to be more powerful.  These versions have storage capacity of up to 1 TB, which is pretty awesome and the pro also has the most RAM.  

iPad Mini 5th Generation:  The iPad Mini is the most portable version of the iPad.  The screen is pretty small at 7.9 inches and although I’ve owned it for a long time, I have never felt comfortable using it with Procreate because I felt I had to zoom in and out too much.  The mini has storage capacity of up to 256 GB and is compatible with the 1st generation of the Apple Pencil.  

To help with the comparisons of these models, I will put them in the following chart: 

Which is the Best iPad For Procreate: A Comparison of Features

So what does this all mean?   How do you decide which is the best iPad for Procreate?  

I’m super excited about the new iPads that were recently released and can’t wait to get my new one! I’ll update this post once I have it.

Apple Pencil

The fist think I would consider when choosing an iPad for use with the Procreate app is whether it is compatible with the Apple Pencil. To me, the Apple Pencil is what makes this so amazing.

iPads are expensive and I often see people buy the iPad and then ask whether a less expensive stylus will work with Procreate.  The answer to that is yes, other styluses will work with Procreate, BUT, I think that takes away a lot of the magic of Procreate, especially if you’re interested in hand lettering or calligraphy on the iPad.  

The Apple Pencil is able to tell how hard or soft you are pushing on the screen and behaves appropriately, just like you’d expect if you were using a real art tool. IT IS SO COOL.  If you want to try your hand at iPad calligraphy, this is a must unless you wish to color in all your downstrokes instead of using light pressure on your upstrokes and heavy pressure on your downstrokes. 

This pressure sensitivity within the Apple Pencil is a game changer and makes it perfect for things like lettering, shading with a pencil, or varying a line in your art. A regular stylus does not react to different pressures.

I urge you to get the Apple Pencil if you’re going to use Procreate.  I also recommend it if you’re going to be doing digital planning. It’s truly amazing and makes a huge difference.  The iPhone version of Procreate is not compatible with the Apple pencil and I don’t really like using it because of that because I’m so used to the pressure sensitivity of the pencil.  

One more thing to mention is that I don’t see a huge difference in the performance between the two versions of the Apple Pencil when using Procreate, so I don’t think this needs to have a huge impact on which iPad you pick.

The main differences are the way they charge and also that you can program the 2nd generation pencil to turn on the eraser if you tap on it.  Honestly, I turned off setting anyway because I kept erasing by accident.  

Screen Size of the iPad

Since you will be using the iPad screen as your canvas, the size of the screen is important. While all of the iPad screens work with Procreate, heck they even have the phone version…I feel like it makes a huge difference to have a bigger screen.  Imagine the difference between drawing on a letter-sized piece of paper versus on an a5 piece of paper.  That’s an estimate of the difference between the 12.9 inch iPad Pro and the iPad Mini.  

If you have a smaller screen you will have to zoom in a lot more when creating your art than you will on the large screen. This gets annoying makes it harder to see the whole picture.  That may not be an issue if you’re a seasoned artist, but at least for this beginner, I find that really difficult.

Only the iPad Pro models have the ability to show your color history. I can’t imagine working on a project without that.  

The way this works is that when you use a color, Procreate adds that to a history section underneath the color wheel. This makes it so easy to go back to colors you’ve recently used in your project. I use this all the time and don’t even think about it.  

The other versions of the iPad do not have the ability to have color history because of the size of the screen.  

Color History on the iPad Pro

While there are ways to work around this, such as by using the color eyedropper function, it is just so much easier to see your color history on the screen. Maybe I would feel differently if I didn’t already have this, but since I do I would not want to give this up. Is it worth the additional cost? MAYBE, well…at least I think so. 

Winner with the biggest screen size: In my opinion the 12.9 is the best size iPad for Procreate.

Memory or RAM and How it Impacts Procreate:  

When creating art in Procreate, you’ll be working with layers.  The way I think of layers is similar to if you took a bunch of clear pieces of paper and stacked them on top of each other.  As you draw on each layer, you can put that layer on top of the others or move them underneath the other layers and it doesn’t affect the work you already did.  

As a beginner, layers are a lifesaver because you can experiment without messing things up on your other layers!  You can move things around on the layer or even adjust the colors.  I love layers.  

The number of layers you get for your project depends on a few things including the size of your canvas in Procreate and the RAM included in your iPad.  

Most of the time it won’t be an issue, but I do like to have more layers than I need rather than running out of layers before I’m ready.  So far I’ve had one project where I burned through my layers and had to merge layers together to create more.  It’s a project that involved about 150 circles that I needed to move around independently.  The canvas size I chose had “only” 124 layers.  Here is a picture of that project.  I think it’s pretty neat.  

Which iPad Should I get for Procreate?

I looked at a few of my other projects to see how many layers I have at the end and it looks like I typically use about 30 layers. I often use a 2048 X 2048 pixel canvas (6.827 X 6.827 inches), which gives me 124 layers on my iPad (the 2018 version of the 12.9 iPad Pro).  In general my artwork is not very intricate so it makes sense that I don’t use that many layers, although I suppose 30 could be considered a lot.  

Have I mentioned that I love layers?  🙂

The winner with the most RAM is the iPad Pro (either one).

The new 2021 iPad Pros have 8 GB of RAM for the models that have a storage capacity of 512 and under and 16 GB of RAM for the 1TB and 2 TB models. WOW, that is incredible!

That said, I’m not sure that we really need 16 GB of RAM for Procreate. I’ve heard Procreate is coming out with some new, more powerful things like 3D…however, that’s beyond my abilities haha.

I’ve compared my 2018 iPad Pro (256 GB) with my 2021 iPad Pro. Here are the iPad Pro 2021 layers results after the first Procreate update! (I have the 1TB version, so 16 GB of RAM).

Canvas Size: 2048 X 2048 DPI: 300

  • iPad Pro 2018 Layers = 124
  • iPad Pro 2021 Layers = 196

Canvas Size: 4000 X 4000

  • iPad Pro 2018 Layers = 29
  • iPad Pro 2021 Layers = 48

Storage Capacity of the iPad:

There are many different opinions on this topic, especially since most Apple users have access to iCloud. Cloud storage makes in house capacity much less of an issue since you can store things outside of your iPad. Some versions of the iPad (iPad Pro and ipad Air 4) allow you to use an external USB- C thumb drive for storage, which also reduces the need for storage.  

This may be a matter of preference, but I don’t want to worry about having to remove my artworks from Procreate. I actually find joy in looking at all of them in my different stacks and seeing my progress over time. It is super motivating and fun.  

I also really like the option of creating animations and videos.  I love that Procreate records a time lapse video of my artworks so I enjoy having the larger capacity iPad. 

I currently have a 256 GB iPad and I have used 197 GB out of the 256 GB. One thing to keep in mind is that I have only been using Procreate heavily for the past 6 months at the most. My Procreate app is taking up 48.64 GB of my iPad storage. By way of comparison, GoodNotes, where I store EVERYTHING including my digital planners is only taking up 9.26 GB.  

If you store a lot of photos, graphics (stickers), planners, other documents, podcasts, or other things on your iPad you may want to opt for a larger size. That said, I have had this same iPad since around 2018, and it has not filled up yet!  

I personally am planning to purchase the 1TB one next time I upgrade my iPad. If there is one that is larger when I upgrade, I might even get that!  (I purchased the 1TB).

The winner with the largest storage capacity is the iPad Pro (either one).  

I’ve done a lot of researching message boards recently and it seems like the 256 GB model is pretty popular.

Price:

There’s a pretty significant price difference between the models. The new 2021 model of the iPad is pretty pricey, especially if you want all the bells and whistles.

I think it’s important to remember that all of the iPads I discuss in this post do work with Procreate and several people are quite happy with the 8th generation model of the iPad Pro.  It may even be a great idea to purchase that version if you’re not sure you’ll enjoy using Procreate or other things like digital planning.  

You could even find an older version like the one I’m currently using (the 2018 iPad Pro).  

It’s always worth checking out the Refurbished iPads on Apple.com since the refurbished products on Apple tend to be really good deals and high quality.  

Winner: The best budget iPad for Procreate is the iPad 8 or a previous model of iPad.  

Processor

The processor affects how fast the iPad is. If you’ve ever had the experience where you click on your iPad and it takes a long time for it to do anything, you may have a slower processor. The iPad Air model is pretty fast and had the fastest chip up until the release of the new 2021 iPads.

The new iPad has an M1 chip which is fast and, according to Apple, has a great battery life (which is listed as the same amount as the iPad Air). The M1 is what Apple uses in their most recent computer so this is pretty powerful.

Some question whether it is really necessary in the iPad. Time will tell! People have been predicting that Apple will announce some powerful software next month at WWDC. I trust Procreate will continue to work on the older models and would have no concerns sticking with my 2018 model or purchasing the iPad Air for this.

Winner: Tie between iPad Air 2020 and iPad Pro Models

My Recommendation For the Best iPad for Procreate: 

Insert finale music and fireworks here.  

If you can’t already tell, my number one recommendation was the Apple iPad Pro 12.9 inch version, which of course makes sense since that’s what I just purchased!

The large display makes this the best choice for using the latest version of Procreate to the best of its ability.

That said, it is also expensive so you need not consider whether having the best iPad is worth it to you. For all the reasons mentioned above, it is worth it to me:

  • LARGE Screen (allowing color history haha)
  • LARGE Storage – so I never have to offload stuff
  • Lots of RAM – I am super curious how many layers I’ll get with 16 GB of RAM.

The screen real estate makes a huge difference to me in terms of use. Since my favorite thing to do with my iPad is to create art and lettering, having as much room on the screen is SUPER important to me. It just gives a better drawing experience. I also can’t give up the color history thing (though I suppose I would probably get used to it!)

The large screen is also amazing for using your iPad as a digital planner.

This iPad has several options for storage capacity.  I currently have a 256 GB one that has met my needs for several years but is (just now) starting to fill up.  Keep in mind thought that this is quite a popular size and many people purchased the 256 GB.

Although there is a 512 GB version of the iPad Pro, I will probably jump all the way to the 1 TB version so I can always have everything with me.  I use my iPad for a lot of things.  

If price is a deterrent for you, you really can’t go wrong with the iPad Air 4.  Although you will have less layers, a smaller screen, less storage capacity, and will lose the ability to have your color history, I think you’ll find that it will work just fine for any Digital Artist. 

Further Considerations

There are a few more things I want to mention before wrapping this up.  My goal is to help give you all of the information that is specifically relevant to using the iPad for Procreate and there are a few more things to think about:

Should I Purchase an iPad With Cellular Service or Just Wifi?

You do not need to be online to use Procreate so it doesn’t matter.  Although you need internet to export and share your artwork, you could always wait to do that until you are in range of Wifi.  My current iPad has cellular capabilities and I rarely use them because I am always near Wifi.  I do admit that I always talk myself into getting the cell version “just in case” but I think I only NEEDED to use it once when there was a power outage.  

My mini also has cellular but I purchased that because I had a 3 hour daily commute and wanted to listen to some courses while driving without using all the data from my cell phone plan.  If you are in this scenario, this worked really well!  

Otherwise, totally up to you!  Something to think about:  your computer probably doesn’t have cellular connectivity and you are fine with that!  

Do I Have To Purchase a New iPad?

If you already have an iPad that is compatible with Procreate, I recommend you start with just using that iPad.  It is pretty easy to export your artwork so you could add it to a new device if you end up getting a new one in the future.  Just export it as a Procreate file so that you can keep all of your layers.  

Is Now a Good Time to Purchase an iPad?

The new iPad Pro 2021 models were just released so it’s a perfect time to purchase a new iPad. The only problem at the time of this writing is that you’ll have to do a preorder and WAIT (not my favorite thing).

If you don’t care about getting the best (and most expensive) iPads, all of the other ones I mentioned are still great buys.

I’m still using my 2018 iPad and it is amazing and has no issues.  It is one of my favorite things and I use it every day.  I’m only upgrading because I want more storage (and some of the other new features sound pretty cool…)

Should I Get a Screen Protector?

My opinion:  yes.  I had a little scratch on my phone once and it drove me crazy.  I always use screen protectors now.

In addition to the above reason, I also find it kind of weird and difficult to write on glass so use a matte screen protector on my iPad.  I was a bit worried that I wouldn’t like it because it takes the shine out of the screen but I LOVE IT.  

My lettering improved a TON as soon as I put it on.  Bonus! I can actually see my screen when I’m outside too.  I can’t use my computer outside much because I can’t see the screen in the sun, which is kind of a bummer.  I have no problems with my iPad.  

I used this inexpensive matte screen protector for the first 2.5 years of having this iPad.  I think it is great quality and I really loved it.  I write a lot on my iPad because I take most of my notes and do some planning in Goodnotes and this screen protector made it so much better to write on my iPad.  I’m likely going to go back to it after playing around with a few others.    

A lot of people talk about the Paperlike screen protector.  I really like this one a lot and felt it made writing even better than the other one, but…it just didn’t last very long at all before it got a huge scratch on it.  You also can see all your marks and have to wipe them off from time to time.  I love the way it feels to write on it though so I’m torn.  I may give it another try since there are 2 in the package. Maybe it was just a defective one.  

I’m going to try this brand next though because I’m a curious person and a lot of people have been recommending it.  

(Just a head’s up that all the links to screen protectors go to the 12.9 version since that’s what I have. If you have a different version, make sure you select the correct size).  

What Other Tools Do I Recommend?

I sit on the couch a lot when doing digital art and recently purchased a lap desk that I am pretty happy with.  It has a little handle and is super lightweight which makes it easy to carry outside with me.  It was really quite inexpensive so I also don’t worry too much about it getting wrecked when I carry it around.  

In addition to it being really lightweight, it is nice because it tilts up so that you can have a comfortable angle on your iPad when you’re drawing.  It has a little ledge on it that your iPad leans agains so that it doesn’t slide down onto your lap.  The little ledge has a soft rubber or something on it so that it doesn’t scratch your iPad.  I like this thing way more than I thought I would.  

It even folds nearly flat so that you can carry it around. 

The only thing it is missing is a pocket for my pencil.  I have a really cool cushion that I also use that has the same tilt that I adore.  That cushion has pockets and I’m always sticking pens and my Apple Pencil in there.  I purchased this years ago and I cannot find a replacement for it 🙁 which is why I purchased the Mind Reader one from Amazon. (I don’t bring my cushion outside any more).   

Another useful addition is a pencil grip.  I have these squarish ones that are nice and also these thick bulbous ones.  The bummer with both of these is that you have to take them off your pencil (if you have the 2nd generation pencil) in order for it to charge.  I often just use the pencil “naked.”  I used to have silicone sleeves on them, but those attract cat fur like crazy.

That reminds me, if you have a 1st addition Apple pencil, you need something like this to help you keep from losing your little cap.  I use these with my 1st generation.  This particular version gives you a cap replacement in a cute color like pink, but the key is that it has an “anti-loss strap” that attaches the cap to the pencil.  No more worrying about losing that cap while you are charging your pencil!  

Woah, thanks for reading all the way to the end.  I wish you the best in your choice and I hope you’ll share your art with me!  I share some of my projects on Instagram Feel free to follow me and introduce yourself so I know to look at your stuff!  

If you’re a beginner with Procreate, check out my Skillshare class on how to create digital stickers in Procreate. You’ll learn how to make super simple drawings and turn them into stickers!

Over the next few weeks/months, I plan to create some content around beginner tips for using Procreate.  If you’re interested in those, make sure you sign up below and I’ll let you know when they’re published.  Feel free to let me know if you have any questions about using Procreate.  I LOVE troubleshooting in Procreate for some reason.  It’s super fun for me.  

https://apenandapurpose.com/digital-planner/

2 thoughts on “Best iPad for Procreate (2021) – Easily Compare and Make The Right Choice”

  1. Wow! What a great post. I found it super helpful and have come back to review it a few times because you packed so much great info into it! Thanks for putting your experiences out into the world 🙂

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