Testing Astropad Pro

Posted on: March 16, 2017 - by Brad Colbow

I’ve really been searching for ways to show that this isn’t quite as good as a dedicated drawing tablet… but I just can’t.

This is Astropad Studio. There are 2 parts to it. One is an app that runs on your Mac, and right now this is Mac only, and an iPad app. The iPad mirrors your Mac’s screen and lets your use your iPad as a drawing tablet.

So there are two Astropad apps in the app store now. Standard Astropad which is a one time purchase and Astropad studio which is the Pro version of the app and costs $60 a year. Full disclosure, the folks at Astropad sent me a code so I didn’t pay for the app I’m talking about today.

What do you get for that $60 a year. A lot of bells and whistles but I want to start with just the feel of drawing.

The second I set it up and set my pencil down on the iPad I just thought. Whoa! Like that feels great. I’ve always had a hard time explaining feel, but if something is off with your drawing tools you just kinda feel it. And Astropad was just always a little off, I could never put my finger on it, it was good and I couldn’t find much wrong with it but there was that something.

It might be that the pixelation from previous versions is now totally gone. Just that slight improvement makes everything feel snappier and more realtime. You can now even watch a video on Astropad.

You can use Astropad over wifi and it’s pretty impressive but I still recommend plugging it in via USB when you’re using it for the best results.

So lets run this through a battery of tests shall we.

First I found a nice photoshop brush with no lag when I use it on my Mac. Some of the brushes I’ve used in reviews in the past have to render and that can cause some lag.

This is me drawing in Photoshop with an Intuos tablet. Works well, pressure kicks in when I expect it and if I draw an a normal speed there isn’t any lag, if I draw really fast I can make it lag but realistically I never draw that fast, except when doing hatch lines and I can get pretty uniform hatch lines easily.

Here is standard Astropad. I think they rolled out the same improvements here that they are using in AstroPad studio. Same kinds of brush strokes and it feels as good as the Intuos,

Here is Astropad Studio, from a brush perspective felt exactly the same as Astropad. Uniform strokes good, help pressure well checks all the boxes for me.

For Fun I also set up Duet Display under as close of conditions as I could get. Duet has mirroring but I was having trouble getting it to work right. So I turned off one of my monitors and used this as a second monitor. Other than that I have the same settings here. Overall it’s performing way better than it did in the fall when I last tested it. The slower strokes are holding pressure consistently now. The hatch lines mostly came out the way I wanted them to, every so often it would drop pressure on one but performance has improved dramatically.

What does Studio add: Lots and lots of customizability.

When I change apps Astropad know what app is open and brings up customized shortcuts for that app. And all of this is customizable. I really like this.

If I’m using a drawing tablet with buttons on it for example, when I switch between photoshop and illustrator I will go into my drawing tablet’s settings and change some of the shortcuts. Then if I’m back in Photoshop I’m changing settings again.

I love that Astropad remembers all those settings for you, it takes away the hassle of constantly fiddling with all that. This is something I didn’t know I needed until it was given to me. You might be able to do that on some other drawing tablets, I’ve never thought to look for it but now I will.

In Astropad it’s right there, easy to access you don’t have to dig around and once it’s set up you never have to think about it again.

They also took some cues from other great iPad apps like Procreate. I’ve gotten so used to being able to use two fingers to undo or 3 fingers on the screen to redo and it pulls some of those hand gestures. And like everything else in this app those are customizable as well.

There is even a quick gesture for using an eraser. One finger on the screen and use the pencil and you will be erasing.

You probably noticed in the screens I’m showing there is a trailing line showing where you pencil was, this was introduced to Astropad when it first came out to make up for the lag. Now that the lag is virtually gone you don’t need that tale so you can turn that off, or just change the color.

They have also added a pressure curve to the apple pencil and also pressure smoothing.

The onscreen keyboard is also a nice touch and comes in handy when renaming layers.

So what are the cons? I really looked high and low for things I don’t like about this, and I’m having a harder and harder time with each new release.

One would be the price. For me personally I don’t use Astropad enough to warrant the annual subscription price. If I only had an iPad to draw with I might spring for it. For some professional illustrators the convenience of the shortcuts and the touch screen shortcuts this will pay for itself in a couple weeks. For others maybe not.

I actually wrote a whole bunch on the price and my thought on it. It would have taken up half this video and seemed out of place so I cut that out and will be putting it in another video later this week.

The other thing that I ran into was that I have customized my photoshop so heavily over the years that a lot of the default actions that are baked into Astopad Studio don’t work properly for me without a lot of fiddling. The first time I tried to pinch and zoom I had trouble. I also changed my shortcut for control z from undo to go back. So I broke Astropad’s default undo stuff.

And all of these things are customizable and can be fixed but just know that if you are like me and heavily customized your software you’re going to have to invest some time in customizing Astropad Studio as well.

Who is this for?

It’s not for everyone, but if I’m going to spend hours a day drawing having the ability to have the software

If you use it here and there You’ll be fine with the standard edition. This is really going to appeal to the power users, the folks who found that it using this with their iPad can completly replace their drawing tablet.

The really nice feature here is that you can completly customize your workspace on a program by program basis, I’ve talked in other videos about how the Mac OS isn’t optimized for touch or pen input the way Windows is, and I think the features they have added here in Astropad Studio make the Mac much more usable with a touch screen.