SketchBook Express – The Last Drawing App You Will Ever Need [iPad]

Yaara Lancet 25-08-2011

ipad drawing appWhen I first got my iPad, I knew I wanted to use it for drawing and sketching. Not that I’m an artist by any means, I can barely draw a stick figure, but when you own an iPad it seems almost impossible not to get drawing apps. The device calls for it. It wants it.


Not having many requirements in the area, I focused my energy on finding free drawing apps. None of them were really good, and I resigned myself to the possibility that I would have to get a paid app, like SketchBook Pro, which I’ve heard a lot about and knew would be way over the top for me. Then I found SketchBook Express.

SketchBook Express (or SketchBookX) is a completely free iPad drawing app, devoid of any ads, and it’s awesome. It’s also available on many platforms (Mac, iOS, Android). Here I will focus on the iPad version.


The basic part of any drawing app are the brushes, and there are plenty here. To access the brushes you can either tap the brush icon at the top or swipe downwards with three fingers. From here you can access many types of brushes, control size, color and opacity and fill in whole spaces. There’s even an eye-dropper tool for re-using existing colors on your canvas. In the small white window at the top you can see what the exact brush you chose will look like.

ipad drawing app

I mentioned that there are no ads, and that’s true, but if you wish to expand your brush collection, you can either upgrade to the Pro version or just buy a pack of brushes for $0.99. Not too bad.


ipad drawing app free

Even after you choose your brush, you don’t have to access the brush screen again to change the basic things. Tap the small circle icon at the bottom of the screen to access some brush properties.

ipad drawing app free

Now you can simply swipe up and down with one finger to change the opacity and swipe left and right to change the brush size. This is limited to the type of brush you already chose, so if you chose a highlighter, for example, it will always remain somewhat transparent even if you set opacity to 1.00 from here.


ipad drawing app free

As in any drawing application, you can choose between a free line, a straight line and some shapes. There aren’t many options here, so no ready-made intricate shapes, but don’t worry. There is a different way to creates these.

ipad drawing applications

Tap the symmetry drawing icon at the top, and every line you make will be duplicated in a symmetric way. This allows you to create any shape you want without worrying about it being all crooked and bent out of shape. Here you can see me in the process of drawing a perfect set of blue lips!


ipad drawing applications

Layers & Text

Swipe upwards with three fingers or tap the layers icon to enter the layers manager. From here you can add layers and edit their features. You can also add a photo into a different layer if you wish. Each layer in your drawing will be editable regardless of any other layers. You can also make a hidden layer (see the X on the eye icon below).

ipad drawing applications

If you make a hidden layer and then try to draw in it, you will not be able to. You can immediately turn it into a shown layer, though.


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Now for the really cool part. Draw your flower and your bee in two different layers. Now you will be able to control the bee and the flower separately. This means changing size, position, rotation and so on. So you can very easily turn this:

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Into this:

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There are many more options to editing layers. You can set anchor points and change your image around them. You can flip, turn and change things every which way. It’s very flexible and you can create almost anything you want.

Another layer you can add is text. Tap the text icon on the top and a keyboard will pop up. Aside from the regular keys, you’ll find color, size, font and opacity controls for your text. Start by entering the text you want to have in your drawing.


The text is automatically created as a different layer, so when you finish writing it you can manipulate it exactly like any other layer.

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Exporting & Importing

All the drawings you save will appear in the gallery. From here you can view them all, duplicate them, delete them and export them.

If you have it set up, you can print your beautiful picture right away. If not, you can export it to your photo library.


SketchBookX also allows you to edit existing photos. From the gallery you can import a photo from your photo library, and start playing with it.

You can see below that I played with the zoom. This is done by a simple two-finger pinch. You can do this with any drawing, not just pictures.


You can easily add drawings and text to the image to create that very special greeting card or just for fun!

ipad drawing app


SketchBookX is the most wonderful iPad drawing app I’ve had. If I were an artist, I would seriously consider getting the paid version. As it is, having the capabilities you’ve just seen, I think the free version will provide me with a few months of experimenting before I might need anything else. I probably haven’t even scratched the surface of what this app can do.

Looking for more free drawing apps? Check out these 3 free doodling apps for the iPad 3 Free Doodling Apps For The iPad Read More .

Know of a better drawing app? Want to share your experience with SketchBook? We’re waiting for your comments!

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  1. Kate
    February 18, 2017 at 10:22 am

    Hi, am I right that you can't save a colour when using the ipad version? I know you can choose a colour already used from holding down onto the image but I'd like to create a pallete of favourite colours that I can go back to - is that possible?

  2. Dave
    September 26, 2011 at 5:54 pm

    Yaara, thanks for the great post. I'm ordering an iPad for my wife, who's a professor. She really wants to use it for presentations in class, as a substitute for writing on the markerboard. Can you recommend a stylus? She'll be writing complex logic equations, so the more detailed the better. Thanks!

  3. Knighton
    August 27, 2011 at 8:45 pm

    When I saw what my artistic daughter did on this app, I paid for the pro version which is very reasonably priced.

    • Yaara
      August 28, 2011 at 6:26 am

      I agree, the price is very reasonable for such a rich app. Personally, I still have much to learn from the free version before I need anything else. :)

  4. p riehl
    August 26, 2011 at 9:23 pm

    Thanks for the recommendation - I'm downloading it now. I've reviewed a number of draw/sketch/doodle programs, and they all raise a question for me: what if you don't know how and want to actually learn to draw something? There are a few instructional apps, but the only one that really stands out for instructional quality is called '123 draw cartoons and illustration.' It's aimed at kids (not kiddies), but hey, who wouldn't find use for basic cartooning skills? (Especially whoever does some of your Geek Humor cartoons :-O ?)

    • Yaara
      August 26, 2011 at 11:19 pm

      Thanks for the recommendation! I'll definitely check it out. As you can see from my beautiful drawings up there, I could use a lesson or two in basic drawing.