So let’s say you aren’t made of money. Digital painting is a great medium — cheap, convenient, you’ve got an easy undo feature — but you need a $50 Wacom tablet, and who has that in the couch cushions? Luckily, odds are pretty good that you’ve already got a high-resolution touchscreen in your pocket. Last month, I wrote about a number of digital painting apps for Windows — today, I’ll be running down the three best free digital painting apps for Android phones and tablets.
Unfortunately, due to the computational limits of current smartphones, most of these apps won’t do the kind of detailed material simulation needed to get that authentic paint look. However, they can still be useful for practicing your sketching on the go, and they can produce good results. To test each of them, I drew a simple eye using each app, to show you what’s possible.
Infinite painter, a decently full-featured painting program, benefits a lot from having a well-thought out user interface. The relevant buttons (including easily accessible undo and redo buttons) are all aligned in a narrow strip along the bottom of the screen. Picking a brush and color are easy, and you can bring up the brush editor with one tap. There’s also a menu button to access more complex features, like transparency and distortion. The interface is also attractive looking — the black on gray evokes a leather sketchbook.
Crucially, the app also implements a really solid set of multi-touch gestures, allowing you to spin, zoom, and translate the canvas — a critical feature when working on a small phone screen, as it allows you to zoom in and work on the details of a small portion of the image whenever you feel like it. The app comes with a couple hundred brushes, running the gamut from the useful to the gimmicky.
Although only about 30 of the brushes are available in the free version, you still don’t feel cramped for options. Plus, the app is fast. The lines keep up effortlessly with finger motion, making control smoother and more intuitive.
The main headline image for this article was created in about ten minutes using Infinite Painter, then touched up in GIMP, an open-source image editor for PC. To read more about Infinite Painter, check out our full app review.
When you first open up Sketch Guru, the first thing that strikes you is that it is not an attractive app. Where Infinite Painter is refined, Sketch Guru is garish. The menu looks like the aftermath of a toddler’s raid on the glowsticks.
Once you get past the main menu, though, the app starts to make a lot more sense. Granted, the actual user interface is a lot more colorful than the other entries on this list, but it is more subdued than the main menu might lead you to believe. The layout is similar to Infinite Painter — a basic set of quick-reference utilities aligned along the bottom of the screen.
The cool thing about Sketch Guru is the dynamic brushes, which generate complex line patterns based on the motion vector of your finger. While this technically gives you less control over the final look and feel of the piece, it can give a lot of natural texture to your work, and can be a lot of fun if you’re just messing around.
Now for the bad: the selection of brushes in Sketch Guru is pretty limited, and, while it is possible to zoom and pan, using those gestured is a lot more tedious, which makes the basic workflow significantly less natural. On the up side, the performance is just fine, and the app was very stable and responsive.
SketchbookX by Autodesk is an attempt at a more full-featured image editor for Android, produced by a large company notable outside the mobile space (Autodesk is the creator of Maya and 3DS Max — or, as you know them, the software used to make every summer blockbuster and video game you’ve ever heard of). It includes several draw modes (including straight lines and shapes), support for layers, support for text, and image tools like a color picker and a bucket fill.
The app’s user interface is a little more cluttered than Infinite Painter, but still perfectly useable, although hiding the undo and redo buttons under the “more” button was a little cumbersome. The app performs well too, and the design is clean and the individual menus are well designed. The multi-touch gestures worked well, and the actual drawing was a joy to use.
Which Is The Best?
Of the three, Infinite Painter was my favorite, but you’ll probably need to try all of them to decide which one is right for you.
Try them out and let us know what you think! Did we miss any great painting apps for android? Would you like to see an article about painting apps on iOS? Leave us a comment!