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Gear & Apps

Astropad | Turn Your iPad Into a Wacom Cintiq-Like Graphic Tablet For $20

By Kishore Sawh on July 10th 2015

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It’s somewhat incredible, if not entirely predictable ,that the iPad may turn out to be a photographer’s closest friend. I remember when it was being released, and I asked Apple reps in three countries to sell me on the iPad. None could really do it. What I often got was an answer similar to what you’ll hear when you ask a woman what it is about a guy that she likes, only too often to hear, ‘I don’t know, it’s just something about him.’ That’s what it was with the iPad, ‘there’s just something about it.’ True dat.

The thing is, they are sort of costly to hinge their purchase on ‘there’s just something about it,’ but within the past year, iPads, for photographers anyway, have truly come into their own as a companion piece of necessary equipment. Their newest innards are powerful enough to really make wireless ‘screening’ of images speedy enough for proper use, Lightroom Mobile is making strides, apps like CTRL+Console take the Lightroom user experience higher, and that retina screen is really a beauty. If we’re honest though, what we’ve always wanted is for the iPad to be a usable graphics tablet. Now, thanks to two former Apple engineers and their app Astropad, that’s what it’s become.

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I could harp on and on, unless you punch me in time, about the value of owning and incorporating a Wacom tablet into your post processing. It remains THE most essential piece of equipment outside of my camera and lenses for modern photography. I encourage you to get one. The price of some can be prohibitive, or at least an added expense you may try to do without.

If, by chance, you already have an iPad, Astropad may be just the ticket for you at just $20. You don’t even necessarily need a stylus, especially given the easy ability to pinch zoom, (though a stylus would improve accuracy and ease), and allow for more features. There are a wide variety of styli that it works with so you likely have one already. Its customizable shortcuts and keys can be displayed as an overlay on the screen for ease of use.

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What Astropad IS, is an app that is built for creative professionals that allows the iPad to be used as an interactive graphic tablet with any Mac app (no drivers needed), powered by a technology called Liquid; That keeps iPad colors true to source, uncompressed live-view image quality, GPU-accelerated for speed, and gets 60fps with USB cable for smooth fluid responsiveness. So what Astropad DOES, is sort of turn your iPad into a small Wacom Cintiq, for $20.

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So should you get it and is it a substitute for a Wacom? The truth is, that’s a grey area. For $20, I hardly see this as a poor purchase, but would caution that you would be best suited if you have a very recent iPad, like a generation within two years old. Also, if you’re an avid Wacom user, the adjustment of workflow may be something to consider. I’m so used to moving my hand while looking at the screen that the adjustment will take time.

[REWIND: Wacom Intuos Pen & Touch Tablet | Review & Thoughts]

If you have a medium or larger Intuos, you will know that moving around with it isn’t always ideal, and if you already have an iPad, this seems to be a great mobile solution. The Wacom will be more precise and so forth, at least for the time being, so if you’re going to do heavy work, or in large volumes, that’s still the route I would go. If you’re interested to see which I would recommend, take a look at my reviews of the Intuos Pen & Touch and the Intuos Pro Large. I tend to recommend the small of either the Pro or regular since I use a small working area, and that you can get for around $70.

Find out more about Astropad and get it here

About

A photographer and writer based in Miami, he can often be found at dog parks, and airports in London and Toronto. He is also a tremendous fan of flossing and the happiest guy around when the company’s good.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Samuel Sandoval

    Eh. I prefer using my Logitech Master MX over a pen.

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  2. Bob McCormac

    Not for use with Photoshop or Lightroom. Too much zooming in/out, not enough built in controls, too many other shortcomings to list. Nice idea by the screen size is just too small to make it workable.

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  3. Dave Haynie

    The problem with any of these tablet-for-Wacom hacks is simple: no pressure sensitivity. Second is accuracy… the capacitive touch screen in any tablet, while great for fingers, is just terrible for non-fingers. You may get a little taste of what a tablet can do for you, and for $20, not much to complain about.

    The Cintiq does both… finger touch for that stuff and Wacom pad with the stylus. All Samsung Galaxy Notes also use a Wacom with their stylus, though not quite as high as the resolution on the Cintiq (I have Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 tablet). Microsoft doesn’t use Wacom technology, but their Surface Pro tablets also have a similar kind of technology as an adjunct to the finger-touch stuff. I’d be shocked if Apple ever does an iPad Pro (as highly rumored) and doesn’t also include this kind of interface as a built-in.

    There are a bunch of these for Android: VirtualTablet (available in free “Lite” and paid versions), GfxTablet, probably a few others. Worth checking out… particularly if, like me, your older Wacom was dropped by Wacom for support in recent versions of Windows AND you have a tablet with that stuff built-in.

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  4. Mark Colangelo

    Tried and asked (and got) refund from Apple.
    Moving objects/windows appear at very low res and then when stopped are redraw at correct resolution.
    Just unusable for me.
    (iPad Air 2, Lighting cable, Mac Pro 3,1 8cores w/ USB3 added)
    Hope helps.

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  5. Stephen Jennings

    http://www.wacom.com/en-us/products/pen-displays/cintiq-companion-2

    The Wacom is obviously over priced for what it is, but, it is far, far better than the iPad. The Surface is really the only thing that competes with it (for a fraction of the price). But really they are kinda the only thing in the market quite like it.. it is a fantastic tablet, if it weren’t for the price I’d love to have one.

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    • Alexander Lincon

      You can grab the surface pro 1 for a relatively affordable price. I bought it when it first came out, and I still use it to this day for photo editing and I love it. It is a bit on the small side for some people, but overall I couldn’t do without it. It’s my laptop and wacom tablet built into one. Since it’s a full PC you can color calibrate the screen too.
      Fully recommend.

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  6. Kyle Stauffer

    I wonder why Wacom doesn’t just make an I-pad/tablet-like portable editing device. Something designed around photography editing with a 15″ screen and the ability to multitask, upload photo’s to the internet, and modify/update websites.

    Perhaps I don’t know enough about it. I’m not familiar with Wacom devices.

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    • Stan Rogers

      There is (or at least has been) a small (12″) Cintiq, and there is the Cintiq Companion, which is essentially a tablet computer that can also be used as a stand-alone, running Photoshop or Lightroom. It might be easier (read “cheaper”) to use the Microsoft Surface 3 though; it’s got a Wacom tablet thing built into the screen and uses Wacom stylii, I just don’t know what the screen is like for calibration.

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