Apple Pencil: 5 apps to get you started

These five apps for notetaking and sketching will get you familiar with the Apple Pencil's capabilities. Spoiler: It's pretty impressive.

Styluses can be underwhelming. They lag, they're imprecise, they leave you thinking fondly of ballpoint pens.

The Apple Pencil--notice how they don't call it a stylus--doesn't conjure up the same frustration as the iPad styluses of the past. It's a surprisingly easy and fluid to use it to sketch and take notes.

For now, you have to pair it with a pricey iPad Pro. But if you've got one--or you're considering it--here are a few apps to get you started with your future notetaking and design pursuits that can be improved by the use of an Apple Pencil. In a corporate environment, this could be a boon for designers as well as other professions that want to combine handwritten notes with images and charts.

Image: Concepts


The app Concepts is a pretty powerful sketching tool that includes features like multi-touch shape guides, adjustable vector strokes, and the ability to select colors using hex color codes--which is great, because a lot of apps can be more confining when it comes to color choices. Basically, Concepts offers a lot of sketching control. The combination of the Apple Pencil and something like Concept's pencil tools gets surprisingly close to the actual experience of drawing in a sketchbook. The app is available for free, but they will try to get you to upgrade to additional features for a price.

Image: Notability


Notability been around a while, but using it with the Apple Pencil is a really nice addition. The app lets users combine handwriting, text, images, and audio to create notes for projects. It's compatible with Dropbox, Google Drive, Box, and WebDAV.

In many of these apps, erasing can be a real pain. The best part of Notability is the ease with which users can erase lines. Instead of having to go over the entirety of the line, just make contact with one point and it can erase the whole thing. This might not be the best feature for sketching, but, if notetaking is the objective, this basically means the user can strike a line through an entire sentence and delete it. Regardless, Notability's already intuitive gestures for doing things like cutting, rotating, placing images, and even just writing are made more precise with the Apple Pencil. It's available for $5.99.

Image: Atelier


The focus of Atelier is drawing and painting. The best part of the app is the easy sliders for changing the brush widths and opacity. The brushes offered are airbrush, maker, and water, which are a nice change up from the standard pencil, pen, paintbrush mix. There's also a blender option -- smudge, basically. It costs $2.99.

Image: Procreate


Procreate is a great example of an app with a lot of media options, including charcoal. One thing that's convenient about that is that it cuts out the mess you get with real charcoal. Of course, mess can be one of the most fun aspects of making art, but busting out your acrylics on the train to work isn't always the best option. The Apple Pencil, because it's very precise, also makes it easier to quickly toggle between different media, brushes, settings, etc. Plus, the app has tons of interesting textures and patterns to play with, a solid layering system, and high-resolution canvases. Procreate is available for $5.99.

Image: Zen Brush 2

Zen Brush 2

I used to work in a bookstore that sold these things called Buddha Boards. You could dip a brush into a pot of water and draw on a board that would dry quickly leaving no trace of your doodles. Customers would stand at the board transfixed. Zen Brush 2 is a little like that, without the disappearing part. It lets the user draw these aesthetically pleasing, oddly soothing, and fluid brush strokes in black or red ink. This isn't exactly the app you want to take into an important meeting for notes. Instead, it might be better suited to calm you down afterward. Or, the more artistic out there will be able to do some nice brushwork. It costs $2.99.

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