It's official - Adobe Illustrator including tablet-specific features is coming to the iPad next year

Nov 26, 2019

Illustrator for iPad will have a redesigned interface with unique features to make the software "easier and more natural to use" (Photo by Adobe)

In the past year or so, Adobe has been unusually active adopting its desktop software-behemoths to Apple’s tablet. First came Lightroom, then, after an infinitely long period of teasing and testing, we finally got Photoshop. Now, at its Adobe Max 2019 conference, the company previewed its next iPadOS app with desktop-class ambitions that was none other than Adobe Illustrator. According to Adobe, Illustrator for iPad (to be released by the end of 2020) will get a Photoshop-like tablet makeover, obviously considering the unique capabilities of the Apple Pencil, which will be a key tool for illustrators in need of precision. The UI shares its esthetics with Adobe Fresco and Photoshop, two mobile-focused apps recently tested by digitalEPIGRAPHY. Naturally, Illustrator’s similarities with Photoshop for iPad won’t stop at the interface: cloud syncing will power Illustrator’s file management system, while providing exclusive iPad features, such as the ability to take a photo of a hand-drawn sketch and instantly turn it into vector shapes. Other features previewed in development include clipping masks, drawing guides, outline text, the fairly new Freeform Gradient tool, pattern and radial repeat tools and symmetry illustration.

Illustrator for iPad will include many more features than the previously released Illustrator Draw, that is to be used mainly for sketching (Photo by Adobe)

According to Adobe, Illustrator for iPad has been in the works for a while. “We’ve been thinking about bringing vector capabilities to the iPad for a long time. [Some of the features have] just been waiting for the hardware to catch up so we can actually implement them” – said Adobe senior product marketing manager Wayne Hoang about the project. “Some of this you’ll find similar to the way we talked about Photoshop on the iPad — it’s full fidelity,” added senior director of design Eric Snowden on stage. Currently in beta version and admittedly at the beginning of development, the app already has many functional features showing its enormous potential. But like Photoshop on the iPad, designers shouldn’t expect a full mirror of the desktop app on the iPad version. During their stage time, the software company kept reminding us that the app is designed in a way, that doesn’t require users to be Illustrator pros in order to use it (a.k.a. it will have a simplified UI with pro features tucked away in sub-menus). We were also told that they are working on a few core concepts for the initial release and will gradually build from that foundation (a.k.a. don’t expect desktop-level usability at start). What is a little worrisome, especially considering digitalEPIGRAPHY’s recent Photoshop for iPad experience, is that Adobe trying to appeal to a broader user base on the iPad could easily mean another “watered-down” experience on Apple’s tablet. 

Image Trace, another feature coming to the iPad, creates vector versions of sketches and other images

Nonetheless, some of the basic tools used by many of our colleagues in digital documentation could make a lot more sense in a mobile environment. Arguably, Illustrator’s most powerful creating tool is the Pen tool, that is one of the hardest to master on the desktop. For example, moving anchor points on the desktop requires holding down certain keys for fine-tuning points and lines. When creating the iPad version, Pen had to be rethought in the context of working without a keyboard. In order to achieve that, Illustrator for iPad inherited the context specific touch modifier button introduced in mobile Photoshop. This on-screen button acts as a keyboard shortcut, contextually related to the tool that is currently used, providing easy access to dynamic sub-tool options. Another intuitive iPad specific behavior, a lot of our colleagues working with vector drawings will be happy to hear about, is the ease of managing paths. Tapping different points on the artboard will produce straight lines; holding and dragging the line will produce curves. Anchor points will be added or deleted automatically, switching between the Direct Selection and Selection tools seamlessly, just by clicking on a portion of the path. “We wanted to make sure that while it felt quick and fast and easy to use, we didn’t sacrifice precision,” said Snowden about the iPad-specific Pen features.

Pencil in hand, artists drawing lines with the assistance of the Smart Remove Points feature can eliminate points flawlessly (Photo by

Adobe’s Creative Cloud app was recently updated to take advantage of iOS 13’s new font management system. It comes as no surprise that with these newly available tools on board, Adobe is building robust typography support and full integration with Adobe Fonts within its Illustrator app, incorporating the 17,000 fonts of the desktop version in a creative way. Certainly, there is a lot to hope for to be implemented in Illustrator for iPad when it ships next year. With the desktop-level photo management provided by Lightroom, the realistic painting and drawing capabilities of Fresco (which is now available on Windows), the (promised) feature-complete Photoshop app, and the quick access to vector tools promised by Illustrator, the iPad is quickly becoming the ultimate instrument for digital documentation. Naturally, there’s no pricing information yet, but if pricing for Fresco and Photoshop for iPad are any indication, Illustrator for iPad could be included as part of a Creative Cloud subscription and offered at a standalone monthly price for non-Creative Cloud subscribers. For those interested in trying out the beta version and providing feedback, Adobe has started promoting the new app and taking applications for early access.

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