Making Digital Art on a Phone

How plausible is it to digitally paint on a smartphone?

Written: 
September 25, 2021
Last Updated: 
September 25, 2021
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As a professional or aspiring professional digital artist, sometimes you need to find ways to squeeze making art between all the other tasks of the day - making art on your phone is one way, as most of us already carry one with us wherever we go!
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Painting on a pressure sensitive phone is not necessarily the most efficient way of creating a piece of art due to having to use such a small screen, but it is certainly possible - and provides a lot more opportunity to get some painting done throughout a busy day.

Whether you're looking for a way to make art on the phone you already own, or looking for advice on purchasing a phone and software you'll be able to make quality art with, we’ve got you covered.

You can buy an inexpensive stylus to make art on any touchscreen phone, but it won't be pressure sensitive or very accurate. For a phone with an accurate and pressure sensitive stylus, there are a few options - most are expensive, but there are also some more affordable options out there.

Lets walk though each of your options and get you set up making art on your phone!

Buying a Stylus for your Phone

There are cheap pens and styluses out there that will emulate the touch of a finger on the screen of almost any smartphone, but they are capacitive which means they do not support pressure sensitivity and aren't particularly precise.

Unfortunately this wont give you a very professional toolset, but if you would like to take your first steps into making digital art these styluses that work with nearly all phones are a nice and inexpensive way to try things out, scribble and experiment.


Buying a Phone for Digital Painting

The best option for making digital art on a smartphone, is definitely a phone with a dedicated stylus, with pressure sensitivity and good software interaction. Here are some perks of having a phone with a connected stylus: 
  • More accuracy than just using your finger - you have a much finer point and significantly more control over your brushstrokes.
  • Screen stays free of smudges, fingerprints and oil/grease from your fingers.
  • Using a stylus to draw is very intuitive and similar to using physical pen and paper, and almost exactly identical to the process of using a full-sized display tablet many professionals use for digital art.

Other  advantages of getting a phone made specifically for using with a stylus are better screen size, resolution, pixel density, color depth and battery capacity.

Unfortunately, phones with pressure sensitivity and a stylus are still a niche market, and so far there are not too many brands out there producing phones that are suitable.

Here’s an overview of some models to help you make an informed decision:

Samsung Note

On the top of the list is the Samsung Note series, ranging in price from ~400-1300€ depending on how new of a model you’re looking at.

It definitely towers over the competition with the best screens, color definition and well calibrated pressure sensitivity. The S-Pen offers 4,096 levels of pressure sensitivity since the Note 7 model, can be charged and stored within a special socket inside the phone itself.

The Note series is known for their larger screen size in comparison for their non-Note counterparts and excellent color depth. Their flagship Samsung Note 20 Ultra for example, sports a 6.9" screen diagonal, with a 1440 x 3088 resolution Dynamic AMOLED screen. It also sports a hefty 4,500 mAh battery for lengthy use.

The fanciest and most expensive Note 20 Ultra will run you about $1200.

Huawei Mate

On the middle ground, Huawei has produced their Huawei Mate 20X and Huawei Mate 30 Pro, for a smaller budget than the Samsung Note series.

Their M-Pen also offers 4,096 levels of pressure sensitivity, but remains slightly inferior compared to Samsung’s S-Pen in terms of utility and ease-of-use. The Mate 20 X has an 7.40" screen, with a resolution of 1080 x 2244 pixels and a battery of 5000 mAh in the budget range of $700.

Huawei phones aren't available globally, and their M-Pen stylus can also be hard to get hold of depending on where you live.

LG Stylo

If budget is your main concern, the LG Q Stylus is an excellent budget option

With the battery and hardware not being as strong as the two upper competitors, but still a great option as an entry level device to digital art. The LG Q Stylus has a 6,2 “ screen diagonal, a resolution of 1080 x 2160 pixels and a 3300 mAh battery for the budget of around $300. The stylus is not pressure sensitive, but it is more accurate than most capacitive stylus.

Despite having a limited selection so far, the amount of new devices and companies appearing on the market is slowly increasing as the mobile market grows, so expect the loist of phones you can paint on to grow with it.

Phone Art Software

As well as a phone with a stylus, you'll need some software suitable for painting in.

There's an abundance of different software to use for digital art and painting on both android and iOS, so we will try to cover a few of the main ones.

Here are some offerings from the bigger names in the digital art world:

Adobe Illustrator Draw and Photoshop Sketch

These two are the apps from Photoshop giant Adobe. They are free to use with some features locked between Adobe Creative Cloud premium feature, but offer Layers, different pen tips, ability to work between other Adobe programs and apps.

Sketchbook by Autodesk

This free app has been a long time favorite for artists looking for good drawing apps. It also comes with a huge set of features: over 100 customizable brushes, simulated pressure sensitivity, blending modes, layers and everything you could ask from a digital art app

Clip Studio Paint

This application is a perfect equivalent for the same program on the PC, sharing the exact same set of tools, a cloud-saving system that lets you work the same piece from both your phone and computer, an extremely elaborate and easy to use brush engine, and all the features you’ve grown to know on the PC platform.

CSP currently comes with a 6-month trial on mobile devices, after which you have to pick a premium plan to keep on using it.

In addition to these more popular applications, there's a myriad of other apps available on the market: Medibang Paint, Ibis Paint, Infinite Painter, ArtFlow to name a few. All of them offer interesting and comparable features so preference between them is honestly going to come down to personal experience.

Accessories

Now that the main parts are covered - there may be a few accessories you might want to consider, if you’d like to extend the usefulness and lifespan of your device. 

If you are on the move a lot, an external power bank to charge up your phone might be a worthwhile investment. These range from wired-to-wireless, 5000-15000 mAh power, fast-to-slow, 30$-300$ and everything in between.

You should probably also invest in a phone cover to keep the screen of your device intact, clean, and especially because you'll be using a stylus on it, scratch-free.

Conclusion

A mobile phone that you can paint well with does require a larger investment of money, but when life is busy it owning one can offer more opportunities to make art .

It's possible to make art on any touch screen phone with just your finger or a basic stylus, but to make higher quality work efficiently you'll need a phone with a dedicated stylus with pressure sensitivity and higher accuracy.

That said, if you’re planning to become a professional digital artist, you will likely find it difficult to make professional quality work on a phone - its not impossible to do, but its much more practical, comfortable and faster to work on a larger surface, with a keyboard to streamline your workflow.  A trusty phone sidekick may not be enough by itself for you to work at a professional capacity in the future.

Hey, I'm Christopher

I started making digital art in 2009, and became a full-time freelance artist in 2016, able to work on my own schedule from anywhere in the world.

Now, I want to help young artists make the same journey!

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