My Personal Digital Art Equipment

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This is a comprehensive list of all the hardware I personally use - not just for digital painting but for all of my related work as well, such as working on this website.

I’ve put together a workstation that is highly compact and portable, so I can travel with it and work in cafe’s and co-working spaces - but it is still powerful and flexible enough to work professionally.

At the end I also included my previous setup as well, one that was a more commonplace laptop setup that focused on value for money.

My personal equipment

iPad Pro 12.9

I've got the 2020 model of the iPad Pro 12.9, with 512GB of hard drive space.  After figuring out all the special quirks of working with iPadOS, it now works perfectly for me as a super-portable complete PC replacement.

Painting, writing, website development, entertainment - I do everything on the iPad.

As it’s my only computer, I think getting the 12.9” version was necessary - I can’t imagine trying to finish professional level artwork or develop websites on a smaller screen than this.  

It also has the most powerful hardware specifications, which means I can paint at large resolutions with multiple layers and complex brushes, as well as occasionally mess about with 3d modelling and sculpting, and easily run multiple apps at the same time.

I used Wacom Cintiqs for over a decade, and I think the iPad Pro is extremely similar to paint on, with some small differences - notably, most people will not enjoy the glassy smooth screen of the iPad and will need a textured screen protector to make it feel more like other screen tablets, or like paper.  For some reason I quite like the glassy texture and get on with it just fine.

If I was permanently working from home at a desk I would rather use a screen tablet as I’d get more bang for my buck, and have Windows instead of iPadOS; since I want to travel while I work, and use cafes and co-working spaces regularly, the iPad Pro is the best solution I’ve found to date.

I am bound by the limitations of Apple devices, both in the iPads hardware and also the iPadOS apps, but as I’ll discuss later, being able to run a cloud instance of Windows makes up for this somewhat.

Apple Pencil 2

This was a compulsory purchase for digital painting - as far as I’m aware it’s the only fully functional stylus available for my iPad Pro.  It’s expensive, but I have grown to really like it - it’s extremely similar to holding an actual pencil, with a rounded tip instead of a pointed one.

I find the Pencil more comfortable than a Wacom or Huion stylus for long painting sessions, but the tip is a little fatter and there’s no stylus indicator so it’s marginally less precise.

iPad Pro Cover

You don’t need an overpriced Apple magnetic cover, but they are too cool not to at least get a cheaper third-party one!

This cover provides a bit of protection when I’m carrying my iPad around, and stops the screen from getting scratched when it’s in a bag. Also useful as a simple way to prop the iPad up when I don’t have my proper stands with me.

Huion Tablet Stand

This stand is almost exactly the same dimensions as the iPad Pro 12.9 itself, so it fits alongside it in the same bag, and with 8 angle options works perfectly to adjust the angle of the iPad.  

It’s slightly heavy at 500g or so, but I consider it a necessity for my work.

Nexstand Laptop Stand

This height adjustable stand is really designed for small laptops, but works well with an iPad when used with the Huion stand above. Using both together I can put the iPad in a large range of angles and heights, resting either horizontally or vertically. It’s also really portable and strong.

Bluetooth Mouse

Just a basic bluetooth mouse designed for portability. Since the iPad Pro only has a single USB-C slot that you also use to charge the iPad itself, you really have to go for bluetooth peripherals over USB ones. 

This mouse is compact, light, rechargeable - not bad for the price!  The only shame is that it doesn't use USB-C to charge, and uses usb-mini instead, which means I can’t charge it with the iPad’s charging cable.  When I eventually upgrade, it’ll be to a similar mouse that uses USB-C instead.

Logitech K380 Keyboard

A sturdy thing, the only sign of any wear on this keyboard is a bit of fading text on the left control key. Otherwise, it’s exactly as the day I bought it, despite years of daily use and regular travel.

The K380 is compact, almost exactly the same length as the iPad Pro, so it fits in the same bag comfortably, but it is slightly heavy at about 400g.  I would like to shave 100-200g off it or so, but otherwise this is a great keyboard.

It uses batteries, but makes them last a long time, and you can connect it to 3 different bluetooth devices at once and switch between them at a button press.

Bluetooth Headphones

Again, I had to get bluetooth headphones because my iPad Pro doesn't have an audio jack, so I just got a cheap ones by 'Yobola'.

I don’t actually recommend these ones by Yobola so I haven't linked to them - the right one stopped working within a couple of weeks, and the charging connection is spotty.

The left one still sounds good, and I like having such compact little headphones, so I'll definitely be trying  to find a similar but higher-quality pair.  Perhaps I’ll purchase the official Apple airpods.

Portable Battery Pack

A back-up battery pack, for when I find myself in need of extra iPad, mouse or headphone juice.  This battery's a bit heavy and you have to charge it overnight to get a full charge, but it holds its charge for ages and keeps everything topped up multiple times over, so I’m happy with my choice.

13" Laptop Bag

This bag is really designed for a 13” laptop, but the iPad Pro and most of these accessories fit in together really nicely - even the Nexstand will squeeze in, though that one is pretty tight.  It has great organizational pockets, felt lining for the laptop compartment and a shoulder strap.

Speaking of which, don’t do what I did and absent mindedly buy the version without the shoulder strap, and then later also have to purchase the shoulder strap version.

Spare Pencil stylus nibs

The official ones are $5 each! They are literally just tiny cones of injection-molded plastic.  These third-party nibs were still expensive for what they are, but they work fine, and will hopefully last a long time as I’ve not noticed any wear on the original nib yet.

Longer USB-C cable 

The iPad Pro comes with a tiny 1m cable, so buy a longer one if you don’t want to sit on the floor every time you need to use the iPad while it’s charging.

USB to USB-C adapter

Many things still use normal USB cables, so you'll probably find it useful to have one of these in your bag just in case.

Microfiber Cloths

To keep the iPad screen nice and clean!  It doesn’t seem to get that dirty anyway, but every now and then it could do with a quick wipe over.  I like to have 2 of these, so I can wash one and still have a cloth available.

Global power adapter

If you are planning to travel internationally, this is really important.  Unfortunately this is too bulky to fit in the bag with all the other accessories, but I can’t travel without one.  I’m keeping my eye out for a smaller, lighter alternative.

Ps4 controller for gaming

Obviously not a necessity, but if you play PC and console games, with a bluetooth controller you can connect to cloud streaming services like Geforce NOW and stream a bunch of games to your iPad.  Many App Store games have controller support too.


Software

Before getting the iPad, I did a lot of research into the available software and whether I’d be able to do everything I needed to for my business.  These are what I’ve found to be my most important apps:

Clip Studio Paint

I painted using a Windows PC with Photoshop for over a decade, so the idea of finally having to switch to a different art software was really unappealing and I wasn't looking forward to it.

Thankfully, Clip Studio Paint is extremely similar to Photoshop, at least for digital painting. It took me about a week to get comfortable, but after that I’ve been using it pretty much without issue.

In fact, I think it’s even better than Photoshop in many respects - it allows you much more control over the interface and brush settings - not to mention, Clip Studio’s monthly subscription costs about 20% of Photoshop’s, when you buy it during one of its many sales.

Before getting the iPad, I was really worried I wouldn't be able to find art software that could match up to my years of experience with Photoshop but actually, I was worried for nothing.

Procreate

Since Clip Studio Paint is a bit awkward to use without a keyboard because it isn’t well optimized for touch, I’ve got Procreate as a backup for when I’m out and about or lounging around without a keyboard.

I haven’t used it much yet due to lack of travel, but in the future this might get more use out of me; from my brief tests it seems very streamlined and easy to pick up, but still powerful under the hood.  The interface is minimal and you can accomplish a lot with touch gestures, but you are also given a lot of control if you want it, especially over brush settings

Vizref

Vizref is a useful reference app that I typically have hidden as an overlay window on the right side of the iPad.  Swipe in from the right edge of the screen to overlay Vizref over whatever app you are working in, swipe it away again to hide it.  It’s a very useful app to use for reference boards while you are working.

It’s default settings are to start up when your iPad does, so when you load up your art software Vizref can be immediately swiped in.  Unfortunately, the screen is slightly cramped while using it, so I usually swipe it right out again once I’m done consulting my references.

Amazon Workspace

This is absolutely crucial for me to be able to get all my work done on just an iPad.

Amazon Workspace lets you fire up a cloud instance of Windows on Amazon's servers, and then log into it with your iPad through a remote desktop.  Effectively, with a bluetooth mouse and keyboard connected, it feels as if my iPad is suddenly a Windows PC, just with a small amount of input lag.

You can customize the hardware specifications as you like, install whatever programs you want, and boot up and shut down the instance as you please.

This means that as long as I have an internet connection, I have access to all the different Windows software and tools that I need for my work - it’s obviously much better connecting via Wifi, but it also only uses about 5MB of phone data a minute if connecting via 4G.

I only need to use Windows for the occasional thing, mostly when I’m working on this website, and only spend a few hours using it most weeks - it only costs me $5-10 per month, but without a cloud instance like this I wouldn't be able to be iPad only.

Dropbox/iCloud

My iPad has 500GB of hard drive space; as my only device and what I use for all of my work and entertainment, that would fill up pretty quickly by itself, so some sort of cloud storage was needed and I went with Apple’s own iCloud.

ICloud integrates with the iPadOS files browser really well, has the best user experience on iPad out of all of the major cloud storage providers that I tried, and it is also the cheapest.  The main downside is that the iCloud user experience is terrible on other devices.

Because of this, I use iCloud for general backup and storage of everything, and I’m using Dropbox for files that I want to easily share between the iPad, Amazon Workspace and my phone.

Geforce NOW

Similar to Amazon Workspace, this lets you log in to your Steam account and play many of your Steam games via the cloud, amazingly with almost 0 lag; I don’t know how they’ve done it, but I’ve tested with Subnautica, Valheim and Warframe and all run super smoothly.

Mouse input unfortunately doesn’t work properly, so you need a bluetooth controller like a ps4 or Xbox pad, and not every game is available.

There are also other streaming services on the iPad like Xbox Cloud Gaming and Google Stadia that work in the same way as GeForce NOW and give you access to large game libraries - you don’t miss out on games on the iPad as much as you’d think!

My previous laptop setup

Between my Wacom Cintiq Companion giving up on me and later getting my iPad Pro, to hold me over I got a cheap temporary laptop and tablet setup that I could still do professional work on.

I didn't need to be that portable, but since I was temporarily staying with family I wanted to at least be able to move out easily.  I also wanted to keep it as cheap as I could, without compromising too much on quality or power, since I wasn’t expecting to use it as a long term solution.

15.6" Laptop

Most reasonably modern laptops are perfectly strong enough for digital painting - most artists don't really need the extra power a desktop pc provides unless you are utilising 3D modelling in your art or making incredibly big paintings; having the power to be able to do more is nice, but it’s not hard to get by without it.

A 16” laptop is also portable enough that if you have to move your workspace, it’s pretty easy - they aren’t really portable enough to carry around with you every day though, so no working in cafes and workspaces.

I got a second hand Lenovo Ideapad for about $500, with an i5 CPU, 16GB of RAM, 1TB HDD and a GTX 780M graphics card - easily good enough to paint professionally with.

Huion Kamvas Pro 16 with stand

Similar to the laptop, a 16” screen is large enough to paint well on, and portable enough to transport if needed.

Huion don’t have the long-term trust and hardware quality of Wacom, but they have really picked up their game in the last few years and I thought painting on the Kamvas Pro 16 was a better experience than painting on the Wacom Cintiq Companion.  

The only exception was the software - Wacom’s Cintiq software is more customisable than Huion’s.

I also kept the stand from this tablet for my iPad Pro, as coincidentally it suits it perfectly.

Nexstand Laptop Stand

This is the same stand I now use with my iPad, paired with the Huion stand I mentioned above.

Together, I get a great range of drawing angles and heights with a screen tablet.

Redragon Perdition mouse

Not important for digital painting really, I just wanted to mention this as I think it’s a really good mouse!  It’s like a Razer or Logitech gaming mouse at lower prices - it doesn't look as gaudy and toy-like as the pictures suggest.  

I was a bit disappointed to replace this, but my iPad only has a single USB port and also wont run the Redragon software, so I didn’t have much choice.

Painting Glove

Since the Huion Kamvas Pro can get slightly warm when in use, and then collect residue off your hand, a glove is necessary to keep it clean and let your hand glide over it easily while painting.

The Kamvas Pro also has a thin trench around the screen that easily collects gunk - without a glove I imagine this would fill up with residue quite quickly.

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