Sketching Apps for iPad: Paper vs Procreate vs Affinity Designer

As a designer, I often have opportunities to sketch out ideas for clients – I might be in the wireframing stage of the design and want to get ideas on paper quickly, or I might need to create a logo or illustration. However, it can be a pain to get a paper sketch to a client! There are similar frustrations if you are sketching for fun and have no way to capture the physical sketch.

Luckily, there are now several applications for iPad that let you sketch and create quickly (typically with a stylus or Apple Pencil), and allow easy digital export. My top three are Paper, Procreate, and Affinity Designer.

Paper by WeTransfer

Free, optional Paper Pro $11.99/year (App store)

Paper is an application that lets you sketch ideas in a journal-like format. It has a limited number of brush/pen options (some are only available with Paper Pro), plus cut/paste and duplicate functionality.

I’ve been a fan of Paper since it’s FiftyThree days, but the reason I continue to use it for wireframing is that it comes with web and mobile templates in-app, as well as storyboarding templates.

My favorite “brush” to use for prototyping is one that snaps your slightly wiggly lines or uneven circles into straight lines, rectangles, and circles. In addition, because Paper lacks some of the more advanced functionality of tools like Procreate and Affinity Designer, it’s easier to focus on the content of a wireframe rather than layers, custom brushes, or creating a pixel-perfect design.


$9.99 (App store)

Procreate is touted as one of the best sketching apps on iPad. It offers all sorts of functionality for digital sketching and art, including brushes, layers, and several hand gestures that can be used instead of the stylus.

Procreate does a fantastic job pairing with the Apple pencil to get a variety of textures and depths, much like using a real pencil on paper. The downside of Procreate is its steep learning curve. I’ve been using it for a few months and am still discovering new functionality. Some of the functionality, specifically around finger gestures, is so hidden I only discovered it watching other people sketching.

Overall, Procreate is fantastic software for digital drawing and sketching. But for beginners, I’d recommend watching tutorials and other artists to get the hang of all the hidden features.

Affinity Designer

$19.99 (App store)
Affinity Designer differs from Procreate and Paper in that it allows me to create and export vector illustrations or designs. It also gives me control over each vector node or point.

Affinity designer is a nice balance between freehand drawing with a stylus and the control of vector forms that I missed from my graphic design days. Since it renders in vector, it also gives you great control over color and gradients in a way that is a little more difficult in Procreate, and which just isn’t possible with Paper. This tool is my go-to for creating things like logos and other imagery that needs to be scaled across a variety of media and sizes.

Overall, these tools together give me a well-rounded set of options depending on my personal or client needs—whether they need wireframes, a logo, or a digital illustration.