How to Use iPad as Drawing Tablet & Screen Extension for Mac

The iPad as a graphics tablet and screen extension?

If you have got used to a computer set-up with two (or more) large monitors at home, it is difficult to get by with just one small monitor when traveling. At least that’s how I feel. A 13 to 15 inch notebook monitor doesn’t offer much space when it comes to productive work and not just surfing the Internet. In Indesign, the necessary palettes would steal too much of the page display. And for Photoshop I would have to carry a graphics tablet with me. This blog entry is about my current iPad solution for on the go or on the balcony. So I’m very happy with it.

iPad as additional monitor / graphics tablet

By coincidence, I recently stumbled across various options for using the iPad as a monitor extension or, together with an Apple pen or touch gestures, as an on-screen graphics tablet. Ultimately, I got stuck with two apps that, in combination, offer me the best compromise between price / performance (duet and Astropad). Both install a program on the Mac and a program on the iPad. After the initial setup, you only need to connect the iPad with the running app to the computer (via iPad cable or – with Astropad also via WLAN) and you can start right away.

iPad as a graphics tablet and screen extension. Solution 1: duet (additional monitor)

Duet offers Mac and PC support and offers a desktop extension. So you use the iPad as an additional monitor. You can also mirror the primary monitor in order to operate the running programs on the iPad via touch or pen.

It is also interesting for me that you can simulate and use the touchbar of the new Macbook Pros (with macOS Sierra) on the iPad. With some programs this is quite practical with its word suggestions and flexible key assignments it seems to me.

This solution can be downloaded here for macOS and for iOS (for ~ $ 20, currently for $ 9) from the app store. I use duet to get another screen on the go.

At the small office table in the hotel, the iPad Pro gives me the opportunity to have more screen space available.

There is also a drilled out Pro version , which is available as a subscription for $ 20 per year and has a few more functions:

  • iPad can also be used as a digital drawing board ,
  • Apple Pen support including pressure and tilt sensitivity as well as a stabilization function
  • Monthly updates / upgrades

iPad as a graphics tablet and screen extension. Solution 2: Astropad (digital drawing board)

Astropad is specifically designed as a screen graphics tablet solution. So you mirror the monitor (in three possible zoom levels (100%, 200%, full screen). Astropad supports all Apple pen functions, including pressure and bending sensitivity. It has a number of customizable on-screen functions for painting. Can be prevented by a switch that one unintentionally triggers / paints actions with fingers or the ball of the hand while using the pen. The line stabilization is great, which works in a similar way to that in the 3D software ZBrush (“Lazy Mouse”), which is called “Magentaline Preview” here you can achieve very smooth, curved or straight lines intuitively – including a preview.

This version costs $ 30 one time. I use Astropad for Photoshop operation or for retouching / sculpting / painting / drawing in various 2D and 3D desktop programs.

Here, too, there is an upgraded subscription variant that costs $ 65 per year. You can find a feature comparison for the purchased version here:

My conclusion

Despite all prophecies of doom, the Apple Pen and painting with it on the iPad is beyond any doubt. In contrast to the Wacom-Cintiq, there is no cursor and no offset between the brushstroke and the point where the pen is placed. But I already knew that before I had the two apps mentioned.

What worried me more was that the interaction might take too long to happen. With Astropad in particular, you can also operate the Macbook via WLAN instead of the cable, so the distance is not limited to the iPad cable length. But I was pleasantly surprised: There is a certain latency, but it is really so low that it should only play a role when operating very fast games. But I don’t see that as an area of ​​application for these apps at all.

You can also quickly plug in the iPad at home or in the office if there is not enough screen space available.

Since I usually have my iPad and Macbook with me anyway, I can leave my Intuos at home, which I usually have to carry with me, and instead actually work almost like on my home Cintiq when I’m on the go.

A small warning for overheated spontaneous buyers (😉): You can only use the Apple Pen with the iPad Pros. Pens from other manufacturers will also work with older iPads, but you may have to compromise on pressure and tilt sensitivity.

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