Deciding between one of the best drawing tablets for creating digital art, or investing in a pro-level iPad can be tricky. There are pros and cons for each type of drawing tablet, and although for some creatives Apple‘s iPad Pro is the more convenient choice, other pros will demand the purpose-built drawing tabs.
It all boils down to your own preferences on display size, stylus brand, app and software compatibility, ease of use, desk space, and of course your budget. Digital art and illustration can be a very expensive medium, so ideally, you’ll want to choose the perfect setup from the get-go that has everything you’ll need.
Take a look at our Black Friday Drawing Tablet deals page for early deals and discounts we’re tracking ahead of the big sales event. We also have an Apple Black Friday deals page too if you’re keen to get your hands on an iPad Pro.
iPad vs drawing tablet: Features
Traditional drawing tablets (or drawing pen tablets) are a popular choice and generally suitable for most digital artists, although they aren’t the best for on-the-go use, as they need to be hooked up to an external display, laptop, or monitor so you can see what you’re doing. We’ve covered a lot of these tablets in our best budget drawing tablets guide, but most of these picks are targeted at beginners and not pro-level artists.
If you have a work-from-home setup or home studio space already equipped with one of the best 4K monitors, then a drawing tablet without a display is a great and easy-to-use option that will complete your setup at a reasonable price.
You can of course get a portable monitor to pair with your drawing tablet should you need to work outside, or you could use your laptop if you’re on the train. But if having a portable setup is crucial to you then it might be wise to invest in either a pen display tablet (see below) with its own screen built-in, or an iPad instead.
If you’re set on a drawing tablet, then we recommend the Xencelabs medium tablet (check out our review) as our top pick for the best overall value and build quality. We gave it a 10/10 rating and recommend it for illustrators, digital painters and photographers.
However, if you want something even more budget-friendly, we’d recommend the Huion Inspiroy Dial 2, or for a slightly more modern pen tablet, the Wacom Intuos Pro is a great choice. See the lowest Wacom One Prices for the best deals.
Pen displays are another type of drawing tablet that are equipped with their own built-in screens. A lot of pen displays are considered to be pro-level, and are much costlier than your basic drawing tablet, with advanced designs and features for artists.
The benefit of choosing a pen display over a screenless drawing tablet or iPad Pro is that they tend to have larger screens (up to 27 inches), can run full software programs such as Adobe Photoshop, and arguably have better stylus options, with more pressure sensitivity, compared with using a stylus on an iPad.
These display tablets also boast other neat design features such as handy quick keys for software shortcuts, the stylus can be calibrated with the display for improved accuracy, and colours are brighter too thanks to the higher colour gamut.
The downside to pen displays is the premium price, as well as a more complex setup process that can be off-putting to beginners. You also can’t use the digital art software Procreate or Procreate Dreams, available on iPad. But if you travel frequently and need a lightweight and portable setup then you should probably avoid a pen display drawing tablet.
We would recommend the Xencelabs Pen Display 24-inch tablet as our top pick for a luxury drawing experience, but this display can be considered too big for a lot of creatives. Other options include the expensive Wacom Cintiq 22, ideal for students when paired with the Wacom Pro Pen 2, and lastly the XP-Pen Artist Pro 16 (2nd gen) as a mid-range option for those who have a looser budget.
If you’re not sure about owning a drawing tablet or pen display, there’s always the option of the ultra-portable tablet – the most famous and widely used being Apple’s iPad. There are several models, but for digital artists we would suggest the iPad Pro model as one of the best iPads for drawing, specifically the iPad Pro 12.9-inch (M2, 2022) which is top of our list. You can also get away with using the iPad Air (5th gen, 2022) powered by the M1 chip as a dedicated drawing tablet.
The reason that iPads are excellent tablets for drawing is not only down to reasonable pricing, in comparison with high-end pen displays such as the Wacom Cintiq 22 ($1,300), but also the fact that they are ‘pen computers’. That means iPads are capable of running the best digital art software (although not full editions) and necessary apps, and they already have gorgeous displays too, just not as big.
There’s also Procreate software, which is exclusive to the iPad, and the easy-to-use touch screen and gesture controls with the iPad are great for those already familiar with and accustomed to Apple products.
One thing to note about using an iPad as a tablet for drawing is that they benefit massively from a matt cover for the screen, such as the Rock Paper Pencil, to avoid any unwanted gliding around the glossy screen as you draw.
iPad vs Drawing Tablet: Price
One of our favourite pen displays, the Wacom Cintiq 16, retails for around $649.95/£529 – and this is one of the least expensive Wacom pen display tablets that you can buy. Thankfully, Wacom has recently announced a new product family and Wacom One budget range with prices starting as low as $59.95 (excluding accessories) for the smaller pen tablet.
As for budget drawing tablets, we do see some excellent prices on popular models during seasonal sales, including this year’s upcoming Black Friday, with the Wacom Intuos (Small) pen tablet already discounted to $39.95 at Amazon.
The price of a drawing tablet does depend heavily on whether it’s a household name or not, and Wacom used to dominate the sector before Xencelabs, Huion and XP-Pen came along, offering lower prices for the same feature-rich kit.
Speaking of Xencelabs, our Digital Arts Editor (and drawing tablet expert) Ian Dean thinks that the new Pen Display 24 Studio Series from Xencelabs is the ultimate Wacom destroyer, and can be had for a price of $1,899/£1,850 compared with the Wacom Cintiq Pro 24 which retails for $2,199.95/££1,949.00.
As for the latest M2 iPad Pro model, this usually retails at $1,099/£1,249 for the entry-level specs. The best iPad Pro 12.9 prices and deals tend to fluctuate a lot throughout the year.
iPad vs Drawing Tablet: Black Friday 2023
Black Friday is just around the corner, and there are already a huge number of retailers out there offering some excellent drawing tablet Black Friday deals. We’re already seeing price cuts on popular models such as the Wacom Cintiq Pro 24 in the UK with £150 off at Wex Photo Video, as well as in the US with $50 off the Huion Kamvas Pro 16.
We don’t often see mind-blowing discounts on Wacom (these are normally fairly modest offers), but other brands like XP-Pen, Huion and Xencelabs run Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals that are worth holding out for.