clock menu more-arrow no yes

Ten Essential Tablet Apps for Creative Urges

Unleash your (mobile) creative genius.

Vjeran Pavic

The tablet … it has a reputation. No matter how many thrilling ads Apple puts out about composing verses and doing crazy cool DJ stuff with iPad, people often consider it more of a media consumption device than something you use to create things.

Fortunately, there are plenty of app makers who don’t give a damn about its reputation, and have developed compelling tablet apps for creative pursuits — things like sketching, animations and photo and video editing.

I’ve been exploring some of these apps, and came up with a list of ones you should check out if you’re ready to turn your tablet into your own creative suite.


Paper
Free; iPad only

Paper, by FiftyThree, is at the top of my list for good reason: It’s a beautifully designed sketchbook app that would even make Napoleon Dynamite’s liger look like it was drawn with intentional artistic flair. Until recently, Paper was free to download but charged for extra in-app tools; now the whole thing is free. You can use your fingers to draw, paint or watercolor, or, you can use FiftyThree’s own Bluetooth “Pencil” ($60 for walnut, gold) which presses directly on the iPad’s display for greater control.


Sketchbook, Sketchable
Free, with in-app purchases; Android, iOS, Microsoft Windows 8

If iPad’s not your jam, there are other apps for drawing and painting. Autodesk SketchBook on Google Play (free, $3.99 for advanced tools) is often compared to Paper; the Sketchable app on Microsoft’s Surface Pro 3 works similarly in that you can use either your fingers or the tablet’s stylus pen to draw. Sketchable is free to download and allows users to test some of the tools in the palette, but things like airbrush and chalk cost either $1.99 per tool or come in a $12 bundle.

 The Magisto app stitches your video clips together, chooses a theme for the video and adds effects.
The Magisto app stitches your video clips together, chooses a theme for the video and adds effects.
Vjeran Pavic

Photoshop Touch, Photoshop CC on Surface Pro 3
$9.99; iOS, Android and Windows 8.1

There are plenty of good photo-taking and photo-editing apps — consider VSCO Cam and Pixelmator — that are more accessible to average consumers than legacy software Photoshop. But Adobe deserves some props: Not only has it made its 25-year-old software available across the three main mobile platforms, but it has also touch-optimized Photoshop for tablets, allowing you to now pan and pinch your way around the canvas.

Of course, the downside of Photoshop’s many layers and options is that it’s still a heavy load for new users. No matter how “touch-friendly” it might be, it’s easy to spend 20 minutes just looking for the crop tool if you don’t know what you’re doing.


Magisto
Free, but in-app subscription offers more; iOS, Android

I’m still not entirely sold on tablets for video editing, and pro video editors will be tough to budge from their large screens and software like Final Cut Pro and Premiere.

That said, there are options on the tablet. Apple’s own iMovie is a decent choice on iPad, and so easy to use that a 9-year-old can figure it out. (Seriously, in the time it took me to have lunch with a friend one day, her 9-year-old whipped up an iMovie trailer using one of the app’s templates.)

If you’re looking for something that takes your raw clips and does most of the editing for you, consider Magisto for iOS and Android. Magisto will grab a bunch of clips from your camera roll, stitch them together, add effects and apply a theme and, voila!, you have a finished product (with some room for manual tweaks, like trimming video or adding music). The free version of Magisto caps videos off at a minute and 15 seconds; coughing up $5 a month or $18 a year will get you two-and-a-half-minute videos.

 Adobe Voice is a free app for iPad that lets you easily create short video animations.
Adobe Voice is a free app for iPad that lets you easily create short video animations.
Vjeran Pavic

miTypewriter
$1.99; iPad only

There is something twee about using an old-fashioned typewriter interface on a slick touchscreen tablet; I imagine that a good portion of the user base for this app lives somewhere in Brooklyn. But at the same time, it’s lovely to hear the familiar punch of keys hitting paper, and the pull-start sound of the carriage return, when using the miTypewriter app. It’s fairly straightforward to use, and allows you to export your text, not just send it as a file attachment.

Another typewriter app I tried, Hanx Writer (created by the actor Tom Hanks) is free to download and has a more elegant design, but I found it to be buggy.


Fused
Free; iPad and iPhone

If you’re tired of Instagram filters — and who could blame you — why not try a little double exposure? The Fused app blends two different photos, with varying levels of effects and intensity, to create cool composite images. Picture those movie posters where peoples’ smiling faces appear to be floating above the clouds, or those awkward portraits of two different angles of the same person’s face (yup, had one of those as a kid). Okay, I’m making this app sound not cool at all, but really, it’s fun to play with. Some of the blend effects, like “linear burn” or “chroma key,” will cost 99 cents extra.


Adobe Voice
Free; iPad only

Adobe’s Voice app for animations falls more into the “productivity” category, but even pulling together a work presentation requires a certain level of creativity.

The app kicks off by offering several different templates depending on what you’re making — things like “Tell What Happened,” or “Share an Invitation,” or “Follow a Hero’s Journey.” Using the iPad’s microphone, you can record a voice track and then populate your animated video with a bunch of graphics from the Adobe library (or use still images). A recent update to Adobe Voice brought a much-needed feature to the app — the ability to save the final animation to camera roll, rather than just embed the video link somewhere.

 Storehouse displays your photos and video clips in a single, scrollable narrative.
Storehouse displays your photos and video clips in a single, scrollable narrative.
Vjeran Pavic

Storehouse
Free; iPad and iPhone

After fusing all of your photos and magically stitching together videos, it’s time to showcase them — that’s where Storehouse comes in. I reviewed this app a couple months ago, and while I don’t use it nearly as much as I do other multimedia apps, I stand by it: Storehouse displays your work in a beautiful, scrolling format, and allows things like titles and captions in between the imagery. It’s the kind of layout that might take Web designers hours to build on a website, and it flows easily on mobile. Browsing other people’s Storehouse stories is fun, too. Stories can be shared with a variety of social media accounts; the lack of privacy control around stories is its biggest drawback.


Traktor DJ
$9.99; iPad only

Ten bucks is a lot of money to spend on an app, but if you want to master some basic DJ techniques in just a few minutes, Traktor DJ is the way go to. The app makes recommendations for which songs to layer based on their tempos, and offers easy-to-access effects and fluid pan control. I have zero experience mixing music tracks, and was able to put together a mash-up of Michael Jackson and Ed Sheeran right away, much to the dismay of my Re/code officemates.


Field
$1.99; iPad only

Consider this a kind of bonus suggestion, and be forewarned that you might spend two bucks and feel horribly disappointed. Then again, you might download Field and think you’ve stumbled upon a super cool, abstract, audiovisual app. It uses the iPad’s camera to interpret light and dark as a strange, pulsating grid of colors and ambient sounds. There are only three different modes, and from what I can see, there’s no easy way to close out of the app. Ultimately, it’s a one-trick pony — but a trippy one.

 The Field app is an abstract representation of light and color, as captured through the iPad’s camera.
The Field app is an abstract representation of light and color, as captured through the iPad’s camera.
Vjeran Pavic

This article originally appeared on Recode.net.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for The Weeds

Get our essential policy newsletter delivered Fridays.