ArtRage for iPad review

Sections: iDevice Apps, iPad, iPhone/iPod touch/iPad, Reviews

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Category: Entertainment
Seller: Ambient Design
Requirements: iOS 4.0 or later (iPad Retina display support with ArtRage 1.4.1+)
Compatibility: iPad
File Size: 15.8MB
Version Reviewed: 1.4.1
Price: $6.99 (on sale for $4.99 at press time)
Age Rating: 4+

Ambient Design bills ArtRage as a painting app, offering 13 different tools and endless combinations of settings, from a paint bucket to a palette knife, air brush and beyond.


The simple truth, however, is that ArtRage is not really an art app—underneath the paint brushes and support for layers hides an incredibly sophisticated physics modeling app, whose purpose just happens to be modeling exceptionally realistic painting. ArtRage does not merely record the location of a pixel and its associated color values; the app instead models the interaction between a number of different factors to determine how a pixel would look in real life. The end result are paintings that, when printed, are virtually indistinguishable from a high quality print.

Let Me Model That For You

ArtRage for iPad starts off by asking you to choose a canvas. There are 24 pre-designed options, from reflective tinfoil (you control how crinkled the surface is) to fine paper to canvas to even animation cel. This provides the foundation for  your painting, and will determine the overall look of your finished product (tinfoil, for example, will not absorb watercolor, while a paper or canvas background would).

ArtRageFrom there, you can begin painting with one of the 13 included tools in the tool pod: Fill, Eraser, Chalk, Crayon, Felt Pen, Inking Pen, Pencil, Paint Tube, Roller, Palette Knife, Airbrush, Watercolor brush, or Oil Brush. Each tool has between two and ten settings, including the size, pressure, amount of thinner mixed into the paint, geometry of the brush, etc. In addition, there are a number of presets for each tool, allowing you to simulate different real life tools like a dry brush, wet brush, and unclean brush (which blends the colors you use). You can even choose an auto-smoothing setting to clean up / round out the lines you draw with pen/pencil tools.

Once you have chosen your canvas and tool, ArtRage goes to work simulating the actual physical appearance of the artwork you are creating. Elements such as the texture of the canvas, thickness of the paint, lighting, random artifacts from the tool used (brush strokes, splatter from an airbrush, etc.), how dry/wet the paint is, etc. are all modeled as you virtually paint, and affect the final appearance of what you create. The presets for the tools are expressly designed to simulate real life, such as how much paint is loaded onto the brush, the thickness of the paint, mixing paints (especially watercolors), and even the subtle imperfections of brush strokes. The end result is a painting that practically jumps off the screen.

Unleash your Creativity

Even if you are a complete novice to painting, drawing, or sketching (your reviewer being quite firmly in that category), ArtRage has two exceptional features to get you started. First, there is a superb help system built in to the app; tapping the “?” takes you to a very well-written user manual (a rarity in iOS apps), with sections including Quick Start, Tools, File Management, and even links to Ambient Design’s online help and forums.

The second great feature for both novices and pros alike is the minimal interface. The Toolbar sits at the bottom, with clearly labeled buttons on the left for the Tool Pod, Settings, Presets, and an Undo/Redo combo. In the middle are Save, Help, and occasionally a Memory warning (more on that below).  You have the option to store your paintings in the ArtRage gallery, or export them to the Photos App or as PNG files for sharing.  Finishing up on the right are buttons for layers (which support blending modes), reference and tracing Images, and a presets folder where you can store custom colors for later reuse.  The app’s layer support allows you to paint different elements of your image on different layers, making it easier to clean up brush strokes or control colors.  Images can be imported from the Photos app to use for tracing or reference purposes, and can be put into their own layer, which allows you to make them visible/invisible as needed.

The color chooser sits on the far right hand side and deserves credit for being a design that is both slick and functional; three overlapped arcs allow selection of how metallic (reflective) colors are (expressed as a percentage), a luminance/saturation arc letting you choose from white, black, and everything in between, and finally, on the outside, a hue picker with a full spectrum of colors. All panels instantly disappear as your brush gets near them, and the tool pod even supports a tap-and-hold, which vanishes the pod as soon as you pick a new tool.


ArtRage is a very demanding app, so you may occasionally notice a head with an exclamation point in the Toolbar; this icon means the app is running low on memory. Although iOS is very good at freeing up memory dynamically, it may not be fast enough to keep up with the resource demands ArtRage requires for its realistic results. Manually closing parked applications (those that appear in the multitasking toolbar) forces the iPad to free up memory; during review, it was necessary to close big apps such as fullscreen games or video streaming prior to using ArtRage, and it is also a good idea to manually close ArtRage when switching back to one of these apps to avoid any stuttering/lag. This is not a negative aspect of ArtRage per se, but an indication of the incredibly sophisticated abilities it presents.

Make it So

For the serious artist, scribbling on an iPad or iPhone (ArtRage does have an iPhone app) may not be the best form of artistic expression. There is a full desktop version of ArtRage, which obviously is not bound by the hardware limitations of the iPad (there is a way to transfer your hard work from the iPad app to the desktop). The app supports transferring a painting using a shared filespace between your iDevice and desktop, but the max canvas size on the iPad 2 and above is 2048×2048 (1440×1440 for the original iPad). Instead of importing an image, you can record a script, which is a recording of all the brush strokes/tool marks you make; this script can then be played back in the desktop version to create the same art at a higher resolution. Now you can sketch on the go without any loss of quality in your paintings.

For the less artistically-inclined, the app offers a great facility for tracing, allowing you to import a photo with transparency, so you can trace the outlines just as you would using a projector or light table. There is even an option to convert a photo into paint, allowing you to manipulate it with the tools to create a real piece of handmade art from a photo. (The results are infinitely more convincing than the artsy filters available in Photoshop. Why apply a watercolor filter when you can paint over an image yourself and give it a unique touch?) The app can even sample colors from the imported image, so all you have to worry about is using the right tools to give your snapshot-turned-painting that special look.

By being-but-not being an art app, ArtRage manages an incredible feat; it allows you to create artwork that is indistinguishable from a high-quality gallery print, and the slight speed/memory issues you bump into are testament to the fact the app is pushing the very boundaries of what the iPad can do. Apple even recognizes the app with a spot in one of its latest iPad commercials (keep an eye out for a landscape being painted around the 0:17 mark).

Apps like ArtRage benefit greatly from the use of a stylus, like the AluPen Pro Appletell recently reviewed, though for fingerprinting or quick sketching your fingers work pretty well, too. An excellent value for its list price of $6.99, but practically a steal when on sale for $4.99, ArtRage is the ultimate art app for iPad, whether you wan to doodle or paint your masterpiece.

Appletell Rating:
ArtRage for iPad Review

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  • Constance Strawn

    Is there a manual for the Artrage iPad app that I can download and print? Thanks, Constance

  • Aaron Kraus


    Thanks for the comment. While there isn’t an ArtRage manual per se, you can check out a pretty comprehensive set of tutorials on Ambient Design’s website:

    If you’re looking for something to print, try one of the PDF guides. I’m partial to Sweedie’s ArtRage Tutorials myself.

    Happy painting,
    ~Aaron K