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Ultimate iPad Guide: Conceptual Drawing Apps for Architects

Our listing guide of Conceptual Drawing apps for iPad includes some gems we think you may have missed or not yet heard about.

Conceptual Drawing Apps for Architects on iPad

New in 2.0

One of the things that architects are famous for are their natural abilities to draw and sketch beautifully. These are often talents individuals possess which get further advanced in college art and architecture classes. Even in this day-in-age, most architectural schools encourage and specifically instruct aspiring architects how to draw by hand. Being able to envision any idea in two and three dimensions with just paper and pen is a necessary skill for a professional architect.

An exciting development that has sprung up in this area is the “smart pen” or “digital pen and paper” technologies that are finding great utility in many industries worldwide. We have decided to talk about this technology on this page because it relates to the types of conceptual drawing apps listed below. But because the technology is so different and far-reaching it truly deserves its own space within this iPad Guide.


MORE: Learning About The Infrared Digital Paper Movement and What It Means for Creative Professionals (forthcoming)

The first thing we want to talk about is the Livescribe 3 digital pen with its all important “dot paper.” Now it is no longer necessary to actually draw on the glass surface of your iPad. Instead, using a special digital pen and digital paper you can draw within a notebook and what you draw appears magically on your iPad’s screen in real-time. In essence, a digital pen talks to your iPad using Bluetooth and transfers knowledge of the pen’s head position relative to digital paper all through an app called Livescribe+app. (see the article listed above for more information).

Now back to the heart of this category: apps for sketching—directly on your iPad! There are many apps in this category and again we are going to be selective, choosing the ones we feel are the better apps that architects might really enjoy, assuming they have found a stylus they use and love. (more on that category here!)

01 – Morpholio Trace replicates the feeling of yellow trace paper sketching.

02 - Arrette Scale and its sister app Arrette Sketch are new both apps aimed at architects and urban designers.

02 – Arrette Scale and its sister app Arrette Sketch are new both apps aimed at architects and urban designers.

03 - For those who love sketching and note-taking on paper Livescribe+ app works with the Livescibe 3 smart pen.

03 – For those who love sketching and note-taking on paper Livescribe+ app works with the Livescibe 3 smart pen.

The tools we have found below can help an architect to sketch ideas in front of a client, develop ideas and details for how buildings work or go together, create conceptual finished 3D drawings for presentation, be used to draw both technically and schematically on the job site while standing, and lastly, be inspirational artistic tools. Since our first version of this guide in 2013 we learned about a new architect-specific app called Arrette Scale. (see image 2). We still think Morpholio Trace (see image 1) is an innovative and improving app that is designed to feel like yellow tracing paper. Both Arrette and Morpholio let you sketch over a photograph or any image on your device. Still, while there are many, we want to point out Livescribe+ wherein you sketch on special paper (in notebooks) that magically transfers your ink to the world of your iPad or iPhone. (see image 03)

The List (14 Apps)

Here is one of the most complete listing of excellent conceptual drawing tools useful to architects on the iPad at the time of this writing. Again, if we have somehow missed an app we would sure appreciate your email on the subject. It may also be listed in another category in our series. Without further ado:

  • Adobe Ideas — this app by Adobe is one of the better vectorial-based sketching applications in existence. It has layer support including drawing over a photo. (952 reviews, 3 stars) 9.99.USD
  • Adobe Line (New in 2.0) — this app is new and features innovative Adobe Ink & Slide, specific Adobe hardware. The app reimagines traditional drawing tools like rulers, T-squares and shape templates for the mobile era. It features a beautifully clean interface and its main feature is its integral hardware tools (which are optional to use) for drawing precisely on a tablet. (50 reviews, 4 stars) Free
  • Adobe Sketch (New in 2.0) — yet another Adobe mobile app for drawing. This is a true sketching application that has received solid good reviews by users. Like Line above it requires an Adobe Cloud account to work, is free and features in-app purchase options to give the tool more features. (60 reviews, 4 stars) Free
  • Archisketch, Sketch and Doodle to Scale (New in 2.0) — this is another architecture-specific sketching and drawing app for the iPad that works to scale. Features ability to do hardline from sketch and duplicate, flip and using symbols. The app has in-app purchases for more features. (11 reviews, 2 stars) Free
  • Arrette Scale (New in 2.0) — this is another sketching app that works to scale. Arrette Scale is an app designed purpose-built for architects and urban designers and uniquely brings scale to the world of sketching on the iPad. It’s sister app Arrette Sketch lacks the scale and other features but Arrette Scale’s low price make it a no-brainer between the two versions. (9 reviews, 4 stars) 5.99.USD
  • Autodesk SketchBook Pro for iPad — this app belongs to the desktop product family of the same name while it may be over-kill for what architects primarily need it is also one of the better illustration apps and fits the artistic sub-category of this category very nicely. (1,247 reviews, 4 stars) 4.99.USD
  • Autodesk SketchBook Express for iPad — this app is the little sister to the Pro version listed above. Like the app above it supports saving canvases automatically to iCloud. (431 reviews, 4 stars) Free
  • DeepSketch — this unique app allows you to sketch in stereoscopic 3D using 3D glasses while you draw and for your viewers. This likely has more relevance to architects working in the studio on 3D modeling/rendering work but you could project your screen to a conference room screen and have an entire audience watching with 3D glasses. (2 reviews, 5 stars ) 2.99.USD
  • Livescribe+ (New in 2.0) — this innovative and free app works with the unique Livescribe digital pens like the latest Livescribe 3 smartpen. Notes, sketches, diagrams and drawings show up instantly in Livescribe+ when drawn with your Livescribe 3 smartpen on special digital paper notebooks. (59 reviews, 3 1/2 stars) Free
  • Morpholio Trace — this innovative app simulates drawing on yellow trace paper–just like architects do in school and in the office. App features several in-app purchases.  (56 reviews, 4 stars) Free
  • NoteShelf — this highly acclaimed OpenGL powered sketch notebook app is one of the best handwriting note taking and sketch apps ever designed. Macworld called it “an impressively deep, feature-rich app.”. Evernote and Dropbox ready, this app has innovative organization tools. (2,092 reviews, 4 1/2 stars) 5.99.USD
  • Paper by 53 — this app by Fifty Three, Inc. is a beautiful drawing program that lets you capture your ideas as sketches, diagrams and notes or drawings. Utilizing its Expressive Ink engine the app reacts to your movements to optimize each tool’s process and now optionally supports a Paper by 53 stylus. Plus the app now has Zoom.  (4,260 reviews, 4 stars) Free
  • ProCreate — this app is popular with professional artists and fits the artistic illustration category more than vectorial doodles niche. ProCreate says it uses a high-performance proprietary 64-bit Silica engine for OpenGL. Has Dropbox integration, GPU acceleration and video recording so you can show others how you work.  (1,553 reviews, 4 1/2 stars) 5.99.USD
  • Penultimate — this award-winning app was a frontrunner in sketching apps for the iPad and it continues to be a excellent one. It is now a part of Evernote making users of that app take notice. Users can have a separate notebook for each subject/project and the app supports embedded pictures, etc.  Features, in-app purchases. (3,883 reviews, 4 stars) Free

The Gem in the Group

There are some really good apps in this group above but we still feel the gem is Paper by 53. We like the stylistic way it allows you to draw and new, in addition to the Paper by 53 pencil, a hardware stylus designed to work magic further with the app, is the new Books app. Now you can order beautifully crafted hardcover books of your sketchbooks from Paper by 53. The company has teamed with Moleskin to produce this wonder physical versions of your digital sketchbooks, complete with custom covers.

04 – paper by Fifty Three is one pretty little app. It is simple, elegant and allows you to do wonderful sketches and then watercolor them.

Above is a image of Paper by 53. The line quality right in the base program is nice but you get more options with in-app purchases which gain you other pen and pencil types. A key feature of this tool is the Color Mixer, but this too is another in-app purchase and well worth it. The way in which you can undo (go-back) changes in a drawing is so very cool as a gesture. Try it. The app is free.

next page: Modeling and Rendering Apps for Architects | index page: Ultimate iPad Guide: Apps for Architects

[Last updated: 14 Sep 2014 – 2:30 PM EDT]

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