Vector graphics, simplified for the tablet

The long-awaited Photoshop for iPad is available to download today, and to keep the momentum going, Adobe is announcing that it’s also developing Illustrator for the iPad, to be released by the end of 2020. The vector graphics program has been optimized for the tablet and features core Illustrator tools like paths and typography, in addition to some new tools developed specifically for the touch experience.

Similar to how Photoshop on the iPad has its Cloud PSD files, Illustrator on the iPad will have Cloud .AI files that can be synced across Creative Cloud and opened from either the desktop or iPad. Cloud documents can be downloaded to the device and made available offline, so you can continue to work on your files in situations where you don’t have Wi-Fi, like on airplanes.

Illustrator for iPad has been in the works for a while, according to Adobe senior product marketing manager Wayne Hoang. “We’ve been thinking about bringing vector capabilities to the iPad for a long time. [Some of the features have] just been waiting for the hardware to catch up so we can actually implement them,” he says. The app is a combined effort between the core Illustrator team and designers who have worked on Adobe’s other new iPad apps, like the painting and illustration app Fresco.

Unlike most of Adobe’s previous iPad apps — like Photoshop Sketch and Illustrator Draw, which were considered “lite” mobile apps — Illustrator for iPad represents the next phase of the nearly 30-year-old software. “Some of this you’ll find similar to the way we talked about Photoshop on the iPad — it’s full fidelity,” senior director of design Eric Snowden says. But like Photoshop on the iPad, designers shouldn’t expect a full mirror of the desktop app on the iPad version.

Adobe has been busy ushering in a new era of mobile-focused apps this year, releasing Photoshop for iPad, Fresco, and Project Aero all just in the past few months. With an increased focus on bringing more of its apps to tablets, Adobe is selling the idea that its products can be versatile enough to evolve with the devices its customers use. Its hope is that Illustrator for iPad will be a companion to people who use the new Photoshop and Fresco apps. “If someone has all three of these products, how are they greater than the sum of their parts? How do we make those workflows really seamless?” Snowden says.

There’s no pricing information yet, but if pricing for Fresco and Photoshop for iPad are any indication, Illustrator for iPad could be included as part of a Creative Cloud subscription, and offered at a standalone monthly price for non-Creative Cloud subscribers.

I was shown a beta version of the app in a preview demo, and though it won’t be available for another year, I was impressed with how complete it felt. The UI is similar to the other mobile-focused apps Adobe released this year, like Fresco and Photoshop, which was an intentional choice. The app is designed in a way so users don’t necessarily have to be Illustrator pros to use it, with contextual menus that automatically pop up depending on which tool you’re using.

“When you think about the desktop, you have all these panels, there’s like 23 different panels,” Hoang says. On the iPad, “everything is just simplified.” There are tools unique to a tablet device, like photo masks, or that haven’t yet arrived on the desktop version, like Symmetry, which lets you live draw with a mirror effect. Here are some of the best and biggest features that’ll be available on Illustrator for iPad:

Pen tool

The pen tool, used for creating vectors, is Illustrator’s most powerful tool, but also one of the trickiest to master on the desktop program. There’s a challenging learning curve because it requires holding down certain keys for fine-tuning points and lines, like when you want to move Bézier handles. On the iPad version, the pen tool has been rethought in the context of a touch device so you can work without a keyboard. There’s an on-screen button called the touch modifier, which acts as a keyboard shortcut. It’s contextually related to whichever tool you’re using at the moment, so you can hold it down to switch to the sub-tool options.

Like a cursor, tapping different points will produce straight lines; holding and dragging will produce the curves. Anchor points will be added or deleted automatically when you click on a part of the path, switching between the Direct Selection and Selection tools seamlessly, and pixels can be adjusted manually down to the exact number in a side panel. “We wanted to make sure that while it felt quick and fast and easy to use, that we didn’t sacrifice precision,” Snowden says.

Point gradient

Point gradient, or freeform gradient as it’s called on the desktop, is a relatively new feature to Illustrator that was first introduced last year. The tool allows you to apply gradients on an unlimited number of color points. “Especially with the Apple Pencil and touch, this tool just makes a ton of sense,” Snowden says.

Construction guides

One of the standout features of the iPad app, construction guides take a sketch from an imported photo and use Adobe’s AI Sensei platform to find the underlying shapes and automatically trace the lines. It’s similar to the Image Trace feature in the desktop version, but much more intuitive. “It’s not creating a million different points, it’s creating exactly the number of points you need,” Snowden says. “The idea is we take that drawing and we get you 90 percent of the way there. Then as the creative, you can go in and finesse that and tweak all those different things.”

Pattern and Radial repeat

Illustrator is great for making patterns and letting artists quickly create seamless designs. There are dedicated tools for creating both Pattern and Radial repetitions, with a “spacing properties” panel on the side that lets you customize the effect with different overrides for changing the size and shape of things.


Symmetry allows for creating mirrored shapes that are connected to each other, and users can also make live edits that are reflected on the other side. Symmetry doesn’t yet exist on the desktop app — there are workarounds to do this on the desktop through multistep processes or third-party plug-ins, but it’s one of the most requested features in Illustrator.

It’ll be coming to desktop later, though, which shows how development for the iPad has informed decisions for Illustrator on the desktop as well. “We’re thinking hard about, ‘how can what we learn on the iPad be transferred back to the desktop, and how can the innovations on the desktop come back and forth?’,” Snowden says.

Clipping masks

Clipping masks make use of the iPad’s camera feature, letting users fill vectors with imported photos from the camera roll or ones taken on the spot. “A lot of the stuff we’re trying to do is about taking things that take several steps right now, and just minimize them as much as possible,” Snowden says. You’ll notice there’s also a “Construction guides” toggle that pops up, which when switched on, will auto trace whatever’s in the photo.

Text tools

The app makes use of Adobe’s fonts library, which has over 17,000 fonts. That’s a lot of fonts to be searching through on an iPad, though, so users can filter by classifications like serifs, or search fonts by natural descriptors like the kind of mood a font conveys.

Unoutline Text

Introduced as DeepFont in 2016 at the Adobe Max Sneaks keynote where experimental features are previewed, Unoutline Text is another impressive feature that uses Sensei to identify fonts. Designers will often run into issues where they’re given an image with type that’s been outlined, and they need to find which font it is in order to edit the text. Unoutline Text can analyze and find the font (as long as it’s available in Adobe’s font library), and let designers edit the text, kind of like Shazam for type.