Design Everything On The Go
If you’re like me, you’ve always wondered if you can do graphic design on your phone. I mean, properly. Well, it turns out, you can; almost to the level of professional design software. Here’s what I’ve found. The best graphic design apps for the iPhone are Assembly, Procreate Pocket, Vectornator, Adobe Spark Post, and Canva.
Here’s a bit about each of the five design apps I’ve found and exactly what types of designs you can create on each. Many of them are also available on the iPad as well, but there are just so many iPad specific design apps that will have to be a separate post.
Cost: Free (Limited features) or $7.99/month for Pro version
Platform: iPhone, iPad
For Creating: Vector art, vector logos
Assembly is the single greatest, super simple graphic design app I’ve ever used on the iPhone. In the early days of my design Instagram, it was filled entirely with designs created on my phone using Assembly.
Essentially, Assembly is a graphic design and vector illustration app for your iPhone/iPad that is astonishingly simple to use. It’s so simple because it’s primary function is to let you design using a huge library of shapes. There are basic shapes like circles, triangles, donuts, etc., which are free, and more complex ones you can pay for. The interface is easy to access and the most commonly used tools are right there. While you make adjustments, you can see what it happening to your shapes as you modify them.
Every shape you use can be easily transformed, stretched, given an outline or shadow, linked to another shape, or merged/cut out from another shape. This app basically lets you create any shape you could imagine, very easily. The opportunities for experimenting with shapes is endless. I’ve come up with some great ideas just from playing around in Assembly.
I was lucky to start using Assembly before there was a subscription to access the more complex shapes and features. Back then, I was able to buy any shape pack I wanted for a few bucks and that was it. Exporting to .pdf, saving custom colour palattes, adding text, and combining/cutting shapes was free. It’s a great app, but I don’t know if I’d pay a subscription price to use it now. I have enough recurring subscription payments and it’s unfortunate everything seems to be going this route. The pro version is either $7.99/month or $39.99/year, so if you find yourself using Assembly often and have the budget, it’s worth it.
Platform: iPhone, iPad
For Creating: Digital illustrations & sketches
Procreate on the iPad seems to have killed the Wacom tablet for many people. Using it and the Apple Pencil is such an awesome way to create digital illustrations right at your fingertips. The Pocket edition isn’t as amazing, but it’s still a great digital illustration program despite not working with the Apple Pencil. Even only using your fingers to draw, the built-in brushes can make some very cool art. I haven’t gone in too deep with the digital art on my phone, but I do really love playing with the brushes, especially the nebula brush.
For graphic designers who do a lot of identity design, I think Procreate Pocket’s strength lies in its capacity for digital pencil sketches. If an idea for a logo pops into your head, just head to Procreate Pocket to sketch it out using a pencil brush and grid. When used that way, it’s actually a really helpful tool for designers. The full version of Procreate on the iPad is even more amazing, but I’ll get into that in a different post.
Platform: iPhone, iPad (Plus Mac OS)
For Creating: Vector Graphics
Vectornator is a powerful vector art application that let’s you import existing projects in .ai, .svg, and .pdf. It has a lot of features, though most are admittedly difficult to use because of how small everything is on the phone. Just making a small square with a gradient inside, and white text on top took much longer that it would have on my desktop or iPad.
This app packs a lot of features into a small space, most of which are pretty intuitive. It has some basic fonts installed, as well as font adjustments for kerning, tracking, and line height. It also has shape features for merging, cutting out, and manipulating shape paths like the pathfinder panel does in Illustrator.
Unfortunately, some of the tools are difficult to navigate and it’s hard to see the changes you make to your design as you make them, as your options pop up from the bottom and take up the whole screen. Although, the options are semi-transparent. The issues that Vectornator have are pretty minimal. Besides, I think that’s just the nature of graphic design on a phone. It’s not really meant to be done on a small screen at this level.
Considering it’s free though, Vectornator is pretty great. Whatever designs you have floating around in your head that you need to get down in digital format, this could be the perfect way to do it if all you have is your iPhone.
Cost: Free (Features limited) & premium version for $12.99/month
Platform: iPhone, iPad, Android
For Creating: Social media graphics
Adobe Spark Post is a very simplistic but powerful app for creating social graphics. It makes creating a quick, polished post for Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook, etc. very easy. Spark Post includes a ton of built-in layout templates, includes quick access to free stock photos, and comes up with amazing colour schemes with a single touch. Seriously, if you ever need a great colour scheme for anything, visit this app for inspo.
I’ve used this app a lot to create posts for Instagram, because it’s honestly quicker than using anything on my computer. You can import your own logo and images, or even your own brand font, though that would require a premium subscription. There is an animation feature to let you animate your text too. If you need to create quick social posts often it won’t take long to set up a template for your brand. If you don’t get too complicated, you probably don’t even need a subscription.
Free (Features limited) & premium version for $16.99/month
Platform: iPhone, iPad, Android
For Creating: Social graphics, print designs, template designs. (Geared to non-designers)
Specifically made for non-designers, Canva is similar to Spark Post in many ways. It’s mainly built around creating graphics from pre-built templates, though users can create their own designs. While Spark Post is geared more towards social media graphics, Canva tries to be for all kinds of graphics; logos, posters, flyers, presentations, brochures, and even infographics. The amount of graphics templates for various mediums are far beyond what I would expect from an iPhone app.
While Canva promotes the ability to make logos, I would absolutely not recommend using it to create a logo. All your logo assets are pre-built and won’t be unique to whatever brand you’re building and custom shape building is very limited. The logo elements also look like templates. That is, unless you manage to build something unique from the basic shapes provided, but that would only make the logo design process more difficult than it needs to be.
When creating graphics from a template, you can replace everything, change colours, and edit the fonts. When making something from scratch, you can edit the dimensions first, then you have a lot of options. For creating typography alone, there are title template layouts that honestly look great.
Canva is a pretty great basic graphic design program for non-designers or designers who need something quick and easy. The biggest drawbacks I found are that it’s difficult to be precise when placing elements as there is no way to nudge a shape pixel by pixel, and there is no zoom. For basic digital layouts or concepts for print, Canva is great. For anything uniquely creative, things that require custom shapes, or absolute precision, your desktop is a better option.
Although, if you’re looking at this post because you’re not a designer but you need to design something quick, then by all means, use Canva. You won’t get something astounding, but you’ll probably manage to create something good enough for the short-term.
There are many other graphic design apps for the iPhone that I didn’t include here, though they could still be useful for you for various design needs. I either didn’t find them useful enough, thought they were too difficult to use, or they were simply much, much better on the iPad (Which means I will include them on an iPad specific list). Additionally, many of these I couldn’t properly test without paying for the full version and their free versions were just too limited. So check them out if you’re curious.
As designers, we likely won’t spend a lot of our time using graphic design iPhone apps, because they can’t really get our designs to the level of polish and customization we want. Plus it’s hard to do much on a screen the size of your hand. That being said, the five apps on this list can be really useful if we don’t have immediate access to our regular computers. Additionally, playing around in these apps might give you the spark of inspiration you were looking for for a big project.
What’s your favorite design app to use on the iPhone? Android? iPad? Let me know in the comments below!
Photo by Stefen Tan on Unsplash