Creative, smart and connected: the best gifts for digital artists

We asked professional graphic designer and PCMag contributor Shelby Tupper what are the best gifts an artist could receive this year. She offered enviable gift ideas ranging from high-end drawing tablets to stocking stuffer accessories.

It won’t be long before the season of twinkling LEDs and gift-giving frenzy is upon us. If you’re looking to get a head start, check out this list of gifts that are sure to inspire any digital artist or designer in your life.

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1. You can’t miss with this digital canvas

Apple’s sleek 10.9-inch The iPad Air with a Liquid Retina display and super-fast M1 chip is the dream gift for creators of any genre, and creating art is just a fraction of what it offers. A multitude of mainstream and niche applications allow you to do realistic painting, photo editing, animation, computer and generative art, symmetry and mandala creation, coloring books , virtual reality painting and more.

Apple iPad Air 2 review

2. A custom stylus

Although not included with the iPad Air, the 2nd generation Apple Pencil is the perfect input device for it. As Apple says, “Dream it. Write it down. There are plenty of reasons to have one as your iPad’s stable companion. It magnetically snaps onto the iPad along its anti-roll flat edge for pairing, charging and storage, and it has a touch-sensitive surface for added functionality. It’s weighted just right and has realistic pressure and tilt sensitivity. To top it off, you can have a message engraved for your gift at no additional cost.

Apple Pencil (2nd Generation) Review

3. Pencils, calligraphy nibs, smudge sticks and thousands of brushes in your pocket

You might want to accessorize your Apple Pencil with some extra tips and covers. You’ll find several alternatives to the pencil’s hard plastic tip, each offering a range of surface effects, including muffling the tap-tap-tapping of the tip against glass. For this, and to add different levels of control-enhancing friction, we recommend silicone tips and softer plastic screw-on replacements (the upgrade option mentioned below). Silicone tip covers provide the most drag and give the pencil a squishy, ​​squishy feel, almost like you’re really pushing through the paint. The spikes are cheap enough to make a stocking stuffer, but beware, they’re also small and easy to lose.

Upgrade Options: For a more definitive interaction against the glass of the iPad, Soft and Hard tips(Opens in a new window) can be screwed into the pencil, totally replacing the existing nib. Both are great additions to a rewarding painting or drawing experience.

4. When more friction is a good thing

A downside to drawing on the iPad is the lack of friction between the hard plastic pencil tip and the shiny, smooth glass. This combination limits a good amount of controlled precision that artists appreciate when using pencil and paper or brush and canvas. Adhesive films help alleviate the challenge, but they can reduce visibility, distort colors, and enlarge RGB pixels, making your screen grainy and less clear. One of the less intrusive friction-enhancing films is made by Paperlike. This long-lasting matte screen protector has a tooth that mimics paper, providing a natural resistance that feels great to draw on. Although the negative effect on screen quality is minimal, it is slightly noticeable, perhaps a reasonable compromise for most projects. In addition, the film protects your screen from scratches and reduces glare thanks to its nanodot technology.

5. Key-ping undercover

An iPad is a considerable investment, so it’s a good idea to buy a case that will protect it from accidental bumps and drops. Better yet, a cover with a built-in keyboard. Apple’s two offerings, the Magic Keyboard and the Smart Folio with Keyboard, are excellent. But if you’re looking for something a little different, you should check out the Typecase Touch case. Besides being a case and a full 78-key keyboard, it’s also a 360-degree clamshell stand that twists into multiple convenient positions. It has a right- and left-click trackpad and a ten-color, customizable, glossy rainbow backlit keyboard that you can turn off to save power. The Touch Case is also available in 12 metallic colors, including the six iPad Air colors. Most appealing, however, is the price, at under $65.

Upgrade Options: You also can’t go wrong with Apple’s Smart Keyboard Folio or Magic Keyboard for iPad Pro, although both come at a premium price.

6. The Gift of Time

For the Adobe Illustrator professional in your life, a one-year subscription to Astute Graphics’ Illustrator plug-ins will be a prize. This amazing suite of 21 plug-ins will save you time and is sure to spark wonder and creativity when it comes to special effects. Wherever there’s an undetected hole in Illustrator’s feature set, the smart folks at UK-based Astute Graphics step in and plug it in. In addition to the four included plug-ins, the Astute Toolkit features highly customizable fully vector-based dynamic tools that reshape, texture, stipple, allow Photoshop-style color adjustment, randomize, inspect and repair objects and text, fill spaces, manipulate points. and curves, and improve the native pen tool, among others. They have become an absolute necessity in my shop. The subscription includes all updates, new tools as they are developed, video and blog tutorials, technical support and freebies.

7. Elevation of neurons

Personal and professional development is a way to stay relevant and informed as you improve your game by collecting new skills. With a one-year subscription to LinkedIn Learning (formerly, you can choose from a library of 18,000 best-in-class, high-quality courses in a wide range of business, technology, and creative topics. Classes are taught by experts and certified instructors and include exercise files and quizzes; with some, you can even get a certificate of professional achievement. Artistic types will find all sorts of goodies, from teaching Photoshop to broader courses in character drawing, urban sketching, portraiture, monster drawing, animation, comic book design, and art. use of Wacom tablets.

Budget option: For a more organic and less expensive experience, you can instead consider the Skillshare online learning platform (about $165 per year). This is ideal for creative and craft subjects.

LinkedIn Learning Review

8. Creative exploration

These affordable clip-on cell phone lens accessories from Mocalaca work with the front and rear cameras of most mobile devices, including the iPad. The lenses complement existing wide and telephoto phone or tablet lenses and include the following: 2x optics; telephoto; kaleidoscope; soft, shimmer and radial blur filters; a wide angle of 0.63x; a worthy macro; and a motion blur emulator. You even get a case to hold it all together.

Upgrade Options: For a slightly more serious creative effects lens, consider Lensbaby’s Mobile Sweet Spot Lens with adjustable focus. I’ve used the company’s suite of creative DSLR lenses for years and love them.

9. Painting, drawing and office doodling

The ultimate in artist tablets is arguably the Wacom Cintiq 16, which is basically a monitor for your computer that supports touch and stylus input so you can draw on it. Compared to other tablets used by artists, having the screen in front of you where you draw is invaluable as it eliminates the weird feeling of looking down at your monitor to see the cursor. The Wacom Cintiq is compatible with macOS and Windows computers and includes a stylus.

Upgrade Options: The Cintiq also comes in a larger 22-inch size for $1,199.95, and like the Wacom Cintiq 16, it comes with a stylus.

Wacom Cintiq 16 review

10. Get the right angle every time

A memory foam base securely holds this sturdy stand on flat or uneven surfaces like your lap, on your desk, or in bed. With 14 angles between 9 and 75 degrees and options for vertical or horizontal tablet placement, the Prop ‘n Go Slim iPad Stand is a winner. As a bonus, it fits most other tablets, e-book readers, and phones.

More resources for creators

Photoshop screenshot

(Credit: PCMag)

Are you looking to develop your creative skills? Check out these online resources to learn Photoshop on your own and ten beyond basic tips for becoming a better photographer.

Marilyn M. Davis