Stylus or No Stylus? Professional Tools for the age of the iPad

To get a stylus or to not get a stylus. That is the question. And it's a perfectly legitimate one! We thought we'd take a moment and discuss the benefits of using a stylus with the iPad and also provide some tips when picking out the perfect stylus for your design needs. The iPad was originally designed around a touch interface, and the multi-touch gesture interface is very powerful. You can sign documents using the tip of your finger, doodle, and use your finger to adjust sliders when making light edits to photos. Using your fingers is great for many simple on-the-go tasks, but you will quickly notice if you try to make more precise adjustments to photos, or sketch, using your finger feels a bit clumsy. This feeling is totally normal-- think about it- we were taught to sketch and write with pens and pencils, not our fingers. For this reason, if you are craving more precision, and a more natural experience when doing more complex tasks on the iPad we recommend taking a look at a stylus. We've found that using a stylus with the iPad completely changes the iPad from a nice tablet into an incredibly powerful creative tool and empowers you to take your ideas further than you might think possible.

So our answer to the question at the beginning of the Article is unquestionably, yes, get a stylus.

Now that that is answered, the hard part is finding the right stylus. Luckily for you, we kind of have an odd addiction to pens, and in the last year have tested 15 of the most popular styli out there. As you choose your stylus, there are some things you might want to consider. First, what are you going to use the stylus for? Will you use it for writing, or mostly drawing/ sketching? Second, how often do you envision using a stylus? Will you be using it every day, once a week, once a month? After answering the first two questions, next comes the question of budget and cost. How much are you wiling to invest in a stylus? If you plan on using one for writing, sketching, digital painting, and you plan on using it daily, we would recommend looking into higher end styli. Conversely, if you plan on using one occasionally just for light sketching, you could consider saving a few bucks and going for one of the less expensive ones.

Next when looking at styli, there are three main types: Passive, Powered, and Active.

Passive styli are generally more entry-level with rubber tips and have no electronics. The tend to generally have a somewhat larger end point. They are referred to as "passive" as they don't feature pressure sensitivity or tilt recognition.  Passive styli are a great starting point, especially if you are not sure how frequently you will use a stylus. They are also generally the least expensive styli out there.

Our Recommendation: you can't go wrong with the Wacom Bamboo Solo, or Bamboo Duo. These are exceptionally made styli with a great weight to them and long lasting tips that slide great across the iPad screen. If you are on a budget however, we've been pretty happy with the Bargains Depot styli. We've found them to have long lasting tips which is the smallest rubber tip we've found in the passive stylus. Powered styli are relatively new. They are still passive in that they don't relay pressure or tilt information. They are powered however. Essentially developers discovered that they could drastically reduce the size of the tip of a stylus if they ran a small current to the plastic tip to make it work with the iPad's capacitive touch screen. Powered styli are great for those who need a bit more precision, but may not need any other features.

Our Recommendation: For a powered stylus, the Adonit Jot Dash is a great choice. Made of high quality materials, it has a long battery life, tiny tip, and is very precise. Active styli are more technologically advanced styli and come in many shapes and sizes with various feature sets. Typically they work through bluetooth and most feature pressure sensitivity. Other features an active stylus might have include reading tilt information and orientation. Active styli that are supported by apps usually feature palm rejection (you can rest your palm on the iPad screen without making marks on your drawing for example) and can be configured to take advantage of different features within an app. Active styli are perfect if you need more precision and pressure sensitivity, and if you will use a stylus on a regular basis. They are generally a bit more expensive than a passive stylus however.

Our Recommendation: When it comes to Active styli, if you you have an iPad Pro, and if you can afford the Apple Pencil, we highly recommend it. The Apple pencil feels great, and works wonderfully with the iPad pro. We feel it provides one of the best digital sketching experiences out there. If you want to save a few bucks, have an iPad Air 1 or 2, or an iPad Mini, we loved the Wacom Bamboo Fineline 2, which worked exceptionally well with all iPads we used it on. When it comes to using styli with uMake, passive styli are a great start. Currently pressure sensitivity is only supported with the Apple Pencil, so if you want to get a stylus to solely use with uMake, a nice passive stylus will do the trick. So now that you know a bit more, let the search begin! If you want more information on the styli we've tested, check out our reviews of our favorites here and the Wacom Bamboo Fineline 2 here. We hope you've found this helpful! If you have any questions, feel free to ask them in the comments below!

Posted on

September 12, 2016