Two Competing iPad Graphics Tablet Solutions

Across the internets I’ve found two prominent methods for using an iPad as a graphics tablet in cases without native application support (like Photoshop CS5/6). Both rely on third party apps to stretch your desktop display onto your iPad, but by slightly different approaches. Neither solution will provide the pressure or pen-angle detection that Wacom tablets provide, and their input resolutions are comparatively poor. However, if you’re just hoping to make some simple hand-drawn paths in Illustrator or the like, these are fine solutions.

Considering the factors below, I find LogMeIn to be a much better tablet input solution than Air Display. Both are imperfect, but LogMeIn came out on top.

LogMeIn Free Edition

LogMeIn a remote desktop control service that let’s you control a remote computer from any web browser or an iOS app. Both the service and the related software are free. The premium versions provide more advanced functionality like web-printing but for our and most other purposes the free version is perfect. Although you can use the program from a coffee shop to access your desktop, you can also use it while sitting right in front of your desktop as a tablet input device. You retain full control of your desktop via mouse without lag.

Pros:

  • Screen mirroring – LogMeIn duplicates any of your several monitors so you can watch your work develop without cramping over an iPad. You can zoom and pan without that cloned monitor on your iPad.
  • Free – I can get on board with $0
  • Access from anywhere – As a graphics tablet its best to use while sitting in front of your computer, but its nice to have the flexibility to use it while waiting for a bus.
  • Minimal lag – There’s very little latency or choppiness even though its being driven over the internet.

Cons:

  • Less intuitive input – To click and drag (for instance for a brush stroke), LogMeIn requires you to double-tap and drag because a single-click drag is used to pan your view of the monitor.
  • Requires a wifi connection for both your iPad and your desktop/laptop – It won’t connect if your desktop is connected to the LAN by ethernet.

Air Display

Air Display extends your desktop to your iPad. It’s born to be a monitor, but is serviceable as an input device. Unlike LogMeIn, it operates over a local wifi network which is great if you’re uncomfortable opening your computer to remote access.

Pros:

  • A separate screen – Air Display treats your iPad as a separate monitor, which can be useful to free up desktop space for other tasks while you work.

Cons:

  • A separate screen (yes this is a pro and a con) – Air Display was designed to enable an iPad as a second monitor, but in a graphics application I much prefer to see my stroke on my iPad immediately before me on a less cramped screen. You can constantly swipe Photoshop between your main monitor and Air Display, but it’s tiring. LogMeIn allows you to see the same output on both screens.
  • Bad latency… worse than LogMeIn –You would think that operating over LAN versus the internet would speed things up a bit, but I found it to be much more choppy with mouse moves, pen strokes, and the like.
  • Misinterpreted input – When drawing a path or brush stroke in Photoshop it would draw a line between my last mouse position and the pen-down position and then draw the stroke. To eliminate this extraneous stroke I had to first move my point by-hand to the starting point of my line, and then stroke, but of course it was imperfect.
  • Cost – $10 would be great if it were a perfect solution, but even if all else were equal, it’s hard to argue against free.
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