August 17, 2010

Tablet companions to Photoshop?

In playing with Photoshop Express for iPad, Jesus Diaz from Gizmodo observed:

I got a craving for something very simple, which I hope Adobe can make (and which will be extremely useful for me and other desktop Photoshop users): Release an application to convert the iPad into a Photoshop control surface. I will love to display this application while I’m working on the image and quickly use it to apply filters and transforms. Or just access many of the Photoshop tool palettes, adopted to touchscreen use.

Photoshop-control apps such as Photokeys, Keypad, and perhaps others already exist & have for some time.  Do you use them?  I haven’t encountered anyone who’s mentioned using them, but that doesn’t mean it’s not happening.  How widespread is this desire?

Other companion ideas that spring readily to mind:

  • Using multitouch input from a tablet to drive Liquify (for pinching, rotating, etc.)
  • Using multitouch to mix paints together, a la a real artist’s palette, then send the results to Photoshop (i.e. what gets mixed on the tablet is streamed into your PS brush)
  • Using a tool like Configurator to assemble custom layouts of tools, buttons, interactive tutorials, etc. that would run on a tablet and drive desktop Photoshop
  • Other?

Your feedback and ideas would be most welcome.


Posted by John Nack at 6:46 AM on August 17, 2010


  • Gordon — 7:06 AM on August 17, 2010

    For now my only desire is an app that will allow tethered shooting to the ipad, Lightroom Express?

  • Pedro Estarque — 7:29 AM on August 17, 2010

    Some people will go through great lengths to use Photoshop on the iPad:

    Far from perfect (calibration, refresh rate, etc) but he argues that the screen is so nice it’s worth it.

  • Ryan Boone — 7:53 AM on August 17, 2010

    The problem I see is that there is no pressure feedback. That to me is the mosts important thing when dealing with intuitive features like the ones mentioned above. Unless there can be something rigged to interpolate pressure and velocity, I have no real desire to put aside my Wacom tablet.

  • Sula — 8:01 AM on August 17, 2010

    Hey John,
    You know, actually. what I have been dreaming about is the possibility of a multitouch/tablet surface, but I don’t really know if it is technically possible. My idea is that, if Photoshop knows the difference of a stylus and a finger touch, we may use our fingers to control the interface, rotate the canvas, zoom in and out, and the stylus to actually draw – without one messing with the other. I do think this would make a, lets say, Cintiq, something godsend to work, even more than it actually is.

    Thinking about it now, it looks like something that would work on a ipad attached to the side my tablet – I would give it a shot for sure.

    I didn’t know about the PhotoKeys app – I have an iPod touch and it seems really, really nice for someone who likes tablets large and have trouble keeping the keyboard around (my case).

  • MatthieuL — 8:02 AM on August 17, 2010

    Of course it would be awesome !! Maybe the simpler implementation would be to display panels on the ipad (and iphone), then the community could invent any use of these control surfaces.

  • Greg — 8:53 AM on August 17, 2010

    The article that Pedro mentions is about the Air Display app for the iPhone/iPod and iPad. I have used it on an iPod Touch and it works quite nicely. Now, it does not offer pressure sensitivity, but it does enable one to use the iPad as a tablet for sorting, editing and so on. Mr Diaz would be able to do just what he is talking about.

  • Jim Monaco — 9:01 AM on August 17, 2010

    It’s an interesting idea, and probably a close-but-not-quite one.

    Apple has done, I must say, a phenomenal job with marketing and fetishising the iPad. The hungry looks of impressed awe that I’ve seen in everyone down to high school kids is eerie. From that desire to see the iPad as a new wonder in technological sophistication, I can’t help but wonder if we are at times imprinting upon the device “magic” capabilities that we imagine it should do, when it really cannot.

    Fine example–tethering. The iPad *seems* like a wonderful in-the-filed device…but it turns out a device so slim, sleek, low on battery use, etc simply doesn’t have the memory needed.

    And what about as a graphics tablet? That super-slim multi-touch screen sure would be great for Photoshop–and much cheaper than a $1000 Wacom. But…the screen doesn’t actually do pressure sensitivity, and there’s no decent pen for it.

    Cool as some of the ideas might seem, the device just wasn’t made to be used for as many things as we might be led to imagine, and it’s going to be a bit awkward if we stick to trying to fake interaction out of a limited device.

    So, all of that out of the way…yes, the iPad offers some potential where a lot of these other peripherals fall shy because the screen is capable of showing a variety of interfaces. The thing that keeps me off of all other devices is the uselessness of having a dozen little expensive gadgets lying around for exceedingly specific purposes (and not having them away from my primary computer).

    ~A color panel allowing me to eyedrop a whole range of colors onto a palette for later use
    ~A setting in PS that would allow me to send all modal pop-ups to a specific monitor (including an iPad)
    ~An integration with your Ideas software to bring the drawing that *is* possible on the iPad straight into Ps, Ai, ~Fireworks with one touch.
    The navigator, now more easily functional on a multi-touch device (I looove the Alt/Opt+Space mini-navigator in CS5, btw)
    ~Camera Raw, loadable on this monitor
    ~Synced views of a document (scale and position), one-touch to bring that view into my work area
    ~Semi-interactive (zoomable, scrollable) live preview of the effect of edits to an embedded Smart Object from the work area

    Those, I’d use. More than that, I feel I’d be bending my workflow to justify a new toy.


  • Welles Goodrich — 9:02 AM on August 17, 2010

    I tried out Photokeys. It operates as advertised but if you work from your keyboard or one hand on a keyboard and one on a mouse (or Wacom stylus), Photokeys seemed to be a fun novelty for five minutes but of no productive value. I took it off my iPod Touch.

  • BJN — 9:49 AM on August 17, 2010

    Photoshop finger painting? No thanks. Display quality and color calibration for tablet computers isn’t good enough. I’m sure there’s a market among those who don’t care (low quality end uses) or who do care but don’t know any better.

  • Skyler — 10:36 AM on August 17, 2010

    I think this has tons of potential, but it needs to be approached as something we know nothing about as far as an interface goes.
    In other words, just because apps exist, doesn’t mean they’ll be an optimal workflow. Different configurations will have to be tried before it becomes an improvement to existing workflows.
    That being said, I do want the functionality, and I do think it can be an improvement to left hand computing (I don’t think the Wacom tablet will lose it’s place in serious graphics work any time soon).

    I think the configurator idea is great, but with a large set of pre-made/tested configurations shipped with the app.

    I also think this app needs to be able to detect the forward most app, and switch interfaces accordingly. It has to work with all the CS apps, and have a generic interface for all others (a good example would be having a paste button to get text out of mail, use an on screen app switcher, and go into InDesign, and paste the text).

    Ultimately, it will probably take off when Apple integrates the functionality at a system level on both devices, but that doesn’t mean work shouldn’t begin now, as there will probably be a lot of trial and error involved.

  • John Derry — 10:40 AM on August 17, 2010

    Hi John:

    I think some responders are envisioning all of PS’s functionality on the iPad—painting/retouching/editing/etc. My wish is for a space to offload some of the UI functionality—buttons/sliders/actions/presets/etc.—to the iPad. This would avoid screen calibration issues and provide the main display with greater real estate for the image.

    I can imagine a control surface with my presets, various slider controls, a jog wheel for image rotation, etc. This would both slim down the UI, as well as surface some valuable but often less used control (i.e., screen rotation).


    • thinsoldier — 12:37 PM on August 17, 2010


      This guy knows what I’m talking about.

      • Jason — 10:05 PM on August 17, 2010

        +2. As a user of two 23″ displays (and the F and Tab keys), I would still get great use out of a way to slim down the interface. Offloading palettes, presets pickers and actions/macros to the iPad would be an awesome option. Couple that with tools to create/exchange interface designs among users, and it would be even cooler.

    • Judge — 6:01 PM on August 18, 2010


      To me this *sounds* like a fantastic idea. I see it as literally taking the place of my keyboard during Photoshop work. Whilst Keypad goes some of the way by providing shortcuts, the key to to making it work properly is context.

      During general use I see myself using the right hand side as a trackpad to control the cursor on the screen and the left hand side being shortcuts to tools, adjustment layers, actions, scripts etc.

      When I select a tool – the brush for example – I expect the iPad to change to show a slider for brush size and another for hardness. When I select the text tool a keyboard – ready for text entry – should appear. With an adjustment layer selected it could show quick links to saved presets, a slider for opacity etc, etc…

      It would be like an an infinitely configurable keyboard / control surface whose context is based on what you are doing at the time.

      Needless to say it would have to be user configurable – my needs are unlikely to be the same as the next person – although a facility for sharing templates would be great.

      As I said this *sounds* great but the proof of the pudding is in the eating (as they say)

  • Gilles — 10:43 AM on August 17, 2010

    Mmmm. Yummy.

    I’d also love the option of having all my control panels on the iPad.

    The bluetooth latency problem would be irrelevant.

    Oooh, that would be sweet, indeed.

  • George Coghill — 10:49 AM on August 17, 2010

    What I would love to have is a simple app that allows me to save files in .psd format so I can work with a 3rd party stylus and use an iPad as a sketchbook, then send the files to my Mac to finish up in Photoshop.

    Layers are a must, even if limited to 5 or 10.

    Adobe Ideas comes close, but the odd vector line approach is a turn off. I just want to be able to sketch in Adobe Photoshop Mobile, then send/sync my sketches to finish up in Photoshop with all my layers intact.

    I’m sure photographers would like to see something similar, where they could run initial tweaks and then send to Photoshop on the computer for the heavy lifting.

    • Jago — 11:37 AM on August 17, 2010

      Alias Sketchbook Pro can do exactly what you asked for, you can use layers and save/export as a PSD file. I’m not sure but I think Brushes can too. I still find it bizarre that Adobe Ideas will ONLY allow you to export as a PDF (not JPG or PSD), makes it completely useless for my purposes, which is a shame as it’s a nice app.

      With regard to using the iPad as a Photoshop companion, I think it sounds great. I can envisage being able to work in Photoshop in full screen mode with perhaps a tabbed selection of palettes available on the iPad. Even something as simple as having all the brushes in a palette on the iPad would be a real time saver.

  • James Darknell — 11:44 AM on August 17, 2010

    I’d much prefer adobe put efforts into making their real apps better. Once the novelty of the iPad wears off (like really soon) it will be one more useless feature added that will need to be deprecated. I much prefer my Wacom, and wouldn’t even consider the iPad for Photoshop input. If it doesn’t happen on-screen, its just a distraction. at least that’s my opinion.

    • Pj — 6:05 AM on August 20, 2010

      I think you’re not seeing the wood for the trees. Whilst granted the fame of the iPad may fade and die. Touch screens are just going to keep growing. So whether it be and iPad or Wacom or any other secondary touch screen, I’d love to see some functionally spread over.

  • thinsoldier — 12:19 PM on August 17, 2010

    Me and maybe 4 other people mentioned stuff like this in the comments here months ago.

    For me the killer feature would be pressure sensitivity on the tablet device.

    If adobe partnered with wacom to make a very affordable tablet for just this purpose a huge number of artists would buy it.

    Step 2 would be a pen friendly alternative photoshop interface for the next generation of cintique

    Step 3 would be all the other tablet manufacturers realizing the usefulness of pressure sensitivity (especially after seeing the sales of step 1) and then they would rush to license the work wacom and adobe have already done.

    • thinsoldier — 12:24 PM on August 17, 2010

      … in fact I specifically said to e-mail me if you wanted to hear more.

      Seriously, I saw the device in a dream and made a dozen pages of notes and sketches and everything.

  • thinsoldier — 12:20 PM on August 17, 2010

    @Ryan Boone

    Isn’t the majority of the pressure sensitivity technology in the new wacom products housed in the pen/stylus itself?

    What if wacom made a pressure pen for the ipad?

    (adobe would have to update the software to work with inputs smaller than a finger I guess)

  • Bobby S. — 1:41 PM on August 17, 2010

    It would be great if there were rulers maybe?
    I would use this to resize photos for my blog, but I can’t tell how large these images are. Just an idea.

  • Dave Cheung — 3:43 PM on August 17, 2010

    Hi John,

    “Companion” may be the problem I have with this solution. If a user has to switch from looking at his iPad to the main screen, then time is lost.

    Having no tactile response from an iPad-like device makes it a workflow killer. I want buttons, knobs, and other innovative ways to interface with PS as I’m working an image. Keeping my eyes focused on my work and not the tools is the key to efficient and meaningful HUI elements.

    Would Adobe consider partnering to create a better work surface for imaging artists?

    Thx for your time :)

  • Rubén — 4:01 AM on August 18, 2010

    i had once one app of that kind and finished uninstalling it, it was for the iPhone and it was quite unuseful, too small screen and with the rounded back of the iPhone it was moving all the the time… As for the iPad maybe it can be better (bigger screen means more functions and a more stable surface) but i can’t imagine myself using a 450$ device for a 8 hours work day (not to mention the battery duration), maybe for a casual work or to show your friends how cool you are.

    I think that a multitouch surface must come from a pen tablet vendor (such as Wacom and its bamboo touch) and a better implementation for multitouch gestures within adobe apps (pan and zooming with the Open GL feature and a multitouch device would be the dream of any designer), and now with that strange gadget (the “magic”pad) it´s the time to star working to get into the mititouch era

  • jeharris — 5:14 AM on August 18, 2010

    Great thread John!

    A question for those that want to “share” content with Photoshop on the mac os x / windows. Do you want to share that content wirelessly, or only when you dock via a cable (much like the way iphoto is launched). If the document type and class of operations that can be provided through “magical” interactions on the ipad are restrictive due to meager processors/memory, how do you see yourselves using this device for “work”?

    Would it be ideation, studies/iteration, inspiration foraging, project assets (presets such as swatches, color schemes), patterns, rough compositions, photo assets with annotations framed in a context? What do you currently do outside of photoshop when you are out in the rough and ideas pop in your head?

    How do you see this work flowing to and from PS, and the ipad app? Should this modality be a formal part of photoshop? Or should it just use psd/plugins without PS knowing a thing about the fact that it is interacting with a mobile slate device? Do you want us to take a step towards Hollywood visions of using direct manipulation UI’s to shuffle work between devices in a visual way?

    Or would it be messing with a photo or small design just to email it to a friend, more or less a quick visual communication device. This might be more of an “entertainment” use case, but is quite valid, especially for the really young crowd who finds even email cumbersome compared to mms.

  • Jwdijkstra — 5:33 AM on August 18, 2010

    Uhm isn’t using an iPad as a photoshop input device just called a wacom cintiq?

  • Arnon Moscona — 8:04 AM on August 18, 2010

    These apps (especially KeyPad) is almost a reason for me to buy an iPad…

    So far though, Configurator does 90% of the job for me (even though the larger palettes take up more precious screen space – there’s nothing like 1-click access)

  • Christine Shock — 8:50 AM on August 18, 2010

    Problems here…Configurator is Flex/Flash based…sorry dudes, but until Apple lightens up on the Anti-Adobe policies, I can’t see the point in anyone even remotely writing anything Adobe for the iPad…

    [Configurator also does HTML, and it could be modified further. –J.]

    May have better luck with the Dell Streak…

    And seriously…I’m surprised that Adobe keeps writing it’s software for the Apple platform…

    [We’re not going to let some of Apple’s decisions keep us from going where customers need us. –J.]

  • LucaFoto — 10:20 AM on August 18, 2010

    Personally I consider all of the photo editing apps as more for fun than to be used as professional tool on my iPad, but some people are making art with it, Kudos to them!

    I do use an app on my iPad that allows me to remote control my dslr when the camera is tethered to my laptop.

    I would love to see Adobe produce a similar app that would allow iPad control via wireless or tethered directly to the camera; that presets, filters, keywords, and all of the import functions could be applied upon the incoming images.

    If the current app could access a NAS library of images to edit, that would be much more interesting!

  • Swan — 10:27 PM on August 18, 2010

    Um. it already exists? wacom cintiq?

  • Bryan — 7:48 AM on August 19, 2010

    Offloading a lot of the dropdown menus to the iPad or iPhone screen would be pretty interesting I think… Scrolling through fonts with a flick of my finger or messing with the properties of a brush with a few flicks and swipes would in theory make using Photoshop a little more intuitive. I find with a Wacom tablet, anything involving scrolling or clicking on a slider becomes a pain. The wheel included on the Intuos 4 doesn’t smoothly scroll, and just doesn’t feel right. Drop down menus like font selection (or even some of the docked windows like the adjustment layer and Character panels) pushed to my iPhone would be great as I have it next to my tablet all the time anyway. I’d be very interested to try a window docking app. Would be interesting to make an addon for Lightroom as well that basically throws the Develop panel onto the iPhone so I can full-screen preview on my Mac while making all the changes on the sliders on another screen using a more intuitive control method. Sorry for rambling!

  • Ryan — 6:09 PM on August 21, 2010

    Photoshop UI needs to be re-thought for multitouch.
    iPad/Android tablets as accessories, and also multitouch monitors too.

    Since OSX doesn’t even have a proper multitouch api yet,
    extending some context-specific UI to an accessory tablet is a good place to start.

    But whatever UI emerges on an iPad, It really needs to devote full screens to very discrete contexts/tasks. Photoshop has a lot of tools, and a lot of ways to use them. And this thread demonstrates that everyone seems to have different workflows and prioritize different tools.

    My fear is that adobe will take a stab at some commonsense multitouch widgets with potentially poor usability and limited utility; It won’t quite fit what I’m looking for, and that will be that.

    I’m more interested in the Configurator + Actionscript model, where we have tools to create our own controllers and custom workflows. Give people the power to experiment and figure out what a next-generation multitouch-enabled Photoshop might look (and feel) like.

    Wacom is not enough. They are great, but also complacent. The Cintiq is overpriced. Their drivers are buggy. The airbrush has a poor build quality. You have to pay extra for the pen that enables control of rotation.

    You cannot use a Wacom tablet without relying extensively on the keyboard. Photoshop simply has too many functions for a few programmable buttons.

    Pressure is a great way to modulate a stroke, but it should not be the only way. I have carpal tunnel syndrome and cannot afford to press the Wacom stylus hard enough to control the input the way I want.

    Why can’t I draw with one hand, and simultaneously modulate a property of the stroke with another controller (a multitouch gesture or hardware knob)?
    I’ve seen Adobe experimenting with this in some Labs video.

    As far as I know, the only way to drive the Photoshop brush engine (thankfully updated in CS5) is through the Wacom driver.
    Can we open this up to multitouch gestures and other hardware controllers?

    People are already doing neat stuff using iPad as a controller for audio software using the OSC messaging standard.

    PS. I Feel like I spend half of my time in photoshop tweaking tiny slider bars back-and-forth, back-and-forth. This is ripe territory to offload a modal UI to a larger, more tweak-and-compare friendly screen.

  • superflat — 5:29 PM on August 30, 2010

    You all should check out the tenone iPad pressure sensitivity demo (they make the Pogo stylus). Apparently it is possible to not only enable touch sensitivity on the iPad screen (no special pen required), but to tell it to tune out palm touches and the like, so that you can rest your hand on the screen while drawing. It’s simply a matter of Apple allowing what is currently a forbidden OS call — something they could easily do in an update. Then, Alias or Apple would need to incorporate the library into their sketching software.

  • Darby — 12:48 AM on September 04, 2010

    Great discussion, I hope apple and adobe developers are reading this! I have an iPad and would love to incorporate the possibilities of ten ones pressure sensitivity or similar to draw with Photoshop or illustrator. Yes the high end tablets will always be best but the iPad has a lot of potential as a popular prosumer alternative to drawing tablets

  • Pat — 12:08 PM on November 03, 2010

    I don’t think John had use of the iPad like a pressure sensitive Wacom tablet in mind. I don’t think anyone would seriously think the iPad would be a replacement for a Wacom. Sounds like there may be some Apple haters here just trying to cut on the iPad.

    I think the idea was more uses as a tool space extension.
    I think it could be great to use with a Wacom tablet if you could put the commands that you would often reach to your keyboard for in one easy to touch area. If you could configure it how you want, placing which commands you most use and place them where you want them. Not sure how helpful it would be in actual use but it would be nice to find out. Also for rotating the work area while drawing it would be great.

  • Ed — 4:26 AM on November 05, 2010

    I definitively needs an iPad app that helps me to edit a photo session when away from the shooting tethered (big) workstation.
    The scenario is the following one :
    – shooting in tethered mode in Lightroom
    – export or move a catalogue and low res assets to the iPad very easily via for example wifi
    – edit the session very easily with the equivalent of X and P keys on the iPad, all on the home couch, some kind of lightroom Express, indeed yes
    – go back to the studio and ‘synchronized’ in a way or another with the original catalogue on the station
    with this app, I could edit a session on the week-end away from the studio or on commuting.
    Tx. Ed.

  • witz — 11:29 AM on November 09, 2010

    Let us use the iPad as a screen to draw on, but let Photoshop handle the high resolution files and the memory requirements. Yeah, no pressure sensitivity isn’t ideal, but put in a slider like on Ideas for Ipad and I’m sold.

    For the record, the people saying the ipad isn’t good for mobile art just don’t have the right use case. Sure, it probably can’t handle the finished art most of us are making, but it is especially important to me as a sketchpad. I’ve been drawing a rough draft of a graphic novel on it. Most of this has happened in the park on lunch, and it’s better looking and easier than doing it on paper, and I don’t have to scan it just to make a readable pdf. The almost the entire workflow, including scripting has happened with the ipad in mobile situations where I’ve never had the ability to work digitally before. Yes, go ahead and tell me I can do all this on a laptop. I dont have one and wouldn’t carry around a $2k+ device for this type of work. The iPad is ideal for concept and sketching and will only get better.

  • witz — 11:31 AM on November 09, 2010

    There IS a good stylus for these devices. FINALLY.
    anyone doing this stuff simply must track down a Griffin or Targus stylus. They are the exact same, but the Griffin one is branded and more expensive. I got the Targus Capacitive Stylus at Best Buy for $16 and it is lightyears better than the Pogo stylus.

  • Charles van Dijk — 6:47 AM on March 09, 2011

    We forget one thing, memory. It will take a while before IPad will have 4 G of RAM the minimum requirement to run the latest version of photoshop. we will have to keep our laptops a little bit longer.

    [Photoshop doesn’t require 4GB of RAM. The stated system minimum is 1GB. –J.]

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