Has Procreate met its match? Fresco, Adobe’s new drawing program for iPad, is here—how does it compare to Procreate or Photoshop? Is it a worthwhile competitor, or something you should pass up? Here’s an overview, first impressions, and some comparisons for your consideration.
I’m an artist—art, design, game development and content creation are what I do professionally. I spend a lot of time in Adobe Photoshop, but I also really enjoy Procreate.
That said, I was pretty excited to get my hands on Fresco. When it comes to my iPad, Procreate is a really wonderful, enjoyable application. The price is right, and it’s very user friendly. So how does Adobe Fresco hold up, at launch?
1. A Tour of Adobe Fresco
My first impression of Adobe Fresco was generally optimistic. I really enjoy many of the “out the box” brushes. I spent some time just casually sketching, and it did feel really natural and comfortable.
I wanted Fresco to be an awesome application that I fell in love with.
So… how did my first date with Fresco go? Let’s take a look at the tools themselves. You can find the tools, by default, on the left-hand side of the visible work area.
Pixel Brushes are your standard raster brushes, very much like those in Photoshop. I do a lot of drawing in Photoshop, so I was really excited at the prospect of having all of my usual Photoshop brushes on my iPad.
Below, I’ve tested out one of the ink brushes, and I’ve doodled an apple with some of the sketch brushes.
Your imported brushes are listed as “Library Brushes” at the bottom of your available Pixel Brushes. Doesn’t seem like there’s any sorting or reordering things, at this time.
I can’t remove any brushes I’ve imported within the app either—and it seems like I’m not the only one out there having that issue. That’s a bummer, but not a deal breaker.
Lovely, Right Out the Box
The Pixel Brushes that come with Fresco, however, are lovely. They have beautiful textures, and the sensitivity felt on point, without any adjustments—I didn’t have to tweak anything there to create really beautiful lines and textures. The Cezanne and Impressionist brushes were particularly fun and full of personality.
Fresco also has Live Brushes—and they’re really cool. I had a lot of fun trying out the watercolor brushes, in particular. The way the colors bleed and run into each other really feels as if you’re working with paint.
This isn’t the way I usually draw, digitally, but it was a lot of fun to play with. I’d say that this, right here, is probably one of Fresco’s coolest features. You’ve got Watercolor and Oil brushes, 11 brushes total.
The Vector Brushes are rather nice too! It’s really simple to just dig in and create some really lovely, clean, vector lines. There are five different brushes to choose from, which did feel a little odd to me. Still, the five here are pretty versatile.
However, there’s no editing these vector lines with something like anchor points. Not a deal breaker, but it’s something that would have been nice.
The Eraser surprised me, because I expected to have the same Brush Options as the other brush tools. You can “Erase with Brush”, but I found this to be confusing—you don’t use the Eraser to erase like this.
For example, if I want to erase with a soft round brush, I have to, instead, go to the Pixel Brush Tool, select my soft round brush, and then tap and hold the Touch Shortcut while drawing—a circle on the screen that can be used to alter how some tools behave.
The line on the left is drawn with the Eraser tool, while the line on the right is drawn with the Pixel Brush Tool, using the Touch Shortcut.
The Other Tools
You can use the Move Tool to move your work, as well as flip content horizontally or vertically.
The Selection Tools are used to select a specific area. Simply tap and drag—this was quite straightforward and easy to use.
Then, you have a Paint Bucket Tool. Tap to add a fill color—the color currently active.
The Eyedropper is used to select color, but I found myself rarely using it. Instead, tap and hold on a color in your document to “pick up the color”. This is a standard action that will be familiar to those who have used Procreate.
There is also the ability to Import content, right from the tools.
One note there, however. I did really like that you can directly open your camera from Fresco, and then import. As a teacher, you could potentially photograph content, import, and directly draw on top of it, for example. That’s pretty cool.
Sharing Your Creations
Adobe Fresco has pretty straightforward export options. We can publish and export to a variety of formats, including PSD, PNG, JPG, and PDF. We can also export a time-lapse process video, which is genuinely fun to watch.
Fresco also allows the user to export as a Behance project, and there’s a Quick Export, which allows you to export a snapshot of your work. I found myself thinking it was kind of like a screenshot tool.
The Price Tag
I have a paid Creative Cloud plan already—I use Photoshop, InDesign, Dreamweaver, After Effects, and many other members of the Creative Cloud family on the regular. If you’re in the same boat as I am, it means you can download the fully featured version of Adobe Fresco without any additional fee. That’s appreciated.
However, if you don’t, Adobe Fresco’s price tag is $9.99 a month—after the first six months, which act as an initial, free trial.
If you don’t want to pay the subscription fee, Adobe Fresco is still available to use, but it’s generally a freemium app with limited features. For example, you’ll only be able to export flattened, low-res imagery, and not all brushes will be available.
2. Adobe Fresco vs. Photoshop
A Replacement? A Companion? Something Else?
In a dream world, I would love to see a completely mobile version of Photoshop—the same functionality as Photoshop, but I can take it with me on my iPad. Fresco has potential, and the Live Brushes are quite fun to experiment with, but that’s not what Fresco is.
I think it’s important to note how Adobe describes Fresco:
Adobe Fresco brings together the world’s largest brush collection with revolutionary new technology to deliver a natural painting and drawing experience
That said, I found myself enjoying Fresco the most when I viewed it as an attempt to simulate real media—not as a Procreate competitor or as a companion/partner to Photoshop.
There are obvious limitations here, with Fresco—Photoshop is more than exclusively an illustration tool. We have a full range of tools for photo manipulation, adjustments, and more.
But as an illustration tool, Fresco isn’t as powerful as Photoshop. I expected that, honestly. However, the Brush Settings in Fresco have less than half of the Brush Settings available in Photoshop.
Importing Photoshop Brushes
This was one of the features I was most excited about: importing and using my Photoshop brushes in a mobile application. It sounds too good to be true!
It works, although it wasn’t without hiccups. Fresco has an Import from File feature, but I couldn’t get my brushes loaded up this way.
Instead, go to the brush file itself and choose Open In, then Fresco—so, if you have similar trouble, give this alternate method a try!
Photoshop Brush Settings
The Photoshop brush itself worked, once I had it imported. I had to go back in and tweak what settings are available in Fresco accordingly—like the Transfer and the Shape Dynamics. The Brush Settings are located at the bottom of the Tools panel.
You can test the brush out, in the preview above these settings—a setting that will be familiar for Procreate users, too.
One of the appealing things about Fresco, for me, was the ability to easily jump back and forth from Photoshop to Fresco and back to Photoshop.
This is possible because you can save and export as a PSD in both programs. Fresco essentially saves your work as a cloud document, which you can then open up in Photoshop.
However, I need to note that this is also achievable with most cloud services—I regularly jump from Procreate to Photoshop and back this way.
3. Adobe Fresco vs. Procreate
Ultimately, Procreate and Adobe Fresco both do a lot of the same things. However, that’s the big deal here—this feels particularly jarring when you look at the price difference.
Let’s look at Procreate Bushes and Adobe Fresco Brushes, as an example (specifically, Pixel Brushes).
In Procreate, I can easily duplicate brushes and customize them to my liking. I can tap and drag to rearrange them—both the brushes themselves and the sets in my brush library.
In Fresco, however, I can’t seem to duplicate any of the default brushes. I’m left customizing the original, and then reverting to the original, if I want to go to back to the vanilla version. This is a huge bummer. You can favorite brushes, but there’s no rearranging them—the categories or the brushes themselves.
That said, check out the difference between brush customization in Fresco and in Procreate.
In Fresco, the customization options seem to vary, based on the brush. When I looked at the 14px pencil, under Sketching, I was left with Pressure and Velocity Dynamics.
In Procreate, the brush options are relatively universal from brush to brush, and they are pretty robust.
Procreate’s UI is quite minimal, and it’s nice—it keeps the emphasis on the artwork itself.
Fresco isn’t necessarily cluttered, but I did find myself feeling rather “boxed in”, especially on the right-hand side. Procreate puts its layers here too, but I appreciate that these menus are collapsible.
I did, however, appreciate that Fresco allows you to expand the canvas and hide almost all of your tools. It feels refreshing, clean, and very welcoming to draw this way—really reminiscent of a traditional sketchbook. This feels great; just doodling with the sketch brushes on an open surface like this is a very nice experience.
Working With Color
I love that Procreate has customizable color palettes. Saving colors and color schemes is a normal part of my workflow.
In Fresco, when looking at the color picker, we have the option to save recent colors, by tapping on the plus sign in the Recent expandable menu. This works, but it doesn’t necessarily work well. I can’t rearrange any of these colors, and I can’t seem to delete them either. These recently saved colors also seem to be document specific.
Both Adobe Fresco and Procreate can export artwork to PSD files, which is important for me, as someone who works in Photoshop a lot. I often find myself drawing in Procreate, jumping over to Photoshop, and then going back to Procreate. I could easily do the same in Fresco, but it wasn’t necessarily a process that was vastly improved.
They can both export time-lapse video, as well.
Procreate, however, can export as additional file types, such as animated GIFs, TIFF files, and animated PNGs.
Let’s be real here—price matters, and it’s probably one of the first factors on everybody’s mind, when it comes to whether or not Fresco is for them.
Fresco comes with a $9.99 monthly fee, if you don’t already have a Creative Cloud subscription. Procreate, on the other hand, costs $9.99—and it’s a one-time fee.
And that’s a pretty big difference, especially if viewing Fresco as a possible Procreate competitor.
Honestly, I can’t say it has a world of content that Procreate doesn’t have. In fact, Fresco doesn’t have all of Procreate’s features, although some of them are listed as “coming soon” (such as perspective drawing and symmetry tools).
Ultimately, this means Procreate is $9.99 USD (and a one-time fee), while Adobe Fresco is potentially $119.98 USD per year. Wow! Of course, if you’re already a Creative Cloud subscriber, it’s included. Honestly, that’s the deal maker there, for me. Adobe has promised some updates here, so only time will tell on that.
But Those Live Brushes
I have to admit, however—Adobe Fresco’s Live Brushes are a genuinely fun experience. Sitting back and painting fluffy clouds and just watching the paint blend and smear was pretty neat. I know I presented plenty of things about Fresco that weren’t so hot, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t genuinely have a good time sitting back in my favorite chair and painting some clouds. It was a really organic and relaxing experience.
I drew the following, below, using the Watercolor Live Brushes. Holding down the Touch Shortcut, when using this brush, gives you “Pure Water”, instead of an eraser—it’s just really fun to push paint around and experiment with layering.
I’m really curious to see where Adobe takes this feature in the future.
Who Wins the Battle Royale?
And the Winner Is…
Adobe Fresco isn’t a fundamentally bad application. It has a lot of potential, and some of the brushes are really very enjoyable to use. At launch, it’s just not everything it could be, just yet. I really hope this changes in the future, because the potential is there. Adobe has mentioned a bunch of additional features coming soon—I just wish “soon” was sooner!
In my opinion, there just isn’t enough here to dethrone Procreate, especially when Procreate has such a universally accessible price tag. As an “extra”, included with Creative Cloud, it’s fun to experiment with—but I wouldn’t call Fresco a significant addition to my normal workflow.
The Final Verdict
At the end of the day, Procreate has become a larger and larger part of my professional life. There have been times I’ve considered completely switching to Procreate as my preferred illustration tool—it’s genuinely awesome.
Fresco feels like an application that wants to compete, but just isn’t there yet. Adobe’s promised a bunch of updates, however—so we’ll see what happens! If nothing else, I’ve got myself a new set of watercolors without the mess… and that’s pretty neat.
Thanks for exploring Adobe Fresco and Procreate with me! If you enjoyed this article, here are some others that you might enjoy, too!