Adobe Fresco

Ah, the much anticipated Adobe Fresco has landed for the iPad. So, is it a Procreate killer?

Adobe has long been the gold standard for digital art and photography work. Apps like Photoshop, Illustrator, Lightroom, and more are the go-to staples of the creative industry for a reason: they're extremely powerful and extremely feature rich.

A few years ago, Adobe moved over to a subscription model for their apps and called it Creative Cloud. There are various subscription forms, including full suite, individual apps, and the photographer package. As you might guess, I have the photography package, primarily because I do a lot of photography and this was sufficiently reasonably priced that I was okay with that.

So, why am I talking about subscriptions? Well... Adobe went that route with Fresco too. You can, it is worth pointing out, use Fresco without a subscription, but there are some handicapping that happens. First, you get limited in your ability to export your work. Second, you get limited access to brushes. Now, if you have the full Creative Suite or you have the Photoshop single app subscriptions, Fresco is included. There's a lot of people out there that have these, so won't really care. It is not included if you have the photography subscription, so if you want all of Fresco, in that scenario, you're paying extra, $13.49 CAD, per month, to be exact. That's a lot. In fact, it's a crazy additional price when you consider that current iPad art gold standard, Procreate, sells for a one-time $13.99 CAD fee that gives you free upgrades forever.

So, immediately, I think the Procreate team can rest easy, the value for money of Procreate is absolutely immense in comparison and that alone ensures that Fresco is not a Procreate killer.

Having prefaced all that, so how is Fresco as an art app on the iPad? Not bad. It's missing a few features that will hold it back for now, but there are some other features that are really quite good.

So, basic look is pretty clean. A little more cluttered than Procreate, but not much more and I think they did a very good job with it. I put it into a darker mode, just my preference.

As you can see it's a fairly clean interface with the general tools along the left side, layer menu on the right. A big plus is the layer collection is very accessible, making it very easy to switch between them. Now, this is on the iPad Pro, so screen real estate is much more available, but it actually works pretty decent on the iPad Mini as well.

The tools are pretty straightforward. For the brushes, you've got the pixel brushes, live brushes, and vector brushes. There's also the eraser, move tool, selection tools, bucket fill, eyedropper, file import, and colour selection. Below that is a dynamic tool, that you can move around, that allows you to change settings on your current tool (e.g. brush size). They did a great job there, the tool can be placed anywhere on screen for your convenience.

Across the top is your general menu items including home, help, undo, settings, etc. Basic items that you would expect.

When it comes to the general structure of the UI, I think Adobe did a really good job here. The layout is clean, intelligent, and flexible.

Now, the big story for Fresco is supposed to be the brushes. In particular, the live brushes and the vector brushes are the big attraction, but there's also the pixel brush collection. So, some initial observations...

They ship a lot of premium pixel brushes, such as all of the inkers, that you can't actually use unless you sign up for the subscription. Selecting one of them results in a full screen take over asking you to sign up or restore purchases. Yuck. There are 73 other pixel brushes that are not subscription based, so it's not all bad.

The live brushes are actually quite good and do seem to blend in a manner you might expect. The oil brushes allow for slow blending, watercolour brushes flow and drift into each other. I would say that Adobe has done a really great job with the simulation. For example:
That was the oil paint short brush and I quite like the look that was produced. So, yeah, the live brushes are definitely a clear plus for the app.

Interesting thing on the live brushes is that there can be a canvas size limitation. Not sure what the number is on the 2018 iPad Pro, but BeeJayDel reviewed Fresco on his YouTube and hit a limit with his original model iPad Pro at his standard image size. This would imply that the limitation may be tied to the CPU and GPU horsepower of the device, the most recent iPad Pro performs as well as a late model Macbook Pro in these areas.

Vector brushes are really cool. Unlike the pixel brushes, these retain cleanliness of line as you zoom, retaining vector scaling properties as you go. There's not a lot of these that ship, just 5 of them, but that seems like a reasonable start. Vector brushes do add to the computational horsepower needed as they would need to calculate information as you zoom around, but the iPad Pro is more than sufficient to handle that need.

So, what are the head scratchers? There's a few...

First, no reference layer. For those who are wondering, apps like Procreate, Clip Studio Paint, and others have this concept of a reference layer that can be used to restrict fills on other layers to the lines on the reference layer. This is super powerful for anyone doing inking and colour illustration. To be missing from Fresco seems very surprising.

Second, no shapes. At the end of the day, basic shapes are the building blocks of a drawing or painting, so not having them is rather strange. Fresco does have line straightening, which leads to some interesting outcomes when drawing a circle and attempting to smooth the line, but definitely no smarts around what you were trying to do.

Finally, the price. I'm seriously struggling with the price. Is Fresco a decent app? For sure, the live brushes are really very cool, but not for $13.49 per month. I'm an amateur, so it makes even less sense, but I am known to spend when there is a sufficient hook. This is not sufficient. This is pricing out of a very large market of people that would have been interested in using Fresco as another tool in their arsenal, but who are not willing to hop on an expensive subscription bandwagon. Now, Adobe does give you 6 months of free trial, clearly with the hope that it will be enough to keep you on, but I think that's more about hoping you'll forget to cancel.

Verdict? Swing and a miss and that's a shame.