With Fresco on the iPhone, Adobe hopes a small canvas can spark big ideas

Adobe is bringing Fresco, its life-like drawing and painting app, to the iPhone. The app is available for free today as Adobe MAX 2020 kicks off online with sessions streamed to artists around the world. I talked with Adobe and an artist beta testing Fresco on the iPhone to learn why they think big ideas can come from a smaller screen.

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Everything you love about Adobe Fresco on the iPad — photorealistic live brushes, vector, and Photoshop brushes, cloud documents, and much more — is now possible on your iPhone. Adobe hasn’t created a watered-down port of its iPad app. The same engine and cloud document libraries power both experiences.

Bryan O’Neil Hughes, Director of Product Management at Adobe, tells me that this consistency matters because Adobe sees Fresco as not just an app, but an entire drawing and painting ecosystem. The vision is for artists to move seamlessly from one surface to the next and pick up right where they left off.

Starting today, there’ll be even more to pick up. Alongside its initial release on iPhone, Fresco 2.0 is a major update for existing iPad artists as well. There’s now support for thousands of Adobe Fonts, 4K time-lapses, pressure curves, live-streaming, client feedback, multiple layer transformations, and much more. Some of these features are available on the iPhone now, and what’s missing is promised to arrive by early 2021.

For Kyle Webster, Illustrator and Sr. Design Evangelist at Adobe, Fresco on the iPhone is all about the brushes. Kyle showed me two new exciting tools artists will love: Smudge brushes and Capture Ribbon brushes. Smudge brushes work like their name implies. You can create natural blends between colors by using built-in brushes or any Photoshop brush in your Creative Cloud library. Capture Ribbon brushes are even more powerful. Using the Adobe Capture app on your iPhone or iPad, you can turn photos into organic brushes that work in Fresco. In practice, this means that you can effectively paint with textures and materials, like the bark on a tree.

Kyle is a pro, but he made painting and sketching on an iPhone display look just as intuitive as an iPad canvas. Instead of completing full works on the iPhone, he suggests a workflow of sketching your ideas when inspiration hits, and then filling in the details back on the iPad where you benefit from the precision of an Apple Pencil and efficiency of Fresco’s Touch Modifier.

Artwork created by Spencer Nugent with Fresco on the iPhone.

I asked illustrator Spencer Nugent what role Fresco on the iPhone plays in his workflow. Spencer has been working in industrial design education and daily sketching for over a decade and helps others grow their illustration skills through livestreams and resources on his website, Sketch-A-Day.com. Most recently, he’s been testing Fresco on the iPhone and calls it a “game changer.”

“What’s cool about Fresco on the iPhone is that I always have the flexibility to create wherever I go,” Spencer says. “Since I usually have my phone on me, I can instantly begin a piece with the broad strokes and then finish up with the final strokes when I’m back at my desk.”

Pressure curves are now supported in Fresco on the iPad. Cloud document comments will come to the iPhone in early 2021.

Adobe hopes that Fresco on the iPhone will attract artists like Spencer and expose a new community of creatives to the world of digital painting. Bryan O’Neil Hughes noted that artists have found the iPhone compelling since the earliest days of the App Store, when a New Yorker cover was painted on the tiny 320×480 pixel display.

“Before having Fresco on the iPhone, I would typically have a sketchbook with me to jot down any ideas,” adds Spencer. “After jotting down the idea, I would then have to take a picture or otherwise translate the idea into something digital that I could use. Fresco on the iPhone saves time and makes the whole creative process a bit easier.”

You can learn more about every new feature in Fresco 2.0 on Adobe’s website and download Fresco on the iPhone from the App Store starting today. The app is free with a paid upgrade available that includes Photoshop on iPad, and is compatible with the original iPhone SE and newer devices.

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Avatar for Michael Steeber Michael Steeber

I’m a Creative Editor passionate about Apple Retail and design. My stories highlight the work of talented artists, designers, and customers through a unique lens of architecture, creativity, and community.

Twitter: @MichaelSteeber

Email: steeber@9to5mac.com