The App Every Art Teacher Must Have!

The app world is a little overwhelming at times, but that one app can make the world of difference.  As a 1:1 school, all of my art students have their own iPads. This is a blessing, however, choosing the right Apps to help kids, not confuse kids continues to be the challenge.  Many times you find a great app but it costs too much to use with your students, so the search continues until you find that “diamond in the rough.”


SketchBook Express is your “diamond in the rough” when it comes to the world of apps. This app is very similar to Adobe Photoshop but simplified for students!

It is so user-friendly middle school students were using this app without any instructions. The tool bar consist of various weapons of creation ranging from a pencil to an air brush tool, each of which can be adjusted for width and opacity. Importing a picture from your camera roll can be done in the layer mode or when you start a new sketch. With a simple maneuver of your fingers, you can resize, rotate and move an image. You can add text, add layers,

move layers, and change the opacity of a layer, and on top of all of these amazing features is the fact that it is FREE!

Students will love using this app for it’s user friendliness! When I asked students to try out other drawing and painting apps, that were similar to Sketchbook Express, they voted hands down for SketchBook Express. Other apps were more sophicated in the type of digital paper they offered or the way the digital mediums looked and acted more like real mediums, but it was more difficult to use and this then ranked SkecthBook Express #1 on my students list of art apps.

After students used this app in art class they started seeing its use on their own for that Geography poster or to add text in iMovie for their Language Arts project. It was very rewarding to see my students carry what they had learned in my art room and utilize this app in other subject areas. A math and science teacher told me “that is one powerful tool” after I presented a professional development session on SketchBook Express.  Teachers are finding great uses for this app as well!

Top 7 Reasons Students and Teachers love using Sketchbook:

  1. Includes 3 layers that you can merge, reorder  and duplicate
  2. You can import pictures from you Camera Roll and Export to your Photo Library
  3. The ability to resize and move text with ease while choosing from an assortment of font options
  4. You can zoom in with a simple swipe to edit up close
  5. Undo & Redo options
  6. Includes symmetric drawing feature
  7. Has eye dropper color selection

Do you have any apps that are your “diamond in the rough” when it comes to art ed?

Is your school district talking about going 1:1? iPads? Laptops? Mac Books? 

PS. Stay tuned – soon we will be releasing AOE’s Fall Class Schedule, and I’ve got a class up my sleeve that may be able to help you even more with iPads…but that’s all I can say for now…


Chelsie Meyer

This article was written by former AOE writer and technology guru Chelsie Meyer.


  • Kimberlydeane

    I actually prefer “art rage” and “ps touch” having used them in the classroom this year in a 1:1 ipad ratio. That being said, I have HS students, not middle school, so perhaps the one you speak of is better for younger grades. I tried checkng out your link for the free version, but it only displays the pro version.

    Thanks for blogging, always relevant info.

    • Kimberly, I have fixed the link for you so it takes you to the free version! Should be good to go now. ;)

    • Art Rage (reducued to $2.99 for a limited time, regularly price $6.99)  is also a great app! Our disctrict last summer got it on sale for $0.49!! A few students prefered Art Rage, but yes it might be the age difference of our kiddos.  I like the advanced features of Art Rage!

      I have PS Express (a few neat photo tools) on my iPad, which is the free version of PS Touch ($9.99.)  I will have to give that a try with my students! It looks like PS Touch is a great app, just do not know if we can afford it. :(

      Thanks Kimberly for your input!

  • For my elementary students, I really like Drawing Box The app includes drawing tools, regular and novelty brushes and tons of colors. There are other cool options like choosing a butterfly icon to make a perfectly symmetrical drawing and choosing a movie icon to replay your drawing. I find that the free version works great!

    • Thanks for the app suggestion Amanda! Now it looks like we have apps for each level.

  • The Wendy Lady

    Paper by 53 is one of my favorite iPad drawing apps. It is $8 fully unlocked but is worth it. Next year our district is going 1:1 with iPads. I’m excited. I’m looking forward to not only having students create art on the iPad but also use it as a way to document thei process when they use other mediums.

    • Wendy Lady Glad to hear! If you would like more info on iPads in the Art Room check out the class offered in November by Downloading the Fall Class Schedule. We
      will have tons of great resources for how to effectively use the iPad with your art students! It’s going to be great! Thanks again for your input on Paper by 53.

  •  First of all, what is a 1:1 school?  From your post, I’m assuming every student is provided with their own laptop or iPad or whatever.  How in the world does a school afford this, in a time when budgets and teachers are getting chopped left and right?  Is it a necessary expense? (I’d personally rather save a teacher job, to be honest.)

    About the iPad – I just got my own a few weeks ago, as a gift from me to me, so it is not for school, especially since I just retired after 36 years, having taught at every level from K-12.  Since I got the iPad, I have been playing with Sketchbook Express, and having fun with it, but I really haven’t figured out how to use the layers yet and get a little confused once I venture beyond the basic tools and palette.  I don’t find their icons very self-explanatory, but of course kids will get it faster.

    But back to using them with kids in school.  I know my opinion is not mainstream, but I feel it needs to be said.  Kids do not have the tactile opportunities that they used to have.  So much of their time is spent using computers and other technology that I feel it is more important than every to put a juicy paintbrush in every child’s hand; they need to squeeze clay between their fingers, experiment with pen and ink, mold with papier-mache, spread chalk with their fingertips, and more.  It is a different way to learn and by letting the technology take over the art program, we are removing one of the few real tactile experiences students will have in school.  I know the technology is cool; I get it.  But what are we really trying to accomplish? 

    I’d love to hear some other opinions…..

    • Hello Phyl, 
      Congrats on 36 years teaching! I hope your retirement is off to a great start.

      Yes, a 1:1 school means that there is one technology device per student.  Schools are no longer buying textbooks with their curriculum $ and are instead using it towards technology. Since it has many uses in one device

      Yes, I would agree that I would rather save a teacher! Education is sometimes confusing when it comes to seperate pots of $ and what can be used for one thing can not be used for another. I beileve that the teacher is the #1 element in the classroom.

      I find YouTube to be a great “How to” resource.  Here is a quick video on how to use the layer feature in Sketchbook Express.

      I agree with you for the fact that students need real tactile experiences! I feel that digital artwork is its own art media. I feel that technology does not need to take over the art room but I look at it adding to the students learning experience by working in combination with every other art medium.  Check out iPad in the Art Room

      As for what are we really trying to accomplish?  I feel that we are trying to raise up the next generation of students and art in any form can help them understand the world we live in better to experience it more fully.

      The upside down picture issue happens to me all the time :)

    • Vicky Siegel

      Oh I am so hooked on this free sketchbook express app!! Can’t stop playing on it. If I did have an iPad at school, I think it still promotes fine motor skills, but agree that the “real thing” is better. I might at least mention this to students, or wouldn’t it be great for students to make a similar project on this app AFTER the original “real” work? It may really hook some of those students in that don’t think they are good at art or those that are not motivated. Or, it could be used as a pre-drawing exercise!

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