Using The Apple Pencil – Beginner Tips and Tricks

The Apple Pencil transforms the iPad from a finger-based tool to a professional artist’s canvas. With an Apple Pencil, you can sketch, draw, paint and write on the iPad just like it was a physical piece of paper.

Getting Started with the Apple Pencil

If you own a first-generation Apple Pencil (the one with the silver band at the end), start by removing the cap at the top of the pencil to reveal a Lightning connector plug. Make sure your iPad is switched on and unlocked, and plug the end of the Apple Pencil into the Lightning socket at the bottom of your iPad. An alert appears on the iPad’s display saying ‘Bluetooth Pairing Request’. Tap Pair to connect the Apple Pencil to your iPad Pro. Wait for the alert window to disappear, then remove the Apple Pencil from your iPad. Now reattach the cap to the Apple Pencil to cover the Lightning connector.

The newer Apple Pencil, the second generation model (with no silver band), does not need to be paired like the older version. Instead, you just place the flat side of the pencil on the iPad and it pairs automatically. It couldn’t be simpler. As well as pairing, connecting your Apple Pencil to the iPad like this also charges it wirelessly, using your iPad Pro’s own battery. No need to plug it into the iPad’s charging port as you have to with a first-generation Lightning connector Apple Pencil.

 

To see how much your Apple Pencil is currently charged, swipe down from the top of the screen to open Notification Centre. Tap the Widgets tab and you can see the Batteries section. Below the iPad you find the Apple Pencil charge. When it starts to run out of power, you get alerts; just plug it back in (1st generation) or place it on the top of the iPad (2nd generation) to charge up.

System Requirements

The Apple Pencil, 2nd Generation, is currently compatible with the iPad Pro 11-inch and the iPad Pro 12.9-inch (3rd generation).

The first-generation Apple Pencil can be used with the Pad Air (3rd generation), iPad mini (5th generation), iPad (6th generation), 10.2-inch iPad (7th generation), iPad Pro 12.9-inch (1st and 2nd generation), iPad Pro 10.5-inch and iPad Pro 9.7-inch.

To find out which model iPad you have, go to https://support.apple.com/en-gb/HT201471.

Using Your Apple Pencil

With the Apple Pencil connected, you can use it just like a finger. Tap the screen to select icons, buttons and other interface items. You can combine Apple Pencil taps with finger taps to interact with your iPad.

You can use an Apple Pencil purely as a finger substitute, but to get the most from it, you need to use an app with Apple Pencil support. The best one to start with is Apple’s own Notes app. Create a New Note and tap the Draw icon (just above the ‘delete’ key). At the bottom of the Notes app is a selection of pen-and-pencil styles to choose from, and a range of colours. Tap these and draw on the screen with the Apple Pencil. The firmer you press on the Apple Pencil, the wider and more pronounced the stroke.

Side to Shade

An interesting trick the Apple Pencil has up its sleeve is the shade function. Try drawing on the screen with the side of the Apple Pencil nib. This angle creates a shade effect, as if you were shading in with a regular pencil. Don’t worry about resting your palm against the screen when sketching either. The iPad features a new palm-rejection technology that detects which part of your hand is resting on the screen and ignores it where necessary.

Unlike other digital pencils, the Apple Pencil doesn’t have a built-in eraser, but most drawing apps have an eraser as an option. Tap the Eraser tool in Notes, for example, and draw on the screen with the Apple Pencil and you remove elements you’ve previously drawn.

The Paper App

Apple’s Notes app is a great place to start, but when you’re ready to take things further, try 53’s Paper app (fiftythree.com). We find it to be the best reproduction of a pencil and paper available on any tablet device. It has a much wider range of brushes and colours than Apple’s Notes. Straight lines can be a challenge, and different apps have different approaches to a ruler. In Paper, the Shape tool lets you draw shapes (lines, arrows and circles) and they are automatically straightened up. It’s quite instinctive after a few goes.

A great trick in Paper (and other apps) is to import images from the Photo Library and then draw over them. Tap the Photos icon and choose a picture from your library then sketch over it; you can save images from Safari to your Camera Roll.

More Apple Pencil Tricks

It’s entirely possible to trace through a sheet of paper and onto the iPad. As long as you push down firmly, you can draw through the paper and onto the screen. It’s best to use reasonably thin paper and not card. It’s also possible to draw directly onto attachments (images and PDF documents) in Mail using the Apple Pencil. Tap on an attachment and choose Markup. Now you can draw directly onto the attachment using the Markup tools.

Another great trick in Markup is to add your signature to documents. Tap an attachment in Mail and select Markup. Then tap the Signature icon. Tap Add or Remove Signature and sketch your signature with the Apple Pencil; you can then add it to PDF documents in Mail.

When you’ve mastered using the Apple Pencil, you should download some truly professional apps for it. One app we don’t want you to overlook is Procreate (procreate.si). This app is a fantastic drawing app with full Apple Pencil support

Tap/Gestures

The second generation Apple Pencil offers a new gesture. To cycle through your drawing tools, you simply double-tap the business end of the pencil with your forefinger. For example, you can change brush sizes or modes and customise the tap feature to focus on the tools you most use.

Apple Pencil with Pages, Numbers and Keynote

It’s possible to use Apple Pencil with the latest releases of the Pages, Numbers and Keynote apps. With the Apple Pencil, you can quickly add drawings and sketches to your word processor documents, spreadsheets and presentations.
In Pages, tap and hold with the pencil to create a box, resize it to your requirements and draw. You can paste your drawing into a Keynote presentation, and animate it, so it’s redrawn on the fly. You can also use the Apple Pencil to write on a Numbers spreadsheet.

Reset the Apple Pencil

If you’ve decided you’ve had enough of the Apple Pencil, or want to move it to another iPad, you can unpair it. Open Settings, tap Bluetooth and the Info (“i”) icon next to Apple Pencil. Tap Forget This Device and OK to remove it from the iPad Pro with which it’s currently paired, so you can connect it again with a different iPad.

The Apple Pencil and iPadOS

The Apple Pencil gets some welcome performance improvements if your iPad is running the latest version of its operating system, iPadOS 13. Let’s take a look at them.

Before iPadOS, the Apple Pencil had a latency of 20ms, that is, it took the iPad 20 milliseconds to recognise an input from the pencil; an excellent figure. However, with iPadOS, it’s down to 9ms, making subtle creativity far easier to achieve.

For developers, Apple introduced ‘PencilKit’, a programming framework that makes it really easy for third-party developers to include Pencil support in their apps. This is great news if you prefer a non-Apple note-taking app.
The Pencil Palette – which is to be made available for use in third-party apps – has gained a new pixel eraser for greater precision when erasing Pencil strokes. It can be placed anywhere on the screen now, instead of being fixed at the bottom.

Finally, you can take screenshots with an Apple Pencil by swiping up from the bottom left, or bottom right, of the screen. This is very convenient if you want to mark up the screen with Apple Pencil and send it to a friend or colleague.

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Ian Osborne

Ian has worked on computer and video games magazines since the legendary Crash and Zzap! 64 in the early Nineties, so he’s seen many changes over the years (including an expanding waistline and receding hairline). A lifelong Mac user, he bought his first Mac in the year 2000. It’s a testament to the resilience of the Mac that his mother is still using that computer to this very day.

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