Creative Process

I Switched from Photoshop to Illustrator. Part 2: A New Sketching Workflow

Magoz Sketch Workflow
Written by Magoz
6 min read 19.3k views 25 comments

This is the Part 2 of the series where I share my switch from Photoshop to Illustrator. Don’t miss out the Part 1 if you haven’t read it yet.

• • •

After the first weeks working on Illustrator, I realised that I was still tied up to Photoshop to develop the sketches. I’m not up to sketch using Illustrator directly because I prefer to draw. I found that drawing was my natural way of bringing ideas to the reality. Illustrator is not related to drawing, but more to composing using Shapes, the Pathfinder and the Pen tool.

My previous workflow consisted of sketching in a notebook using a pencil and then creating the final sketch from scratch in Photoshop using a Wacom Cintiq 13HD.

As I switched from Photoshop to Illustrator, I thought it was a nice opportunity also to question my sketching process and a good chance to improve the whole workflow.

My old sketching workflow

Since I became a professional illustrator, I’ve used a notebook and a pencil to develop my very first sketches. Over the years, I finalised 5 of those notebooks, and they contain hundreds of unused ideas. As I can’t carry all the notebooks with me, I ended up selecting some of those ideas and keeping them in Evernote for future projects.

After having those very first sketches, I moved to Photoshop to create the sketches using a graphics tablet.

My experience using graphics tablets started 6 or 7 years ago, with a Wacom Intuos 4S. The learning curve took some time, but after a while, I was so used to it that I even replaced my mouse with the Intuos 4S for browsing the Mac.

After a couple of happy years with the Wacom Intuos 4S, I decided to switch to a Wacom Cintiq 13HD.
It had a built-in screen, which allowed me to look directly to my hand while drawing. It was a massive improvement.

The Cintiq 13HD is a reliable and powerful tool, but it has some down points.
It works as an external screen, it needs to be plugged into the computer and also into the power socket, it’s not an independent device. It’s not massively heavy but it take up the same space and weight than my Macbook, and both devices together are bulky and take up half of the available space of my backpack.

My actual needs have changed now that I’m not using Photoshop for the finals anymore. I’m also travelling a lot more than before. So taking the opportunity of the Photoshop to Illustrator switch, it was an excellent chance for considering other options.

My new sketching workflow: iPad Pro 9.7″ + Procreate app

A few months ago, Apple released a 9,7 inches version of the iPad Pro, which is also compatible with the Apple Pencil. After some time thinking, I realised that the iPad Pro in conjunction with the app Procreate meets all my actual needs as a sketching device.

A few weeks after experimenting and using this new system, I found it very practical and reliable solution. It’s very portable, independent, flexible and reliable. The iPad Pro + Procreate tandem allows me to create the sketches in a very similar way as I used to do in Photoshop. At some point, I will write an article sharing with you how I use Procreate.

I travel a lot, which means that I work from a lot of different places, including hostels, hotels, trains, planes, cafes, libraries, and from a lot of different scenarios. With the Wacom Cintiq 13HD it was always a bit difficult because I needed a reasonable amount of space for the tablet, the Macbook, the cables and also I always needed to find a socket.

Now, I can just bring my iPad to any of those places and start working. No cables, no notebooks, no pencil cases. Just one device from where I can even send the sketch directly to the client.

Benefits of my new sketching workflow

  • I replaced a bunch of objects involved in the sketching process with just one device.
  • The iPad Pro is ultraportable and independent. I can sketch from everywhere, even if it’s dark or a power socket is not available.
  • I can directly sketch using colours and shapes.
  • If the client provides me with a layout, I can sketch directly on it.
  • I do not longer need to digitalise my unused sketches to keep them with me. It perfectly fits the paperless philosophy I follow.
  • I can also use the iPad for other things besides drawing.

Big changes never come alone

Now that I started using a whole new system for developing my illustrations I see that it was the right time to question my entire workflow. And I realised that switching from Photoshop to Illustrator created new opportunities for improving the way I developed my sketches. As a result, I simplified and optimised my tools, and I can now work in better conditions.

As the years go by, we evolve as artists, and our lives change as well. We need to adapt to new realities, and we should take some time to evaluate the way we use our tools. The reasons for using the tools we use should respond to our needs, not to our habits. It’s possible that we can improve our workflows just re-thinking our needs. And most of the times when we decide to change something it’s very likely that new changes proceed the first one.

Changes in our workflows are scary, but most of the times lead to new stages. We need to keep our minds and eyes open to adapt to new situations, which will bring new opportunities.

• • •

How do you create your sketches? Which tools do you use? I would love to hear your workflows! And as always, if you have any questions, comments or suggestions, please let me know in the comments.

In the Part 3 I will share with you some of the conclusions after using Illustrator for a couple of months.

PS: My online course Strategy & Business for Illustrators is now available for pre-order!


Nomadic illustrator. Thinker. Seeker.


  1. Great article! I love illustrator and have been using it just over 11 years now, don’t think I’d ever change. Still prefer sketching with a pencil though, it’s one of my only breaks from the screen and I don’t think I could ever give it up no matter how tempting it is to get an iPad pro.

    • That’s great, Brett! I love the idea of considering the sketching process as a break from the screen.
      Do you scan/photograph the sketches and use them as a guide in Illustrator, or you just start from scratch?

  2. Sometimes but it depends on complexity and whether I’m working fluid lines or not. I tend to sketch in thumbnails so each page of my sketchbook has about 20 ideas on it, if one works the I draw it up on A4 paper so I can move the page around a bit easier, I take a quick snap on my phone and then trace it in illustrator after brightening in PS quickly. Some jobs like this one ( are straight to screen, working from a sketch next to me. I work in two styles, flat shapes like yourself and linear geometric, the latter means things have to slot into place geometrically and I find sketching by hand just never achieves what a computer can when it comes to precision.

  3. Excellent post! I kind of find myself in a very similar situation. Switched from a 80% percent analog process (sketching,drawing and inking on paper, colour in Photoshop) to and iPad Pro (big one) and now I just do sketch stage on paper when I need to think feeling the paper :)

    As you say, scary but exciting!

    Also doing a lot of work on Illustrator as well, for other reasons, so *gemeliers* haha

    Un abrazo,


    • Hi, Jose! I’m glad we are part of the iPad Pro club :-)
      Do you also use Procreate? Or which apps do you use?

      ¡Un abrazo bien fuerte, amigo!

  4. I
    Isaac Malakkai

    Siempre estupendo tu blog.
    Te compraba la cintiq ya ! estoy desde hace tiempo queriendo cambiar la intuos, pero la inversion en cintiq nueva te da que pensar a veces.
    No estoy tan acostumbrado a tener tanta tecnologia molona a mi alcance, asi que para bocetos sigo usando un pequeño sketchbook y las carpetas de referencias quesiempre viajan conmigo en la app de pinterest. Lo que veo mas importante del cambio que comentas es que no tengas el laptop cerca, en mi caso es una tentación a trabajar mas lento y evadirme mas facilmente del trabajo. (aunque supongo que un ipad es para el caso lo mismo)
    La ultima animación se sale. muy fina.

    • ¡Gracias, Isaac!
      A la cintiq ya le busqué nuevo dueño, me ha acompañado tanto tiempo y a tantos lados que me sorprende que todavía funcione perfectamente.
      Yo hace tiempo lo vi claro, invierto dinero en las cosas que más invierto tiempo, es decir las cosas que más horas paso usando al día a día. Y eso no se limita al trabajo si no a lo personal también. Hay una relación proporcional, y es por eso que en cosas como el equipo informático, la silla, el colchon o los zapatos no me duele gastarme el dinero, es una total inversión en mí mismo.
      En el caso de la cintiq, representó literalmente un antes y un después en mi vida profesional, tanto la calidad como la rapidez crecieron a límites nunca vistos.

      Lo del portátil cerca tienes toda la razón, paso tanto tiempo delante del ordenador que a veces me asustaría si contabilizara las horas. Con el iPad he separado un poco el trabajo del ocio a través de pantallas, aunque siempre me cuesta.

      Pinterest a mí me funciona perfecto también, soy un defensor acérrimo :-)

  5. Hi Magoz!
    Thanks for share! A week ago my boyfriend buy me and iPad Pro and I ramdonly downloaded Procreate and I agree it’s amazing. I also want to download Astropad and try it as a cintiq.
    Changes are great, it also make us grow and be versatile as an artist. It give us tools that will make us able to change with the technology advances… Not get stucked in the future, Is good to be open to learn new ways, and probably, it will change our styles and that’s a good thing too. Can’t wait to read how you use the program cause I’m not having time at all to try this new awsome tool! : )

    • Hi, Ana!
      Thank you for commenting! I’ve tried Astropad as well, and it works like a charm, it’s just as good as a Cintiq (at least for someone like me that works with very simple brushes).

      I totally agree with you; changes allow us to evolve and bring ourselves to the next level! :-)

  6. Hi Magoz,

    Thanks for the great posts!

    After having a Cintiq 22HD collecting dust on my desk for the last year or so (I just could not get used to using it or in a comfortable set up), I heard about Procreate in conjunction with the new iPad and Apple Pencil. So I started to look into it and tried out Procreate on my regular iPad with just a simple blunt stylus – and was impressed. I then made a visit to the Apple Store to try out the new iPad and Apple Pencil with Procreate and was sold. I sold my Cintiq and promptly ordered the iPad Pro and an Apple Pencil. Procreate is an amazing app and by downloading some of the brushes that others have made to use with it – even better. I’m hoping eventually to have a wider selection of brushes the caliber of Kyle Webster’s: He’s released a few for an Earth Day promotion, but not the great go to brushes I’d like. You can see a few of my Procreate drawings here:

    I also started to explore the Adobe mobile apps around this time, and while they could use some improvement, they are headed in the right direction. I’m not sure if you’ve tried it yet, but you may find that Adobe Illustrator Draw works very well in your process on your iPad. I still need to explore it more myself. I have started using Adobe Capture for capturing color palettes out in the world, and even from screen.

    • Hi Jay,
      Thanks for sharing your experience!! I’m glad we are part of the iPad Pro switchers.
      Your work is fantastic, congratulations! And it looks like you are a pro-Procreate user.

      I’ve experimented with most of the drawing apps for the iPad Pro (including the Adobe apps), but I think they still need to add a lot of functionalities (layers, shortcuts, UI improvements, etc.)
      In my opinion, Procreate is the most powerful and practical one by far.

      Which brushes do you use? Where do you download the brushes for Procreate?

  7. H

    Personally I tried an iPadPro for a few days and liked me enough the speed, fluidity and (especially) the finger gestures of Adobe Sketch. I had hoped that the release of iPadPro would open the door to a new wave of powerfull design apps, but I feel that there is no single app that really worthwhile still . (It is said that Adobe is working on a version of its suite especially focused on the iPadPro, but dates are unknown)

    On the other hand, years ago, Autodesk secretly launched a tool called Sketchbook Designer, which you would have loved it. Sketchbook Designer allowed to edit (simultaneously) bitmaps and vectors in a way never seen before. This tool really blow my mind. Watch it for yourself:

    Until now I don’t understand why Autodesk discontinuous this great piece of software.

    P.D.: If until now you have not tried Adobe Illustrator Draw, you should do it!
    This app is a great complement for Illustrator and with the next versions can be more powerful.

    • Wow, Hanu! I didn’t know about Sketchbook Designer and it blew my mind!
      It looks like it has evolved into Sketchbook Pro? But it’s not available for Mac. It’s just for Windows, Android and iOs.
      Anyway, I will have a look into it when I have time.

      I’ve tried Illustrator Draw, but I don’t necessarily need to sketch in vector format. I find Procreate much more powerful. I’m looking forward to the next versions of Illustrator Draw, though.

      Thanks for your comments and recommendations! :-)

  8. v

    Hola! que grato encontrarse contenido así, buen artículo y en general que buen blog! De acuerdo con el concepto de portabilidad en general es de las razones más importantes por las que decidí comenzar a ahorrar para comprarme este “juguetito”. Quisiera saber si has probado el iPad Pro con animaciones y de ser así ¿que tal la experiencia?

  9. biggg magoz!!! remember wait you in italy!!! i had a big studio now with a big sofa where it’s easy to sleep so if u will come in italy u are more than welcome in my studio ;) thanks for apple pencil repost :) and we have to made pressure we need a real version of illustrator for ipad!! i did all my artwork using autodesk graphics but miss something to made vector flow for professionist!!! bug hug ciaooo jonathan!

    • Hey Man! Thanks for your comment and sharing your thoughts about the Apple commission! Congratulations!!! :-)

      Hope everything is going well. I’m moving to Budapest in September and I will be traveling in Europe for a few months. So, I will definitely visit you at some point of 2018!

      See you soon and all the best, Jonathan!!

  10. Thanks again! – I can’t get over your site – and your posts! so much great information and so easy – thank you thank you! I have always been and adobe illustrator freak – vector lover – but when I started doing more illustration – I felt in love with procreate and now … Adobe Fresco! – Yes I agree with the iPad gives so much mobility – last year I had to travel a lot and took my ipad everywhere.

    Thanks again for sharing all your knowledge.

  11. S

    Wacom used to be the only real choice. They’re still the best. But now you can also get good tablets from XP-Pen ( ) , and others. They have enough features to compete with mid-range Wacoms, though not the best Wacoms. But if the mid-range feature set is good enough for you, you can save a lot of money with one of those brands.

More from Creative Process