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Adobe Fresco is a new iPad app for people who can’t draw

Adobe is making a play for normies.

You used to draw more, and Adobe knows it. Surveying more than 2,500 people in the U.S., the company learned that while half of us reported painting and drawing every week as children, 71% of us almost never do today. As a result, only a third of us feel confident expressing ourselves in these visual media. Yet 68% of us report wanting to be more creative.

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The numbers ring true to me, and chances are they ring true to you, too. Which is why Adobe has announced a surprising new product for the rest of us, a way to draw and paint without the steep learning curves of Photoshop or Illustrator. It’s called Adobe Fresco, and it’s out today for free (with limited features), $10 a month on its own, or free as part of an Adobe Creative Cloud subscription. Designed for the iPad, Fresco lets you draw, paint oils and watercolors, or create vector illustrations right on a touchscreen, with the assistance of line-smoothing AI. In other words, Fresco sounds like a visual art tool for artists who could use some training wheels.

[Image: Adobe]

To anyone who has paid attention to this space, Fresco probably sounds a whole lot like Paper, a watershed sketching app for the iPad created by alums from Microsoft’s fabled Courier tablet project. (Paper’s parent company, FiftyThree, sold to WeTransfer last year.) So why didn’t Adobe have anything like this before? Well . . . they sort of did! One similar app is called Adobe Sketch, and it has an impressive 4.8/5 stars in the App Store today. On top of that, Adobe also offers an iOS app called Adobe Illustrator Draw.

[Image: courtesy Adobe]

But as an Adobe spokesperson tells us in a statement, Fresco marks a notable, ever-so-slight shift in strategy. “With the release of Adobe’s first wave of apps, we made mini versions of desktop apps, but the available hardware made it difficult to develop full versions of the apps for tablets,” they say. “We also weren’t sure what the iPad was going to do and how it would fit in, but as hardware has advanced, we [knew it was] time for a new generation/approach to mobile apps.”

[Image: Adobe Comp]

That new approach could include fresh mobile tools, like the website creator Adobe Comp and the UX prototyper Adobe XD. Like Comp and XD, Fresco seems to be a brand-new Adobe product that’s not simply a light version of what it already offers on desktop. But Fresco seems less formal than either Comp or XD. It’s not a tool honed simply for creative professionals to work from Starbucks without their laptop. It’s supposed to be a tool for everyone.

[Image: Adobe]

Not having tried Fresco for ourselves, we can’t tell you exactly what is different between it and Adobe’s earlier offerings in its tablet sketching programs beyond this extra emphasis on usability. That said, the early images we’ve seen of art created in Fresco are striking—particularly the oil brush strokes, which appear to stroke and clump up with 3D pigments, just like the analog medium does in real life. Those “Live Brushes,” as Adobe is calling them, are powered by its AI platform, Adobe Sensei, which is capable of all sorts of astonishing visual tricks.

In any case, Fresco will be demoed by Adobe during an October tour across Apple stores, and it looks like Adobe is expanding its purview from the “creative professional” to simply the “professional.”

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About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company who has written about design, technology, and culture for almost 15 years. His work has appeared at Gizmodo, Kotaku, PopMech, PopSci, Esquire, American Photo and Lucky Peach

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