Fresco is a new app from Adobe that brings together painting and drawing with impressive results. It goes ‘beyond Photoshop’ with new tools and a touch and stylus-orientated interface (but one that is intentionally familiar to users of other Adobe apps).
It’s been in a test phase on the iPad, but it will come to other tablets such as Microsoft’s Surface range.
Adobe first gave us a sneak peek of the app this time last year under the code name of Project Gemini and gave it the name ‘Fresco’ a couple of months back. The idea of the app is to appeal to people who just want to get on and create – although the app will be part of Creative Cloud, Adobe said back in June that “anyone with the right hardware will be able to draw and paint in Fresco for free.”
We’ve been trying it out on our 2017 iPad Pro which runs it well, but broadly-speaking it’ll work on any iPad with Apple Pencil support – so that’s any iPad Pro but it also works with the 2019 iPad mini and iPad Air, too. The app uses Apple’s Metal framework for maximum performance.
In use, Fresco gives you a lot of freedom and you can just start sketching or painting. Naturally, there are layers, too. It’s clear a lot of work has gone into it to make it friendly yet powerful.
You can choose from three types of brushes – pixel brushes, live brushes (oil and watercolour brushes that you can blend) and vector brushes. It’s simply a matter of picking the brush that you want, selecting the colour, playing with the size and then getting going. You can also adjust ink flow and smoothing.
Pixel and vector brushes have separate layers which are identified by a little icon. You can group layers, hide or delete them in the sidebar just like you would in Photoshop. A double-tap undoes the last action, while a handy touch shortcut brings up the eraser or other alternative options for your currently-selected tool. There are plenty of tutorials to get you going, too.
Fresco can use brushes from Photoshop and other sources (you can just browse for the files and add them in) and Adobe is also working with Wacom to provide compatibility with its devices as Fresco moves beyond the iPad.
We also got some time with Adobe’s principal product manager and Photoshop veteran Bryan O’Neil Hughes to take us through the app. He explains that it’s a difficult tightrope to tread to do something new, but also make something accessible that doesn’t put people off with an interface they can’t pick up and use.
“The thing that's resonated the most with people is showing something similar to what they've known all these years. It's powerful enough for professionals but easy enough for everyone to use. It's getting over that first 10 minutes or an hour or whatever with the app [making sure] you don't feel completely in the dark with what's going on."
It also helps that Adobe has experimented with other apps for the iPad like Adobe Ideas. But what’s different this time? “They were designed for a world where the iPad didn't have a stylus, and didn't have nearly as much power,” says O’Neil Hughes. “But once we saw what the hardware was capable of, and once we saw the input device, we immediately started thinking a lot bigger. And it's taken us a couple of years to get here. At its heart Fresco is the best of Sketch and Draw [other iPad-oriented apps Adobe has done] with a whole bunch of pro-grade integrations."
"We've had Photoshop that was largely raster with a little bit of vector, We've had Illustrator, which was largely vector with a little bit of raster. But we've never had a focused drawing and painting application", he said.
O’Neil Hughes says Adobe is excited about who the app will appeal to. “Not just all the folks who've been, you know, sort of daring enough to explore these workflows on the desktop. But those people who haven't moved over from analogue workflows, those are the ones that I'm the most excited about."
We asked O’Neil Hughes about the opportunities presented by devices like Microsoft Surface versus the iPad. “[With Surface] you’ve got Photoshop right there, you have the full, Creative Cloud desktop apps right there. But you also have a device that is a bit of a Swiss Army knife, you know, it's trying to do a lot of different things. And it does them quite well. But when you start entering this world of touch and precise input, there's always going to be trade-offs.
"You really, you really see the difference in the approach between those two companies [Microsoft and Apple], right? One is, one company says we bifurcated the operating system, and one is optimised for touch and portability. And the other one is for desktop. We're actively developing for both, and we have good stuff on both, but they're definitely different ways of approaching them.
Fresco is intentionally very different from Photoshop, but with full-fat Photoshop also due on the iPad imminently, Adobe has a job on its hands to explain to users what the purposes of its different apps are. O’Neil Hughes suggests that even if you think of Photoshop on iPad as being for compositing and retouching, “those are very, very deep buckets”.
Photoshop, he says, will focus on the things that Photoshop does best – pro-level creative image editing and pixel-level retouching on multi-layered files: “those are things that I think are and probably always will be core to Photoshop”. But for creativity on touch-based devices there is now Fresco.