Adobe Fresco Review

Whoever said drawing is magical, they nailed it. Anyone can do it with Adobe Fresco, a drawing app that replicates the actual experiences of drawing and painting. By “anyone,” I mean anyone with an iPad, iPhone, or Surface. Adobe Fresco is not only amazing, but it’s also free. Though the free version is fully functional, you can add also significant benefits with an affordable subscription. The more you use this graphic design app, the more satisfying you’ll find it.

First Impressions

When we first reviewed Adobe Fresco more than two years ago at its scintillating premiere, it was already extraordinary. That just makes it all the more stupefying that, since then, more than 100 new features have been introduced over the course of 24 updates. That is a direct expression of the plan Adobe has for the app’s continuous dynamic development, but it also takes into account user suggestions the company has been listening to carefully.

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As excellent as Fresco is for sketching, illustrating, and painting, there are other apps out there worth considering. Two popular contenders are iPad Procreate and Procreate Pocket for iPhone ($9.99). Like Fresco, they were designed natively for iPad and Apple Pencil. There’s also Affinity Designer and Affinity Photo ($21.99 each for the iPad versions).

Worth noting is the 2021 retirement of some of Adobe’s previous mobile apps in the space, including Photoshop Sketch and Illustrator Draw. Upon opening Fresco, any work created in those apps automatically migrates to this newer app.

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How Much Does Adobe Fresco Cost?

As mentioned the fully functional Fresco for iOS and Windows desktop (which includes 2GB Creative Cloud storage) is free, which is a fantastic deal.

For $9.99 per year, you can subscribe to Fresco Solo, a new iPadOS offering that adds access to thousands of premium brushes and shapes, Adobe fonts, and 5GB storage. As of this writing, this new offer is not available for iPhone or Windows.

For $79.99 annually you can subscribe to Fresco + Ps on iPad, which adds Photoshop on iPad and lets you use Adobe Portfolio to create a showcase website (no personal domains are available). This plan comes with 100GB of storage.

Finally, you can choose the Design Mobile bundle ($149.00 yearly) which adds Illustrator on iPad and access to Creative Cloud Express premium features—the latter of which is included in full subscriptions as well. This tier also gives you 100GB of storage.

For my previous look at Fresco—then in beta—I tested with an original PaperLike matte screen protector(Opens in a new window) ($39.99 for two; knockoffs are cheaper), which emulates friction of paper tooth when using the Apple Pencil. It wasn’t perfect, but certainly offered a more realistic experience than the slick glide of pencil-on-glass without it. This time I used a JanCalm silicone tip cover for the Apple Pencil(Opens in a new window) (10 for $6.99) to add a silent friction to my drawing adventure. They work almost too well, requiring just a touch too much effort at first, but I got used to it.

Interface and Work Area

Fresco’s interface simplicity and intuitive usability provide a pleasurable experience for pros and beginners alike. Creative Cloud subscribers have the additional benefit of Fresco’s roundtrip workflow with Photoshop and vector integration with Illustrator. In Fresco, you can mix it up with both raster and vector layers, which pop open in Photoshop and Illustrator, respectively.

It’s easy to get going, starting with a home window that displays your recent work. That homepage also has sections for learning and discovery, a sharing panel, and an inspirational gallery section where you can look at what others are doing with Fresco.

Adobe Fresco’s Home screen overview

Collaboration, Sharing, and Compatibility

Fresco fits in like fingers in a glove with its Creative Cloud companion applications, Photoshop and Illustrator. In the past couple of years, Adobe has turbocharged its ramp-up of collaboration and connectivity features across all Creative Cloud apps. Initially released just in time for a pandemic and the onset of virtual life, this file fluidity may have saved many folks’ careers. If you or your team are Creative Cloud users, you already know the efficient convenience of working, for example, in Fresco, saving work as a Cloud document, running to your desktop, and having the file waiting for you to open in Photoshop or Illustrator. Alternatively, you can set preferences to have your project open automatically in Photoshop on your desktop or laptop.

When you draw with a vector brush, Fresco creates and saves a new vector-only layer directly to iCloud Drive, which you can access and edit in Illustrator (desktop or on the iPad). With the app’s export options, you are just one step away from importing your Fresco work into a variety of competitor applications as well. In Creative Cloud apps, teams and individuals can share for comment, and invite to edit, in which case all feedback stays centrally located.

Lockdown Lessons

Although some companies skirt around the COVID-19 pandemic as they race to create a “new normal,” I find it comforting that Adobe acknowledges the ongoing ordeal and inspires people, including families, to bond and release their stress by drawing. This is where Adobe’s senior design evangelist, Kyle T. Webster realized his fun and fabulous, live-streamed community draw-alongs(Opens in a new window) for all ages. What a way to pass time and learn with others! Also worth checking out is the Adobe Coloring Book(Opens in a new window).

So Many New Goodies

With more than 100 features added and updated since we last covered Fresco, you’ll need to head over to to check out them all. I’ve selected a few I feel are most notable to discuss here.

Motion Graphics and Animation

When I made my first little animation, I was thrilled with my new superpower (though the animation was far from portfolio-worthy). Fresco makes it less tedious to make frame-by-frame animations and greatly facilitates motion along a path (see the two animated images below). Animation is becoming a basic expectation of clients who think that if the thing doesn’t move, it must be dead. You get a lot of bang for your buck with Fresco.

Example of simple frame-by-frame animated artwork.

Here’s an example of simple frame-by-frame animated artwork.

The same artwork moving along a motion path line.

The same artwork moving along a motion path line.


You can transform your friends or enemies into warped distortions of themselves by pinching, bloating, twirling, and pushing them (or any pixels) in Fresco. The Liquify tool works just like the Liquify filter in Photoshop, and has settings for brush size, density, pressure, and rate, so you can create exactly the effect you want. This feature will be available for Windows on June 20, 2022.

Perspective Grid Capture

Perspective Grid Capture is an example of Adobe Sensei AI(Opens in a new window) magic. In addition to having a standard-yet-customizable graph paper grid, Fresco has perspective grids that constrain your line work and snap your objects to your choice of 1-, 2-, or 3-point perspective. Perspective grids also have adjustable opacity, density, and color. However, what’s new and eye-popping is that, with the aid of AI, Fresco can capture and recreate perspective grid guidelines from any placed photo or image, thanks to its proprietary AI. Then the grid lines snap what you’re drawing into the correct perspective to match the source image.

Multicolor Swatch

Multicolor Swatch is high up on the cool scale. Use the multicolor swatch eyedropper to capture a source mini image with which you can paint.

Adobe Fresco's multicolor eyedropper turns both Live brushes and most pixel brushes into a magic wand; a few swatches of color here blend together where the artist has written PCMag

Meet Fresco’s Sidekick, Adobe Capture

If you haven’t met Adobe Capture, you must. Capture lets you collect image assets with the camera on your mobile device. Once captured, the app vectorizes elements within your photos and converts them into an option you choose. The options include color palette, custom ribbon brushes, geometric patterns, among others. There are also options for PBR (physics-based rendering) materials, lighting, and textures for use in Dimension or with Illustrator’s new 3D capability.

Happily, this underrated tool integrates with Fresco so that you can construct a bevy of creative building blocks for your projects.

Brushes and More Magic

Fresco has four brush categories, not including pixel and vector erasers:

  1. pixel brushes (bitmap, including advanced Photoshop brushes)

  2. scalable, resolution-independent vector brushes

  3. smudge brushes

  4. live brushes (watercolor and oil)

Live brushes are the sparkling gem in Fresco’s crown. Live brushes include Watercolor (Round Detail, Wash Soft, Wash Flat, and Wet Spatter) and Oil Paint (Flat, Round, Filbert, Detail, Glaze, Chunky, and Short). Both look, feel, and behave like the real deal. For example, the Oil Paints are luscious and gooey, slightly dimensional, and very realistic. You almost forget that you can undo a misguided stroke. The settings offer you considerable control over your designated brush.

To pull off the wow factor you get with live brushes, Adobe partnered with scientists who study pigment chemistry, particle physics, liquid absorption on cotton substrates, and viscosity emulation. They asked professional painters and illustrators what they wanted in a tablet-based painting app and how they would use it. Then they had those same artists offer iterations of beta-testing feedback. Adobe’s deep study allowed its developers to recreate the behavior of real-world tools, pigment, water, and oil on paper and canvas.

Oil Live brush setting options in Adobe Fresco

Adobe Fresco replicates the luscious gooeyness of oil paint.

The Watercolor live brushes are even more thrilling to watch. As with the Oil brushes, you have a full, contextual range of control over brush behavior.

Watercolor Live Brush setting options

Adobe Fresco’s Watercolor live brush looks and acts like watercolor paint.

You can see staining pigment flow from the brush and penetrate the fibers of the paper, or you can see a non-staining wash settle and glow on the surface as it awaits your addition of water or more pigment. You can watch the osmosis between the paint, water, and paper. The color blooms into another wet color, or it pools slightly on dry paper and darkens perfectly around the edges. It’s amazing. 

With well over 1,000 brushes, and each one infinitely editable, it’s easy to find yourself experimenting in ways that would be difficult, expensive, or impossible with traditional media.

I’m passionate about hand lettering, so I love playing with Fresco’s inky and unusual brushes. I drew the alphabet below with a rake brush to test it.

Brushstrokes have a natural and organic feel in Adobe Fresco.

Brushstrokes have a natural and organic feel in Fresco.

The subsets of the three brush categories are organized as follows. Under pixel brushes you get Basic, Comics, Dry Media, FX, Ink, Lettering, Marker, Painting, Rakes, Sketching. Under live brushes are Watercolor and Oil. Under vector brushes you get Basic Round, Basic Taper, Basic Flat, Basic Chisel, and Basic Terminal. Under each section is the option to access your library brushes. If that weren’t enough, you can also add seasonal brush packs(Opens in a new window).

So many items on my Fresco wishlist have become a reality I’m hoping some other dreams will come true, too, like getting more live brushes or other generative brushes like a particle, flame, or bio-morphogenic brush.

Organization of Fresco’s Pixel (raster) and Vector Brushes. Typical Brush Settings options in Fresco.

Vector brushes behave as they do in Illustrator. Although we can’t yet create new brushes or access Illustrator brushes, I’m told that capability is just around the corner.

Create Something With Fresco

You just can’t lose with Adobe Fresco. It’s free. It’s truly fun. It’s so satisfying to use it’s practically therapeutic. It’s also a serious tool that helps you be productive, if you need it to be. Using the app is like having a marvelous toy box and discovering new treasures every time you open it. Enjoy yourself, get your creative work done, and accept Adobe’s evocative invitation to “get in touch with your canvas.” Fresco is a PCMag Editors’ Choice winner among tablet and mobile drawing apps.

Adobe Fresco


Editors’ Choice


  • Lifelike brush, pen, and pencil physics

  • Available for iPad, iPhone, and Windows tablets

  • Raster, vector, and live brushes

  • Simple, effective animation

  • Incredible education and support

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The Bottom Line

Adobe’s painting, sketching, and watercolor app makes creating art on the iPad feel more natural than ever. Though still relatively new, Adobe Fresco is already a stunningly polished app.

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