Adobe Fresco might be the best beginner art app for Surface PC users

Adobe Fresco
Adobe Fresco (Image credit: Windows Central)

Adobe Fresco is a free app available on select devices, namely iPad Pro and most Surface Pro models (although, not yet the Surface Pro X).

Fresco takes Adobe's industry-leading creative tools and condenses them down into something a lot more comfortable to work with than Photoshop, complete with touch-optimized tools and piles of easy-access brushes.

As someone who dabbles in digital art from time to time, I thought I'd give Adobe Fresco a look to see how quickly I could get to grips with the app, having read up on literally zero tutorials or information about it. It turns out that I got it down pretty quickly, despite the fact I was using the app on my girlfriend's Surface (which is set to German. I don't speak German).

Here are some early impressions from a relative digital art newb.

Sleek and sophisticated interface

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Adobe Fresco is a UWP app on Windows 10 and feels extremely ergonomic with multi-touch, mouse, and taps of the Surface Pen. Indeed, without a shred of knowledge on how to use the app, it bent to my will pretty quickly, owing to its intuitive design.

Commands you might expect, like pinch to zoom, two-finger touch to rotate, and so on, work really well. It makes those finer details and angled shades more easy to accomplish.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Admittedly, I suck at painting (and art in general), so I wasn't able to thoroughly test out Fresco's signature feature, which is its realistic painting tools. The app comes with an array of brushes and mediums, including oil and dynamic watercolor, which flows out of your pen onto your digital canvas like real liquid. It's impressive stuff.

You can see it in action in the iPad Pro YouTube video below, which closely mirrors the Windows 10 version. The best I was able to achieve was to splatter some purple and black paint for a spooky background.

The paintings professional artists online have been able to create using Fresco is genuinely awe-inspiring, and the intuitive interface and realistic tools make me want to dabble beyond my fairly pedestrian pencil line "art."

Indeed, I beelined straight for the tool that felt most similar to pencil, and scribbled out a rendition of N'Zoth from World of Warcraft, using layers for highlights and shadows, and so on. It's simply fun to use.

A truly great app

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

As good as Adobe Fresco is, there are many very competitive buy-to-own apps available on Windows 10, including the wonderful Sketchable (opens in new tab). Whether you're a serious digital artist, or merely a beginner like me, the $10 per month asking price for the full suite could get very expensive, very quickly, considering there are far cheaper competitive alternatives. It's also a little odd how Fresco is restricted to a handful of Surface devices, despite the fact it could realistically run on any Windows 10 device with an inking tablet attached.

Despite the price, if you're specifically into painting, the realism that comes with Fresco's watercolor brushes coupled with the ease of use is tough to beat. As someone who doesn't know the first thing about painting, it might be more economical for me to stick with an app like Sketchable, but Fresco is where you'll want to go to take your digital art to the next level without going for full-blown Photoshop.

Update February 10, 2020: According to Adobe, there are 85 brushes included for free permanently with the base version of Fresco, although the website is quite unclear about how the free tier works, noting that you can only "start" for free.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Fresco is an excellent showcase for the versatility of Surface in general, and a testament to the possibilities that Microsoft is bringing to Windows with its focus on touch and inking. Quite honestly, it makes me want to double down and try to improve my skills, given how easy it is to use. If you're interested, be sure to give it a try over on Adobe's website here. (opens in new tab)

Jez Corden
Managing Editor

Jez Corden is the Managing Editor for Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by caffeine. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his Xbox Two podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!

15 Comments
  • Just get Clip Studio Paint for like $50 on a sale, far better bang for your buck, especially if you're only a beginner
  • Yeah, that's a great option too, but the interface isn't great for touch, at least last time I used it.
  • I use this for sketching but found out that my art skills are a bit rusty after 15+ years of neglect to do a full, finished peice. FYI, the free programs Fresh Paint (by Microsoft) has the wet paint and watercolor features this has and always has had. The free app from Autodesk, SketchBook, has all the layers and custom pens this one has. Even has an app version and desktop version (with main difference in the interface). Its a fantastic software. Fresco, just merges these two together and then added live vector drawing. I already have a full Adobe subscription, so I've started using it, but the other two are also great programs.
  • Does it save and load .psd files for interoperability with full Photoshop?
  • Yes it does. It actually saves in PSDc file format whick syncs with the adobe cloud. When you open photoshop, the file you worked on in fresco shows up in photoshop's home screen.
  • Seems quite nice, but I'll just take my free Sketchbook, thanks. Also, when it comes to watercolor, nothing beats Expresii, which has an extremely sophisticated watercolor and paper system - but you need a half-decent GPU to run it well. Strange Fresco isn't in the Microsoft Store. Does MS even try to get new apps in there?
  • For digital painting just get a surface pro and use Corel painter. Affinity Photo is also decent, as is Sketchbook for drawing. I’m apprehensive of an Adobe app, because they can attach a price tag or move it to creative cloud at any moment. They’ve also been a bit Google-like with their mobile apps and services - killing or abandoning apps routinely...
  • Also 'Concept' in the Microsoft Store is amazing (it's the app they show in the Surface Studio 2 launch video), and it syncs with iOS and Android.
  • Well there is Autodesk sketchbook if you wanna use store apps, but yeah MS should push for more store apps , at least try to get em ported over so Windows 10 users can actually stick to more of these ARM based apps since ARM based W10 devices are already a thing.
  • While it is a UWP app, you have to download the Creative Cloud client from adobe's website first. Adobe wants to keep it all within that app.
  • Adobe always promising apps for Winows but in the end all of their atention goes to iOS.
  • That's because only thousands of people buy SPXs, while millions of people buy iPad Pros. I'm a developer too, Windows apps don't sell very well in comparison to iOS / Android. I wish it weren't the case, really, because I prefer my Windows devices and hated giving up my Windows phone.
  • UWP apps are always amazing - check Adobe XD also.
  • To quote "https://helpx.adobe.com/fresco/system-requirements.html": Fresco is not yet available on Microsoft Surface Pro X devices. To quote Windows Central's favorite mantra -- Adobe doesn't know how to push "recompile" button in Visual Studio :)
  • Strange because when Surface Pro X was announced, didn't the girl from Adobe demo Fresco on the SPX on stage along with the new slim pen? I think it's ready but they just didn't push it yet.