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Alpha Lock in Procreate: How and When to Use Masks in Your Work

Masks are one of the most useful tool in the digital art scene, and in this context in Procreate.

If you’re still wondering what alpha lock is and how it differs from the other masks you can use in Procreate, continue reading!

In our last blog about masks and how to use them in your work, we talked about the clipping mask

Freya dives deeper into the different tools we can use in Procreate, such as these masks, in her Masterclass. You can check it out if you want something more in depth!

But for now, let’s tackle the next mask in our list: alpha lock.

What is Alpha Lock

Do you remember the first time you ever used a crayon? We usually color something that only has an outline. Then, we were told to only ‘color inside the lines’.

You can think of alpha lock that way, but in this  context it’s coloring inside a shape.

Alpha lock allows you to lock the transparency of your layer, so you’ll only be able to paint on the parts of the layer that already has paint on them. This means no matter how much color you add on the transparent areas, you won’t be able to modify them.

Clipping Mask vs Alpha Lock

Like the clipping mask, it’s a good way to add details or texture to your work. The difference is, you have more freedom when using a clipping mask. Alpha lock on the other hand is a little more permanent.

With clipping mask, you’re putting a new canvas with paint on top of your previous painting. You can add more canvas, rearrange the canvases, edit the details and color in the canvases, and you’ll still be able to remove them all without damaging your main painting.

On the other hand, you can think of alpha lock as adding paint on your main canvas that’s laying on the floor, but your floor is safe from the paint no matter how much you try to make a mess.

Your floor will be clean but all the paint you put on the canvas will be permanent and the details cannot be rearranged. Although the good thing is we’re given the option to undo in Procreate.

How to Use Alpha Lock Procreate

Now that we know what alpha lock is used for, let’s proceed to how we can use it. It’s simpler than you think!

First, open a new project in Procreate and draw any shape you like using Procreate’s Round Brush. For this tutorial, I’ll be working with a heart.

Like our exercise for the clipping mask, I’ll add shadows and highlights to this heart.

To use alpha lock, open the layers menu.

Then, tap on ‘Layer 1’ and choose ‘Alpha Lock’

You’ll notice that a check will appear beside ‘Alpha Lock’ and your layer thumbnail would have a checkered background.

Now, choose a color darker than your shape. I’ll pick a dark violet.

Then, start adding the shadows on one corner of your shape. I’m adding some violet shadows using Freya’s Gouache Thin 4 from her Gouache brushes.

Once I’ve added the shadows, I’ll use Freya’s Gouache Blender 6 and the smudge tool to soften the gradient.

It would then look like this.

Notice that no matter how much you paint outside the lines, the edges of your shape are still clean. This is how alpha lock works.

Now, let’s add some highlights to the shape to give it more dimension. I’ll choose a bright yellow color and add a little bit on the top corner of my shape.

Then, I’ll use the smudge tool again to blend the colors a little. It would look like this.

Try turning off the visibility of your background color. You’ll see that the edges of the shape is still nice and clean, thanks to Alpha Lock.

I’ll add a bit of lettering using Freya Marker Lettering 9. It’s included in Freya’s new Procreate lettering brushes. Hello from this colorful heart!

Let’s see another difference between alpha lock and clipping mask. In clipping mask, if I want to erase a part of the text, I can choose to erase only a part of the text without affecting the other layers.

But when I try the same thing on our work using alpha lock, here’s what happens.

Everything that my eraser run through was erased. This is because all of that painting was painted together in a single layer.

We’re now done with 2 out of 3 masks! We’re you able to understand the difference between alpha lock and clipping mask?

If you’re still having a hard time differentiating them, doing it yourself would help! Try both of them and see how it feels working with them.

Once you’ve experienced the two, you’ll be able to identify where to use them on your work.

We’re almost done with our short blog series on how to use masks in Procreate.

Our next and final stop: Layer Mask!


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