Tutorials

How to Use Procreate: A Beginner’s Guide

Digital art can seem like an intimidating field, especially for newbie artists. If you've always wanted to try your hands on digital art, Procreate is a great place to get started. It's an iPad drawing app that makes drawing and painting on your iPad a breeze.

You might have heard of Procreate, but you're not sure what it is or where to start, you’ve come to the right place!

In this guide, we'll cover all the basics you need to know to get started with Procreate. We'll be learning about what Procreate is, how to use Procreate, and what it does so you could start making your own masterpiece. Let's dive in!


What is Procreate?

Procreate is a user-friendly painting app for iPad. Unlike other drawing apps, Procreate was created with simplicity in mind—making it perfect for beginners and experts alike.

What can I do with Procreate?

Procreate gives users the feeling of drawing with a pencil on paper, but with much more flexibility. In addition to letting users draw directly on a screen, it also gives them access to a variety of brushes that replicate different art materials (like watercolor and oil paint), so they can get the right look for their work. It also has an automatic canvas rotation feature that makes it easy to switch between landscape and portrait orientation while drawing.

There are many other apps out there that promise to make creating digital art easier than ever, but none of them have all the features that Procreate has. In order to get all of those features, most other apps require you to upgrade to the paid version, but with Procreate, they're all included in the standard version! And because Procreate is optimized for performance on iPad, there's no lag when using the app—something that many other apps struggle with.

Procreate offers many brushes with great textures which can be used in almost any style of art, whether you’re creating a digital painting or sketching out your ideas. If you’re looking for an app that has a lot of features and won’t overwhelm you with them at the same time, this is definitely one worth checking out!

What do I need to start?

You only need 3 things to start creating masterpieces in Procreate: an iPad, a stylus, and Procreate which you can download from the App Store for $9.

Why do I need an iPad?

At the moment, Procreate is only available on the iPad, with another version for the iPhone. Procreate has a complete list of devices that can support it on its website.

What is the best iPad stylus?

If you're looking for the best iPad stylus, then look no further. The Apple Pencil, made specifically for the iPad, is the most precise and responsive digital pencil available for the job. The way it interacts with the iPad's display is unique to the Apple Pencil and will give you a natural drawing experience, unlike any third-party stylus.

Do I need anything else?

If you already got your iPad, your choice of a stylus, and Procreate,  you’re good to go! But if you like a better drawing experience, you should get a matte screen protector like this one. It makes drawing on the iPad feel more familiar since it feels more like writing on paper, compared to drawing on a glass screen.

Now that you’re more familiar with Procreate, grab your iPad and pencil, and let’s jump in on the good stuff!


Gallery

The first thing you’ll see when you open Procreate is the Gallery. Here you’ll see all the artworks you’ve done so far. If it’s your very first time using the App, you’ll see some sample artworks already listed.

Procreate's Gallery view appears when you open the app.

When you click on “Procreate” you’ll see some information about the app as well as the version you’re currently using. Always make sure that your app is up-to-date so you can maximize its features.

You can see your Procreate's version, and the options to 'Restore Example Artworks' and 'Start Gallery Recovery'

Now let’s look at some of the things we can do in this view. If you look at the upper right corner, you’ll see Select, Import, Photo, and ‘+’

Select allows you to choose multiple Artworks at once and gives you a few options to work with. After selecting artworks, you can tap on ‘Stack’ to group them and help organize your gallery view. You can also use this to mass export, duplicate, and delete multiple files.

How to stack works in Procreate

How to move or rearrange works in Procreate

New Canvas

Let’s tap on the ‘+’ sign to start creating our work. You can choose from Procreate’s default canvas sizes or you can choose to create a new canvas.

New canvas options

To start, you can just use the ‘Screen Size’ canvas. But, when creating a new canvas, we have the option to choose our dimensions, color profile, time-lapse settings, and canvas properties.

Dimensions

Your dimensions can be in millimeters, centimeters, inches, or pixels, and will depend on what your project will be used for.

For example, if you’re going to post it on Instagram, the ideal post size is 1080px by 1080 px. Although for Instagram, you can also create an artwork with a larger resolution and Instagram will crop it for you when you upload it. Alternatively, if you’re planning to print a poster in A4, you’ll want to input its size as your canvas’ width and height.

You're free to change your canvas' dimensions. Keep in mind that the larger the dimensions, the less layers you can work with.

The canvas’ DPI would also depend on where you’ll use the artwork, but for this one let’s just use 300 DPI.

When it comes to dimensions, take note that the larger your canvas is, the fewer layers you can create. So make sure to consider this as well when choosing your dimensions, especially if you’re creating a more complicated piece that would need a lot of layers.

The color profile is usually set as RGB, but for designs that are going to be printed, CMYK is typically used.

Procreate also allows its users to record and export the time-lapse video of the work. In the time-lapse settings, you can basically choose the quality of the video when exported.

In canvas properties, you can change the canvas’ background color and you can also opt to hide it. Don’t worry if you want to change this as this can also be changed in the layer menu, which we’ll talk about later.


Brushes

Let’s talk about the brushes!

To start painting, tap on the brush icon at the top of your screen. This would also open the brush library.

Opening the brush studio will take you to a collection of default brushes from Procreate. You'll find an enormous variety of brush types and textures, from watercolor to ink lines to pencils and pastels, but don't let that intimidate you!

Both beginners and advanced artists alike are sure to find exactly what they're looking for, whether it's for adding softly layered textures or simpler brushes for sketching. That's not even including the thousands upon thousands of brushes available for purchase online!

Besides the brush, you’ll see two more tools: smudge and eraser. The fun thing with Procreate is that you can use the same brushes to paint, smudge, and erase your work. This gives you more options and flexibility in creating your work.

Brush Size and Opacity

You can change your brush size and opacity on the slider on the side of your canvas. The top one is for the brush size and the bottom one is for the opacity.

Since Procreate’s latest 5.2 update, we can now save brush sizes and opacity settings. To do this, simply tap on either of the sliders on the sidebar. A small window will pop up showing your brush size or brush opacity, tap on the ‘+’ at the upper right corner.


Gestures

Options to undo, redo, and clear the layer can be seen on the workspace, but you can also do these without looking away from your work using Procreate’s gestures, another thing that makes it convenient to use.

Aside from the usual pinch to zoom in and out, you can also pinch and twist to rotate your canvas. You can also pinch and release for a fit-to-screen view.

Do a double-finger tap to undo and a three-finger tap to redo. If you tap and hold, you’ll be able to undo or redo multiple.

To clear your layer, simply swipe three fingers side to side like you’re scrubbing the screen.

You can quickly go full screen by tapping four fingers on your screen.


QuickShape

Procreate has another special feature called QuickShape. It helps transform your wonky lines and shapes into their perfect versions.

To do this, simply draw your line or shape and hold until it snaps to a perfect line or shape. You can do this for lines, arcs, circles, ellipses, or quadrilaterals.

By default, Procreate’s gestures should do the same across all devices, but some of them can be customized depending on your preferences. You can check and change this by opening the Actions menu, then going to ‘Prefs’ and tapping on ‘Gesture controls’. Feel free to customize the gesture triggers based on what works for you.


Colors

Choosing colors with Procreate is pretty simple. You can choose between different interfaces when it comes to choosing colors in Procreate. To choose a color, simply go to the circle in the top-right corner of your workspace.

Color Interface

Let's first talk about the Color Disc.

The Color Disc is just like your standard color wheel. It gives you access to any color in the spectrum and allows you to quickly see how a change in hue or saturation will affect your current selection.

Color Disc interface

The classic interface, on the other hand, allows you to change the hue, saturation, and brightness with sliders. This gives you the flexibility to modify a color based on either of these three.

Classic Color Interface

Harmony offers different color suggestions based on your selected color and color scheme.

Harmony Color Interface

The value interface gets a little more specific and precise by making use of values and percentages. It also gives you the option to use hexadecimal, which is especially useful if you found a color you liked somewhere.

Value Color Interface

Lastly, palettes are a nice way to group colors, especially when working on pieces with a specific color scheme. You can make use of default Procreate palettes, or create your own.

Palettes Color Interface

Color Picker

Like many other digital art and design softwares, we can also pick up a color from our workspace. This is usually done if we'd like to use the colors from our reference photo, or if we'd like to use a color we've already used in our work.

In Procreate, there are 2 ways to use the color picker.

The first one is by tapping on the rounded square between the brush size and brush opacity sliders. A circle will pop up showing the color you're using before plus the new color you're picking up. Then, drag this circle towards the color you want to use.

The second way is by doing a quick tap-and-hold on the specific color you want to use on your canvas. Like the first method, a circle will appear. You can again drag this towards the color you want to use and wait until the upper half of the circle changes into that color.

Fill Color

To fill a shape with color on Procreate, tap on the colored circle on the upper-right corner of your canvas then drag it to the shape you want to fill. Make sure that the shape is closed, otherwise, you'll fill the whole canvas with that color.


Layers panel

One of the most important parts of Procreate is the layers menu. , if you know how to use and manipulate the layers properly, you’ll have more flexibility and options when creating your work.

Layer Visibility

You can show or hide a layer by clicking on the checkbox on the right-most side of the layer.

Select and Multi-select

To select a layer, tap on the layer once. If you want to select multiple layers, simply swipe right on the layers you want to select.

Rearrange layers

Rearranging layers is simple. Tap and hold on to a layer then move it wherever you want to. You can do this several times to rearrange your layers. To move multiple layers at once, select the layers you want to move, tap and hold, and drag the layers to their new position.

Delete and Group

There is also an option to delete more than one layer at once. Simply select all the layers you’d want to delete and tap on ‘Delete’ that appeared in the upper-right corner of the layers menu.

We can do the same steps to group your layers, but instead of ‘Delete’, you’ll choose ‘Group’. Another way to group layers is to tap, hold, and drag a layer on top of the other layer you want to group it with.

Swipe left menu

Try swiping left on your layer and you’ll see options to lock, duplicate, or delete the layer. Locking a layer protects it from accidental changes. If you want to do something on this layer, you’ll have to unlock it first by doing the same step. The ‘duplicate’ and ‘delete’ basically do what it says.

Layer Mask

Remember when we were a kid and we’re having trouble keeping the colors inside our drawings?

In Procreate, we can use the clipping mask tool and alpha lock to do just that. No more minus points for the paint outside the outline. These masks allow us to change certain parts of an image without affecting the rest of it. But what makes the two different and when should we use them?

What Is Clipping Mask?

The clipping mask allows you to clip a layer to the layer below it in your Layers panel. By using this, what you paint on the top layer, or the layer where the clipping mask is activated, would only show up on the parts of the layer below that are already filled.

It might be better to walk you through an example, so try following these steps.

To create a clipping mask, first, create a layer and draw a circle. Make sure that the circle is filled, the color is up to you! Now create a new layer, tap on the layer to show the options, and choose “Clipping Mask”. You should be able to see an arrow pointing below beside this new layer. This symbol shows that the clipping mask is turned on for this layer.

Now, choose a different brush color and draw a line on the part of the canvas without drawing. You’ll see that the line won’t appear anywhere on your work, but if you turn off the clipping mask, the line would appear. Now draw a line on top of the circle and you’ll see the difference.

Alpha Lock

Clipping mask and alpha lock work in a similar way, but with a slight difference.

When using the clipping mask, we create a new layer first. Meanwhile, when using alpha lock, we’re drawing directly on the filled part of the layer, but only on the filled part.

Let’s take the circle we created as an example, let’s say we want to draw a heart on top of the circle. If we use a clipping mask, we’re drawing on a different layer so we’ll be able to move and modify the heart without doing any irreversible change to the circle.

But if we use alpha lock, since we drew the heart directly on the circle, we won’t be able to modify it separately.

You can use either of the two masks as an effective way to add texture or color to a selected area—even if it contains text!


Select and Transform

We can edit or move specific parts of our layers using the select and transform tools.

Selection Tool

Tap on the 'S' symbol at the top of your screen to activate the selection tool. You'll see that there are a few options namely Automatic, Freehand, Rectangle, and Ellipse. For this example, let's use Freehand.

After making sure you've chosen Freehand, let's select a part of our drawing. You can do this by doing multiple taps to surround the object, or by simply tracing its outline. Once you're done, you'll see broken lines surrounding the object. For this example, I'll select this rectangle.

Transform Tool

Now that we've selected the circle, let's try and transform it. Tap on the arrow beside the selection tool. You can now move, resize, or distort your selection.

You'll see that four new options will appear. Freehand and uniform, distort, and warp. You can move your selection as long as you're not using 'warp'.

Move the selection by dragging it to your preferred position. If you just want to move it slightly, you can tap on the direction you want it to go. For example, if you want to move it a little to the right, tap on the right side of the selection until it reaches your desired position.

To resize your selection, make sure you're using either 'Freehand' or 'Uniform'. Click and drag either of the blue circles surrounding your selection. You can also rotate by doing the same on the green circle connected to it.

Distort and Warp will transform the selection shape and angle. You can try it yourself so you can get a better feel of their functions!  


Insert a Photo and Add Text

If you're trying to edit a photo or use a photo for reference, you can! Insert a photo into your workspace by tapping on the wrench beside 'Gallery' to open the Actions menu. Tap on 'Add' and choose 'Insert photo', then choose the file from your iPad's gallery.

You can also add text to your work by tapping 'Add Text' which is under the same menu.


Crop and Resize

You've been enjoying working on your piece but you realized you used the wrong size. Don't worry, it's easy to resize your canvas in Procreate.

Open the Actions menu, choose 'Canvas' and go to 'Crop & Resize'. You can drag the canvas' edges inward to crop it or outward to make it bigger. If you'd like to resize it to specific measurements, tap on 'Settings' on the upper part of your screen.

When you're satisfied with the size, tap on 'Done'


Export Your Work

Congratulations on creating your first masterpiece!

Now that you're done, I'm sure you're ready to show your work. In Procreate, we can export our work in different file types. Go to the Action menu and tap 'Share', now choose the file type you'd like to export your work as and save it to your Photos or Files.

You can now send this to friends or post it on your social media.


Share Your Work's Time-lapse

Another cool thing about Procreate is the ability to record and replay a time-lapse of your work. You can turn this on or off, but it's definitely useful to have it available and ready to use.

You can export the time-lapse recording of your work and share it as is or edit it on your favorite video editing software.

Open the Actions menu and choose 'Video', then 'Export time-lapse video'. You'll have the option to share the full-length video or its 30-second version.


You can learn how to use procreate

Procreate isn’t a hard program to use, but it does have a bit of a learning curve. It’s not a problem for artists who are used to dealing with complicated software, but some beginners may feel overwhelmed at first.

Luckily, there are all sorts of ways to learn how to use Procreate. Here are some of my favorites:

I would totally recommend Freya's Procreate Masterclass because she teaches the basics of digital art using the Procreate App. You'll learn about the techniques she uses as well the fundamentals of digital art. Plus, she has guided activities to help you practice what you've learned! You don't have to go searching online for the lessons, she has everything organized in one place. Great for beginners or people who haven't drawn in a long while.

I hope you enjoyed this short overview of the Procreate App. In our next article, we'll talk about the best iPad to use with the Procreate App.

Author:
Patricia Salanguit
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