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How to Work with Layers in Procreate

One of the biggest differences between digital art and traditional art is how it uses layers. If you're used to working with paper and paints, the concept of layers can take some getting used to.

Think of layers in Procreate as sheets of tracing paper on top of each other, and you'll be able to understand them pretty quickly.

A layer is a transparent image that you can use to add new elements to your artwork without changing the existing components. A new canvas has one layer by default, but you can add more layers as needed.

In this article, we'll talk about what layers are, why they're so essential for digital artists, and how to use them when working on Procreate. Once you're done with this tutorial, you'll have a good grasp of the role layers play in creating your digital artwork!


Layers Menu

Let’s start by opening the Layers menu. Tap on the box icon beside the eraser icon. Let’s look at the different parts of the Layers menu.

Layer Preview

You can see a preview of the contents of the layer when you look at the thumbnail on the leftmost side of your layer.

Create new layer

The ‘+’ at the upper right corner creates a new layer. Remember that there’s a limit to how many layers you can create and it depends on your device’s capability and your canvas resolution.

Selected Layer

You can select a layer by tapping on a layer. The selected layers are blue in color. You can only make changes to the layer that’s currently selected, so you need to be careful when working with this. People usually make the mistake of drawing on the wrong layer.

Layer Visibility

You can turn the layer’s visibility on and off by checking or unchecking the box on the right side of the layer.

In this photo, you can see the 'Hello' on the layer's thumbnail, but not on the actual canvas because the layer's visibility is off.


Blend modes

The ‘N’ beside the layer visibility corresponds to Blend Mode. This gives you a lot of options to add different effects to your layers.


Background Color

The lowest layer is named the Background Color. When you tap on the layer, instead of being selected, a classic color menu would open.


The color you’ll choose for this would be the color of your work’s background unless you turn the background’s visibility off.

This is how your canvas will look if your work's background is turned off.


Layer Options

Now that we’ve talked about the interface, let’s talk about the different ways we can edit and customize a layer’s settings to our liking.

Tap on a layer to reveal the different options available.


Rename

Choose rename if you’d like to change the name of your layer. It’s a good practice to change the name of your layer so it’s easier to recognize each one.


Select

The Select option is used to select the non-transparent contents of the layer. A menu will then pop up wherein you can do more things to your layer such as invert and fill.

When you choose select, you can only make changes to the part of the layer that is not covered by the diagonal lines. In this case, the handwritten 'Hello' is selected.

Copy

You can copy and paste a layer from one document to another. Simply tap on copy and paste on the other work you want to add it to.

Fill Layer

This lets you fill the whole layer with your chosen color, even if your layer already has some content. Unlike using fill color by dragging and dropping the color, this option lets you fill the whole layer with a tap.

Clear

You can clear all the contents of the layer you're working on by tapping on ‘Clear’

Alpha Lock

This is a type of mask that lets you draw only on the parts of the layer that is non-transparent. It’s like drawing inside a border made of your drawing.

If you look at the thumbnail, you'll notice that there's a checkered background. You'll know that Alpha Lock is turned on when your layer's thumbnail looks like this.

Mask

A Mask lets you modify the contents of a layer without changing the actual contents of that layer. Compared to Alpha Lock, using Mask will let you make changes in your work without affecting the parent layer the mask is locked to.

Clipping Mask

The Clipping Mask is like the regular Mask, except you can move it freely and stack it on top of one another.

Notice that even if there's a huge orange blob on Layer 2, the color only shows on the part where there's drawing on the 'Hello!' layer.

Invert

As the name suggests, this option lets you invert the colors in your layer.

When we inverted the colors in the 'Hello!' layer, the yellow turned blue.


Reference

When you have an outline layer, you can tap on 'Reference' so you can fill color on the outline layer without actually adding color to it. Your color and your outline can be on separate layers.

Merge Down

Merge your current layer with the layer below it by tapping on this option.

Combine Down

This option lets you group your current layer with the layer below it.


Layer Organization

There are different gestures we can do to organize our layers on Procreate.

Select Layers

You can select multiple layers at once by swiping right on a layer.

Delete Layers

Delete a layer by swiping left on a layer and choose ‘Delete’. You can also delete multiple layers by selecting them and tapping on ‘Delete’ at the top of the Layers Menu.


Duplicate Layers

Swipe left on a layer and tap on ‘Duplicate’ to create another copy of that layer.

Lock

When a layer is locked, you cannot do any changes or delete the layer, unless you open the menu again and tap ‘Unlock’

Reorganize Layers

Select one or more layers, tap and hold, and drag the layers to the position you want to move them to.

Group Layers

To group layers together, simply do it like you're rearranging your layers. Tap and hold on to a layer, but this time drag and drop it on top of the layer or layer group you want to group it with.

You can also simply select the layers and tap on ‘Group’ at the top of the Layers menu.

Merge Layers

You can merge layers by pinching together the layers you want to merge.


Layers are a great tool for creating a variety of effects in your work. You can use layers to create a mask, background, foreground, or texture by adding multiple colors to the same layer.

When you do this, it creates a different effect depending on what you are trying to achieve with your artwork.

There are lots of ways to use layers in Procreate, but the main thing I'm going to say about them is that learning how to use layers in Procreate is so essential that it's worth spending some time learning the basics.

You'll thank yourself later when you're able to make more complicated images without having any issues!

Author:
Patricia Salanguit
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