You may have seen illustrator Mike Lowery’s work in best-selling children’s books, on classic greeting cards, or on his 185,000-follower strong Instagram page. He’s been successfully navigating the illustration business for more than a decade. In all that time, there have been only a handful of innovations that have transformed his workflow; iPad’s app, Procreate, is one of them.
“I didn't think I'd end up liking drawing digitally, and I definitely didn't think I'd end up using Procreate for client work,” Lowery tells us. “But now I use it every day.” He isn’t alone. The app has changed the way illustrators around the world approach and refine their work.
We interviewed a dozen talented illustrators from far-reaching corners of the globe to get their best tips for drawing and painting with Procreate. Whether you’ve been using Procreate for years or are just getting started, these simple tricks will help you get the most out of the program.
Make your own Procreate brushes…
“I think the most useful tool for my work specifically has been the ability to tweak and create custom brushes for my work,” NYC illustrator Sabrena Khadija (@sabrenakhadija) tells us. “For someone new to Procreate, using the default brushes or downloading free Procreate brushes someone else has made may be the most obvious option for getting started. However, I find it so satisfying being able to create something that will help me create something else.
“I initially found this option early into using the Procreate app when a default brush was almost what I was looking for. But, instead of just using what was there or scouring the internet for the perfect brush, I just sat down and made it!”
...And be sure to mix them up.
“The unique brush engine is a game changer,” Lyon-based concept artist Arash Razavi (@sketchbash) says. “With that said, some of these cool brushes can also dominate your work. If they are overused, they could steal the show from the subject matter or the overall composition.
“To avoid this in the long-term, I’d suggest using a few new, random brushes in a piece along with your main brushes. For example, while painting with an oil brush set, I’d definitely take advantage of the default Charcoal or Abstract sets as well, either to smudge or erase.”
Master your gestures.
Gestures are like keyboard shortcuts, but you use your fingers. For example, you can undo and redo your work by tapping two or three fingers on your canvas. To clear a layer, scrub your canvas with three fingers, or tap four fingers to hide the user interface and view your work full screen.
Jarom Vogel (@jaromvogel) is an illustrator, designer and Skillshare teacher based in Portland. “I think that if you're going to work in Procreate a lot, it's worth your time to customize the gesture settings,” he explains. “Finding a setup that works well for you can really speed up your workflow.”
“I would also highly recommend reading the official Procreate handbook,” Vogel continues. “It's really well done and covers all kinds of lesser-known gestures and capabilities.”
Use alpha lock...
This tool is perfect for adding shadows, colors, and textures to your drawings. Here’s how it works: first, create your general shape. Then go into your layer menu and select “alpha lock” (or simply swipe right with two fingers). That way, any details you add will stay within the boundaries of your layer, i.e., you won’t color outside the lines of your original shape.
“Alpha Lock is one of my ‘secret’ weapons when using Procreate,” illustrator Jaye Kang (@jcomik) tells us. “Everything looks much better when you have that level of control over what you’re creating.”
...Or turn on a clipping mask.
The clipping mask is similar to alpha lock, with some key differences. For one, you’ll be working with a totally new layer. That means you can edit your details without affecting your original shape, and vice versa.
Simply add a new layer and select “clipping mask.” The base layer will then become a mask, and all your new details will conform to the pixels of the original shape while also remaining independent and easy to adjust.
Julia Mello (@sailorjubs) is an illustrator and animator based in São Paulo, Brazil. “I started using Procreate last year, and it would have been easier if I had known how the clipping mask worked,” she explains. “It has sped up my process, allowing me to apply textures and effects to different shapes easily.”
Zoom in close.
This tip comes to us from Vhox Nihilis (@vhoxnihilis), an illustrator based in Germany. “My number one trick for Procreate is to zoom in until the lines get all pixelated,” she tells us. “Doing this helps me to control the lines and makes drawing details a lot easier. Plus, you won't get irritated by the screen size, even on a smaller iPad.” To zoom in and out, simply pinch two fingers over your canvas.
Use QuickLine and QuickShape.
These tools are also easy to use and perfect for anyone who has difficulty drawing straight lines. Simply draw a line (or a geometric shape, like a circle or triangle), and hold your Apple Pencil on the screen after you’re done. The app will automatically perfect the lines and shapes for you.
Jill Goritschnig (@jill_gori) is an illustrator and graphic designer based in Austria. “I wish I had known about the QuickShape feature from the beginning,” she tells us. “It's so helpful for creating straight lines and smooth shapes. It changed how I paint and also the overall look of my paintings. I would recommend it to anybody, especially if you work in a graphic style.”
Export as PSD.
Exporting your files as PSD allows you to keep your layers intact. Dream up things to draw on your iPad, and when you’re ready, send your work to your desktop computer for advanced editing.
Animator and designer Danni Fisher-Shin (@dannifs) has been using Procreate for three years now, and one thing she loves is how the app has evolved in just a brief time period. “I especially love using the Export to PSD feature,” she says.
“As a full-time freelance designer and animator, this means I can create and export Procreate files from wherever I can carry my iPad, then directly import them to my animation software. It’s definitely a game changer. It means I can be a lot more active and mobile while still getting real work done!”
Export a timelapse.
Procreate helps you learn by allowing you to export a timelapse video of all your work. Watch your workflow, and notice your strengths as well as the areas where you might need improvement. Seeing your own process, your mistakes, and the tricks you’d like to replicate will help you out in the future.
Follow Procreate on Instagram.
This suggestion comes from Valeria Frustaci (@valeriafru), an Italian illustrator based in Brooklyn. “They share a lot of tips and tricks every week, and you can also ask questions,” she explains. “By checking in on Instagram, I have learned shortcuts I didn’t know before, and it’s helped me with my illustration process overall. Everything is easier and faster now.”
Watch the highlights, too. “I would highly suggest checking out Procreate’s Instagram highlights,” Brooklyn-based graphic artist and lettering designer Walid Bukhari (@wallywzrd) says. “They have clips for basic tricks and mini tutorials. I’ve learned a ton of features that way, and it has definitely helped my productivity.”
Want more tips for illustration and design?
Gia Graham (@iamgiagraham), a graphic designer and lettering artist based in Atlanta, recommends three Skillshare classes. “Jarom Vogel has an excellent class to help you get started with Procreate,” she tells us. “He teaches the basics and a few more advanced techniques with regard to digital illustration.
“Also, when I first started dabbling in surface design, I found Mel Armstrong's classes to be extremely helpful. Ian Barnard's script class is great for hand lettering artists. Skillshare has been my go-to resource for beefing up my Procreate skills.”
Just getting started with Procreate? Check out Skillshare’s Procreate 101 to brush up on your basics.
Cover image by Arash Razavi. For more information on Feature Shoot, click here.