Procreate 101: Everything You Need to Know to Get Started

Every once in awhile, a major technological breakthrough transforms the way we go about our personal or professional  lives. For those who draw, sketch, paint, or create visual art as a career or for personal fulfillment, iPad’s Procreate app has been one such game-changer. Designed to be used  with Apple’s tablet and stylus tools, Procreate gives artists all the benefits of working digitally (the ability to easily delete and correct, create art faster, and to share work instantaneously) while recreating the familiar experience of pens, pencils, and paint on paper. The program bridges the divide between digital and analog so well that even artists who were sure they’d never work digitally  are making the decision to leave their more traditional art tools behind.

If you haven’t yet taken the plunge, Procreate can appear intimidating but the application’s  best-kept secret may be how easy it is to get started. To help you find your way, we’ve pulled together all the information you need to know to begin your journey with Procreate, including an overview of the app’s primary capabilities, a look at how professional artists use the app, , a guide to essential hardware you need to get started, and some tips and tricks that will help you harness the program’s unique powers for making art.

Nuts for Donuts  created on Procreate   by Skillshare student Mike Powers

Nuts for Donuts created on Procreate by Skillshare student Mike Powers

What is Procreate?

Procreate is an award-winning illustration, sketching, and painting app made exclusively for Apple’s iPad by Savage Interactive, a tech startup located (remarkably) on the Australian island state of Tasmania. Perhaps the remote location helped the company’s designers think outside the box as they found a way  to put much of the power of desktop creative tools into the hands of visual artists--literally, via the iPad and Apple Pencil.

For the many illustrators, designers and artists who rely on Procreate,  the responsiveness of the app, particularly when used with an Apple Pencil, makes it feel very similar  to making art on paper. That “natural,” combined with the wide variety of more than 130 Procreate brushes (plus the ability to customize and add more) have tipped the scales in the app’s favor, even among veteran commercial and fine artists. Many have been willing (for the first time) to move beyond analog art tools or old-school digital drawing tablets tethered to desktop computers, all in favor of the ease, flexibility, portability, and newfound inspiration provided by Procreate for iPad.

Procreate makes it easy to organize your artwork in a gallery format familiar to Photoshop users; import files from other devices and locations; use hand gestures to zoom in and out of your artwork, undo changes to the work, and access many other often-used functions. You can also perform professional-level compositing and adjustment of layers and generally create and develop your artwork at a speed that can keep up with your imagination.

Perhaps most important to many seasoned professionals, Procreate offers easy integration with existing workflows — you can move back and forth between other apps and platforms as required by your preferred methods, your clients, or the needs of a specific project. There are other professional-grade digital art apps available (including Affinity Designer and Autodesk SketchBook), but as of January 2019 none matches the power, flexibility, and complete functionality and feature-set of Procreate.

Hey Jealousy  created on Procreate by Skillshare student Ali McQueen

Hey Jealousy created on Procreate by Skillshare student Ali McQueen

How and Why Do Professional Artists Use Procreate?

One of the best ways to understand Procreate’s real-world capabilities is to learn about professional artists’ experiences with the app.

San Francisco-based artist and regular illustration contributor to The New Yorker Mark Ulrikson went from thinking of himself as “technologically Illiterate” to experiencing creative revitalization with help from a new iPad Pro and Procreate. An article in Business Insider magazine details Ulrikson’s creative journey and includes a time-lapse video that shows exactly how he used Procreate to reimagine a pet project — the vintage-style baseball cards he creates to commemorate every win by his favorite baseball team, the San Francisco Giants.

A post written for the VMA (Visual Media Alliance) Design Conference blog profiles three successful professionals who made the leap to Procreate but use the app in different ways. Emma Bergerworks for film production company Laika while maintaining a freelance illustration career and uses a combination of hand drawing, Photoshop on an iMac, and Procreate to create her illustrations. Artist Trudi Castle uses Procreate only for “sketching and roughing ideas” and leisure-time exploration. Freelance character designer and illustrator Nicholas Kole creates all his artwork in Procreate.

Taken together, the stories of these three artists prove another crucial point for those considering a leap to Procreate: a fully customized workflow can have a profound effect on your final product. By combining tools and mediums in whatever ways you see fit, you can develop a unique process that may help you develop a signature style for your art.

Essential Equipment for Using Procreate

iPad

The latest version of the Procreate for iPad app is 4.2.1, and it requires an iPad running iOS 11.1 or newer. That means the latest version of Procreate can run on all five of the iPad models currently on sale from Apple: iPad Pro (12.9-in., 11-in., and 10.5-in. models), iPad (6th Generation, 2018) and iPad Mini 4. In their basic Wi-Fi-only versions with minimum storage, these devices currently range from $399 to $999, but go all the way up to $1899 for the 12.9-in. iPad Pro with cellular connectivity and 1TB of storage.

Previous iPad models capable of running the latest version of Procreate are iPad Pro 9.7-in., iPad 5th Generation (2017), iPad Air, iPad Air 2, and iPad Mini 2 and 3.  Older versions of Procreate run on many older iPad models.

To get the full, up-to-date Procreate experience, you’ll want to have one of the two iPad models that arrived in November 2018: the 12.9-in. or 11-in. iPad Pro. These two models are the only devices compatible with the new Apple Pencil (2nd Generation), which adds substantial capabilities to the Procreate experience (see “Get an Apple Pencil” below).

In addition, the 2018 iPad Pros constitute a major redesign of iPad. New features include an edge-to-edge screen design, liquid retina display, a very powerful 12X Bionic chip, new hand-gesture controls, and lots more. Apple Insider has compiled its 29 favorite new features on the 2018 iPad Pros. Procreate’s FAQ and discussion forums have more information on technical requirements and Procreate compatibility with older iPad models.

Plant Dream  created on Procreate by Skillshare student Laurence Lavallee

Plant Dream created on Procreate by Skillshare student Laurence Lavallee

iPad Pencil

Apple Pencil (2nd Generation) goes for $129.99 and is essential equipment for using Procreate on the two new iPad Pros. Apple Pencil 2 will not pair with any iPads other than the two new Pro models. The original Apple Pencil costs $99.99 and can be used exclusively with older iPad Pros and the 2018 iPad (6th generation), but  it will not pair with the two new iPad Pros.

Apple Pencil 2 pairs and charges wirelessly and has a flat side that allows it to snap to the edge of your iPad Pro magnetically while helping many artists grip the Pencil in a more precise way. It also features a double-tap function that truly distinguishes the new Pencil. In Procreate, you can double-tap Apple Pencil 2 to switch between brushes and erasers, move between layers, or navigate pop-up menus without leaving your canvas — the uses of double-tap are context specific. Increase pressure on either Apple Pencil for thicker lines, and tilt it for shading — the organic, analog feel is central to the Procreate experience.

There are a variety of styluses (including your finger!) available for using Procreate on older iPads (and on the new ones, too, though it’s hard to beat the Apple Pencils). If you’re in the market, top-shelf British art and design magazine Creative Bloq recently published a guide to the best iPad styluses.

Procreate for iPad App

Procreate for iPad costs $9.99 in the U.S. and is available in 13 different languages from Apple’s App Store. The Procreate App Store preview and the Procreate Artists Handbook has  additional information.

iPad Accessories

There’s no end to the accessories available for the iPad. One product that has proved a dealmaker for artists considering Procreate is PaperLike, a screen protector that makes that smooth glass surface of the iPad feel more like paper when drawn on. .

Basics of Procreate for Beginners

Creating, Importing, and Organizing Artworks

Procreate makes it painless to set up new works in whatever formats suit your style. A few standard canvas sizes are included as presets and you can easily reorient and adjust width, height, and DPI via the “edit” button. Files are organized into a gallery with thumbnails and can be grouped into “stacks.” You can drag and drop files back and forth from Photoshop, cloud storage, and whatever additional locations you may have — which also makes it very easy to share you art with the world.

Screenshot from Vashti Harrison’s  Illustrating in Procreate: Drawing a Shareable Timelapse

Working in Layers

Layers allow you to isolate elements of your drawing for manipulation and effects. You can designate a primary layer and create as many secondary layers as you need, continually moving, grouping, adjusting, merging, blending, or otherwise manipulating your layers to build your artwork. In addition, you can also export layers to another artwork, and use  layer masks to hide and protect parts of your art so that you can experiment without losing your work.

Screenshot detail from Brooke Glaser’s  Intro to Procreate: Illustrating on the iPad Pro

Screenshot detail from Brooke Glaser’s Intro to Procreate: Illustrating on the iPad Pro

Working With Brushes

Procreate’s powerful brush system makes it irresistible to many artists. The app splits brushes into two core elements that are endlessly customizable: shape and grain. Your brush library is organized into customizable brush sets that include tools for drawing, smudging, and erasing. The app comes with 130 brushes but if you need more options, it’s easy to learn how to download brushes created by other artists, and to share your own brush creations with the world.

Screenshot detail from Jarom Vogel’s  Digital Illustration: Learn to Use Procreate

Screenshot detail from Jarom Vogel’s Digital Illustration: Learn to Use Procreate

Additional Tips and Tricks

  • Hand gestures allow you to access both basic and advanced capabilities quickly without leaving your artwork, and are fully customizable.

  • The QuickShape function snaps a roughly drawn line or shape into perfect form simply by holding down your pencil at the end of a stroke

  • The app has multiple systems for mixing your own colors and organizing them into easily accessed Color Palettes

  • The Adjustments Menu offers cinema-quality filters and special effects

  • Procreate records a high-definition time-lapse video of every artwork you create for personal viewing or sharing with the world. It also allows you, if you choose, to broadcast your artwork live as you create it.

Conclusion

Because Procreate is so customizable, you can use it to create wildly different styles of artwork. Artists on Skillshare have used it to create soft, textured botanicals, hard-edged tattoo motifs, lettering projects, cartoonish illustrations and so much more. If you’re just getting started with the program, take some time to experiment!  Don’t be afraid to try new mediums, brushes and approaches to making your art. The road to artistic achievement is paved with fun risks, welcome surprises and new skills.


Want to learn more about working with Procreate? Skillshare has hundreds of classes to help you get started.