10 Essential Procreate Tips Every Illustrator Needs to Know

Interested in diving into Procreate, but don’t know where to begin? Check out these ten essential tips to jumpstart your Procreate workflow.

The Procreate application has gained in popularity over the years with its endless creative abilities. With the app’s extensive brush library, impressive modes and effects, and newly added typography tools, it’s evident that Procreate has become a go-to for many designers, illustrators, and hobbyists.

Upon first glance, the Procreate program appears simple and versatile; if you’re new to the program, navigating the app can be overwhelming and downright daunting. Learning the ins and outs of Procreate from the get-go is crucial to getting a feel for the program and understanding its capabilities.

Read on to learn ten essential tips to improve your Procreate workflow and get you on the track to making impressive illustrations.

Tip #1: Master the Basic Gestures

Procreate gestures increase your efficiency when drawing by shortening the amount of time used to carry out basic actions. Instead of navigating where the undo or zoom command is on the Procreate app, you can simply tap, swipe, or pinch your fingers on the screen.

10 Essential Procreate Tips Every Illustrator Needs to Know — Basic Gestures

The gestures listed in the infographic above are default shortcuts that come with Procreate; you can easily customize these shortcuts by going to Actions > Prefs > Gesture Controls.

Tip #2: Organize Your Composition with Layers

Just like in other design and creative programs, layers are a way to organize and preserve your work. Procreate’s layers behave similarly to Adobe Photoshop’s with its blend modes, opacity options, and general setup.

10 Essential Procreate Tips Every Illustrator Needs to Know — Organize with Layers
Mockup via blackzheep.

When setting up your illustration, be sure to name each layer in a way that describes the content within the layer. Doing so avoids frustration when navigating or editing each layer. If you’re creating a detailed illustration, it’s crucial to work within the specified layers instead of compiling all shapes, textures, typography, and lines onto a single layer.

Tip #3: Get Familiar with Masks

Procreate’s powerful mask options provide a way to non-destructively edit a single (or multiple) layers in a given document. Designers and illustrators alike use masks to bring in texture, shadows, highlights, patterns, images, and more. There are three mask options to choose from in the Procreate application: Alpha Lock, Mask, and Clipping Mask. While the names may appear similar, each mask option has its own unique functions.

10 Essential Procreate Tips Every Illustrator Needs to Know — Masks
Mockup via blackzheep.

To bring up the mask commands, click on the layer’s thumbnail and choose from the three in the dropdown menu. Here’s a rundown of each mask option’s capabilities:

  • Alpha Lock: This command is conveyed by a gray checkerboard grid, like seen above in the highlighted layer. Alpha Lock gives you the ability to draw within that layer’s shape; this command is ideal for drawing within the shape’s boundaries. While many rely on the Alpha Lock command to apply textures, shadows, and highlights, Alpha Lock is extremely useful to quickly change the layer’s fill colors. To quickly access Alpha Lock, take two fingers and swipe right on the specified layer. The only disadvantage to alpha lock is that it can eat up your layer count and it often makes the editing process difficult when you need to make some further tweaks to an Alpha Lock layer.
  • Mask: When applied to a solid shape or line, the Mask command provides a non-destructive way of taking away portions of the shape with brushes. To “erase” from the layer, set the brush color to black; to reveal the original layer, set the brush color to white. The Mask command is a great option for adding textures or refining a layer’s shape.
  • Clipping Mask: Similar to the Alpha Lock command, Clipping Masks provide a powerful way to manipulate multiple layers non-destructively. It is comparable to clipping masks in Adobe Illustrator because it creates an additional layer for editing purposes. Simply add a new layer with the plus sign icon, then select Clipping Mask to make tweaks to the bottom adjourning layer.

Tip #4: Keep Your Color Palettes Organized

When working in the Procreate application, it’s important to have your color palettes both organized and accessible. Each color palette can be accessed within the Palettes tab in the color circle icon.

10 Essential Procreate Tips Every Illustrator Needs to Know — Organize Color Palettes
Mockup via blackzheep.

Just as with layers, it’s also important to label each of your color palettes. Organizing each palette by color theme (such as retro hues) or project type is a great way to get started. Hit the plus sign icon at the top of the Palettes tab to create a new palette, then select Untitled to rename the palette. To arrange the color squares, hold down on the hue and then move as needed; hold down on the square to delete the swatch. Enable the Set Default button to quickly access the palette in the Color section.

For a more in-depth explanation of the Color menu, look through this complete guide to the Procreate app.

Tip #5: Learn the Recolor Methods

When using Procreate, there will be times where you will need to recolor a single shape or an entire layer. The ColorDrop technique is great for recoloring a few shapes, while the Alpha Lock Fill Layer method works great for recoloring an entire layer.

10 Essential Procreate Tips Every Illustrator Needs to Know — Recolor Methods
Mockup via blackzheep.

To use the ColorDrop method, select the layer that you’re working with and click and drag the color circle to the shape you’d like to recolor. The new hue will fill in the boundaries of your shape, like seen above. This method only works if your illustration is completely closed off; using this technique on an open shape will fill the entire layer with the selected hue.

10 Essential Procreate Tips Every Illustrator Needs to Know — Fill Layer
Mockup via blackzheep.

When working with a more complex composition, using the Alpha Lock Fill Layer command is a much quicker way to go. Instead of dragging the ColorDrop onto each line, shape, or letter, you can change the entire layer’s colors in one fell swoop. Go to the layer you’d like to edit, then click on its thumbnail and select Alpha Lock. Head back to the color menu and activate a new swatch. Hit the layer’s thumbnail again and choose Fill Layer. Changing the colors in your illustration has never been easier.

Tip #6: Take Advantage of the Quick Shape Command

Sometimes it can be difficult to draw out a perfect circle or triangle in a composition. Procreate’s Quick Shape command comes in handy by straightening out uneven lines to create a more geometric shape.

10 Essential Procreate Tips Every Illustrator Needs to Know — Quick Shape Command
Mockup via blackzheep.

Simply draw out a shape, such as a triangle, with the Brush Tool and hold down the pencil cursor until the shape snaps into place. A menu will pop up above the canvas, initiating you to edit the shape. Click on the button to manipulate individual points on the shape. Hit the cursor icon to return back to the canvas.

Tip #7: Utilize Blend Modes

Blend modes are an underrated tool in many design programs; they create a blend of two adjourning layers, often rendering unique results. Many designers and illustrators are knowledgeable on blend modes due to their presence on Adobe software. Similar to Photoshop’s layer modes, Procreate contains blend modes within the layers tab. Access these within the Layers menu by clicking the letter next to the check box on an individual layer.

10 Essential Procreate Tips Every Illustrator Needs to Know — Utilize Blend Modes
Mockup via blackzheep.

The layer modes allow you to adjust opacity and modify its appearance with familiar blend modes.

  • Darken: Contains Multiply, Linear Burn, Color Burn, Darken
  • Lighten: Lighten, Screen, Add, Color Dodge
  • Contrast: Overlay, Hard Light, Soft Light
  • Difference: Exclusion, Difference, Subtract
  • Color: Hue, Saturation, Color, Luminosity

A good rule of thumb when using blend modes in Procreate is to experiment with them and get a feel for the results they produce. Decrease the opacity to create a more subtle blend, or amp up the opacity to 100% for a more harsh result.

Tip #8: Experiment with the Text Tool

In instances where you need a little bit of typography but aren’t skilled in lettering or calligraphy, Procreate’s new text tool is everything you need and more. This tool has all of the editing capabilities as any Adobe program, from kerning to style to outline options. You can also further manipulate the text with brushes, effects, and masks.

10 Essential Procreate Tips Every Illustrator Needs to Know — Text Tool
Mockup via blackzheep.

To add text to your canvas, head up to the wrench icon and select Add > Add Text. This will bring up a text box where you can quickly type out letters or a phrase with the keyboard. From there, you can alter font type, font size, text alignment, and more.

For a more in-depth explanation of the Text tool, look through this complete guide to Procreate’s new text features.

Tip #9: Use StreamLine for Brush Lettering

Many lettering artists rely on Procreate to create stunning typography designs. Procreate’s extensive brush library and tools translate very well when applied to calligraphy or hand drawn lettering.

10 Essential Procreate Tips Every Illustrator Needs to Know — Brush Lettering
Mockup via blackzheep.

When first testing out some brushes, you may notice that your curves appear wobbly and uneven. To fix this, click on a brush from the Brush Library and select the Stroke tab at the bottom. Use the slider to adjust the percentage of StreamLine. I typically settle around 75-80% when using the StreamLine function; too much of it can constrict your curves and letters.

Tip #10: Incorporate Textured Brushes

The Brush Library is inarguably one of the best aspects of Procreate. There is a wide selection of brush types, from pencils to watercolors to charcoals. Each brush is categorized in sections ranging from Sketching to Water for easy navigation. To access Procreate’s vast range of default brushes, select the brush icon at the top of the program.

10 Essential Procreate Tips Every Illustrator Needs to Know — Textured Brushes
Mockup via blackzheep.

Many illustrators work with texture to deviate from the typical solid geometric shapes and smooth clean lines. I prefer to use texture to bring in some variation and add in unique shadows and highlights to imagery. Some default brushes I frequent include the Charcoal and the Inking brushes for a hint of subtle texture. Click on an individual brush to edit its properties even further. Just as with any aspect of Procreate, play around with the brush library and experiment with various styles of brushes.

For a more in-depth explanation of the Brush Library, look through this complete guide to the Procreate app.

Cover image via Twin Design.

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