Procreate is quickly becoming every creative’s best friend. But what is Procreate? Discover the endless capabilities of this digital illustration app and how to use its tools in your next project.

The Procreate app is a powerful application designed for sketching, illustrating, and prototyping artwork. It closely resembles the setup of Adobe Photoshop in regards to its brush library, layer modes, various effects, and raster profile. But with its endless features, tools, and brushes, this digital illustration app is in a league of its own.

Available on Apple iPads for $9.99 (and now with a $4.99 lite version called Procreate Pockets for iPhones), Procreate’s simple interface is also highly customizable, down to the gesture controls and brush settings. The app provides numerous high quality brushes with wet and dry applications. When combined with the Apple Pencil, the app tracks the angle and pressure you apply to the pencil, creating a realistic depiction of how a brush or pen translates on paper.

Procreate is an ideal tool for creative professionals and hobbyists, especially those interested in digital illustration. In this guide, you’ll get a preview of the app to see how it works so that you can decided whether it’s worth the investment.


Setting Up a Document in Procreate

When you enter the Procreate app, you’ll see default artwork from other artists and options to create a new document. Select the located on the upper right corner to add a new canvas. You can choose from default canvas sizes or customize your own. Width and height dimensions can be set in pixels, inches, centimeters, and millimeters to best suit your needs.

Procreate app document setup

In the DPI menu, you can enter your own values. 300 DPI will work fine for most projects. Set your Color mode to sRGB, then create a name for your document.


Preferences and Canvas Settings in Procreate

While the baseline Procreate app is simple to use, you can edit the preferences to create the perfect workspace for your artwork. Open up your Preferences by selecting the wrench icon at the top of the program.

Procreate app preferences menu and canvas settings

There are various buttons to choose from, but here’s a general breakdown of the functionalities:

  • Image: Allows you to insert a file or photo, along with commands to cut, copy, and paste.
  • Canvas: Gives you options to insert drawing guides, flip the canvas, and provide canvas information.
  • Share: Provides export options such as a Procreate file, PSD, PDF, JPEG, PNG, and TIFF.
  • Video: Shows time-lapse recording features to screen-record your drawing sessions.
  • Prefs: Displays preferences in regards to canvas interface and cursor settings. Allows you to edit Gesture Controls to alter finger commands for specific tools. If using a third-party stylus, connect it to Procreate in this tab.

Procreate Shortcuts

Procreate shortcuts increase your efficiency when drawing and save you from having to repeat steps. The shortcuts listed below are default shortcuts; if you’d like to customize these shortcuts, go to Actions (wrench icon) > Prefs > Gesture Controls.

  • Undo: To undo once, tap the screen with two fingers; hold down two fingers to undo quickly.
  • Redo: Tap 3 fingers on the screen to redo; hold down three fingers to redo quickly
  • Cut, Copy, Paste: Use three fingers and slide down to bring up the menu.
  • Zoom: Use two fingers and pinch inwards to zoom out and outwards to zoom in. To rotate and zoom, take two fingers and move in circular fashion to mimic rotation. To bring canvas to 100%, pinch inwards with two fingers and bring them together, then quickly release.
  • Eyedropper Tool: Tap with one finger to bring up eyedropper tool then drag across to select colors found in canvas or image.
  • Draw Straight Line: Draw a line and hold down at end point to create a straight line; hold down one finger in addition to set the line in 15 degree increments.
  • Erase Layer Components: Wiggle three fingers side to side to erase all components of selected layer.

Procreate Brush Menu

The Brushes menu is inarguably one of the best aspects of Procreate. Select the paint brush icon at the top of the program to open the brush library. There are tons of default brushes at your finger tips, from pencils to textured brushes.

Procreate app brush menu

There are quite a few categories of brushes to choose from, so it can be overwhelming to know where to start. Here’s a general breakdown of the brush categories:

  • Sketching: Contains pencils and pastels; great for planning your artwork and casual sketching.
  • Inking: Consists of pens and markers great for drawing outlines or hand lettering.
  • Calligraphy: Includes brushes optimal for hand lettering; these brushes mimic a true brush pen.
  • Painting: Encompasses painterly style brushes that create texture and simulate the style of paint brushes.
  • Artistic: Contains acrylic, gouache, and watercolor style brushes for more painterly textures.
  • Airbrushing: Consists of brushes that mimic spray paints.
  • Charcoals: Includes charcoal brushes of various widths and styles.
  • Textured brushes: Encompasses eccentric brushes with textures, symbols, and patterns.

With Procreate’s vast library of brushes, you can create unique effects, textures, and illustrations. Experiment with various brushes and customize them even further with the brush settings.

How to Change Brush Settings

Once you select a brush, an icon menu will appear at the bottom of the brush tab. This is where you can fine-tune the brush settings, form its shape, to how it interacts with the Apple Pencil. You can customize a brush’s stroke properties by adjusting its spacing, streamLine, and taper. The StreamLine command is an amazing feature and helps to “snap” strokes into place when hand lettering.

How to change brush settings in Procreate app

Procreate automatically saves these new settings, but if you’d like to create different variations of the same brush, you can copy the brush by heading to the brush library and swiping left on the brush name to bring up the Duplicate button.

Brushes in Action

With the Apple Pencil, you can draw in ways that mimic a real brush. Depending on the angle you draw at, you can achieve different results. When drawing vertically with emphasis on the tip of the pencil, the width of the brush will be smaller.

What different brushes look like in Procreate app

Experiment with a brush’s opacity by drawing lightly, then applying more pressure to the pencil. Tilt your pencil and draw at an angle to achieve a wider stroke and a more textured look.

Adjust the sliders on the left hand side of the program to modify your brush’s opacity and size. To quickly erase your illustration, navigate to the Erase tool. You can select from various brushes to use as your eraser and adjust the eraser size and opacity with the brush sliders as needed.


How to Use Layers in Procreate

Procreate’s Layers menu is similar to Adobe Photoshop’s. You can easily add, duplicate, delete, merge, or rearrange the order of your layers with simple swipes.

How to use layers in Procreate app

To add a new layer, click the + icon at the top right of the Layers dropdown. Hold down a layer to rearrange and organize your layer order. Toggle the check box to hide or show the layer.

Swipe left to bring up options to LockDuplicate, or Clear the layer. To combine layers, place your fingers on the topmost and bottommost layers and pinch together. This command only merges all consecutive layers. When merging just two layers, click on the top layer thumbnail and select Merge Down from the dropdown menu.

To select multiple layers at once, swipe right across the layers of your choice. From here, you can create a new group of layers by clicking on the three stacked lines on the right, or you can quickly delete them by clicking on the single line to the left.

Layer Modes

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.

The layer modes allow you to adjust opacity and modify its appearance with fmailiar 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

Layer Options

Click on the layer thumbnail to reveal the numerous layer options listed below:

  • Select: Selects all elements of the layer. Head to the cursor icon at the top of the program to move or scale layer elements.
  • Copy: Copies all elements of selected layer. To paste, swipe down with three fingers and click on Paste.
  • Fill Layer: Fills layer with activated color; when Alpha Lock is turned on, the Fill Layer command fills the layer’s shape.
  • Clear: Clears all elements of the selected layer.
  • Alpha Lock: Delineated by grey checkerboard grid. Gives you the ability to draw within that layer’s shape; is ideal for adding highlights or shadows to specific shapes. To quickly access Alpha Lock, take two fingers and swipe right on the layer.
  • Mask: When applied to a solid shape or line, the 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. This Mask command is a great option for adding textures and brush strokes to a simple layer.
  • Invert: Inverts the hues of the selected layer.
  • Reference: This command references a specific layer and allows you to add color to the art on a separate layer. The outline or shapes in the reference layer will determine the fill on the other layer.
  • Merge Down: Merges with the layer below selected layer. This combines two layers to form one single layer.
  • Combine Down: Creates a new group with selected layers. Swipe right on specific layers to active multiple layers at once.

Color Options in Procreate

There are various ways to alter colors within the Procreate app; you can browse through hues within the DiscClassicValue, and Palettes tabs.

How to use colors in Procreate

The Disc button presents a circular display of hues on the outer ring, with saturation values in the inner circle. To zoom into the saturation values, pinch two fingers and expand outwards; zoom out by pinching two fingers inwards. Double tap within the areas of white or black to sample pure white or pure black.

The Classic tab features a larger square display of a specific hue with various levels of saturation. You can adjust the color by dragging across the hue slider. The second slider affects the saturation of the specific hue, and the third slider affects the levels of black present in the hue.

The Value button displays hue, saturation, and brightness sliders, along with RGB sliders. This tab is where you would input specific color values or hexadecimal codes.

In the Palettes tab, you can view default swatches from Procreate, and create your own palettes with ease. Find a hue that suits your illustration and click within the grey boxes in a palette. You can move swatches around by holding down your finger on a swatch, then dragging it.

Searching for color inspiration for your next Procreate project? Look through these 101 color combinations and 25 retro palettes to get you started.

Using ColorDrop

To drop a color onto your illustration, click and drag the color circle to a designated portion. If the outline is enclosed, the color drop will fill the space; if the outline is partially open, the color fill will spread to the entire layer. As you drop the color, there will be a ColorDrop Threshold slider at the top; this slider indicates the ColorDrop specificity.

How to use the ColorDrop tool in Procreate app

A lower threshold is more precise, while a higher threshold will drop the color across the canvas. To adjust the threshold percentage, hold down your cursor and slide to the right to increase the threshold and to the left to decrease the threshold.


How to Use Adjustments in Procreate

In the Procreate app, there are lots of ways to alter the appearance and colors present in a single layer. Select the magic wand icon to open the adjustment commands. With the first few adjustment tools, you can modify the layer’s opacity, sharpness, introduce blurry effects, and add levels of noise for a grainy look.

How to use adjustment tools in Procreate app

Liquify

The Liquify commands are a recent addition to the Adjustment tools; with them, you have the ability to modify curves and manipulate the flow of shapes. To undo any Liquify commands, utilize the Reconstruct or Adjust tools to nudge the object back to its original form.

Using liquify adjustment tool in Procreate app

The Push, Twirl, Pinch, and Expand buttons all distort the appearance and direction of your illustrations. The Push command pushes a specific layer’s components to one side or the other, depending on the placement of your cursor. To rotate portions of your layer, use the Twirl in clockwise or counter-clockwise directions. Both the Pinch and Expand commands deform the object by compressing or bulging out parts of it.

Color Adjustments

Color Adjustments quickly alter the hues, intensity, and tonality of a specific layer. The Hue, Saturation, and Brightness sliders all affect the overall appearance of layer selected. The Hue slider alters the hues present within the layer, while the Saturation slider changes the intensity of that hue. The Brightness slider adjusts the levels of black.

To quickly modify the levels of red, green, and blue values, or cyan, magenta, and yellow values in your layer, the Color Balance command is your go-to. You can apply these effects to the highlights, midtones, and shadows of your illustration.

How to use color adjustments in Procreate app

The Curves command is a more technical way to change the colors of a layer. Click and drag and move the curves to adjust the levels of red, green, blue in your illustration.

Lastly, the Recolor button quickly fills the specific layer with the hue that is activated on Color thumbnail. You can adjust the flood values to modify the color fill.


The Selection Tool in Procreate

The Selection Tool in Procreate does exactly that: makes selections. This handy tool can be accessed by clicking the S-shaped icon at the top left of the program.

When working with multiple components on a single layer, it can be frustrating to move an individual element around. This tool saves the day by enabling you to transform or move specific elements outlined by the marquee. Simply freehand the marquee around a specific object with your stylus or finger, or make a geometric selection by tapping at various points around your object.

If you’d like to select all components of a specific layer, open the layer options by clicking the layer thumbnail and then hitting Select. You can also access this command quickly by activating the cursor icon located at the top left toolbar.

Using the selection tool in Procreate app

To constrain your proportions, make sure the Magnetics command at the bottom is activated. Disable the Magnetics command to distort your object to uneven proportions.

To add to your original selection, simply draw another marquee around an object. If you’re not keen on a selection, hit the Remove from Selection button. The Invert Selection command selects all other elements outside of the original marquee; this command is ideal for quickly selecting multiple objects at once. You can copy your selected object onto a separate layer by clicking the Duplicate Contents tab. To erase your original selection, hit Clear Selections.


How to Transform in Procreate

Once you’ve made a selection with the Selection Tool, head to the cursor icon, where you can easily transform the object’s appearance.

Using the transform tool in Procreate

The Freeform tab gives commands to resize your illustration; enable Magnetics to constrain original dimensions, or disable it to truly distort your illustration.

To deform the look of your object or create perspective, head to the Distort menu. Click and drag the corner circles to skew and distort the illustrations.

The Warp tab enables a mesh where you can bend or introduce curves to your original illustration. This command is ideal for transforming illustrations around a rounded or cylindrical shape.

Within all of these tabs, you can find commands to flip your selected object horizontally or vertically, along with options to rotate in 45 degree increments or fit the selection to the size of your canvas. Simply hit Reset to revert back to the original settings.


This overview covers the basics of the Procreate app, but as you can imagine there are thousands of ways to make this powerful application work for you. If you want to create art and you already have an iPad that can run Procreate, it’s a no-brainer purchase. If you’re considering the app but you don’t have access to an iPad, try out the brand new Procreate Pocket for iPhone to see a similar interface and tools in action.

It’s an amazing tool for any type of creative, from beginners looking for an intuitive drawing software, to hobbyists looking for an array of tools to experiment with, to creative professionals who need robust features for digital illustration. The app can accomplish tasks as wide-ranging as large-scale illustrations to lettering to raster image modifications.


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iPad mockup image via ouh_desire.