Learning how to use Procreate’s endless tools in your designs may be overwhelming at first. Discover how to use Procreate to your advantage with five techniques for elevating simple illustrations.

The Procreate app is a powerful application designed for sketching, illustrating, and more from your iPad or iPhone. It closely resembles 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 can be overwhelming for beginners.

Learning the basic techniques is essential for navigating the Procreate app. From incorporating highlights and shadows to utilizing masks and blend modes, these tools and effects are a great foundation for building your Procreate knowledge.

Read on to discover five ways to boost and transform simple illustrations.


1. Incorporate Shadows and Highlights to Solid Shapes

A simple way to elevate flat shapes and add dimension to any illustration is to bring in highlights and shadows. Establishing points of light with Procreate’s tools and commands gives life to flat objects within your composition.

5 Techniques to Elevate Simple Procreate Illustrations — Shadows and Highlights

With the help of the Alpha Lock command, Reference command, and Layers menu, you can instantly transform your drawings.

Alpha Lock Command

The Alpha Lock command can be found within the Layers menu and gives you the ability to draw within that layer’s shape. To quickly access this handy command, take two fingers and swipe right on the layer you’d like to incorporate highlights and shadows to. You’ll notice a grey checkerboard grid pop up within the layer preview.

While this method of applying dimension is more destructive than the Reference command, it’s a simple way to spruce up solid shapes in your illustration. If you’re not satisfied with the results using the Alpha Lock command, you can easily undo by tapping on the screen with two fingers, or draw directly within the shape to revert back to its original state.

Reference Command and Mask

This command references a specific layer and allows you to add color to the art on a separate layer. When using this technique, the outline or shapes in the reference layer will determine the fill on the other layer.

5 Techniques to Elevate Simple Procreate Illustrations — Reference Command

Simply apply the color to the new layer with the ColorDrop technique, then apply a layer mask to the new layer and mask away the new layer with black as the active color. This nondestructive method of applying shadows ensures that you can easily erase the separate layer without overwriting the original contents of your illustration.


2. Work with Different Brush Options

Procreate’s Brushes menu is one of my favorite menus within the program. You can find the brushes library by selecting the paint brush icon at the top of the program. There are tons of default brushes at your fingertips, from pencils to textured brushes.

Step out of your comfort zone by working with different brushes than you’re used to; if you like to work with monoweight brushes, try experimenting with a textured brush that varies in weights. Using a charcoal brush instead of a pencil brush can instantly transform the look and feel of your illustration.

5 Techniques to Elevate Simple Procreate Illustrations — Brush Options

In addition to using Procreate’s endless library of default brushes, you can also customize all of them to best fit your illustration style. Experiment with the different sliders to change your brush’s appearance, then save the new brush to refer back to in future illustrations. Use these brushes to draw out your illustration, or bring in textural elements with more distressed brushes.

5 Techniques to Elevate Simple Procreate Illustrations — Customized Brushes


3. Take Advantage of Blend 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. Each blend mode is separated into categories containing Darken, Lighten, Contrast, Difference, and Color.

5 Techniques to Elevate Simple Procreate Illustrations — Blend Modes

You can apply the blend modes to various layers for a unique composition or focus on a single layer to achieve a desired effect. Be careful not to use blend modes for every layer; use these handy modes in moderation to avoid an over- or under-saturated composition.


4. Bring in Pattern or Texture with Alpha Lock

Textures, patterns, and lines help to elevate flat geometric shapes. A composition that was originally comprised of basic circles and triangles is instantly transformed with the help of textured organic lines. The creative opportunities are endless here; you can incorporate elements as detailed or as simplistic as your heart desires.

5 Techniques to Elevate Simple Procreate Illustrations — Alpha Lock

This handy Alpha Lock command is extremely versatile. In addition to applying highlights and shadows, you can also bring in realistic brush and ink textures within the selected layer.

5 Techniques to Elevate Simple Procreate Illustrations — Textures and Patterns

Apply the Alpha Lock command to a specific layer, then set the brush to an ink or charcoal brush and draw within the bounds of your illustration.


5. Add a Sense of Depth with Layers

Next to the Brushes library, the Layers menu is another Procreate tool that I use in every composition. This menu allows you to arrange and group different elements within your composition.

For an in-depth breakdown on the Layers menu, look at this complete guide to Procreate.

5 Techniques to Elevate Simple Procreate Illustrations — Add Depth with Layers

Layering specific aspects of your illustration is essential when working with multiple components in your composition. Elements that overlap without some aspect of depth and dimension appear too basic and flat.

A simple way to incorporate visual depth is by creating a drop shadow with duplicate layers and blend modes. Swipe right on a specific layer, then hit Duplicate. Set the duplicated layer to a different blend mode, such as Multiply. Head over to the cursor icon at the top left of the program to transform the selected layer.

5 Techniques to Elevate Simple Procreate Illustrations — Duplicate Layers

Click and drag the blue circles to resize the selected elements as needed, then drag across to move the shapes across the document. Adjust the opacity of the duplicated layer as needed, since sometimes an opacity of 100% makes the drop shadow too harsh. If applying the drop shadow to more complex elements, try experimenting with Procreate’s Distort and Warp abilities within the Transform menu.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. While these techniques are seemingly simple, you can always build onto them with endless commands, brushes, menus, and more. As you get more and more familiar with the Procreate program, the techniques you use on a regular basis may become increasingly complex and advanced.


Mockup image via ouh_desire.

Searching for more tips and tricks on how to elevate your designs? Check these out: