Brad Colbow

The Procreate app is the most popular digital painting app on the iPad and it’s easy to see why. The simple interface is straightforward to learn, allowing anyone to jump in and start drawing. But dig a little deeper and many other powerful tools and features are hiding below the user-friendly surface.

Procreate works on the iPad Pro as well as any iPad model that supports the Apple Pencil. If you’re looking to get up to speed with Procreate you’re in the right place. Try out these 10 tips and tricks to send your illustration skills to the next level.

1. The fill tool

Most drawing applications have a paint bucket tool, which lets you fill a shape with color in a single click. At first, you might think that Procreate is missing this time-saver feature, but it’s there if you know where to look.

Drawing and Painting on the iPad with Procreate

Last Updated December 2021

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Learn everything you need to know about Procreate with hands on drawing lessons. Now updated for Procreate 5. | By Brad Colbow

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Here’s how to achieve the same results: drag your color circle in the upper right corner into the area you want to fill. You can also use this to recolor solid colors already existing on the canvas. Ensure shapes are completely closed before filling, otherwise, the paint will leak and cover your entire canvas. Nobody wants that.

This color fill tool has some interesting settings that you might not expect in a standard paint bucket tool. For example, once your paint is on the canvas you can grab a new color and recolor with the color fill tool.

The color fill will also recolor similar colors on your canvas. If the color wasn’t what you’re expecting, you can dial back the color fill threshold. Hold your finger or stylus on the canvas after filling and a blue slider bar will appear at the top of the screen. Sliding it to the left tightens up the color and sliding it to the right causes it to spread out more.

The fill tool is great for cartooning and a huge time saver when paired with color palettes.

2. The QuickShape tool

This is another tool you may have accidentally stumbled upon while drawing. If you draw a straight line and hold your pencil or finger on the canvas for a second it will snap into a perfect line; this is the QuickShape tool. If you then take your other hand and place a finger on the canvas the line snaps to predefined angles.

But that’s not all the QuickShape tool can do, it can also make shapes! Try drawing a circle and hold your pencil as you close the end of the circle and it will snap into an ellipse. If it’s a perfect circle you want, place another finger on the canvas.

You can make all kinds of shapes using this method — squares, triangles, and more. Simply hold your Apple Pencil on the canvas after drawing to snap the lines into a shape.

3. Lock a layer to repaint it

What if you’ve painted an object on your canvas and you want to add in details but don’t want the new paint to go outside that object? This is easy with a setting called Alpha Lock. To turn this on, open your layers palette and find the layer you want to paint on. Tap on that layer and select “Alpha Lock” from the menu. You will know it’s activated if you see a checkbox background on your layer preview.

Now you can paint away with your brush tool or eraser tool. It will only affect areas of your layer that already have paint. This will work with any tool in your brush library.

4. Copy, cut, and paste

Ever wish you could copy and paste in Procreate? Great news, you can. Take three fingers anywhere on the screen and swipe down to bring up the copy, cut, and paste menu. 

Select a specific part of your canvas with the selection tool before pulling up the menu and you can copy that section of your drawing. I love copying photos found while browsing on Safari and pasting them into Procreate. It’s a great photo reference productivity hack and a huge time saver.

5. The Eyedropper tool

You may already know that if you hold your finger or stylus on the canvas it turns on the color picker. A lot of times I accidentally trigger it when drawing and it can get rather frustrating. If this also happens to you — good news — you can set the color picker to come up slower or faster.

In the upper left corner of your screen go to the wrench icon > Prefs > Eyedropper

Here you will see a slider that you can toggle to make the eyedropper appear faster, slower, or even turn it off completely.

6. Perspective grid

New to recent versions of Procreate is the addition of grids including traditional square grids, perspective grids, and even isometric grids. 

To get started with grids, tap the wrench icon in the upper left corner of the app and go to the Canvas tab. Then, toggle the drawing guide on and select “Edit Drawing Guide.” 

Here you will find a plethora of grid options. You can change the color, the size, the opacity, or even the type of grid you’re using.

Once your grid is set up you might want to only draw lines on your grid. In this case, there is a feature called Drawing Assist. Go to the layer you want to draw on, tap it, and toggle on Drawing Assist. Now every line you draw will align on the grid and drawing guides. When you want to draw off the grid, toggle Drawing Assist off and you’re good to go.

7. Animation tools

You may have found the animation export features while making time-lapse videos. If you haven’t, tap the wrench icon, then the Canvas tab to turn on Animation Assist.

When Animation Assist is on you’ll see an animation timeline along the bottom of the screen. In Procreate every layer acts as a frame of animation. That toolbar really speeds up your workflow. From there you can add new layers, change the animation speed, and even set the background and foreground layers.

One of the great benefits of animating in Procreate is access to all of its great brushes, special effects like push twirl, and useful tools like drawing guides. Your animations will have all the life and vibrancy of your finished artwork.

8. Merging layers

Many of Procreate’s best features are hidden in hand gestures. One of those hidden features is merging many layers at once. 

Working with layers is great for trying something new as you won’t mess up the parts of your illustration that are working. Once you refined the layers and decide they are working, you’ll want to merge them to simplify your drawing. No problem. To do this, open your Layer pallet and finger pinch together all the layers you wish to merge. POOF! Like magic, your layers have merged.

A word of warning: once layers are merged, there is no way to unmerge them. Instead of merging layers, you can also try to group layers. It’s non-destructive and keeps your layer pallet clean. To create a group, swipe right on all the layers you wish to include then tap on the Group button at the top of your Layer pallet.

9. Specify canvas size in inches or centimeters

I’m including this tip because it’s easy to overlook if you’ve been using Procreate for a while. When you are in the gallery and creating a new canvas by clicking the plus button in the upper right corner some of the options are hidden. When the new canvas menu opens you will see a little icon in the upper right corner of it. Tap on that to bring up all your canvas size options. This gives you the ability to create any of the canvas sizes you need. It looks like a calculator but that is where you can tap in your measurement units. You can also change your canvas units from pixels to centimeters or inches. 

10. Gradients

There is no gradient tool in Procreate but that doesn’t mean we can’t have nice crisp gradients! We can make gradients by first double-tapping the Brush icon to access the brush library, then tapping the airbrush category. I like to use the soft round brush. The key to creating a gradient this way is to make the brush so big that it makes a nice smooth transition between colors. If you pair this brush with the Alpha Lock you’ll see some beautiful results.

That’s the 10 tips I have for beginners of Procreate. I’m always finding new things to do in this painting app. Take my course Drawing and Painting on the iPad with Procreate to get started with digital painting. You’ll uncover your own favorite Procreate tips and tricks in no time!

Page Last Updated: January 2021

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