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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, 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.

From illustrator Jarom Vogel’s Skillshare class,  Learn to use Procreate
From illustrator Jarom Vogel’s Skillshare class, Learn to use Procreate

If you haven’t yet taken the plunge, Procreate can appear intimidating but the application’s best-kept secret is how easy it is to get started. To help you find your way, we’ve pulled together all the information you need to learn how to draw with Procreate. We’ll cover essential hardware you need to get started, 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 tips and tricks to help you harness the program’s unique powers for making art.

What is Procreate?

Procreate is an award-winning illustration, sketching, and painting app made exclusively for iPad.

Fun Fact

Procreate was invented 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” feeling, combined with the wide variety of 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 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.

The Benefits of Using Procreate

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 and undo changes to work. 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, but at the moment none match the power, flexibility, and complete functionality and feature-set of Procreate.

How 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.

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.

From Brooke Glaser’s Skillshare class,    Intro to Procreate: Illustrating on the iPad
From Brooke Glaser’s Skillshare class, Intro to Procreate: Illustrating on the iPad

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 Hardware for Using Procreate

What’s the best iPad for Procreate?

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.

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.

From Libby VanderPloeg’s class,    Animation for Illustration: Adding Movement with Procreate & Photoshop
From Libby VanderPloeg’s class, Animation for Illustration: Adding Movement with Procreate & Photoshop

Procreate’s FAQ and discussion forums have more information on technical requirements and Procreate compatibility with older iPad models.

Using Apple Pencil with Procreate

Apple Pencil (2nd Generation) 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 can be used exclusively with older iPad Pros and the 2018 iPad (6th generation).

Apple Pencil 2 has a flat side that helps many artists grip the Pencil in a more precisely. 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. 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.

Pro Tip
One product that has proved to a dealmaker for artists considering Procreate is PaperLike, a screen protector that makes a smooth glass surface of the iPad feel more like paper when drawn on.

Setting Up Your Procreate Canvas

First things first: you need a canvas to work on. Upon opening the Procreate app, you’ll see the gallery view. This is where you can view all of the existing artwork you’ve made. Click the plus sign in the top right corner of the screen. Tapping on the first option, “Screen Size” will take you right into the canvas.

JaromVogelLesson2_0013_option2Still.jpg

Once in canvas, you’ll see tools organized in three sections: the top right of the screen, top left of the screen, and along the left side. There are a lot of tools to digest, so we’re only going to focus on the main ones you need to get started:

Actions

Clicking on the wrench icon in the top left toolbar gets you to Procreate’s settings. This is where you can make adjustments to your canvas and tools. Play around with the settings to find what works best for you. We recommend turning on the light interface and brush cursor.

Quick Menu

After you’ve exited out of the Actions menu, tap and hold anywhere on the canvas screen to bring up Quick Menu. You can customize this menu to contain actions you frequently use, like rotating your canvas. It’s a great shortcut to save time as you create artwork.

JaromVogelLesson20220Still.jpg

Procreate Brushes

Tap the brush icon in your canvas toolbar to choose which brush you’d like to draw with. The brush menu is organized by two core elements that are endlessly customizable: shape and grain. To begin, we suggest selecting one of the default pencils, found in the section titled “Sketching”. The app comes with over 100 pre-installed brushes but if you need more options, it’s easy to to download brushes created by other artists.

Smudge Tool

Right next to the brush icon, you’ll see the smudge icon. Smudge offers the same brushes as the ones listed under the brush icon. This tool is great for blending, mixing colors and softening brush strokes.

Erase Tool

The eraser, to the right of the smudge icon, also has the same set of brush options. You can use this tool to undo mistakes and remove pigment. The eraser can also be used to blend.

Layers

Layers, to the right of the eraser icon, allows 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.

Learn More About Procreate

Procreate Fundamentals: Everything You Didn’t Realize You Wanted to Know

Color

Tap on the color dot, next to layers, to bring up your color menu. Simply drag down your pencil to choose your color. You can save colors to create your own custom color palette here as well.

Brush Size and Opacity

The left side bar contains sliders where you can adjust brush size and opacity. You can use the opacity slider to control how strong your brush stroke and smudge are. You can also use this slider to control how much pigment your eraser removes.

Undo and Redo

You’ll see buttons to undo and redo your work in the left sidebar. You can also simply tap your screen with two fingers to undo, and tap with three fingers to redo.

Alright, you’re ready to start drawing! Create whatever you like for your first artwork — a person, an object, an abstract. In this tutorial, illustrator and Skillshare teacher Jarom Vogel is going to show you how to draw a character.

Jarom Vogel’s initial sketch from Skillshare class      Digital Illustration: Learn to Use Procreate
Jarom Vogel’s initial sketch from Skillshare class Digital Illustration: Learn to Use Procreate

Sketching a New Procreate Layer

Once you’ve got your initial sketch, you’re ready to add more detail. Tap on the layers icon and name your current sketch. Then create another layer by clicking on the plus sign. This adds a layer on top of your existing sketch.

Pro Tip
You may find it useful to lower the opacity on your initial layer, so you can really focus on the details you’re adding in. To do this, tap with two fingers on the first layer. A blue bar will pop up near the top of your screen. You can slide anywhere on the screen to adjust the opacity to your liking.

Use your second layer to add detail to your image, trace and formalize any of the lines you drew earlier, and make adjustments to your initial sketch. Jarom decided he wanted to adjust the position of his character’s arms, so he’s doing that in the second layer:

Using the Selection Tool

By the time you’re finished, the second layer should be a finalized, detailed version of your original sketch. If you’re happy with the way it looks, go ahead and delete the first layer, so that you’re only working with your final sketch. Now, we’re ready to start blocking out our basic shapes, so we can add color and additional detail. Create a new layer, and click on the S icon to activate the selection tool. You’re going to start outlining the section of your sketch that you want to color, by tracing back over your sketch. Jarom wants one section of his character to be yellow, so he uses the selection tool to retrace that section here:

Once you have your shape selected, choose the color you’d like from the color menu. You can drag and drop the color directly into your selected area to fill it in:

Repeat this process with the selection tool, creating a new layer for each section you want to outline, tracing the section of your sketch and filling it in with color. Don’t worry if your colors aren’t perfect – you can go in and adjust those later. What matters is that you’ve blocked out the shapes from your drawing, in the way you’d like.

Adding Texture

Once you’ve blocked out all the shapes from your drawing, you can adjust coloring and add texture to each shape.

Pro Tip
Alpha Lock is a very useful feature that allows you to work only within the shape you’ve selected. When adding new colors or textures to a single shape (for example, a character’s hair), you can use Alpha Lock to make sure your texture stays within the lines. To turn it on, simply go to layers in the toolbar, tap on the layer you want to work with, and select Alpha Lock.

To add texture, choose the brush you’d like to work with (we like to use the ones filed under “Artistic” in the brush library). Once you’ve selected a brush, start adding texture to your shape, using speed and pressure to vary the effect.

Creating Backgrounds in Procreate

To change the background color of your artwork, open the layers menu and tap on the layer titled “Background Color”. This will automatically open the color menu so you can choose what shade you want your background to be.

If you want to add additional shapes to your background, simply create a new layer (or multiple layers, depending on how many shapes you’re adding). Sketch out the background shapes, retrace them using the selection tool, then add in color and texture.

Export Your Procreate Drawing

Once you’ve finished your illustration, tap on the wrench icon to open the Actions menu. Tap on “Share” and choose which format you’d like to export your artwork in. Once you’ve selected your file type, you’ll be able to choose where you’d like to save your artwork.

Pro Tip
Procreate automatically records your entire creation process, and lets you watch or save it as a timelapse video. To see your timelapse, open the Actions menu and tap “Video”.

Organizing and Sharing Your Procreate Artwork

You’ll be able to view your Procreate drawings in Gallery View within the app. Here, you can name and reorder your drawings, and group them 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.

Vogel’s finished artwork.
Vogel’s finished artwork.

Ready to draw in Procreate?

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 More? Watch Jarom Vogel’s Full Class

Digital Illustration: Learn to Use Procreate