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Every once in a while, 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, the iPad 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 delete and correct easily, create art more quickly, and 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 use Procreate.

What is Procreate?

Procreate is an award-winning illustration, sketching, and painting app made exclusively for iPad. You may be more familiar with other programs such as Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Photoshop.

The main difference between Procreate and Illustrator is that Procreate is a raster graphics editor while Illustrator is vector based.

The main difference between Procreate and Photoshop is that Procreate is used to make original art while Photoshop’s primary function is photo editing, though it does offer many other features.

New to Procreate? Don’t worry – we’ve got plenty of tools, tips, walk-throughs, and full classes to help you get started.

Fun Fact

Procreate was invented by Savage Interactive, a tech startup located on the Australian island state of Tasmania. Their innovation 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 app’s responsiveness – 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 your own) 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 that may be familiar to you if you’re a Photoshop user. You’re able to 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 layer adjustments, 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.

Other professional-grade digital art apps are available out there, but at the moment, none match Procreate’s flexibility, features, and functionality.

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.

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

Essential Hardware for Using Procreate

What’s the Best iPad for Procreate?

If you’re looking to buy an iPad to use Procreate, you have a lot of options to choose from. But the app works with so many models, you may not have to replace your iPad if you already have one. The latest version of Procreate is 5.2.5. It requires iPadOS 14.4 or newer and is supported on the following devices:

  • 12.9-inch iPad Pro (1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th generation)
  • 11-inch iPad Pro (1st, 2nd, and 3rd generation)
  • 10.5-inch iPad Pro
  • 9.7-inch iPad Pro
  • iPad (9th generation)
  • iPad (8th generation)
  • iPad (7th generation)
  • iPad (6th generation)
  • iPad (5th generation)
  • iPad mini (6th generation)
  • iPad mini (5th generation)
  • iPad mini 4
  • iPad Air (4th generation)
  • iPad Air (3rd generation)
  • iPad Air 2
An iPad plugged in and running Procreate. A person’s hand with red-painted nails holds an Apple pencil over the screen, which displays an image of a woman riding a bike, holding an ice cream cone.
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

While other styluses (even your finger!) can work with most iPads, Apple Pencil offers a little more control and a few more options in Procreate. The 1st Generation Apple Pencil will work with:

  • iPad Pro 12.9″ (1st & 2nd generation)
  • iPad Pro 10.5″, iPad Pro 9.7″
  • iPad (9th, 8th, 7th & 6th generation)
  • iPad Air 3
  • iPad mini 5

To pair it, plug the Lightning connector on the end of your Apple Pencil into the Lightning port on the bottom of your iPad, then tap Pair in the dialog box that appears.

The 2nd Generation Apple Pencil will work with:

  • iPad Pro 12.9-inch (3rd, 4th, and 5th Generation)
  • iPad Pro 11-inch (1st, 2nd, and 3rd Generation)
  • iPad Air 4

To pair it, attach your Apple Pencil to the magnetic strip on the right-hand side of your iPad Pro.

Apple Pencil 2 has a flat side that you may find helps you grip the Pencil more firmly for more precision. It also features a double-tap function that truly distinguishes it from the previous generation.

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.

Procreate for iPad App

Available in 13 languages, Procreate for iPad costs $9.99 in the U.S. Apple App Store. You’ll find more information about the app itself in the Procreate App Store preview and the Procreate Artists Handbook.

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

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 artwork you’ve made. To create a new canvas, click the plus sign in the top right corner of the screen. Tap the first option, “Screen Size,” to go right into the canvas.

JaromVogelLesson2_0013_option2Still.jpg

Once in the 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. Procreate offers numerous tools, but we’re going to focus on the main ones you need to get started:

Actions Menu

Click on the wrench icon in the top left toolbar to access 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 the Actions menu, tap and hold anywhere on the canvas screen to bring up the Quick Menu. You can customize this menu to contain actions you’ll frequently use. We recommend adding the option to rotate your canvas to give you more flexibility as you create artwork. Think about it like turning your paper as you draw.

Brushes

The same way you use a pencil to draw, brushes are the tools you’ll use in Procreate to create your art. The app comes with more than 100 already installed, but you can create even more options by customizing existing brushes or creating your own. And once you’ve created a brush, you can share it to make it available to other artists as well.

To choose which brush you’d like to draw with, tap the brush icon in your canvas toolbar. 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, which you’ll find in the “Sketching” section. If you need more options, try downloading brushes created by other artists.

Smudge Tool

Right next to the brush icon, you’ll see an icon for the smudge tool. It offers the same brushes as the ones listed under the brush icon, but gives you the options to blend and mix colors, and soften 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. You can also use it to blend.

Layers

To the right of the eraser icon you’ll see the layers icon. This tool allows you to isolate elements of your drawing to manipulate or add effects without affecting the entire drawing. 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

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Color

Next to the layers icon, tap the color dot to bring up the color menu. Simply drag your pencil down to choose the color you want. You can save colors to create your own custom color palette here as well.

Brush Size and Opacity

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

Undo and Redo

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

All right, you’re ready to draw with Procreate! Create whatever you like for your first artwork — a person, a landscape, a cute animal, an abstract — you’re only limited by your imagination.

Watch this quick tutorial where illustrator and Skillshare teacher Jarom Vogel demonstrates 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 the layers icon and name your current sketch. Create another layer by tapping the plus sign. This adds a layer on top of your existing sketch.

Pro Tip
Lower the opacity on your initial layer so you can really focus on the details you’re adding. To do this, tap two fingers on the first layer. A blue bar will pop up near the top of your screen. Slide anywhere on the screen to adjust the opacity to your liking

Use the 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 does 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, you’re ready to start blocking out your basic shapes so you can add color and additional detail.

Create a new layer, and click on the S icon to activate the selection tool. Start outlining the section of your sketch you want to color by tracing back over your sketch.

Jarom wanted one section of his character to be yellow, so he used 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 back and adjust them later.

Adding Texture

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

Pro Tip
Alpha Lock is a handy 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 the 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), then 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 the layer titled “Background Color.” This will automatically open the color menu so you can easily and quickly choose the best color for your background.

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 color and texture.

Exporting Your Procreate Drawing

Once you’ve finished your illustration, tap the wrench icon to open the Actions menu. Tap “Share,” and choose a format to export your artwork, then select where you’d like to save it.

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 be using — which also makes it very easy to share your art with the world.

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

Get 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 designs, 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 an open mind.

Want More? Watch Jarom Vogel’s Full Class

Digital Illustration: Learn to Use Procreate