Since launching, Adobe Fresco has upended the world of design. Its live brushes have obvious advantages over real paint brushes (no clean up, for one thing) while still providing users an experience that is remarkably close to analog. The entire application integrates seamlessly with other digital art software from Adobe, including Photoshop and Illustrator. Fresco was designed to make painting and drawing with the latest mobile tools accessible and enjoyable for both novices and seasoned pros, without the kind of learning curve that will hold you back or keep you from focusing on what matters most: your art.

Artwork by Skillshare teacher    Lisk Feng
Artwork by Skillshare teacher Lisk Feng

If you’re ready to get started on your journey with mobile digital art, we’ve compiled this Adobe Fresco tutorial to help you on your way. We’ll cover how to get started with the app, explain how to draw shapes and use Adobe Fresco brushes, and offer helpful tips throughout.  So let’s begin: a world of boundless creativity awaits!

Getting Started with Adobe Fresco  

Essential Equipment

Adobe Fresco is currently available for use on the Apple iPad.. The app supports iOS version 12.4 or later running on the following hardware: all models of iPad Pro; iPad Air 3rd generation; iPad 5th and 6th generations; and the iPad mini 5th generation.

You’ll want to use the 2nd generation Apple Pencil to make full use of Adobe Fresco brushes. This generation is only compatible with the iPad Pro 12.9-inch and iPad Pro 11-inch.

Using Adobe Fresco with Photoshop and Illustrator

While there’s some overlap in terms of functionality among existing digital art applications by Adobe, each program has specific capabilities that make the Creative Cloud suite the toolkit of choice for many professional artists. Adobe Photoshop has long served as the industry standard for photo editing and pixel-level retouching. Many professionals use Adobe Illustrator for drawing. Adobe has positioned Fresco as its easy-to-use, wide-ranging mobile creativity tool that integrates with each.

You can use Fresco to create both raster (pixel-based) or vector (scalable line-based) art, mix the two in a single piece of art, and easily move your images back and forth among Fresco, Photoshop, Illustrator, and other Adobe applications to enhance your work as needed. 

Adobe Fresco for iPad App

Image from Lisk Feng’s Skillshare Original   Creative Digital Illustration: Learn to Use Adobe Fresco
Image from Lisk Feng’s Skillshare Original Creative Digital Illustration: Learn to Use Adobe Fresco

Adobe Fresco is currently available as a try-before-you-buy “freemium” download. That means you can start using the app right away in a free, scaled-down version that you can keep indefinitely (no 30 day trials). But you must pay for access to all of the app’s capabilities. The starter version (found here using your iPad) includes 2 GB of cloud storage (as opposed to 100 GB of storage for the paid version), offers a limited set of brushes, and only lets you export your files at iPad resolution — not the high-res required for print. If you want to upgrade from the free version to the full version of Fresco, a standalone app purchase costs $9.99 per month.

Creating A New Drawing

After downloading and launching Fresco, get started on your first drawing by tapping the “Create New” button on the Home screen. Choose from one of the preset image sizes, or create your own custom size to open up a blank canvas. 

Before we put Apple Pencil to digital paper, let’s take a look at some of the features that make Fresco so fun and easy to draw with.

Adobe Fresco Brushes 

If there’s one thing that truly sets Fresco apart from other illustration and paint applications, it’s the array and functionality of brushes available to users. There are three kinds of brushes: raster, vector, and live.

Live Brushes

For many users, live brushes provide Fresco’s defining characteristic, and serve as a source of creative inspiration. Live brushes are Fresco’s tools for oil painting and watercolor that recreate the experience and results of using real brushes to an extent that astonishes many users.  

Using live brushes, digital paints interact with each other and with your screen’s virtual paper just as they might in real life. Fresco’s oil paints have the same rich, saturated texture and fluid brush strokes of their real-life counterparts, and they mix in a remarkably realistic way. The watercolors are a revelation, too: the paint blooms, darkens around the edges, and “stays wet” just like traditional  watercolors 

Fresco’s oil brushes include flat, round, filbert, detail, glaze, chunky, and short. Watercolor brushes are round detail, wash soft, wash flat, and wet splatter.

Learn More About Brushes With Artist Molly Egan

Digital Illustration: Using Adobe Fresco’s Live Brushes to Create Beautiful Traditional Art

Raster Brushes

Raster art is often used for websites, computer graphics — anything you don’t need to print. Adobe Photoshop is a raster-based application, and Fresco is not only designed to work seamlessly with Photoshop but also has a user interface that is very familiar to Photoshop users.

Fresco includes 10 categories of brushes: basic, comics, dry media, FX, ink, lettering, marker,  painting, rakes, and sketching. (You can also easily import your existing Photoshop brushes directly into Fresco.) Pixel brush settings include hardness, blend mode, shape dynamics, scattering, and transfer.

Vector Brushes

Line-based vector art scales up and down in size and is widely used for anything that’s going to be printed, from brochures to T-shirts to product packaging. Fresco’s brushes offer endless possibilities for adding texture, style, and personality to vector paths and shapes.

Fresco features five types of vector brushes: basic round, basic taper, basic flat, basic chisel, and basic terminal. Fresco’s vector brush settings are roundness, angle, taper, pressure dynamics, and velocity dynamics, plus a smoothing option.

Eraser Tool 

Image from Lisk Feng’s Skillshare Original   Creative Digital Illustration: Learn to Use Adobe Fresco
Image from Lisk Feng’s Skillshare Original Creative Digital Illustration: Learn to Use Adobe Fresco

The eraser does a great deal more than simply fix mistakes in Fresco; it’s a tool that can help you easily enhance your drawing.  Like brushes, there are different types of erasers at your disposal: pixel and vector. Pixel eraser types include hard round variable, brush tilt, gritty circle, and rectangle opacity, to name a few. Vector erasers mirror vector brushes: basic round, basic taper, basic flat, basic chisel, and basic terminal.   

The eraser tool functions more like a brush in Fresco, which means the distinctive edges and characteristics of a specific brush type can be used to remove lines and color from your drawing, too. The Touch Shortcut makes accessing and using this feature incredibly easy.

Drawing Your First Sketch 

Now that you’re all set up, it’s time to draw! Open a new layer by clicking on the plus sign in the right side bar. This separates your line work from the background canvas, so you can easily edit as you work on your drawing. Choose a brush and brush size from the left side bar — and start sketching! It’s that simple to begin.

Not Sure What To Draw? Here’s Some Inspiration:

Things to Draw: Easy, Cool, Cute and Fun Ideas

How to Draw Shapes in Adobe Fresco

The app comes with a feature that allows you to quickly create basic shapes that will elevate your drawing. Access the Shapes tool by clicking on the overlapping triangle and circle icon in the left side bar. A menu will pop up listing “Basic” shapes — circle, polygon and square — or “Library” shapes, which allows you to create and capture your own shapes and save them directly in the app for future use. 

After choosing a shape from the menu, simply tap the location where you’d like it to appear on your canvas. You can change the size, fill the shape in with a color, and use the erase, mask and select actions that pop up in the shape menu on the bottom of the screen.

Painting and Blending

One of the coolest things about Adobe Fresco live brushes is the ability to paint and blend as if you’re using real watercolor and oil paints. To try these features, first add another layer from the right side menu; this is where you’ll paint. Choose a watercolor or oil brush from the brush menu, then pick a color by clicking on the circle icon in the left side bar.

Lisk Feng chooses a color in her class,   Creative Digital Illustration: Learn to Use Adobe Fresco
Lisk Feng chooses a color in her class, Creative Digital Illustration: Learn to Use Adobe Fresco

The bottom three icons in the left side bar — Flow, Paint Mix and Brush Settings — allow you to control how much paint shows up on the canvas, how much a new brushstroke blends with existing paint on the canvas, and how angle and pressure dynamics affect your brushstroke. You can even choose the “Reload color” function in Settings, which will load your digital brush with fresh paint before every brushstroke. Play around with the different options as you color in your sketch. 

Returning to Your Artistic Roots

For all the new creative possibilities represented by Adobe Fresco, many professional artists have reported that using the application helps them reconnect with their early experiences drawing and painting with traditional tools — and allows them to  incorporate those skills back into their daily routines. This may be the true legacy of advanced digital art applications —  to disappear almost entirely and help bring artists full circle, to a place of pure creativity.

This original version of this article was published on October 23, 2019. It’s since been updated.

Written by:

Ken Korman