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Deep dive: get started with iPhone and iPad digital painting app Procreate

In this series, we dig into an app we think you should be using, and explain what it is, why it’s great, and how to get started. This time, we’re covering Procreate.

Procreate for iPad

Procreate for iPad.

What is Procreate?

A digital painting app. It first arrived on iPad in 2011 and quickly gained critical acclaim. A few years later, Procreate Pocket arrived for iPhone. Over time, both apps have gained a wealth of new features and remain regularly updated to this day.

What makes Procreate great?

Procreate has always balanced immediacy and power. It’s an app anyone can use, yet it affords professionals the control and capabilities they’d expect from desktop apps. But Procreate has always been a bargain compared to such software. Even today, Procreate ($12.99/£12.99, iPad) and Procreate Pocket ($5.99/£5.99, iPhone) both cost a fraction of Mac/PC equivalents. And those prices are one-offs, because there are no subscriptions or in-app purchases.

How can I get started with Procreate?

Choose a canvas: Procreate opens with the Gallery. You can explore example documents – although use Select > Duplicate (under More on iPhone) to make copies first. Alternatively, use + to create a blank document. The larger, the better for fine detail, because Procreate is a raster editor that works with pixels, not vectors.

Procreate for iPhone

The Procreate interface on iPhone.

Understand the interface: On iPad and iPhone, painting tools – Paint, Smudge, Erase, Layers, Color – are found at the top-right of the screen. On the left edge are two brush sliders – Brush Size and Brush Opacity. On iPad, advanced features – Actions, Adjustments, Selections and Transform – are found at the top-left of the screen. On iPhone, they sit behind the Modify menu.

Start to paint: Choose a brush and drag on the canvas to make your first marks. Double tap to undo the previous action – and triple-tap to redo it. Drag the brush sliders at the side of the screen up or down to adjust size and opacity. To do so in smaller increments, tap-hold a slider, drag right and then up or down.

Manipulate the canvas: Pinch to zoom the canvas and rotate to turn it, as you would a piece of paper. A very fast pinch has your work return to fit the screen – however much it’s zoomed at the time. Four-finger tap the canvas to toggle Procreate’s menus, allowing you to focus on your work without the distraction of the interface.

A Procreate QuickShape

Editing a Procreate QuickShape on iPad.

Draw a QuickShape: Procreate’s QuickShape feature helps you draw regular shapes. Sketch a circle, square or triangle but keep your finger held down when you’re done. Your shape will snap to a more regular form. Then drag your finger (still held down) to scale or rotate the shape – and use a second finger to snap rotation to 15-degree increments. The Edit menu that appears once you lift your finger allows you to fine-tune your shape further, before committing it to the canvas.

Add guides: Procreate can help refine your drawings in other ways. In Actions > Canvas (iPad)/Guides (iPhone), you can turn on drawing guides for 2D, isometric or 3D work. Use Assisted Drawing to have strokes snap strictly to grid lines, if you need to. Use Actions > Add to insert a photo to use for reference or tracing.

Work with layers: Photos are added as layers – but layers are useful for far more. If you create layers for specific elements of your painting, they remain independent. You can then apply effects to them (found in Adjustments) without affecting the rest of your work. You can also duplicate any layer (swipe leftward) and experiment with it, without fear of ruining what you’ve made.

Layers in Procreate

Layers in Procreate afford you flexibility. Use them.

Move an object: Creating art from layers also means each component can be individually moved. Tap Transform and the layer’s contents should be automatically selected. You can then drag or resize the selection using standard gestures, or use other tools to distort and flip it in various ways. (On iPhone, some options are found under the Settings button.)

Use references: To see your entire image in a window while you zoom the canvas, turn on Actions > Canvas > Reference. But if you own a second display, mirror to it via AirPlay or connect your device to it via a cable. Then go to Actions > Prefs > Project Canvas (iPad)/Actions > Preferences > Projector (iPhone) and only your canvas will be displayed on it, in static form.

Explore color theory: Tap the Color button to explore various color pickers, including palette swatches you can customize. Tap Harmony to access a color wheel, which lets you choose different types of colors that work together, based on color theory.

Brush Studio

Brush Studio is a limitless playground for brush creation.

Create a brush: Procreate has many built-in brushes – but they’re not set in stone. Tap one to open Brush Studio, and then adjust the brush’s properties, which are updated live alongside a customizable preview. Back in the Brush Library, you can also tap + to create a new brush from scratch.

Share your work: Back in the Gallery (tap Gallery on iPad or < on iPhone), you can select a document and share it in various formats, including native Procreate, Photoshop (PSD) and flattened JPEG. However, Procreate has one more trick up its sleeve. Open a document and go to Actions > Video. You can then watch – and share – a time-lapse recording of your masterpiece being created.

Keen to learn more, including how to use Procreate for animation or work with layer masks? Visit the Procreate Help website for resources and guides to help you take the app even further.