There’s never been a better time to get creative with digital art. The Apple Pencil has transformed what’s possible on the iPad, paving the way for designers to create more intuitively through Procreate—one of the most powerful drawing apps to date.
Procreate is a popular digital painting app for sketching ideas and creating illustrations on your iPad. Today, it’s the go-to app artists use instead of traditional pencil and paper for creating original artwork without scanning in sketches.
But despite the inherent fun, Procreate’s vast array of features may overwhelm you the first time you use it. So, here we have gathered up an overview of the essential tools and options to help you learn how to use Procreate.
iPad Pro and Apple Pencil are the ultimate pairings to work with Procreate. While it’s still possible to draw in Procreate using a third-party stylus or even your finger, nothing can match the control and responsiveness the Apple Pencil offers.
The current Procreate app version is 5.2.5, compatible with iPads running iPadOS 14.4 or later. If you want to experience Procreate’s full potential, be sure to use the most up-to-date version of both the app and the operating system. Also, check this link to ensure your Apple Pencil is compatible with your iPad.
How to Use Procreate
The Procreate interface is pretty simple, but the options keep expanding as you discover new ways to draw. Here, we’ll highlight the most critical areas and tools to get you up and running.
Get Started with Gallery View
Gallery view is the first layout you’ll see when you open Procreate. It’s a great way to organize your work and access all your different projects. The Gallery shows thumbnails of all your canvases, including those in Folders. You can also view them by date or title.
If you want to create a new canvas, simply tap the new icon at the top right of the screen, and choose your canvas size. You can also create a new canvas with an image as a background. Just tap on the image you want to work on or use two fingers to zoom in and out of your Gallery.
Be Familiar with the Brushes
To get started with the app, you need to familiarize yourself with the brushes. Procreate comes with over a dozen default brushes, including pencils, inks, charcoals, and brushes featuring natural media like watercolor and oils.
These brushes work just like real ones, and you have a wide selection of them to choose from, which is quite remarkable. They are categorized according to their purpose, so it’s easy for you to choose the right brush as you need to.
Nevertheless, the beauty of Procreate is its ability to let you install custom brushes, create newer ones, and save them to use again whenever necessary. You’ll see dozens of different shape and texture settings for each brush as soon as you tap it. Don’t try to learn all of these settings at one go; just remember they exist.
Understanding Undo/Redo and Clear/Eraser
The Undo and Redo buttons appear at the top left of the screen. Tap on “Undo,” and Procreate will undo the last action you performed. Tap on “Redo,” and it will redo that action.
If you have a series of activities to undo, swipe from right to left with two fingers for multiple undoes. Swipe from left to right with two fingers for multiple redos.
If you’ve made a mistake and want to clear an entire area or layer, tap on the “Clear” button at the top of the screen. You can also tap on the eraser tool, which you can find under your brush library.
Working with Colors
It’s time to talk about color, the most coveted part. You will see the color picker if you tap the circle in the upper right. To begin, choose your hue using the outer ring, and fine-tune the color’s brightness, darkness, and saturation with the inner disc. Yet, there’s more to it.
By default, the color picker opens to the last color you had selected. If you want to choose a new color, tap the current color (Default Color). A color wheel will pop up.
To select a color from the wheel, drag your finger around the wheel until you find one you like. The swatches menu at the bottom of the screen will update with more similar colors. Tap the large swatch at the top left to exit the menu.
You can also choose a color by pulling it down on any empty canvas area. It brings up a popover with a slider for both hue and saturation. By default, this popover locks to the color you last used.
To unlock it, tap and hold on to any empty area of the canvas. This will bring up two sliders: Hue and Saturation/Brightness. Dragging your finger up or down on either slider adjusts that value. You can also tap and slide left or right to fine-tune it.
Creating a New Color Palette
You can create your own palettes in Procreate. It can be helpful if you’re working on a project that requires consistent colors or if you’re a designer and want to use the same palette across multiple projects.
In the Gallery, tap the + button in the top-right corner of the screen, then tap New Palette.
By default, each palette has 12 colors. You can add more by tapping the + button in the top-left corner of the screen or delete colors by tapping the – button next to them. From there, you can change the hue to adjust the color you create.
To rename a palette, just tap its name at the top of the screen and enter a new title.
Setting Your Favorite Colors
Procreate gives you access to some of your favorite colors for quick access when drawing. Go to Settings > Canvas and toggle on “Use Favorite Colors” to enable this feature. Then just click on a color you’d like to use, and the color will add to the canvas above it so you can start drawing with it right away.
Using Color Drop
The ColorDrop tool lets you pick colors from an existing image and sprinkle them onto the layer below. It can be anything from a texture like paper or canvas, another drawing, or even an existing color on the layer you’re working on.
The Color Drop technique comes in handy when injecting some color into monochrome drawings or adding a gradient over a large section of your picture.
ColorDrop is located in the top right corner of the menu bar, in the Selection Tool menu. You can also access it by tapping on the layer you want to add color to and then tapping the section with three circles at the top of the screen.
Using the Smudge Tool
When you use the Smudge Tool in Procreate, you’re literally smudging the paint around. It’s an excellent way to blend different colors, making them look like they’re organically flowing into each other.
To use the Smudge Tool, tap on the Smudge Tool icon in your Tools menu. Tap on your color to select it. Use your finger to paint on the canvas. You have to use two fingers to change the direction and angle of the stroke and three fingers to adjust the size of the stroke.
Working with Layers
Layers are like transparent sheets on top of each other. You can draw on them and move them around.
When you create a new canvas, Procreate automatically creates the first layer for you. It’s called Layer 1, and it will select automatically.
When you tap the “+” icon at the top right of the Layers panel, a new layer added and selected. The new layer is automatically named “Layer 2”. If you keep tapping “+,” new layers will get created in numerical order.
To rename a layer, just tap on its name in the Layers panel. To select a layer, simply tap it in the Layers panel.
If you want to delete a layer, ensure that no other layers are selected, and then swipe left to reveal the Delete button. Tap it to delete the current layer.
By default, all layers are visible but if you want to hide a layer temporarily, just tap on its eye icon in the Layers panel (showing/hiding a layer doesn’t delete it). To make it visible again, tap that eye icon again.
Using Quickline and Quickshape
Quickline and Quickshape are two of the most often used brushes in Procreate. They’re both vector-based, which means you can scale them to any size. They are both located in the Ink category of brushes.
If you can’t draw a straight line freehand, just draw a line without picking up the pencil, and that’s it! You have a perfect line. You can then move it as you wish, bend, or edit it just by tapping again.
Using the Selection Tool
The Selection Tool is the first tool in the top row of the main toolbar. You use it to select a portion of your canvas and move, transform, or delete that chosen area. It’s also the only tool used to access layers and layer options.
Working with the Transform Tool
The transform tool lets you move, scale, and rotate objects precisely. It helps you align things, resize them, and even flip them to create symmetry. And it comes with a built-in grid feature, so it’s perfect for creating collages or layouts.
To access the transformation tool, tap on the wrench at the top right of your screen and then tap on the Transform icon. This will bring up a box around your drawing (called a bounding box). With this box, you can adjust four things: size, angle/rotation, width, and height.
For resizing your drawing with this tool, simply drag one of the four corner points in or out. You can also change it by dragging one side point up or down for height or left and right for width.
Using the Adjustment Menu
The Adjustments menu has more than 20 different tools to help you edit your drawings. You could easily use it with a bit of practice to color correct your images, add color filters, and even create stunning black and white pictures.
To open the Adjustments menu, tap on the wrench icon at the top of your screen, then select “Adjust.” Once you’ve opened it, you’ll see a list of all of its available functions. You can drag these functions around to reorder them (just as with Layers).
Drawing from a Reference Image
When drawing from a reference photo, first import the image into your Procreate canvas, then enable the “Tracing” option from the tools menu.
With the Tracing function on, you can draw on your canvas as usual, but your lines will overlay onto the reference image. This way, you can ensure that all of your lines are in the right place and that you’re not losing any details.
In the layers menu, click on the layer titled “Background Color” to change your artwork’s background color. It will open the color menu to select the shade you want for your background.
Create a new layer or multiple layers for each subsequent shape as needed. Draw out the shapes for the background, use the selection tool to retrace them, then add color and texture by choosing the brushes.
Sharing Your Art
To get started with sharing, tap the Share icon from the Menu bar at the top of your screen. This will bring up a menu with multiple options for sharing, including exporting your artwork as an image or file, sending it to friends via Message or Mail, and posting it on social media such as Instagram or Facebook.
Organizing Your Files
You’ll find that Procreate is organized similarly to the Photos app. You can see your documents in a list or as thumbnails, and you can set up collections to organize your images into groups.
For switching between these views, tap the icon in the upper right corner of the screen. The wrench shows you a list and the three squares of the thumbnails.
To create a new collection, tap the plus sign at the top of the screen and select New Collection. Give it a name, and then tap Done. Using this method, you can drag files around to reorganize them within the collection or folder or create a new folder by tapping the Add Folder option.
You can import files from other sources by tapping on the plus sign in the upper left-hand corner and selecting Import from Files, which brings up an iOS file browser. Tap on your desired file to select it, and then tap Import in the upper right-hand corner to bring it into Procreate.
The Benefits of Using Procreate
The most obvious benefit of using Procreate is its role as an all-in-one tool. You can sketch, paint, add text, even animate, all in one app. There are also plenty of other great features, including:
You can use the live symmetry feature to create perfectly symmetrical art. With the feature enabled, whatever you draw on one side of the screen is mirrored on the opposite side. It’s perfect for drawing mandalas and creating detailed designs.
Procreate’s interface is pretty straightforward to get accustomed to, even for first-time digital art users. You can customize the pencil tool as much or as little as you like—draw in straight lines with only two touches, add pressure sensitivity, choose between a brush and eraser tip, quick undo and redo by sliding, and so much more.
And when you’re happy with your work, there are dozens of tools that make it easy to layer colors and effects.
Smart Brush Engine
Procreate comes with a vast selection of different brushes and tools for sketching and painting. The brushes have names indicating their purposes—such as Watercolor Wet or Charcoal Smooth.
Besides, you can even change Procreate brushes properties and adjust them to suit your needs. For example, you could make the Watercolor Wet brush more opaque by increasing the opacity percentage or changing its color not to look wet.
The best part—you can save your own custom brushes and use them again later in any project.
Color Profiles, Palettes, and Picker
After three years of development and customer feedback, Procreate has developed groundbreaking color palettes, pickers, and color profile features that artists will feel are unsurpassed in today’s art apps.
The app makes it super simple to mix colors and see how they interact, ensuring they all work together nicely. You can import or export color palettes in several different formats, including Adobe Swatch Exchange (.ase), Aco (.aco), Copic Color System (.ccs), and more.
Even better, you can create gradients, patterns, and textures within your palettes for even more versatility. And afterward, you can create profiles to access them from anywhere.
Easy Artwork Organization
With Procreate, not only is it easy to sync all your art between devices, but you can also organize your art into different folders and share them with other app users. If a friend loves one of your pieces, they can even download and import it into their own collection.
When you’re working on a complex piece, you can even pin multiple pieces of artwork into view so that you never lose track of what’s happening where.
Easy Integration With Existing Workflows
In an industry where time is money, having a lightweight and easy-to-integrate app like Procreate allows you to spend less time switching between apps and more time getting work done. It’s also highly compatible with other programs (including Photoshop!), so integrating it into your workflow is a breeze.
Do You Need Apple Pencil for Using Procreate?
Essentially, no. Procreate can be used with a stylus, your finger, and even a mouse. However, if you want the most seamless Procreate experience possible, then yes, you do need an Apple Pencil.
The Apple Pencil is designed to interact directly with the iPad’s touchscreen and offers very little resistance. That’s what allows it to create realistic paint strokes and brush effects similar to those achieved when using traditional art materials.
Using a stylus or your finger will give you access to some of Procreate’s features but not all of them. The stylus and finger don’t have pressure sensitivity controls, either. As a result, they won’t create the same lifelike effects that make Procreate so popular among digital artists.
Procreate is a paid app, but it’s not particularly expensive. It costs $9.99 from the App Store, and that’s it. There are no in-app purchases or subscription fees. Once you pay for it, it’s yours forever.
Procreate is a real asset for graphic designers, but it isn’t limited to professionals. Anyone can learn how to use Procreate to produce some truly fantastic art.
As an ending note, keep in mind that we have only touched on a fraction of the app’s plethora of magical tools in this article. There are plenty more to explore as you get the hang of it. So, keep practicing as best you can, and you will create great pieces of art with Procreate.