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A Beginner's Guide to Affinity Photo for iPad

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Read Time: 15 min
Final product imageFinal product imageFinal product image
What You'll Be Creating

Today is all about Affinity Photo for the iPad. For a long time, photo editor apps for mobile devices were... less than stellar. And it made sense. Mobile meant phones, and no one was really looking to create full-blown composites on their phone.

But even now, with the iPad being so advanced that some people argue that it could be used as a stand-alone laptop, photo editing apps are still not much more than lightweight versions of their original counterparts, offering some filters and color. But Affinity Photo for the iPad is unique in that it offers the full power of Affinity Photo—not a wimpy, watered-down version. This even includes PSD importing and exporting! 

So let's take a look at how you can get the full Affinity Photo experience, in a much smaller package and all on the go! 

Follow along with us over on the Envato Tuts+ YouTube channel:

What You'll Need

You will need the following resources in order to complete this project:

Find more resources on Envato Elements!

1. Interface Settings and Left-Handed Mode

The first thing I always recommend when jumping into a new program is to set up your interface and settings. And while the interface is nowhere near as fluid as the desktop version, there are still a lot of personal preferences you can set by clicking on the Gear icon found in the upper right-hand corner of the Affinity Photo app.

splash screensplash screensplash screen

Step 1

First, in General, you have your Undo Limit, going up to an insane 2,000 undos. I recommend keeping it around 25-50 for the sake of performance. 

undo limit undo limit undo limit

Step 2

Next, how often you'd like things to Autosave, great for those like me who live that "10% or less battery life" life.

auto save auto save auto save

Step 3

Your Language and your Default Save Location. I highly recommend iCloud Drive for reasons I will cover a little later on!

language  language  language

Step 4

In Interface, you will find your Background Gray Level. I like to keep things nice and dark myself.

background color background color background color

Step 5

And finally, you will also find Left Handed Mode for all you lefties out there! 

So just take a quick look through, and get everything nice and set up to your liking. 

left handed mode left handed mode left handed mode

2. Creating a Document & Importing Resources

Next, we will want to set up our canvas by pressing the + icon found in the upper right-hand corner of the Affinity Photo app's splash screen.

new document new document new document

Step 1

From here, you can choose from several options, including:

  • Create a whole New Document, which will bring up your typical options of Size, Color, and some document presets.
  • You can also import New From Clipboard or From Photos saved to your iPad.
  • You can Import From Cloud, which is what I personally find to be the easiest. To do this, you will have to have iCloud set up, which you likely already have or at the very least have it installed on one of your Apple products by default. But if not, it's a straightforward process!
import from icloud import from icloud import from icloud

Step 2

Download and install iCloud on both the iPad and the computer you will be sharing the files with—in this case, my PC. Then you can drag and drop any resources you might need into the shared drive. 

How you go about importing depends not only on your personal workflow but on the image you will be creating. In this case, we will be creating a portrait photo effect, so I want to start by opening my portrait photo.

subject subject subject

3. Controlling the Canvas and Gestures

Affinity Photo for the iPad keeps it very simple with its gestures, keeping things fairly standard and intuitive. 

How to Zoom in Affinity Photo

You zoom in and out by placing two fingers on the screen and then pinching.

If you pinch outwards, you will zoom in, and if you pinch inward, you will zoom out.

You can also adjust the Zoom by going into the Navigator found on the right-hand side of the screen. You will see a few preset percentages as well as the Fit to screen option. 


How to Pan in Affinity Photo

To pan, simply take one finger, touch, and drag.

Make sure the View tool is selected. If you have another tool selected, like the Paintbrush tool, you will want to use two fingers instead of one, so that you won’t apply the tool.

How to Rotate in Affinity Photo

To rotate, you will first have to go into the Navigator, as Rotate is turned off by default. Once it's turned on, you can rotate by using the rotation dial within the Navigator or by making a pinch and swivel motion.

To reset your canvas's angle, click the rotation dial, input 0, and hit OK!

roate roate roate

How to Redo and Undo in Affinity Photo

Redo and Undo are also controlled using gestures. You can Undo by doing a two-finger tap on the canvas.

Redo by doing a three-finger tap on the canvas. 

How to Duplicate, Delete, Cut, and Copy in Affinity Photo

If you hold down on the canvas with one finger, a quick context menu will open up containing the Duplicate, Delete, Cut, and Copy options.

quick context quick context quick context

There are also tool-specific gestures as well, which we will cover when we cover the tool itself! But most come down to a simple drag, swipe, or tap. No magic fingers needed.

4. Moving, Rotating, and Resizing Layers

Let's go into Options located in the File menu—that would be the three dots in the upper left-hand corner. We are going to go to Place From Cloud and bring in a glass texture.

place from icloud place from icloud place from icloud

With that placed, let's look at how we rotate, resize, and move around different layers. First, you will want to make sure the Move tool is selected.  

move tool move tool move tool

How to Move Layers in Affinity Photo

To Move a layer around, hold your finger inside the image, and pan around.

Remember, if you want to Pan the canvas, and not move the layer around, you will use two fingers instead of one.  

How to Resize Layers in Affinity Photo

To resize layers, you will want to tap and drag the control nodes—the blue dots found around the image.

Some images and layers will by default constrain, keeping the original aspect ratio, whereas some layers won't.

Whatever the case, you can use a one-finger modifier to toggle it on or off. While resizing the image with one finger, use your other finger to press down on the screen. 

resize  resize  resize

How to Rotate Layers in Affinity Photo

Rotate by holding the top control handle and swiveling to either the left or right.

If you want more precise control, you can open up the Transform panel found on the right-hand side.

Here you can adjust the order, Flip, and Rotate, and adjust the Dimensions by either tapping to change the numbers manually or by swiping up or down on the dimension dials. 

rotate rotate rotate

5. Layers, Blend Modes, and Filters 

Now, let's take a closer look at layers. I'll quickly run through the basics, and then we can jump into the good stuff.

How to Create a New Layer in Affinity Photo

Create a layer by opening up the Layers panel, found on the right-hand side.

Tap the + sign. From here, you can create a Pixel or Fill Layer. As well as layer masks and groups... let's hold off on those.

I am going to create a Fill Layer set to a very dark purple #181320, along with an empty Pixel Layer.

create layer create layer create layer

How to Re-Order and Group Layers in Affinity Photo

Re-order a layer by tapping and dragging.

To re-order multiple layers at once, use a swipe gesture on any layers you'd like to move to select them. Do the same to deselect layers

To select multiple layers at once, select a layer, and then use two fingers to select another layer either above or below the initially selected layer. All layers between the two selected layers will become selected themselves.

You can group things together by selecting the layers you want to group, and then making a pinch-in gesture. You can then ungroup layers by selecting the group and pinching outwards.

Alternatively, you can hit the Group Layers icon found inside the Layers panel, to the left of the + icon. I much prefer the second method!

group layers group layers group layers

How to Duplicate in Affinity Photo

Duplicate a layer by selecting the Move Tool, double-tapping the layer on the canvas that you want to duplicate, holding down on the layer with two fingers, and then dragging with a finger on your other hand.

duplicate  duplicate  duplicate

How to Adjust Layer Settings in Affinity Photo

To get all of the fine-tuning layer options such as Opacity and Layer Modes, select the layer you want to adjust, and then click on the Layer Options icon in the Layers panel (shown as three dots in a circle).

layer settings layer settings layer settings

You can also choose to Lock and rename a layer in the layer options. 

lock and rename layers lock and rename layers lock and rename layers

How to Change Layer Modes in Affinity Photo

One of my favorite tools in both Affinity Photo and Photoshop is the Layer Modes. They are endlessly useful, so they are an absolute must-have. You can adjust the layer mode by clicking Normal and selecting from the list that appears. 

Alternatively, you can swipe through each layer mode individually by using a swiping gesture over the layer mode options.

layer modes layer modes layer modes

How to Add Adjustment Layers in Affinity Photo

To access the adjustment layers, click on the icon of the three-circle pyramid found in the right-hand toolbar. A list of all of your adjustments will come up. 

Let's start with a Brightness/Contrast adjustment layer. When tapped, the options available to the adjustment layer you choose will come up towards the bottom of the screen.

To adjust the settings, either swipe on the various setting dials or you can tap them to input the amounts manually. Each adjustment layer will have its own options!   

adjustment layers  adjustment layers  adjustment layers

How to Add Filters in Affinity Photo

All of your Filters can be found directly below your adjustment layers.

Like with adjustment layers, all Filters will have their own filter specific options that will appear at the bottom of the screen.

filters filters filters

Along with the live preview you can also choose to have a split preview by hitting the Split icon giving you a before and after view of your photo.   

split preview  split preview  split preview

6. Selections and Layer Masks

Next, onto selections, extractions, and layer masks!

Step 1

First, we need to switch into the Selection Persona. This is where we will find all of our selection and extraction based tools.

selection persona selection persona selection persona

You have all the classic tools to choose from. 

  1. Smart selection Tool
  2. Freehand Selection Tool
  3. Marquee Tools
  4. Flood Selection Tool 
  5. Color Select Tool
selection tools selection tools selection tools

You can see all of the selection options towards the bottom of the screen. Including whether you want to add to Add or Subtract from a selection and the Brush Width. 

quick select quick select quick select

Step 2

Of course, you will likely want to refine your selection. Hit the Refine Selection tool found at the very bottom of the toolbar.

Your adjustment should be set to Matte by default.   

refine selection refine selection refine selection

Step 3

Next, adjust your brush, and drag across the edges of any hair, cloth or...anything really that needs to be selected.

This tool works exactly the same in the iPad version as it doe the desktop version! So, for instance, if too much gets selected, you can change from Matte to Foreground and fill in any part that should be in the foreground.

Once you are happy, you will want to choose your Output, in this case, New Layer with Mask and then hit Apply. 

output as new layer output as new layer output as new layer

Step 4

Now, if you want to add a Layer Mask without creating a selection all you have to do is choose the layer you want to add a mask too, hit the + icon found in the layers panel, and then select Mask Layer.

Use a black brush to mask out any areas as normal!

add a layer mask add a layer mask add a layer mask

7. The Liquify Persona 

Just like all the selection tools, all of the liquify tools and options have their very own persona. The Liquify Persona works the same as most, if not all, Liquify tools—which I like!  

liquify persona  liquify persona  liquify persona

Step 1

You push and pull on the grid, adjusting the Liquify Brush using the setting towards the bottom of the screen. 

liquify brush  liquify brush  liquify brush

Step 2

Adjust the mesh display by clicking the Mesh icon found on the right-hand side of the canvas. You can change the Color of the grid or hide it completely by bringing the Opacity down to 0%.

grid options grid options grid options

Step 3

All of your different liquify tools can be found to the left, allowing you to push, pull, and twist in every direction imaginable.

liquify tools  liquify tools  liquify tools

Step 4

Finally, there is also the Freeze and Thaw tools, which are your liquify masks.

Freeze makes it so the area marked in red, won't be affected by any liquify tools.

Thaw erases the frozen mask, allowing that area to be liquefied again.  

thaw and freeze tools thaw and freeze tools thaw and freeze tools

8. The Brush Tool

Let’s take a quick look at the basics of the Paint Brush tool. 

Where to Find Brush Categories in Affinity Photo

First, we have the Brush Categories, which will hold all of Affinity Photo's default brushes. 

You can switch through the brushes by going towards the top and hitting Basic, which is what your brushes are set to by default. 

brush categories  brush categories  brush categories

Where to Find Brush Settings in Affinity Photo

Again, once you have the Brush tool selected, all of its settings will pop up towards the bottom of the screen. Here you have your Width, Opacity, Flow, Hardness, and Color. 

From here you can paint using your finger, or the Apple Pencil if you need more precise details. 

brush settings brush settings brush settings

How to Import Brushes in Affinity Photo

And of course, you can import your own brushes by tapping the Three-Lined icon on the upper right of the Brushes panel and choosing Import Brushes.

From here you will choose wherever you have your brushes saved. You can drop them right into iCloud Drive, and then tap to import!

import brushes import brushes import brushes

More Brush Settings in Affinity Photo

To further adjust a brush, beyond just the typical size or flow, tap and hold on a brush, choose Edit and all of its possible settings will come up.

edit brushes edit brushes edit brushes
brush settings brush settings brush settings

If you want to reset the brush back to default you can tap, hold and then choose Reset.

reset brushes reset brushes reset brushes

And as a little trick, hit the Pin icon found towards the top of the Brushes panel to keep the Brushes panel open. This is handy if you switch your brushes around a lot, as the constant opening and closing can get incredibly annoying.

pin brush panel pin brush panel pin brush panel

9. Saving and Exporting 

Finally, at the end of every work session, you are probably going to do one of two things: save or export.

How to Auto-Save in Affinity Photo 

Affinity Photo for the iPad can save a document in one of two ways. It will first Auto-Save all on its own, saving the file internally within the app's memory. This is great for maybe one or two projects, but things are going to start piling up real fast. 

auto save auto save auto save

How to Save in Affinity Photo

The second option is to save a copy of the file by tapping the Document menu and choosing to Save a Copy.

save a copy save a copy save a copy

From here, you can rename your file and decide where to save it to—in my case, iCloud Drive. You can also link things up with Dropbox and other file-sharing networks.

This will save as an Affinity Photo file, and it can be opened in the desktop version of Affinity Photo without having to convert or merge any layers!

save location  save location  save location

How to Export in Affinity Photo

But if your image is all finished, you might as well export it using your iPad! Go to the Document menu and choose Export to bring up all of the exporting options.

You have all of the exporting options the desktop version has, including Exporting to PSD. The settings will change depending on the format you choose. 

exsport exsport exsport

Once you have all of your settings set, you need hit OK to choose, once again, where you want the image to be saved. Once it's exported, you are good to go!  

export settings export settings export settings

We've Done It!

And there you have it: a basic rundown of the Affinity Photo iPad App. If you are already experienced, or even just someone who knows their way around the desktop version of Affinity Photo "pretty OK", you will have absolutely no problem diving headfirst into the iPad version of Affinity Photo. It's the same program—but with touch! And carrying around an iPad is maybe a tad bit less cumbersome than a full-blown workstation desktop with a dual-screen setup. You won't get as many weird looks at your local coffee shop, at the very least. 

So, as always, keep experimenting with different techniques and practicing, and don't forget to post your version below, along with any questions, comments, or critiques!

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Looking to learn more? Why not check out the following photo manipulation tutorials:

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