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  1. Design & Illustration
  2. Procreate

How to Use Procreate Layers

Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

Procreate Layers are a powerful tool for the digital artist—use them to separate, organize, preserve, and expand your work. There are a myriad of ways to use them, but we'll start at the beginning with the fundamentals. Use this introduction to help you get started!

1. Getting Started With Procreate Layers

Step 1

If you're unfamiliar, Procreate Layers work much like how they sound—they allow you to layer different pieces of content on top of each other, while maintaining a degree of independence. So, for example, I could draw something on one layer, and then create a new one for additional artwork. The two layers could then be moved and manipulated independently—as opposed to if they were one, dependent work in a shared space.

To reveal your Layers, tap on the Layers Icon in the upper right-hand corner of your work area.

Layers Icon

Step 2

By default, in a New Document, you'll see two layers: Layer 1 and Background Color. Note that your selected layer is highlighted in blue.

We can create a New Layer by tapping the Plus Sign in our Layers Menu

Create a New Layer

Step 3

Swipe Left to reveal additional actions we can apply to our layers: Lock, Duplicate, and Delete.

Lock locks up the Layer so its contents are protected—you won't be able to alter the contents until you Unlock them. You can Unlock your layers from this same location.

Duplicate creates a copy of the layer's contents on a New Layer.

Delete deletes the selected layer. Note, if you only have one layer, you'll see "Clear" instead of Delete, which will instead delete the layer's contents.

Lock Duplicate and Delete Layers

Step 4

You can also rearrange your Procreate layers. To Move a Layer, Tap and Hold, and then Drag the Layer to the desired order.

Moving Layers

Step 5

Layers can also be grouped together. In this example, I have three layers. 

Swipe Right on the layers you would like to Group. Notice how the selected layers are highlighted in blue. Then, select the Group Icon in the upper right-hand corner.

Grouping Layers

Step 6

Here is what these layers look like grouped. In this example, the group is expanded, so we can see its contents. Tap on the Downwards Arrow to contract it and hide its contents.

Note that we can rearrange these layers within the group. You can also use this same method to move layers in and out of the group.

Swiping Left will give you the same Lock, Duplicate, and Delete options as you would see in a standard Procreate layer.

Example of Grouped Layers

Step 7

Procreate Layer Visibility can be Toggled On and Off via the check boxes on the right-hand side of each Layer. The same applies to Layer Groups and Layers within Groups. 

Layer Visibility

2. Layer Options in Procreate

Step 1

Tap on a layer to reveal additional options. Let's start with some of the more straightforward ones:

  • Rename allows you to rename your layer. This is particularly useful for organizational purposes.
  • Select selects the contents of the layer.
  • Copy copies the contents of the layer. You can then paste the contents from the Actions Panel. 
  • Fill Layer fills the entire layer with your active color.
  • Clear erases all of the contents of the selected layer.
  • Invert inverts your layer. So, for example, if I had a layer filled with the color black—and then I selected Invert—it would make the contents white.
  • Merge Down merges the layer down with the layer beneath it. The result is one, merged layer.
  • Combine Down, on the other hand, merges the active layer and the layer beneath it into a Layer Group. 

Note, the visibility of these options can depend on the number of layers and/or their order. For example, if you only have one layer, you won't see "Merge Down" or "Combine Down". If you have Drawing Assist on, this can also be Toggled On or Off from these Layer Options.

Expanded Layer Options

Step 2

Now, let's take a look at some of the more complicated options.

Alpha Lock locks the Layer's Transparency

In this example, I have a layer called "Circle" with a purple circle in it. I then Toggled the Alpha Lock On

Now, I can draw within the purple circle area without worrying about going outside of my artwork—this is because the available drawing space has been locked to the area occupied by my original, purple circle. When I try to draw yellow lines, for example, they stay within the confines of the purple circle I've already drawn.

Alpha Lock

Step 3

Selecting Mask will attach a Procreate Layer Mask to the active layer. 

In this example, I've given the layer "Example" a Fill Color—it's all green. Note the Layer Mask on top of it in the Layers Panel, below.

When looking at the Mask Preview, the black space is hidden and the white space is visible. For example, the white dots in the Mask Preview are the only space where the green will be visible.

Layer Mask

Step 4

Reference makes the active layer a Reference Layer. Procreate Reference Layers are often used to easily keep Line Art and Color Fills separate.

In this example, I've created some simple line art on a Layer I've called "Line Layer". I selected Reference to make this into a Reference Layer.

Then, Create a New Layer—I've named it "Color Layer". The layer above the Reference Layer is the one that will rely on said reference. So "Color Layer" is going to reference "Line Layer".

Procreate Reference Layers make it very easy to add Fills to your Line Art while still keeping your lines independent, on their own layer. With my "Color Layer" selected, all I have to do is drag my active color into the space I'd like filled with color. 

Voila! It recognizes this space defined in my Reference Layer, yet keeps the color separate, on the above layer.

Reference Layer Example

3. Layer Opacity and Blending Modes in Procreate

Step 1

We can also alter the layer's Blending Modes and the Procreate Layer Opacity. To view these options, click on the N that sits beside the Visibility Toggle.

Open Blending Mode and Opacity Options

Step 2

Right under our layer's Preview, you'll notice the Opacity Slider. 100% is full opacity, while 0% would be invisible. Procreate Layer Opacity can also be applied to Groups and Grouped Layers.

Layer Opacity

Step 3

Blending Modes affect how the layer interacts with the other Procreate layers in your composition. By default, the Blending Mode is set to Normal.

Blending Modes have five different sections: Darken, Lighten, Contrast, Difference, and Color. One of the best ways to get comfortable with them is to test them out! Remember, you can always set the Blending Mode back to Normal, to go back to the layer's default look.

Let's try a brief example. Notice the difference between the same layer with different Blending Modes. On the left, the layer with the red color is set to Normal. On the right, this same layer's Blending Mode is set to Multiply (located within Darken).

Try out the other ones too!

Blending Modes Examples

And There You Have It!

We've gone through the basics of Procreate layers. There is plenty to experiment with and expand upon here—one of the best ways to get comfortable with Procreate layers is to jump right in and test them out! Good luck and happy drawing!

Example of Layer Application

If you enjoyed this tutorial, here are some others that might interest you!

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