Lesson 4: Procreate Layers for Beginners

Procreate Layer Basics with layers panel open on ipad

Lesson 4: Breaking Down Procreate Layers

Hey there!

The last Procreate Basics Lesson covered the Color Disc and now it’s time to get into Procreate Layers so start with a fresh canvas (any size you’d like). If you need a refresher on how to do that head over to the previous post.

Using Layers to create your artwork allows you to separate different parts of your work onto different layers so you can easily edit a section of your work without affecting another.

Let’s start by tapping the Layers Icon (A) next to the Active Color Disc. You’ll see the Background Color and Layer 1.

Add a new layer by tapping + (B). I’ve added a heart on two separate layers for this tutorial. If you’d like to follow along go ahead and do the same. They don’t have to be symmetrical.


Each layer has a checkbox (C) and if it’s unchecked it will hide your layer.

To rearrange your layers just drag and drop them in place.

Swiping your layer with one finger to the left opens up Lock, Duplicate, or Delete.


Procreate Layers Options Menu

All Procreate layers have a hidden side menu called the Options Menu which is revealed when you tap the layer. You’ll see:

Note: Merge Down and Combine Down won’t exist on the layer just above the background because the background can’t be merged or combined with it.


Rename, Select, Copy, Fill Layer, and Clear

Rename simply renames the layer.

Select will turn on your Selection Tool and select all pixels (any work you’ve added) on that layer. Your screen will add light diagonal lines across your layer except on your selection. Tap the Selection Tool to deselect.


A menu will also pop up at the bottom of your screen and I’ll get into it in Lesson 7 when I go over the Selection Tool.

Copy will copy your layer.

Fill Layer can be used to fill an entire layer with your selected color or to fill in selected pixels on your layer using the Selection Tool or using Alpha Lock.

Filled Layer
Selection Filled using Fill Layer

Clear deletes whatever is in your layer or is selected.

Understanding Alpha Lock, Mask, and Clipping Mask in Procreate Layers

These can get a little confusing as they all do similar things but they’re quite different as you’ll soon see.

Alpha Lock


Turn Alpha Lock on & off by tapping it in the Options Menu or by swiping the layer with two fingers to the right.


The thumbnail in your layer will reveal a checkered background when it’s on.


When Alpha Lock is on, any brush stroke you add is directly added to your layer and it will show up within the boundaries of your existing artwork even if you paint outside of it. If you use Fill Layer which you learned about earlier, it will fill any pixels found on your layer with your active color.


Next is Mask

Masking allows you to reveal or conceal the layer below while keeping the original artwork intact using either black, white, or grey.

To mask a layer tap Mask from the Options Menu. A layer will pop open above that layer and these two layers will be connected to each other. Notice that your Color Disc changes to black automatically.


To conceal any part of your artwork tap the brush icon, select any brush, and brush black over your artwork on the Mask Layer. Where you add black will conceal that part of the layer below.


To reveal your artwork that has been concealed just brush in white. Here I’ve brushed in white at a diagonal from left to right.


Remember, “white reveals, black conceals”.

When you use Alpha Lock changes are made directly to your original artwork. With Mask the original stays intact so you can easily remove your changes by simply deleting the mask layer.

If you turn the Mask layer off you can see that your original artwork is still in one piece.


Clipping Mask

The Clipping Mask is one of my favorite things in Procreate (as well as in Photoshop). It allows you to keep your original intact while making all kinds of interesting changes to it.

Add a layer above the artwork layer and tap Clipping Mask in the Options Menu. A little arrow pointing down will pop up on your layer. Make your changes on that layer.


If you turn Clipping Mask off (just tap it again in the Options Menu) your brush strokes will no long be confined to the shape of your artwork below. Uncheck the checkbox to hide the Clipping Mask layer and you’ll see that your original artwork is still intact.


You can also use a photo with clipping mask. Tap the Wrench Icon (on the upper left), then Insert a Photo.


The photo you select from your photo gallery will pop up on a separate layer and will already be selected.

The Transform Tool will be turned on so you can move or resize your photo if you need to. Tap the Transform Tool to deselect your photo.

Don’t worry about the options at the bottom just yet. I’ll go over all of that in Lesson 8 which is all about the Transform Tool.


Oh, by the way, Procreate automatically adds layers above the layer you’re currently on so if your photo layer isn’t above the correct layer just drag and drop it in the right place.

Turn on Clipping Mask to add it to your artwork. If you don’t like where your photo sits you can move it by dragging and dropping.


Procreate Layers: Blending Modes, Invert, Reference, Merge Down, & Combine Down

On your Procreate layers next to the checkbox is an N. Tap to open up Blending Modes and an Opacity slider. N stands for Normal which is the default setting.


Each blending mode will give your layer a different effect. Play around with each blending mode to get a feel and understanding for how they will change your layer. This part is lots of fun! Don’t forget to change up the opacity as you do.

Next is Invert which changes your colors into those on the opposite side of a color spectrum to give you a negative-like effect.


Merge Down merges your layer with the layer below. Here, I merged the Clipping Mask Layer with the heart. If you want to merge more than 2 layers together just pinch the layers together with your fingers.


Combine Down is a way organizing your layers. Tap to group your layer with the one below it. You can include other layers by dragging and dropping layers into it.


You can also drag and drop a layer on top of another layer to create a group instead of tapping Combine Down. It’s also possible to combine groups into another group.

Lastly, there is Reference which helps you to keep your line work intact by making it possible to fill it with color on a separate layer below.

Tap Reference from the Options Menu on the layer with your outline. It will say now say, ‘Reference‘ below the name. Next, create a new layer below it.


Then drag and drop a color into your heart on the bottom layer. That’s it!


Your outline will be on the top layer and the fill will be below it.

Yay! You made it through lesson 4 so now you should be able to navigate your way around Procreate layers like a pro!

Next up… Lesson 5 where I’ll get you familiar with the Brush Library. See you there!

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