How to Create Retro 80s Style Art in Procreate

How to Create 80s Style Art in Procreate

1980s illustration and design is back in style. The eighties brought us a lot of styles inspired by technology and the eighties excess including:

  • Bold duotone patterns
  • Neon color palettes
  • Glowing grids
  • Pattern clashing
  • Airbrush art

This tutorial will help you achieve the classic neon illustration style of the 80s. So strap on your fanny pack, put on your favorite episode of Miami Vice and let's create some eighties art!

For this tutorial, you’ll need an iPad Pro, Apple Pencil, Procreate App and TransferTone | Dry Transfer Brushes for Procreate.

We’ll start with a sketch, block in our basic shapes, use the 2D Grid, experiment with using the TransferTone brushes, and even how to draw with our eraser! Let’s get started!

1. Inspiration/Document Setup

For this piece we are going all the way back in time to the 1980’s and 1990’s. Is that Retro now? I’m old!

Growing up, one of my favorite shows was Saved By The Bell. I thought it would be fun to draw some objects that a teen in the late 80’s early 90’s might have in their locker or backpack during that time.

Looking at a lot of the patterns offered through the TransferTone pack, I saw a lot of shapes and textures that reminded me of SBTB, and growing up in such a COOL decade.

To start, create a new document in Procreate. I’m using the default Screen Size 2,732 x 2,048px. Sketch 5 - 6 objects so we can incorporate a good variety of patterns. For my sketch, I used the basic pencil brush provided through Procreate.

2. Block in Shapes

The best way to reference your sketch, while doing the actual drawing, is to set the layer to multiply and lower the opacity.

To do that, go to your sketch layer and tap on the N (which stands for Normal). When the drop down options appear, tap on Multiply. You’ll notice on that the N now reads as M, so we know the layer is set to Multiply.

Before closing out of the layer drop down, lower the opacity by sliding the meter to the left to your desired visibility. Tap the layer name one more time to close the drop down, then swipe left on the layer to select Lock. This will keep us from drawing on our sketch layer.

Create a new layer underneath your locked sketch layer and begin to block in your first shape. When blocking in your shapes, keep in mind how many layers your drawing will need. For example, we’ll start with the sunglasses in my drawing. I want the frames and the lenses to be separate to make it easier when I start using different pattern brushes.

I’m going to use the Perfect Gouache brush from the The Mid-Century Brush Pack for Procreate, because I like the natural grit and texture it gives the lines. If you don’t have that set, a basic inking brush supplied in the Procreate app will work. It all just depends on how crisp you want your drawings to appear!

I’ll start with the frames first. Once you’ve blocked in your shape, lock the pixels of that shape. This will allow us to easily recolor later and apply the texture brushes to other shapes we make without working outside of the shape.

To do that, tap the layer you drew your first shape on and with two fingers, swipe to the right. You’ll know your pixels are locked if a faint checkerboard appears behind your drawing in the layer image.

3. TransferTone Brushes & 2D Grid

It’s finally time to try out some TransferTone brushes!

Make a new layer beneath the frames and choose the PS Heavy Dots brush from the TransferTone pack to create the frames.

The thing you need to remember while using these brushes is that the more you go over an area, the less detailed and heavier the texture will feel.

For crisp texture detail, refrain from picking up your apple pencil while drawing. To give your drawing a heavier feel and to vary the texture output, make multiple strokes with your apple pencil.

You can see in my example that I’m able to get a different feel with a single brush based on how many times I pick up my pencil while drawing.

I’ll first draw in the frames while trying to not pick up my pencil. Then, I’ll go over the bottom part of the frames again to help give them a bit more dimension. Think of it as shading your drawing to show value.

Let’s add the glare. To do this, I’m going to use my eraser tool.

You can select any brush you like but I’ll be using the PS Dust Invert brush from the TransferTone pack because I like the imperfection it gives to the eraser. You can choose a clean brush for your eraser if you want your glare to be sharp and flawless.

Make sure to draw the glare with your eraser on the same layer as the lenses. This will create a “knock out” effect, allowing us to recolor the lenses without using white.

Just like we did on our sunglasses frame shape, tap the layer for the lenses and use two fingers to swipe right, locking the pixels.

We’ll use this method to create all of the shapes in this drawing! But before we jump to coloring, we’ll draw one more item to show you the benefits of using the eraser for the detail work.

Let’s draw the cassette tape. On a new layer, we’ll draw the shape of the tape. I’m wanting the basic construction lines to be straight, so let’s use a grid!

Tap the Actions button (top left, looks like a wrench). From the drop down menu, next to Drawing Guide, move the slider over to the right. By default the 2D Grid should appear. If not, tap on Edit Drawing Guide and make sure you select the 2D Grid on the bottom options panel.

Go back to your layers and, on the layer you’re drawing the tape, tap and select Drawing Assist. This will allow us to draw straight lines with ease! Note that Drawing Assist is for straight lines only, you’ll need to deselect it to make any curved or organic lines.

Once you’ve made the shape, let’s fill it in with black.

Lock the layer’s pixels by using two fingers to swipe right on the layer, and choose your eraser and a fine brush for drawing details.

Draw the screws and inner lines of the tape. These will be knocked out of the original shape we drew. You can see that the details in black (Rock Mix 1, cassette spindle and tap reel) I drew on a new layer above the tape. The white details (screws, highlight lines, two middle white blocks) were drawn with the eraser on the main cassette layer.

Make sure both layers have their pixels locked so we can add some texture.

On the cassette layer, I’ll be using the my eraser and the PS Speckles brush, as well as the PS Burlap brush. Experiment with the brushes and find the ones you like for your objects!

4. Coloring

Now that you’ve drawn and textured all your objects, it’s time to color! Here, we’ll really see the benefit of using our eraser for drawing details and textures.

To keep with the 80’s/90’s theme, I’ll be using some nice, bright neon colors! Before you begin coloring, double check to make sure all your shape/art layers have their pixels locked.

I’ll start by choosing my color from the color wheel. I’ll tap on the color circle at the top right of our tool bar to do so. Once I’ve decided on a color I’ll touch and hold on the color circle in the tool bar and drag that color to the object layer I’m wanting to color and presto!

If you don’t like that method of coloring, or weren’t able to color all the details using that method, you can select a paint brush and just paint over your layers without the worry of coloring outside the lines.

The biggest advantage to how we made our shape is that no white was used. We only used one color, since our textures and details were made with the eraser. Now your background can be any color you want it to be without having to do a bunch of recoloring to your drawings.

5. Details/Composition

Now that you’ve colored and styled your objects, let’s focus on composition and adding some fun details to finish the piece off.

I’ve arranged my items in a way that’s fun and quirky, matching the aesthetic of my inspiration. I’m also going to add some shading under the objects to help them pop.

I’ve made a new layer that’s placed under all the drawings and I’m using the PS Lite Halftone brush to draw the shadows under the objects.

Next, I’ll start to add some doodles. You can use any brush you like, I’ll be using the Perfect Gouache brush again for some of the finer details, as well as a mix of brushes from the TransferTone pack.

Lastly, I’ll create a border using the PS Wonky Grid Invert brush.

And there you have it! We’ve utilized the TransferTone brushes to add some extra intrigue and creativity to our drawings! Remember, keep drawing and be excellent to each other!

About Cole Roberts

Cole Roberts is freelance illustrator living in Nashville, TN specializing in kids literature and publications.

Check him out at his website and follow him on Instagram @lifeofcole as well as Twitter @colelovespizza.