How to Draw with Clipping Masks, Layer Masks, and Alpha Channels in Procreate

April 25, 2019

How to Draw with Clipping Masks, Layer Masks, and Alpha Channels in Procreate

Learn How to Use Masks in Procreate and Instantly Make Better Art

What if I told you that in 15 minutes or less you could make better illustrations in Procreate, 2x your illustration speed by, and feel like you've just been given illustration superpowers?

I know that's a big promise but there is one secret that will completely change your illustration game in Procreate. You can learn it in around 15 minutes and it will save you hundreds of hours each year. 

What's the secret? 

Masks. 

Specifically, clipping masks, layer masks, and alpha channels. 

Masking is one of the most powerful features in Procreate and, once mastered, can greatly improve your workflow and make your painting process more enjoyable. 

In this tutorial, we will learn, first, what masking means in Procreate. Then, we will go over the three different ways to apply masks in Procreate: clipping masks, layer masks, and alpha lock.

By the end of this tutorial, you'll know not only how to create and modify these masks, but also the differences between them and how and when do use them!


What is masking in Procreate?

Masking is the act of disguising or concealing. In Procreate, we use masking in order to cover to conceal a part of our image.

We can think of masking in Procreate like masking tape. If you are painting a blank canvas, and you cover part of that canvas with masking tape before painting, a blank canvas will be revealed again when you pull off the masking tape.

Masking in Procreate is a non-destructive way to conceal or cover a part of your image. 

Non-destructive means you can easily reverse and edit your changes at any time.

For example, if you draw a Bob Ross inspired forest illustration and you want to get rid of a part of it, you might've erased it in the past. This is a destructive way of getting rid of that part because you'd have to draw it back in if you changed your mind.

Masking allows you to hide that part of the image. It is non-destructive because you can easily unmask it and bring it back to the original.


Three Ways to Apply Masks in Procreate

There are three ways to apply masks in Procreate (each with its benefits and drawbacks):

  • Alpha Lock
  • Clipping Masks
  • Layer Masks

Which method you choose is dependent upon your goals. We will go over each method and give you guidelines for determining which method is right for you in any given situation.


How to Use Alpha Lock

Using Alpha Lock gives you the ability to lock a layer's transparency (or alpha). This means that, once you apply Alpha Lock on a layer, you will only be able to paint inside what already exists on that layer (the alpha).

Begin by blocking out a shape in a new layer.

Once you have blocked out your shape on a new layer, tap Alpha Lock in the Layer Options menu, or swipe right with two fingers on any layer to lock the alpha.

You will be able to tell that Alpha Lock is enabled because the layer thumbnail will have a checkered background.

While Alpha Lock is active, you will only be able to paint inside the area that already has paint on it.

If you want to touch up your edges, or add to them, just turn the Alpha Lock off and make the changes. Once you are done with your changes, turn Alpha Lock back on to preserve the alpha once again.

Alpha Lock Pros:
  • Quick and easy
  • Great for making clean edges
  • Easily use the Fill Layer option to fill all the pixels on that layer with a solid color
Alpha Lock Cons:
  • It is destructive because all of your elements are on one layer

How to Use Clipping Mask

You can turn any layer into a Clipping Mask from the Layer Options menu.

To apply a Clipping Mask to a layer, tap the layer, then tap the Clipping Mask button in the Layer Options menu.

You can tell the layer is a Clipping Mask by the arrow to the left of the layer thumbnail.

The selected layer will become a Clipping Mask, clipped to the layer below.

When you clip a layer to the layer below, the content of the clipped layer will only be visible in areas where it aligns with content in the parent layer.

The clipped layer will be invisible in the transparent layers of the parent layer.

You can use the Transform tool to move, scale, or distort the content on your parent layer to change which parts of the clipped layer are visible.

You can also use filters and adjustments on your clipped layer to further affect the content.

Clipping Mask Pros:
  • Non-destructive
  • Details and textures are on a new layer
  • Allows for more control since details and original are in separate layers
  • Can be stacked for advanced control and effects.
Clipping Mask Cons:
  • Adds to your layer count

How to Use Layer Masks

To make a layer mask, tap your layer and choose Mask. This will make a new mask (white) layer, connected to your current primary layer.

The Layer Mask allows you to conceal or reveal parts of the layer below (the primary layer).

When you are editing the mask, you may only use black, white or gray. Here's a saying to remember which color you need:

White reveals and black conceals.

If you paint on the mask with black, it will conceal that part of the artwork.

If you paint on the mask with white, it will reveal that part of the artwork.

If you paint on the mask with grey, the opacity will vary based on the level of grey.

Layer Mask Pros:
  • Non-destructive
  • Allows for more control since details and original are in separate layers
  • Can be stacked for advanced control and effects.
Layer Mask Cons:
  • Adds to your layer count 

How to Unlock Your Masking Powers Now

Reading about how to use masks is useless. If you're like me you forget 90% of what you read within 24 hours.

So instead, right now, draw a simple illustration. A leaf, a circle, a tiki statue, whatever. Then try applying a clipping mask, layer mask, and alpha mask. 

By using the information right now you'll build activate parts of your brain that help you remember this kick-ass powerful technique so you can use it in the future with ease.





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