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

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

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

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?


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. You'll learn the pros and cons of each so you can decide which masking method best fits into your workflow.

Here's what we'll cover:

An illustration of an anthropomorphic ink bottle in Procreate on the iPad

What is masking in Procreate?

What do clipping masks, layer masks, and alpha masks do in Procreate? Masking is the act of disguising or concealing. In Procreate, we use masking in order to cover or 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 have 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 PROCREATE MASKS

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

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.

The brushes we will be using can be found in our DupliTone Halftone brushes.


Get aged, lo-fi halftone shading better than anything on the market. Choose from the classic dot and line halftones that blend seamlessly together.

How to Use Alpha Lock IN PROCREATE

Using Alpha Lock in Procreate 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 or find the layer to which you want to apply your brush. In this example, I want to add halftones to this character's arms and legs.

Tap the layer and tap Alpha Lock in the Layer Options menu. You can also swipe right with two fingers on the 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.

Zoomed in view of thumbnail of alpha lock layer in Procreate on the iPad

Here's where you'll see what Alpha Lock does in Procreate. 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.
  • Any color can be used to paint on top of the alpha layer.

Alpha Lock Con:

  • It is destructive because all of your elements are on one layer.

How to Use Clipping Mask IN PROCREATE

Clipping Masks are another great way to mask off a part of your image. In this example, I want to apply halftones to the top of the ink.

Begin by creating a new layer above the shape you are masking. Tap the new empty layer and tap Clipping Mask from the Layer Options menu.

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

Zoomed into arrow icon displayed on clipping mask layer thumbnail

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

The contents of the Clipping Mask layer will only be visible in areas where it aligns with content in the parent layer.

In this example, the halftones only show up in the shape I've clipped them to.

Clipping Masks are non-destructive because you can change the settings of the Clipping Mask layer without affecting the parent layer.

You can turn Clipping Masks on and off as well as change the Blending Mode and Opacity.

You can also use the Transform tool to move, scale, or distort the content on your Clipping Mask layer to change which parts of the mask are visible.

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.
  • Any color can be used to paint on top of the parent layer.

Clipping Mask Con:

  • Adds to your layer count.

How to Use Layer Masks in procreate

If you want to erase part of your layer in a non-destructive way, you will want to use a Layer Mask.

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 Con:

  • Adds to your layer count.
  • Can only erase or add back to the primary layer. You cannot paint on a new color.

How to Unlock your Masking Powers Now

Reading about how to use masks in Procreate 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 circle, a simple character– whatever. Then try applying a clipping mask, layer mask, and alpha mask in Procreate.

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.

Like the brushes we used?

Never again do you need to toil with annoying filters and layer styles that only partially give you what you want. DupliTone Lo-Fi Halftones are the magic solution to all your shading problems in 4 different realistically retro styles.



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