Cartooning: Six Tips for Working with Procreate

The Middle Age watercolor cover

I draw my Eisner- and Ringo-nominated webcomic The Middle Age using the Procreate app on an iPad Pro. I’ve worked this way for nearly two years and during that time, I’ve stumbled on to some pretty good tips and tricks. Here are a few I use all the time.

General warning: These tips are geared to professional and aspiring professional cartoonists and these tips assume you’re at least a little familiar with the Procreate app basics like copying and pasting, sharing files via Dropbox, and exporting a video of your file. No matter what your skill level, I recommend going to the App Store and downloading the Procreate manual to your iPad. That ebook does an amazing job of guiding you step-by-step through the basics and all the latest features.

TIP 1: Don’t start in Procreate!

My template for The Middle Age
My template for The Middle Age
When you start your comic strip, create your template on your desktop computer. I usually use Illustrator and Photoshop – and import the template into Procreate (via Dropbox). This offers a lot of opportunities to mark off crops, and bleeds and the live area. You can also create perfectly geometric panel borders (something Procreate isn’t good at). I also use this opportunity to import a graph-paper-like grid which comes in real handy. Since you’ll likely be lettering in Photoshop and bouncing back and forth with your desktop, having a properly sized template helps a lot.

TIP 2: Instant bluelines!

White and Blue Layers
White and Blue Layers
Back in ye olden times of pencil and paper, we cartoonists used blue pencil for sketching and roughing out our drawings. This helped with photographing and later scanning original art. While those reasons don’t apply when working digitally, the approach is still still amazingly handy. To do this, create two Procreate layers: One layer should be filled with blue and have a layer effect of ‘COLOR” and the second layer should be filled with white with an opacity of ~80%. Drag these layers above any art to instantly turn everything below them to bluelines.

TIP 3: You have a surprise backup!

If you accidentally delete a sketch, pencil or reference layer, simply export a video of your project and scrub through the video until you find the lost image. This has saved my butt more than a few times. And knowing I have this safety net makes me feel a little better when working quickly.

TIP 4: For transformations, take baby steps, or better yet, use Photoshop!

Procreate is really good at flipping and flopping art horizontally and vertically. Pretty much every other transformation (rotation, scaling, skewing) is rough compared to Photoshop. A 90-degree rotation in Photoshop is pixel-perfect, the same rotation in Procreate turns your perfect pixels to mush. If you must transform something in Procreate – such as scaling and rotating, do them as separate, baby steps. Don’t combine two transformations. Scale then deselect. Rotate then deselect. BTW: Procreate is constantly improving and the next software update may make this tip obsolete. Fingers crossed!

TIP 5: Don’t copy art directly from Dropbox – save it to Photos first!

If you copy a perfectly-sized PNG or JPG in Dropbox and paste it into Procreate, some slight transformation happens – it’s usually a little too small. To avoid the distortion, save the PNG or JPG to the Photos app. Then open the Photos app and copy the file from there. Every pixel will line up perfectly.

TIP 6: Clear off your iPad from time to time!

Selecting multiple files in the gallery view
You can select multiple files in the gallery view
Procreate files are big and having too many of them on your iPad can slow down the app and make the pen laggy. I recommend copying them to your desktop computer with Airdrop – it’s much faster than Dropbox. From the gallery view, you can select multiple files (with the right-swipe) at the same time and Airdrop a bunch at a time.

I hope you find one or two of these tips useful.

— Steve @theSteveConley

If you found this post helpful and would like to see more like them, please consider supporting me and my webcomic The Middle Age on Patreon.

2 Comments

  • Kelly Yates
    March 8, 2018 at 1:50 pm — Reply

    Hey Steve! Thank you for the Procreate tips! I just purchased an iPad Pro and have started working with Procreate. I love the app, but I still need to learn and all the in’s and outs. Just curious, as an illustrator, are there any brush set you recommend to download/purchase? Thanks!!!

  • Steve Conley (Author)
    March 8, 2018 at 5:51 pm — Reply

    Kelly, hi! Glad these are helpful.

    Myself, I use the default brushes – almost all my inking is done with the built-in “Technical pen” tool.

    That said, I’ve heard cartoonists rave about this Procreate brush set specifically designed for for cartooning…
    https://sellfy.com/p/XuHa/

    — Steve

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