Procreate Masks: How to use Clipping Masks, Layer Masks and Alpha Lock

Procreate Masks: How to use Clipping Masks, Layer Masks and Alpha Lock main article image
Posted on September 9, 2021 by Becky Liddle
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Procreate is a fantastic program for expressing our creativity through digital art. It’s easily transportable and great for producing artwork on the move. It’s quite a complex piece of software, there are lots of features and settings to learn, but once you get the hang of them, you open up a whole new world of iPad art.

In this article, we’re going to take a look at the different masking techniques which Procreate offers, what they do, and how to use them. These features are a little more advanced, so if you’re just starting off, you may want to check out a beginner’s guide to Procreate here.

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What is a Mask in Procreate?

In Procreate, a mask is anything which hides a part of your image. We may want to hide parts of our artwork so that we can only show sections “through” another layer, or only draw on a certain object within the canvas. By using masks in Procreate, we can edit or add to our digital art without actually altering it – so if you make a mistake, or want to make changes, none of your original work is affected. In this article we’re going to look at the two masking techniques; clipping masks and layer masks, alongside the alpha lock feature.

Alpha Lock

What is the Alpha Lock Feature?

Alpha lock is probably the easiest “mask” tool out of the three, so we’ll start with this one. Alpha lock and clipping masks mainly give the same end result, however there are some differences to note, and reasons why you may choose one over the other.

How to use Alpha Lock

Procreate alpha lock is really straight forward to use, and it’s ideal for quickly adding colour, dimension, or texture to an element on your canvas. To use alpha lock, ensure you have an object or element which you want to add to, on it’s own layer.

Open the layers panel, and tap on the layer square. You’ll then see a menu pop up, on this, select alpha lock. The layer’s background will then turn chequered. This means that anything you paint from now on, will appear on your element only.

Below I’ve drawn a leaf in a solid green and applied alpha lock.

Applying alpha lock to our layer in Procreate.

I now want to add some dimension to the leaf, so by using alpha lock I can do this – and draw only on the leaf itself. I’ve used the brush tool to draw light green on the inside and dark green on the outside. If you make an error or want to neaten up, you can always use the eraser tool. Without using alpha lock, this would have been a whole lot trickier.

Applying colour to an element using the alpha lock feature in Procreate.

Click here to check out Creative Fabrica’s range of brushes available for download. For guidance on how to install brushes, check out this article from The Ultimate Graphic Design Guide.

You can use Procreate’s alpha lock feature on any element, in the below I have added text and then used a lighter brush to demonstrate the technique.

Adding text in Procreate before using alpha lock.

After using alpha lock to add colour in Procreate.

Alpha lock is a quick and easy tool to use, and it’s ideal if your number of layers are limited. However, it does alter your original image as you’re directly drawing onto a layer, so there’s no way to rectify any error apart from using the undo tool.

Tip: to undo quickly, tap on the screen with two fingers. To redo, tap with three.

If you do use alpha lock, it’s advisable to make a copy of your original layer, in case you make an error or want to revert to the original element.

Clipping Masks

What is a Clipping Mask?

Achieving the same end result as alpha lock, clipping masks get there in a slightly different way. By applying a clipping mask, we add a layer on top of our artwork which is attached to the one you want to edit – but we don’t actually edit it, hence why it’s a mask.

How to use Clipping Masks

To use this feature, open the layers panel and add a new layer directly above the one which you want to add effects to.

Tap on the new layer, and in the menu box which appears, create a clipping mask. You’ll now see that an arrow appears to the left of this, attaching the new layer to the original one.

Creating a clipping mask in Procreate.

Ensuring you stay on the clipping mask layer, you can draw and add textures or effects, and this will only stay on the elements included in your original layer.

Using a clipping mask in Procreate to add colours and shading to an element.

As you can see, I’ve added shading and changed the look of my fruit element. On the layers panel, you can see that it looks pretty messy – the colours and shading aren’t only on the fruit, however, as we’ve used the clipping mask, we can only see it on the fruit in the actual artwork.

You can also use clipping masks to add textures or images over an element. In the example below, I’ve added some basic text, and then added an image to the canvas on a separate layer.

Tip: to add an image, tap the settings tool and then select insert an image.

Once you’ve added your image, use the selection tool to stretch this to cover your entire element that you want to fill, so for me, this is the text.

Adding text in Procreate.

Adding an image in Procreate.

Open the layers panel, and on the one containing the image, tap to open the menu and select clipping mask. You’ll then see that the image is only visible on the area of the layer containing your original element.

Applying a clipping mask to text in Procreate.

Use the select tool to arrange your image how you wish.

Using Procreate's selection tool to arrange an image on our canvas utilising clipping masks.

To release clipping masks, simply tap the layer mask thumbnail and de-select clipping mask.

It’s advisable to use clipping masks rather than alpha lock where you can, obviously sometimes we may have constraints with the number of layers available, or maybe we just want to edit for quickness, but it’s worth keeping in mind that both options are available.

If you’d like a visual demonstration on how to use clipping masks, check out this video from Procreate’s YouTube channel.

Layer Masks

What is a Layer Mask?

This is similar to a clipping mask, in the aspect that it’s used to hide or show certain elements of our digital art. It’s ideal for only showing part of a layer, on another one.

How to use Layer Masks

If you’re familiar with Photoshop, you may have used this technique before, it’s a pretty useful one which only uses black and white brushes.

To use a layer mask, tap on whichever layer has your work on, and in the menu select mask.

I’m going to demonstrate this using a marble pattern and a glitter texture picture, so that we can fully see how layer masks work.

I’ve inserted a glitter texture paper onto my canvas, as I want to show parts of this.

So, on your canvas, on the layer which includes whatever you only want to show parts of, tap and select mask from the menu. You’ll then see a layer mask appear above this layer.

Creating a layer mask in Procreate.

Click the layer mask, and then select fill layer. Choose black from your colour palette, you should see the layer mask now change to black.

So, we still have our glitter texture there, it’s just hidden by the mask. To show elements of this “through” the mask, we need to use a white brush.

I’m going to paint with white on the canvas to add sparkly elements to my marble effect. Use your white brush to show parts of your layer through in whichever way you want. If you make a mistake, you can switch back to the black brush and erase.

Using layer masks in Procreate.

For the full tutorial on creating a marble background, click here.

You can also use layer masks to conceal parts of your work, for example you may want one element to appear partly behind another. You would do this by using the white brush to erase parts and make them look “hidden”.

Getting Used to Procreate’s Masking Features

Like anything, using alpha lock, clipping masks, and layer masks may take some getting used to, but once you get your head around them, you open up a whole new world of digital artwork. If these techniques are brand new to you, we’d suggest using alpha lock to practise, and then moving on to clipping masks and layer masks.

The key difference between these three masking techniques is that alpha lock is destructive to your original artwork, whereas clipping masks and layer masks preserve your original work – they simply “mask” it in order to make your changes. Bear this key difference in mind when choosing which masking technique to use, and if you do choose alpha lock, ensure to create back up layers to protect yourself from errors.

If you’d like further information on Procreate masks, check out this article from the official Procreate Handbook or How to Use Masks on Procreate from Creative Fabrica’s Ultimate Graphic Design Guide.

We hope that this article offered useful information in regards to Procreate’s various masking features, please let us know how you use masks in the comments!


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