Why Procreate Mask Can Make or Break Your Illustration

Why Procreate Mask Can Make or Break Your Illustration main article image
Posted on June 10, 2021 by Kymmie J.
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In this article, we will talk about 3 important masking features on the Procreate app such as Clipping Mask, Layer Mask, and Alpha Lock to enhance and alter certain areas of your illustration without affecting other layers.

After reading this tutorial, you will learn:

  1. The difference between each feature
  2. Purpose of these features
  3. The best way to use these features in your digital illustration

Whenever you create your digital illustration in Procreate, you need to adapt the non-destructive manipulation or alteration process or in other words, always have a backup of every element or layer whenever you edit, delete or make any changes in your artwork. Masking in Procreate will teach you how to have more control of your workflow.

What is a Mask?

We all know that a mask is used to cover something – like a face mask to cover our face, or masking tape to cover a surface. The same idea is also applied in Procreate. We use a mask to conceal a part of our illustration and there are 3 types to help us with that.

• Alpha Lock

To understand Alpha Lock better,

  1. Get a white blank paper, a pen or marker, masking tape, or any sticker
  2. Attach the masking tape or sticker on each corner/side of the paper (forming a frame)
  3. Using your pen or marker, fill up your illustration. You can go over the masking tape or sticker
  4. Peel off the masking tape or sticker. You should see that this will preserve the white part of the paper

This happens because we locked the sides of the canvas. Alpha Lock prevents any accidental changes or alterations made to a layer when you lock it.

In Procreate app, use 2 fingers and swipe to the right to lock the layer. You will know it’s locked if you see a checkered background behind the layer in the thumbnail. 

You can then draw on the layer without worrying about drawing or painting outside the lines. When you use Alpha Lock on a layer, all changes made will only apply to that specific layer and it won’t affect or damage any other elements or layers.

Remember, once you are done with Alpha Lock, turn it off by using 2 fingers and swipe to right or click on the Layer > Alpha Lock.

The downside is drawing on a locked layered, which means your new edits will be on that same layer and there’s no way to edit it in the future when you made a mistake or want to change it.

• Clipping Mask

Using this feature is also helpful when you don’t want to make any changes to the parent layer. However, as much as possible, you need to minimize or limit the use of Clipping Mask as this will lessen your available layer count for the canvas.

To better understand Clipping Mask,

Pre-requisite: Search for any background image with different textures or colors. You can type in the watercolor abstract background or gold glitter background, whatever floats your boat.

1. Open a new canvas in Procreate

2. Tap on Actions (wrench icon) > Add > Add text 

3. Type any text you want but make sure to use a bold font (I’m using Futura in Bold – to change font style, double-tap the word you typed to highlight it and show the styling options).

4. Adjust the size. It’s important that the font you use here is in Bold so you will see the changes later

5. Tap on the text layer > Rasterize. This means that we will no longer be able to edit the text as it will become a rasterize element or image 

6. Remove Layer 1 so that we can have the text layer as the “reference layer” or the “parent layer”. Tap Layer 1 then swipe to left > Delete 

7. Tap on Actions (wrench icon) > Insert a photo or Insert a file (wherever you’re pulling your image from). Use the photo you’ve searched and saved before then adjust the photo to your liking, make sure it’s over the text we created

I’m using a paper pattern from the Slumber Party Digital Paper by SincerelyNix

8. Tap on Layers panel > Tap the image layer (Inserted Image) > Clipping Mask 

You will see that the image (clipped layer) will only be visible based on the parent layer (the text layer).

Also, the clipped layer will have an arrow pointing down to the first referenced layer. What’s exciting about Clipping Mask is that you can move, transform, edit, change opacity and colors, treating it as a separate element or a layer. 

The downside of this is, it adds to your layer count. So if you have a huge canvas with a limited layer count, consider if you can merge and flatten the clipping mask layers.

You can have multiple clipping layers above the parent layer as it will always be mapped to the first reference layer.

• Layer Mask

To help you understand what a Layer Mask is,

1. Open Procreate app and tap + to create a new canvas

2. On the Layers panel, ensure you are on Layer 1 (we will call this a “parent layer”)

3. Draw your illustration or fill Layer 1 with any color 

4. To use Layer Mask, tap on Layer 1 > Mask. This will create another white layer called “Layer Mask” 

5. Tap on Layer Mask (make sure that it has a brighter blue shade than the parent layer) 

6. Using black, white or gray, draw anything on the Layer Mask. You will see that the whole artwork has been modified. 

However, when you disable the Layer Mask, the parent layer is still the same as you drew before. 

Explanation: Whenever you modify or draw on the “Layer Mask”, the changes will apply to the artwork, but it will not destroy or erase any content in the parent layer.

Also, Layer Mask uses grayscale – you can only paint in Black, White and Gray. Black hides or conceals parts of the parent layer, White reveals parts of the parent layer and Gray is for when you paint to have a level of opacity.

A simple phrase to remember for when using Layer Mask:

Black conceals and White reveals

This means that whatever you paint in black will hide the content on the parent layer while painting in white means to reveal it again.

You can select, move, transform, delete, lock, paint or modify the Layer Mask without affecting or erasing content from the parent layer.

The downside is this process adds to your layer count. To know how many layer counts you have in your current canvas, tap Actions (wrench icon) > Canvas > Canvas information > Layers 

Click here to learn more about Layer Mask 

Keep practicing and happy creating!


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