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Why I switched to using Procreate for digital illustration

Updated: Apr 12, 2023

Illustrator Molly Maine using the iPad to create a digital illustration on Procreate
Using Procreate for Digital Illustration

After about a year of umming and ahh-ing about trying Procreate for digital illustration, I decided to take the plunge and give it a try. Before using Procreate, my process was a mixture of analogue and digital; I would hand draw all my artwork using pencil and black ink, then scan it or photograph it and import it into my Macbook. I'd then spend hours painstakingly cleaning up the line work in Adobe Illustrator before importing it into Photoshop to colour it. I had a few reservations about using Procreate, which were mainly these:

My initial reservations about using Procreate:

  • Cost: Procreate isn't free; it's a paid app, currently costing £9.99 in the UK App Store for the iPad. This is a one-time purchase, so you will not need to pay any additional fees or subscribe to use the app. Personally I think this price is very reasonable, especially compared to software like Adobe Creative Suite, so this cost didn't deter me. However, the real barrier to entry, is the need for an iPad and an Apple Pencil. Procreate is only available on iOS devices, such as the iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch, and works best with an Apple Pencil. After doing some research and reading a bunch of reviews, I opted for an Ipad 10.9-inch 64GB (which cost $649), and an Apple Pencil 2nd Generation (which cost $129).

  • Lack of tactile feedback: I love the feel of traditional art materials, especially my carefully selected collection of pencils, black ink pens and ink. The thought of giving these up and drawing only with an Apple Pencil didn't appeal to me, as I feared that I would miss the tactile feedback, precision, and general enjoyment that comes with using these materials.

  • Learning curve: Procreate has a lot of features and tools, which can be overwhelming for some artists who are new to digital art. I've been using Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator for 18 years, so I wasn't new to illustration. However the idea of starting from scratch with new software was a bit daunting and I worried that it would take quite a bit of time and practice to become proficient in using the app.

  • Dependence on technology: Using Procreate requires access to an iPad (which needs to be fully charged!). I felt that this would be a limitation for me during times where I prefer to work offline, or when I want to go somewhere and draw where I don't want to worry about looking after an expensive iPad (eg the beach).

However after my initial reservations, I quickly began to understand why so many people switch to using Procreate. After just a few weeks, I already saw lots of benefits of working on the iPad and surprised myself at how much I enjoyed using it. It was very easy to pick up and get going, and after taking a few quick Skillshare courses to learn the basics, I made my first illustration (inspired by an area of Las Vegas I had been travelling to at the time). Within a few months, I had incorporated Procreate into my process and although I still love to draw by hand, the benefits for me and my art practice have been undeniable:

The main benefits I found of using Procreate:

  • Brushes: Procreate offers a wide range of brushes and tools, which allows me to mimic the effects of my favourite art materials and experiment with different styles and techniques. I was really surprised how natural a lot of them looked and felt to use! This makes it relatively easy to achieve a desired effect or style in your artwork. There are lots of brushes that come included within the app, but you can also purchase additional ones to further personalise your artwork and recreate your unique style.

  • Layers: Procreate allows for the use of layers (a bit like Photoshop), which I find very helpful when creating more complex drawings. With layers, you can draw on one layer and then add details or make adjustments on other layers without disturbing the original drawing. This can be especially useful for making changes or correcting mistakes.

  • Flexibility: Procreate offers a lot of flexibility and convenience when it comes to creating and editing artwork. You can easily save and export your artwork as a variety of file formats, including JPEG, PNG, and PSD. Personally I like to save it as a PSD and then open it up in Photoshop to make final tweaks and adjustments there.

  • Mobility: As a full-time traveller who is always on the go, I was looking for a more convenient and flexible way to create artwork (without the need to lug lots of art materials around with me and constantly be on the look our for a good scanner). I loved the idea of being able to work on my art anywhere, as long as I had my iPad with me. This is especially useful for artists like me, who are always on the move or who do not have a dedicated studio space.

Overall, I was drawn to the convenience and versatility of Procreate, and although I had some resistance at first, I've honestly really enjoyed using it for my illustration work and now I make most of my work this way. The Apple pencil feels very natural to me, and due to my careful choice of brushes, a lot of the sketches and illustrations I've made in Procreate look so similar to my analogue work that I don't think most people would know the difference ;)

How was your first experience using Procreate? Let me know in the comments below!

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