Procreate App Review: This $10 App Opens Up a New World of Digital Art on iPad
Editor's Choice: The Procreate app puts an impressive suite of tools for creating art and animation at your fingertips, making it well worth the price.
Shelby BrownEditor II
Shelby Brown (she/her/hers) is an editor for CNET's services team. She covers tips and tricks for apps, operating systems and devices, as well as mobile gaming and Apple Arcade news. Shelby also oversees Tech Tips coverage. Before joining CNET, she covered app news for Download.com and served as a freelancer for Louisville.com.
She received the Renau Writing Scholarship in 2016 from the University of Louisville's communication department.
Digital illustration app Procreate offers a massive suite of art tools and creative features (with no in-app purchases) for just $10 (£10, AU$15) to download (with no in-app purchases). The app's accessible experience whether you're a design professional, a seasoned digital artist or a beginner to the world of digital drawing makes it well worth the price. One downside: The app is only available on iPadOS and iOS.
I'm still finding and learning about new features to improve my artwork and explore different styles. And the app's developers, Savage Interactive, aren't done yet -- the Procreate 5.2 update arrived in 2022, which takes the M1 chip even further by adding 3D painting features, AR, new features for lighting, texture and more.
The app's tools, such as quick shape, blend mode, layering, alpha locks and clipping masks, add a new level of professionalism to your art. This blend of versatility and value is why we're maintaining Procreate's CNET Editors' Choice Award for 2022.
Wide range of tools
Useful for everyone from beginners to professionals
A massive suite of tools for a $10 price tag
Two different apps for iPhone and iPad use
No automatic iCloud backup
Large number of tools can be overwhelming for beginners
Toto, I don't think we're using Microsoft Paint anymore
Procreate is packed with so many tools and features that I'll barely scratch the surface in this review.
There are countless ways to customize your iPad's gesture controls to make the app work best for you. For example, you can set it so that you tap four fingers to immediately populate the copy and paste options. You can also use three fingers to scrub the screen and clear a layer.
One of the biggest perks of Procreate is its massive library of brushes. The range of brushes available in the app fit just about any creation you could possibly have in mind. You can stick with basic sketching, inking, drawing and painting, or you can explore airbrushing, calligraphy, charcoal and spray paint. Under each category of brushes, you'll find a half a dozen or more choices. For example, if you choose Sketching, you can select from seven different pencils and three different pastel textures. Take it a step further by tapping the brush again and further customizing the properties of the tool. You can also find brushes made by other artists available for download through websites like Creative Market.
I also love using the app's layering feature while I'm drawing. It makes editing in the future much easier. You'll just have to remember to put your work in piece by piece. You can find extra light and color editing features for each layer as well. Just tap the little "N" next to the checkmark that selects the layer.
To stay organized, or if you want an added level of security to a section of art, you can combine layers into groups. Simply tap a layer and you can select either Merge Down or Combine Down. Merge Down makes two layers into one, for example, if you had Alpha Lock on to protect line boundaries in a layer, it will turn off. Combine Down forms a new group, but still keeps each individual layer's specifications active. There's also an option to rename layers. By default, they'll show up as Layer one, two, three, etc., but you can edit them to whatever's most helpful -- sketch, outline, highlights, shadows, etc. When it comes to working with text in Procreate, the app also recognizes the Scribble feature first introduced in iOS 14.
Procreate also makes it easy to learn new skills by making the technical aspect of digital art less intimidating. When I first opened the Procreate app, I saw that it had animation features, but almost immediately wrote them off as too complicated for a novice like me. But with a few taps in the app, I was able to create a rudimentary animation of a ball bouncing across the screen. It was barely two and a half seconds, but I was really proud of it! Now, I'm really excited to see what else I can make.
Procreate is an iPad-only app. There is a version for your iPhone, called Procreate Pocket ($5, £5, AU$8). But the apps are separate, so you can't swap back and forth between your phone and your tablet.
The Apple Pencil isn't required hardware for using Procreate. But we recommend picking one up if you want any level of detail in your art. I use a first-gen Apple Pencil. If your device isn't compatible with the Apple Pencil, the app supports some third-party stylus models. You can find the complete list on its website.
Also, it's important to know how to save your artwork on Procreate. On the bright side, the app autosaves as you're working. But what if something goes wrong with the app or you want to upgrade your iPad? It gets a bit tricky if you want to save your work outside of the app. After I finish a piece, I save it to a file in the Photos app. Understanding exporting files, restoring files, enabling iCloud backups, and can be intimidating. One of the best (and simplest) explanations I found was from Adventures With Art.
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Should you try Procreate?
There's a lot going on in Procreate and it can seem overwhelming, but the more you use the app, the easier it gets. Having fun is the most important part.
If you're even mildly interested in digital art and have $10 to spare, I'd recommend trying Procreate. Explore the app, doodle, write your name with different brushes. You can also upload blank coloring sheets to a canvas and experiment with the tools that way, so you're not creating a brand new work on your own. There's no right or wrong way to make art. For example, TikTok users have also found creative ways to express themselves with Procreate like reimagining Disney princesses in 2021, turning celebrities into gorgeous drag queens and personifying individual states as characters.
If you're more in the market for a digital coloring book, however, you might check out the Lake app (free, with in-app purchases), instead of shelling out $10 for Procreate. And if you want to get an idea of how much you might use Procreate before investing, Autodesk Sketchbook is a free app that has an impressive set of tools, too -- not as many as Procreate, but enough to give you a taste.
There are dozens of ways to customize Procreate to help you discover or improve your art style.