Procreate Review | PCMag

Before Adobe’s acclaimed Fresco, there was Procreate from Savage Interactive. This powerful iPad app for sketching, painting, and illustrating is a Tasmanian-made digital art studio for creative professionals. Its relatively low cost and accessible features most certainly woo everyday doodlers, in addition to being highly attractive to the targeted professional artists, animators, illustrators, and letterers. Given its low one-time fee, it’s easy for artists and would-be artists of any level to justify buying this graphic design app, earning Procreate our Editors’ Choice award.


How Much Does Procreate Cost?

Procreate is a steal at a flat, one-time price of $9.99, and there is no account set-up, pro upgrade, or subscription to consider. So even if you’re just curious, there’s no reason not to buy Procreate. The iPhone app, called Procreate Pocket, is $4.99. At this writing, the company has no plans to introduce an Android or Windows version.

Procreate’s main competitor is Adobe Fresco, which is free for the basic app and $120 per year for Premium. Several other notable drawing and painting apps are desktop programs with a tablet version, and they tend to be more expensive. Some examples are CorelDRAW Standard ($299), Corel Photo-Paint (part of a suite at $549 or for a subscription price of $269 per year), Affinity Designer ($19.99 for the iPad version), and Affinity Photo ($19.99 for the iPad version ).

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You can find other brilliant niche drawing apps, some at very reasonable prices, for creating effects that few other apps can. A few favorites are Cosmic Brush (free; $24.99 for Premium), Flame Painter for iPad ($2.99), iOrnament Pro (free; 99 cents for Pro version), Silk 2 ($2.99), and 3D Brush ([email protected] for availability).


System Requirements

Procreate works with Apple iPad running iPad OS 14.4 or later and a first- or second-generation Apple Pencil, depending on your iPad model. Procreate 5.3 will require Apple’s M2 chip. For this review, I tested the latest version available: 5.2.9.

Procreate doesn’t offer cloud storage or backup. Files are stored locally within the Gallery on the app’s home screen, but only while the app stays on your iPad. Should you remove the app, your artwork is gone, too. Therefore, it’s important to be aware of how much storage you have available on your device and to consider exporting any work you want to keep to iCloud or another cloud storage service, or to an external drive.


Interface

Procreate’s minimalist interface, which you can hide if you like, has three main sections. First, the top right of the tableau houses the Painting Tools. It has everything you need to begin: Paint, Smudge, Erase, Layers, and Color. Each tool has many options within its own menu. Second is the sidebar where you find Modification Tools: brush size and opacity sliders, square Modify/Eyedropper button, and Undo-Redo arrows. Finally, at the top left are the robust Editing Tools which include: Gallery (to manage work); Actions (for sharing and interface settings); Adjustments (for color, gradient maps, pro FX, sharpen/blur, clone, and liquify); Selections (selection modification and use); and Transform (scaling and warp meshing).

Everything is clean and simple. After just a little probing, it all makes perfect sense. There are no tear-off menus like in Fresco. In the end, it keeps your canvas uncluttered, though occasionally I’d like the option to keep two menus open simultaneously.

(Credit: Savage Interactive)


Learning and Help

Procreate recently introduced a free four-part Beginner Series video for burgeoning artists who aren’t sure how to begin. The step-by-step videos are an empowering introduction to all the basic skills needed for creating art and animation. You also get a well-designed online Procreate Handbook with a search bar and handy content navigation side panel.


Drawing Between the Lines

It’s always nice to have a little scaffolding to support your efforts, and under the Actions panel, Procreate has it in the form of Grids (2D, isometric, Perspective, and custom), Drawing Guide and Drawing Assist (which matches your strokes to your chosen Drawing Guide thus removing tedium), and QuickShape (which snaps wobbly hand-drawn lines and shapes into perfection).

Page Assist turns your Procreate canvas and all its tools into a multipage interface that allows you to create comics, books, or storyboards. You can even open, edit, and export PDFs. Using the Layers feature, you can make a realistic-looking project by adding a paper texture to the background layer.


What’s New in Procreate?

One new feature in Procreate (one that Adobe Fresco doesn’t have) lets you paint directly on 3D models. Note that Adobe does have a solution for painting 3D models but it’s in the separate Substance 3D Painter app.

At WWDC 2022, Apple awarded Savage Interactive with its Design Award for inclusivity for supporting and providing a great user experience for people of diverse backgrounds, physical abilities, and languages ​​(16 of them). Procreate’s admirable suite of advanced accessibility features includes motion filtering for users with tremors, single-touch gestures to accommodate hand mobility limitations, a new color card palette, and notifications for the visually impaired.

Procreate;  a desert landscape drawing with a daytime moon in the sky and color cards for the artwork on the right

(Credit: Savage Interactive)

Coming soon, Procreate 5.3 will introduce a new way to interact with the just-released M2 iPad Pro and the Apple Pencil (2nd generation) with hover capability. The limitation of creating artwork on an iPad in any app is the fixed real estate for creators who wish to work on larger pieces or at ultra-high resolution. To date, the workarounds are mediocre and include rigging a digitizing tablet with a desktop and mirroring the iPad screen on a large monitor. But even if you can see the bigger picture on the desktop display, you’re still forced to look at the iPad while painting to see your cursor. The Apple Pencil’s hovering cursor ameliorates this dilemma by indicating the position of the cursor on the desktop display, thereby letting you watch on the bigger screen while you draw on your M2 iPad Pro.


Brush Fire

Another differentiator from Adobe Fresco is Procreate’s long-standing ability to create and save custom brushes and settings, though Adobe has announced this feature will arrive in an upcoming Fresco release.

If you want more than the 200 brushes that come with the app, you can explore a profusion of third-party and user-created specialty brushes for painting, lettering, adding texture, and stamping. These brushes are available for purchase in Procreate Marketplace, the App Store, and at other online emporiums, such as Creative Market(Opens in a new window) and Envato Elements(Opens in a new window)🇧🇷

Procreate's brush menu

(Credit: Savage Interactive)

Although Procreate’s brushes bring plenty of dazzle, nothing quite mystifies like Fresco’s Live Brushes. They have seriously real feeling oil paint and watercolor emulators that interact with the pixels of Fresco’s virtual canvas or paper almost magically. Happily, you can import brushes from Fresco to Procreate.

Nonetheless, there is plenty to explore in Procreate’s own brush lineup. In the image below, the paint color is the same; as you can see, some brushes are set to have color jitter or transference, which is all customizable.

A grid of sample brush strokes in Procreate

(Credit: Shelby Putnam Tupper)


Balancing Act

In Procreate you can easily recolor all or parts of your work, balance HSB (hue, saturation, and brightness) curves and histograms with a touch of three simple sliders. You can experiment with those adjustments to stylize your work.

In Life and Depth

Gesture-based blurring keeps you from the pulldown-menu doldrums, and with adjustable gaussian, motion, and perspective blurs, you can add dimension and life to your masterpiece.

A human figure jumping from a red London bus showing Procreate's FX Blur feature

(Credit: Savage Interactive)

Three-Dimensional Painting

Unique to Procreate is the ability to paint on 3D figures, mentioned earlier. After importing 3D models into your Gallery (OBJ or USDZ files with UV attached maps) and opening them, the 3D Paint interface automatically appears. If you don’t have any 3D models of your own, you can try out the feature using one of the models included with.

A 3D model of a roller skate in Procreate, shown with custom painting

(Credit: Savage Interactive)

A Brilliant Finish

To help finalize your vision, plenty of effects await your exploration. Create an atmospheric glow with Bloom directly on your image or as a layer effect filter. Add a halftone or glitch effect to add texture and interest. If that weren’t enough, Procreate features Liquify distortion modes such as Push, Twirl, Pinch, Expand, and more.

To top it off, if you wish, you can watch an instant replay of your entire project creation—a time-lapse playback of your drawing from beginning to end.

Procreate's halftone feature shown on an image of a human figure jumping from a red London bus

(Credit: Savage Interactive)


In Your Pocket

Procreate Pocket, the iPhone version of the app, was named best iPhone app of the year in 2018 by Apple. Although the app is feature-packed, well-designed, and optimized for the device, the phone feels uncomfortably small, especially if you’re used to using Procreate on the iPad. Savage’s motto for this Procreate Pocket is, “Powerful enough for creative professionals. Simple enough for everyone,” and while that’s not incorrect, size matters. Furthermore, you can’t use an Apple Pencil with it (yet).

If you’re looking for alternatives for Android devices or phones (which of support stylus input), try Tayasui Sketches (free) or art ArtFlow: Paint Draw Sketchbook (free with upgrade options).

Procreate Pocket iPhone app

(Credit: Savage Interactive)


Get Procreative

Paying only $9.99 for Procreate feels like a steal. With its bountiful features and effects, brushes and brush types, Animation Assist, and 3D painting, Procreate really feels like it’s worth even more than its asking price, which isn’t something we say too often. That makes it a PCMag Editors’ Choice winner for graphic design apps, and a piece of software that’s easy to recommend to both casual artists and professionals alike.

pros

  • No subscription and very affordable
  • Rich with features
  • Minuscule learning curve to get started
  • Adjustments, FX, and Finishing Filters

Cons

  • On Android or Windows versions
  • No tear-off windows, vector capability, or cloud storage
The Bottom Line

Procreate is a premium quality, low-cost app for artists of every kind. With abundant customizable features, expandability, and an attractive and intuitive user experience, anyone can create 2D and 3D paintings, drawings, hand lettering, and animations.

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