If you’ve used a brush with a lot of opacity, you’ve probably had that annoying experience of your Procreate brush opacity building up as you draw. It looks great as one stroke, but once you start coloring in a whole section, you have blotchy and inconsistent colors as the opacity of the brush strokes overlap each other. Not good.
To stop Procreate brush opacity buildup, adjust the amount of glaze in your brush by opening up the brush settings and navigating to the rendering tab. It’s also important to choose brushes from the outset that don’t have a lot of opacity inherently built into them.
If you’re worried about opacity building up with your brushes, there are a couple of things you can do. I have a few tricks you can use to have the best of both worlds – low opacity, without the buildup. Let’s dive into them.
The Truth About Opacity
Before we dive into my opacity tricks, let’s talk about the reality of opacity.
By definition, something with low opacity is translucent. This means that you can see through it. On the other hand, something with high opacity is opaque. This means that you can’t see through it.
You probably already knew that, but it’s an important reminder before diving into why/why not Procreate’s opacity settings work the way that they do.
By definition, something with low opacity is see through, even in Procreate. Just like in the real world, things that are translucent in Procreate will be see through.
So, in the same way that a thin layer of pink watercolor paint on your watercolor paper will show the thicker layer of blue watercolor paint underneath it, so too in Procreate.
One of the huge perks of Procreate is that it’s good at replicating real-life mediums. One of the smaller downsides of Procreate is that it’s good at replicating real-life mediums. With every pro comes a con.
When you use low opacity in Procreate, it works the same way as it would in the real world. This means that there isn’t a quick button you can press to prevent opacity buildup.
But, I DO have some sneaky tricks you can use to force Procreate to hide or prevent any buildup. It may seem time consuming, but given the nature of opacity, it’s basically the only way to get around it.
Use the Opacity Slider in the Layers Panel
You can change the opacity of your drawings within the settings of each layer. Simply lower the opacity of the layer, and draw your elements with a fully opaque brush. You’ll end up with low opacity brush strokes because your entire layer is low opacity.
This is like a low opacity film that is placed over your entire layer, turning everything underneath it translucent. This means that your actual brush is fully opaque underneath it. The perk of this is that your actual brush isn’t abiding by the rules of low opacity because, under that lower opacity film on your layer, your brush is actually fully opaque.
No opacity buildup!
This is a great option for larger elements, or elements that have a lot of strokes. Or, if you just don’t want the hassle of smudging out your buildups, this will be great as well.
The downside is that you won’t be able to see through your elements. The layer opacity slider acts like a film covering your drawing. It doesn’t actually impact your brushes. Underneath that “film,” your brushes are still opaque. That means that they won’t be translucent at all.
Change Your Color to Something that Looks Low Opacity, but Isn’t
If you don’t want to go through the hassle of avoiding opacity buildup, then don’t. Here’s the thing. When we get rid of opacity buildup, it’s hard to tell we were even using opacity in the first place. That’s because we’re used to opacity building up and becoming see through.
So, we might as well not use opacity at all.
Here’s a quick way to select the same exact color as your low opacity color, while having it be fully opaque.
Draw one stroke on your canvas with the opacity set to low. Now, use your finger and hold down on that color to bring up the color picker. As you’ll see, that color will now be selected in your color panel.
Bring the opacity back up to max.
Now you have the same exact color you had at low opacity, but it’s now at high opacity, which means you won’t have to deal with buildup. Yay!
Ok, so this option doesn’t allow your objects to be see through either. For that, we’ll need to be sneakier.
Look at the Glaze Settings within Your Procreate Brushes
When your opacity is low and glaze is enabled on a brush, your strokes will look like a consistent “glaze.” They will create a consistent tone, no matter how much you draw over the same strokes, until you pick up your stylus and draw again to overlay a new stroke.
If you’re drawing over another color, your glazed strokes will add to what is already there for a unique blending effect.
The glaze settings are different from the blending settings. When you use the blending settings, you will see your brush act a lot more like traditional mediums.
In the blending settings, when you move your stylus back and forth over the same swatch of color, it will continue to darken it, even if you haven’t picked up your stylus.
The blending settings will also lay down color on top of other colors without impacting them or pulling from them. This can be hard to describe, so definitely look at the pictures and play around with it yourself.
It’s a “learn by doing” type of thing.
Important note: remember that we’re talking about brushes that are at low opacity. If you set your brushes to high opacity, the differences between these settings won’t be as noticeable.
Another important note: the impact that glazed vs. blending can have on other colors can be subtle. What ISN’T subtle is how the individual strokes look and function within each setting.
For one stroke designs, like calligraphy, use a glaze setting to reduce opacity buildup
As I mentioned, when you’re using the glazed setting, your opacity won’t build up as long as you don’t pick up your stylus. You could redraw over the same stroke over and over again without any buildup as long as it’s within the same stylus stroke.
If you want to stop a brush from darkening the color of your current stroke, use a glaze setting and don’t pick up your stylus.
This can be a great trick, but it’s not always realistic. Even with calligraphy, many of us pick up our brushes and start new strokes. Outside of calligraphy, we pick up our brushes all of the time and use a LOT of individual strokes to create our drawings.
Even with one of the glazed settings turned on, we can end up with a lot of darker, blotchy, more opaque marks. How do we get rid of those?!
Get Rid of Opacity Buildup with the Smudge Tool
If you’ve set your brush to low opacity and you’re finding a lot of buildup as a result, you can use the smudge tool to smooth out the darker areas and blend them in with the rest of your stroke.
Depending on how many lines you have, this could be labor intensive. That said, it’s an effective fix to the buildup problem, so you’ll have to decide if it’s worth your time. I find it relaxing to smooth out my lines with the smudge tool, so put on a good movie, relax, and get smudging.
While you’re smoothing out your buildup areas, drag the smudge tool from the light areas into the darker areas for it to be as quick and effective as possible.
Just make sure you don’t get over excited with your smudging, or else you’ll make a mess.
If all of this has seemed too time consuming, here’s a go-to way to get rid of opacity buildup for good.
As you can see, there isn’t an obvious or easy way to get rid of opacity buildup. Opacity works the way that it does for a reason. That said, these tricks can help you “defy the laws of gravity” per say and make low opacity brushes work for you instead of against you.
Check out more great posts about Procreate brushes:
Diana has been an artist for over 25 years and has training in drawing, painting, digital drawing and graphic design. Diana’s latest obsession is digitally drawing with Procreate and creating t-shirt designs with Canva. Diana has experience selling her art across a number of platforms and loves helping other artists learn how to make money from their art as well.