Procreate’s alpha lock feature opens up an incredible world where we can draw inside the lines of our own art without worrying about straying outside of the lines of our object into the rest of our canvas. How awesome is that?
Well, the awesomeness suddenly stops when alpha lock stops working like we hoped it would. What gives?
Alpha lock is one of those features that seems simple on the surface but, once you dive into it, has some complications you need to be aware of.
If your alpha lock isn’t working, you probably came to this post thinking that there’s something wrong with Procreate.
Well, the good news is that there’s likely nothing wrong with Procreate. In fact, everything is likely working as intended.
Of course, there are definitely times when there are software glitches that cause Procreate features to act a little strange and buggy. No doubt, this could be happening to you. In that case, navigate to a different drawing to see if the problem is happening universally, or with just one piece of art.
Then, try restarting your iPad to give Procreate a fresh start.
While technical issues can happen, with alpha lock specifically, there are a LOT of times when artists believe their alpha lock isn’t working when, in fact, everything is working as it should be.
What’s happening instead is that it isn’t being used correctly.
It’s REALLY easy to use alpha lock incorrectly, so don’t worry about it. We’re going to cover the top 3 mistakes that I see with using alpha lock. Hopefully these reasons will explain why your alpha lock isn’t working for you so that you can get back to using this amazing feature to create your art.
1. Drawing on Blank Areas
When you turn on alpha lock within a layer in Procreate, you can only draw on areas within that layer that have already been drawn.
With alpha lock, you can’t draw on any blank areas of your canvas.
The goal of alpha lock is to help you draw inside the lines of an object without spilling over into the other areas of your canvas. If alpha lock allowed you to draw in blank areas, it wouldn’t be effective in helping you stay within the lines.
If you aren’t sure if your area is blank, the quickest way to tell is to open your layers panel and look at the layer thumbnails. The layer you activated alpha lock for will show a checkerboard design behind any of the objects, lines, and design elements in that layer.
Any areas where you see a checkerboard are areas that are blank. Turn off alpha lock, fill in those areas, and reactivate alpha lock again if you want to use this feature in those areas.
I most commonly see this mistake being made with shapes – creating the outline of a shape, but leaving the inside of it blank.
You need to fill your shapes with color in order to use alpha lock with them.
Here’s an easy workaround. If you don’t want to fill them with a specific color, fill them with the same color as your background so they remain “transparent looking” while still having the pixels within them that are needed for alpha to work.
As you can see in the image above, I filled the circle with white, which is the same as my background color. This gives me a way to use alpha lock without noticeably changing the color of the inside of my shape.
2. Drawing on a Different Layer
When you turn on alpha lock, it will only be applied to that layer you turned it on for. It will not be applied canvas wide or to any other layers.
If you turn on alpha lock for a specific layer, but then select a different layer to draw on, alpha lock won’t work.
You need to stay on your alpha locked layer in order to use the alpha lock feature.
Now, you may be thinking that there definitely IS a way to use alpha lock on a different layer, what you’re probably thinking of is clipping masks.
Clipping masks and alpha lock get very easily confused because they share a lot of similarities. They also have important differences that are important to be aware of. I have a full post about the similarities and differences between clipping masks and alpha lock that I suggest checking out to learn more about that.
If you’re trying to use alpha lock, not a clipping mask, on a different layer that alpha lock isn’t activated on, it’s not going to work. The alpha lock feature will only work on layers that have alpha lock turned on.
3. Drawing with a Different Opacity
Let’s say that you draw an object on your canvas with a brush with lower opacity. You turn on alpha lock for that layer, raise your brush opacity and choose a different color. As you draw on your alpha locked layer, you realize that your opacity for your newly drawn lines didn’t go up. They’re low opacity like your original lines.
Here’s the deal:
When you turn on alpha lock, it will “lock in” the opacity level you originally used. You can’t use different levels of opacity within an alpha locked layer.
In the image above, the left hand side shows a black scribble drawn with the brush opacity at a low level. Then, alpha lock was turned on and the blue was drawn on top of it with the brush at full opacity. The blue scribble on the right is the same opacity and color as the one on the left, but the one on the left got “stuck” at a lower opacity due to the alpha lock being on.
This one can be frustrating. I don’t know about you, but I personally have had a number of instances where switching up my opacity levels within an alpha locked layer would have been nice.
But hey, I love alpha lock enough to not mind too much.
It’s REALLY important to keep in mind and plan ahead for though. You don’t want to spend a lot of time and energy working on an object, only to find that you drew it at an opacity level that isn’t going to work for the alpha lock plans you have.
If you know you’re going to use alpha lock in your piece of artwork, think about any changes you make to your brush opacity so you don’t get “locked into” an opacity you didn’t plan for once you turn alpha lock on.
Alpha lock is one of Procreate’s features that makes digital art seem like magic. Think of all of that time trying to draw within the lines while making traditional art. Heck, all of that time trying to color during preschool.
There are a lot of amazing ways to use alpha lock. If it seems like it isn’t working for you, see if one of these 3 issues is to blame.
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.