Paint a spaceship in Procreate
This tutorial will demonstrate how to create a spaceship design in Procreate. It will guide you through an example workflow, from rough sketch to a finalized image that could be presented to a client or art director. With helpful tips to speed up your process, you will learn how to make your workflow as efficient as possible.
The spaceship design will be fast and nimble; it might serve as a scouting ship. The tutorial will start with how to create a rough sketch of the spaceship, before making use of Procreate’s perspective tools. It will teach you how to create a clean line art image, plus some of the handy features Procreate offers to help with this. You will learn how to add a background to provide context, along with some tricks to help with creating special effects.
The tutorial will then move on to color, covering different approaches to take when rendering materials with different properties. You will learn how to use clipping masks and Alpha Lock to help keep your design tidy and your workflow efficient. It guide you through the process of finalizing an image, including adding some special effects as well as adjustment layers like curves and color balance to enhance the image further.
Start by doing some online research to gather reference images of different spaceships that interest you. Collect these spaceship images into one file to create a mood board. This will help you to create a rough sketch of a spaceship. Create a new canvas with the dimensions 4000 x 2250 and 72dpi, then begin to rough out your lines to get a feel for the spaceship.
Research references, then create a new canvas in Procreate and draw a rough sketch
Setting up shortcuts
Before you go any further, it can be helpful to set up and modify your Quick Menu. This will speed up your workflow a huge amount. Go to Actions > Prefs > Gesture Controls > Quick menu > Enable Touch. Now when you touch the canvas, the Quick Menu will pop up. Tap and hold any of the rectangles to change the actions to the ones you think you will use the most. (If you’re not sure, try adding the ones suggested here: Copy, Paste, Fill layer, Clear layer, Merge down, and Flip horizontally.)
Set up shortcuts in the Quick Menu to speed up your workflow
Setting perspective & corrections
Next, set up a two point perspective guide using the Drawing Guide. Select Actions > Enable Drawing Guide, then select the Perspective option. This will let you re-position the perspective point, or set another point by tapping another part of the screen. Ensure your vanishing points line up with the general direction of your lines. This will limit the amount of changes you need to make with the design. Also, make sure your rough sketch lines up with your perspective points.
Set up Procreate’s perspective tool to help create an accurate sketch
The next step is to clean up your line work to create a neater sketch. Tap the N next to the layer to summon the opacity slider, then turn the layer opacity down to 20%. Next, create a new layer on top of your first, then select Brush Library > Sketching > HB Pencil. Reduce the size of the brush (using the brush size slider on the left-hand sidebar of the interface) to enable you to create a nice clean line that isn’t too thick. Take your time going over your image, cleaning up the lines.
Use the HB pencil to clean up your spaceship sketch
Procreate’s QuickShape tool allows you to create shapes quickly and easily. After drawing a line or an ellipse, keep your stylus held down on the screen and watch it snap to a straight line or perfect circle. Use QuickShape to create the clean lines of the engine. You can then edit the shape to match the perspective. QuickShape also allows you to create other shapes such as triangles, squares, and in this case, an arc. Use the Edit Shape function to position your shape into place.
Use QuickShape to create perfect circles and arcs
Look at the overall design to make sure you’re happy with the different shapes used and how well the spaceship reads. Take a step back by zooming out from the canvas, making it a tiny thumbnail. Can you still read the shapes and identify what it is? Another way to check everything is correct is to flip the canvas horizontally (using the shortcut you created earlier in the Quick Menu). Double-check your perspective before moving on to the painting stage.
Take a step back from your image to review the progress
Blocking in the background
Test out a couple of ideas for the background until you find one that creates an epic feeling. (Note how here the planet is positioned above the spaceship.) Use Brush Library > Painting > Flat Brush and Artistic > Turpentine to rough in your colors and the placement of the planet. For now you just want to get the idea in place, as smaller details can be added later. But remember, as the ship is the focal point, you don't want it to get lost in an overly detailed background.
Block in an epic background using loose brushstrokes
Block in the shape Lasso
Next, move the shape of your spaceship onto one layer. There are multiple ways to do this. You can paint in the shape manually using a hard brush. The quickest way, however, is to use the Selection tool. Once you have selected an area, drag your stylus for curves or tap around the selection to create a straight line. Combine these two techniques to quickly make a selection of your spaceship, then fill your layer using the Fill Layer shortcut you created in the Quick Menu earlier.
Use the Selection tool to create a clean selection of your spaceship
Creating a clipping mask
Create a new layer above the spaceship shape layer, tap on it to summon the Layer Options menu, then select Clipping Mask. This will attach this new layer to the layer beneath, meaning anything you paint on the new layer will only show up within the shape already defined on the layer beneath. This is a clean way of working and makes using adjustment layers easier.
Use a clipping mask to keep your painting process clean
Blocking in shadows and light
Now you have a clipping mask set up, paint your shadows and light onto this new clipped layer. (The red material shown here will be an acrylic type of paint.) Decide where your source of light will come from. Here the light source will be in the top right, so shadows need to be created on the areas where the light won’t reach. You can also add some warmer spots on the surfaces where the light will hit. Additional details and wear and tear to the paintwork can be added later once everything else is in place.
Block in the shadows and light on the spaceship
Blocking the metal shapes
When creating a spaceship design, including a variety of materials on the body will make it more visually interesting. Try to break up the reds of the spaceship in an appealing and interesting way. (Use the Selection tool, as outlined in step 8, to select different areas of the spaceship.) Select a warm gray to block in the base of the metals, remembering to zoom out at intervals to check how the spaceship reads overall. This will help you to decide which parts of the spaceship to assign as the gray metal.
Block in the metal material to break up the shapes of the spaceship
Adding lights and darks to the metals
Add in the light and darks to the metals using the Flat brush. Make full use of isolated references to help you create a realistic finish. For example, a car exhaust pipe was used as a reference for the metals here. To achieve this look, use colors and values that will give the material a reflective look. Note how the individual shapes within the metals tend to have a harder edge to them, compared to the acrylic material used for the main body of the spaceship.
Add light and dark sections to the metal material
It’s important to take your time with the methods covered so far and to keep practising these initial block-out sections on this and other pieces of art that you create. These are the building blocks of any successful design. The following steps will mainly cover rendering and adding lots of small and interesting details, plus adding some effects to the spaceship.
Adding the glass
The next step is to paint the glass cockpit at the front of the spaceship. Using the Flat brush, add a selection of blues to the clipping mask. Switch between the Flat and Soft Brush as you paint to create a soft and dynamic reflection. Add some small stars dispersed throughout the glass to give it that extra layer of reflection. Glass is always a tricky subject matter to paint, so make sure to use some references as a guide.
Add the glass to the front cockpit of the spaceship
Adding details to the background
Adjust the background so that it interacts with the spaceship in a more appealing way. Use the Painting > Damp Brush to start to add in a few more details, using smaller brushstrokes and jumping between the land masses and clouds. Try to keep it simple, as you don’t want the background to distract from the spaceship. Next, add stars to the darkness by creating small dots on a new layer with a hard brush. Duplicate this layer, then set the blend mode to Lighten > Screen. Next, select Adjustments > Gaussian Blur, blurring the image slightly until the stars glow.
Add small details to the background planet and create tiny glowing stars
Finalizing the background
To create the atmospheric blur at the edge of the planet, duplicate the planet layer then select Adjustments > Gaussian Blur and drag the slider right until you’re happy with the amount of blur. Next, tap your blurred planet layer in the layers popover, then select Mask > Invert. This will fill the layer with black. Use a soft brush to paint in the blurred edge, painting with pure white to reveal the hidden layer. Next, create a new layer and set its blend mode to Lighten > Color Dodge. Use a soft brush and a light blue to gently brush in a glow for the atmosphere.
Finalize the details of the background and create an atmospheric blur
Rendering the body
Now it’s time to render the body of the spaceship. Use the Damp Brush to start adding texture. Aim to create a slightly worn look to the paintwork, giving the impression that the spaceship has come up against the elements. Paint the sections hit by light a lighter red, and the parts in shadow a darker red. Try to sneak in some de-saturated reds, purples, and blues to lend more depth and atmosphere.
Render the body of the spaceship to create a worn effect
Rendering the glass
Next, revisit the glass cockpit. Use the Damp Brush to add some shadows to areas where the light won’t hit the glass. Create a new clipping mask layer and using a soft brush, try to create some more of the atmosphere reflected in the glass and add a highlight to the top corner. Again, paint some subtle stars into the glass for an extra reflective effect.
Finalize the reflection in the glass window
Working out the matte material
Creating more variation in the materials (for example, having a metal that’s more matte in its properties as well as the other shinier metal used on the spaceship) will make the image more visually interesting. This matte metal will be used for the two sections on the outer wings, engine bodies, and the panel at the top of the main body. Use the Damp Brush to paint in the darker grays, trying to keep the material in a close value range and avoiding using any specular highlights.
Paint the matte metal parts, trying to keep a close value range
Getting into the details
Next, revisit the shinier parts of the engine. Still using the Damp Brush, start to clean up your edges to create a neat, hard edge around the outer rims of the engine. This will require you to switch the visibility of your line art layer on and off. Use the Selection tool to help create the clean hard edges. In the highlighted areas, apply a scratchy texture to the metal. Next, paint a soft purple light to the underside to imply a secondary light source from the atmosphere.
Work on the fine details of the engine and create clean edges
Zoom in on the ship and clean up any jagged edges or spots you may have missed earlier. This will require going back to the layer that all of your masks are clipped to and altering this. Next, study the curves of the engine and round off any that don’t look quite right. Bring in some little cuts and separations to the outer wings where the two materials meet.
Clean up your design before making the final adjustments to your image
Add a glow coming from the engines, along with speed lines tapering off behind the spaceship into the distance. This is a subtle effect that will add motion and energy to the image. To create the speed lines, use a combination of a soft brush on a normal layer, and then using the same color on a layer set to blend mode Color Dodge, intensify the glow. For the soft glow emitted from front inner engines, make a clean selection using the Selection tool, then use a soft brush to paint on the glow.
Add effects to the spaceship to bring it to life and make it pop
Artist's Tip 2
This is my typical workflow when it comes to painting digitally in Procreate. Starting big then, once the larger elements are in place, working your way down to the small details is one of the most efficient ways to work. Adding fancy final effects to something you’ve rushed won’t make the piece any stronger.
Select Actions > Add > Add text to add some lettering to the spaceship’s body, then use Transform > Distort to position it into place. To make the final adjustments, group all of your layers into one single group. Duplicate this group then merge all of the layers in this new group together, meaning your whole image is now on one layer. Add a color balance adjustment, adding more blues to the shadows and more warms to the highlights. Use Adjustments > Curves to brighten up the image, then use Adjustments > Sharpen set to around 20% to finish.
Bring the whole painting of the spaceship together with some final adjustments
This is a scouting spaceship that’s fast, nimble, and has a minor weapon. Putting one of your spaceship designs into a scene like this is a great way to get a feel for what it might be like in action. This tutorial has covered a series of techniques and workflows on how create a spaceship Procreate. Now you’re armed to try and create your very own... good luck!