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Create a Digital Papercut Lightbox in Procreate

I love turning regular arts and crafts into digital versions in Procreate. In this week's tutorial, I walk you through the step-by-step process to create a Papercut Lightbox (or Shadowbox) on your iPad.

Follow along with the video, or check out the basic steps I've outlined below.

  • Start with a Sketch

    • I always recommend sketching out your basic layout/design before starting, so you know where your main elements are going to be placed.

    • I use a Pencil brush to sketch. Any of the pencils that come with Procreate will work for this.

    • In this piece, I sketched the multiple layers of the frame (the “portal”), the ship, and some ghosts

    • When your sketch is done, rename that layer and lower the opacity (usually around 20-30% works well)

  • Create the Papercut layers

    • Add a new layer under your Sketch and switch to a Monoline brush (you can find one in the Calligraphy set that comes with Procreate).

    • Watch the video to see how I used the iPad’s split-screen view and a reference image to draw the ship. You could also trace an image on another layer, as long as it’s copyright-free, or draw it on your own.

    • Next, I added the ghosts on a separate layer and used the Eraser to “cut out” their eyes.

    • PRO-TIP: In a real lightbox, all the paper is white and the “colors” show up from the light behind it and the different tones are due to how far away the layers are from the light. To get this effect digitally, we’re going to use a Grayscale color palette, using lighter colors closer to the back and darker ones at the front (further from the light). You can download my Free palette here.

    • To create the frame, I’m using a new layer for each and starting with a dark gray for the farthest out one, moving a few shades lighter as I go back towards the “light.” Draw the edge of the frame and then Color Drop on the outside.

    • You can create as many layers of the frame as you’d like, just remember that each of these will later be in a group with 3-4 layers, so think about how many layers you have available in your canvas and how many layers/groups you want to work with. 😉

    • It’s helpful to name your layers at this stage, as we’ll be duplicating them later.

    • Decide where in the layers you want the Ship and the Ghosts and adjust your gray colors accordingly. Watch the video to see how I do this.

    • Add one more layer right above the default Background and drop the lightest gray from the color palette to fill it.

  • Add the Lightbox effect

    • Now that you have all your layers set and organized, it’s time to add the magic! Swipe Left on a layer to Duplicate it, then group it and name the group. The bottom copy in the group will need to be turned White.

    • The easiest way to turn this White is to go into the Adjustments (that the Magic Wand icon in the top left) and choose Hue/Saturation/Brightness, then turn the Brightness all the way up to “Max.” An alternative way is to Alpha Lock the layer and fill it with White, then turn Alpha Lock back off, but I think that’s slower.

    • Repeat this process for all of your Papercut layers.

    • Now we need to multi-select all those white layers (select one and then swipe Right on the others) and then use the Transform tool (the arrow in the top left) to move them UP a few pixels by tapping just above the canvas. This will create the “edge” of our paper.

    • Duplicate each of these white layers again, and on the bottom layer in each group, change the Blend mode to “Add”

    • On these layers (you have to do this one at a time), we’ll use the Adjustments>Gaussian Blur to add the glow effect.

    • Once all your groups have their glow added, come to the top group and add a layer between the two white layers. We’re going to add a gradient here to make the Lightbox look more realistic. Watch the video to see how we do this using the selection tool, but you can also just paint in some black at the top and bottom of the canvas and then use the Gaussian Blur.

    • Add another layer above this one and change the blend mode to “Color”

    • Now you can color drop any color onto this layer to light up your box! (you can even do gradients! See the video for how to do this)

  • Add Paper Texture

    • If you want to add more realism to your digital Lightbox, you can add paper texture to it. You can either add one texture to the whole canvas (either with an image or a brush), or use clipping masks in each group. You can grab my Free paper texture here, and watch the video for how to do this.

  • Share your Art!

    • Tap the Wrench (actions menu) in the top left and choose “Share” then you can save your artwork as a JPG or PNG to share on social or email. NOTE: PNGs will be larger files.

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