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How to work seamlessly across iPad and desktop using Affinity Designer

In this article we’re going to look at how you can use Affinity Designer to create a vibrant jaguar illustration from start to finish, while working across different devices.

In this case I was actually getting ready to head out to work, when I had an idea for an illustration that I wanted to try out. As I was sat on the tram ride into work I thought I would make a start on the design. Thankfully, I had my iPad and Apple Pencil with me, so I began to make an initial sketch of my idea.

For this illustration I knew I wanted to use a square format, as I was intending to post it on social media, so a square shaped layout would work perfectly for this.

Next I wanted to import a reference image and place that into my document. For this design I had a stock image of a jaguar I’d previously saved to my iPad which I knew would fit really well.

In order to import an image I went to the Document icon at the top left of the screen and then selected Place Image—from there you can choose either Import from Cloud or Import from Photos.

Once I had selected the file it was easy to drag the image into place. I then locked the layer to avoid accidentally drawing over the reference layer itself.

To start off I wanted to roughly mock-up how the image was going to look before I arrived at work. This really saved time and helped me work out my composition and placement before I’d spent too long on the design.

I did this by selecting the Pixel Persona on the top of the screen, choosing the Brush Tool on the left hand side and then I selected an appropriate brush preset from the Brushes Studio to the right of the document window.

I chose to use the Natural Pencil 2B brush option as I find it has a really fluid feel when I want to roughly sketch out my ideas.

Putting digital pen to digital paper

Now the fun really starts! For my design I wanted to have the jaguar sitting in the middle of a busy jungle design so I started to roughly mock-up where some of the key elements might go on a new layer.

I like to split my layers up as much as possible when working in the Pixel Persona as it lets me divide up my illustration much more and gives me plenty of flexibility later on in the design too.

At this stage I was happy with my rough mock-up (my commute into work was coming to an end too) so now I was ready to start building up the design with more detail at the comfort of my own desk.

Adding in some detail

For this step I found it better to start off with the most detailed element in the design—in this case, the jaguar itself—as this was going to be the main focus point of the illustration.

This is a useful way to work as it allows you to see early on if your design and layout is going to be effective and also enables you to adjust and adapt things before getting too far into the design.

I was intending to have a black or dark background to the main image, so I started adding detail with a black ink to help the image to blend in effectively further down the line.

Next I wanted to add the background to the image, so I created a New Pixel Layer and began to fill out the orange background of the Jaguar. I wanted a kind of loose pencil style to the coloured areas, so I stuck to my original selection of the Natural Pencil 2B for the rest of the design.

A work in progress

As the design starts to take shape, the multiple layers really become beneficial as now the vines and the leaves in the foreground of the image can be made totally separate to the jaguar layer itself, so there are no issues at all if we ever need to reposition or recolour any of the elements.

For this next stage, I just wanted to add a few extra details and small elements to give it a bit of a fuller look and this will also make life easier when I get to the next step of converting the design into bold vector shapes and curves.

Exporting the progress for social media

I like to share my work in progress (#wip) on social media and it’s something I really like to see when I’m scrolling though looking for inspiration or checking out what some of my favourite designers and illustrators have been up to recently.

An easy way to do this is by exporting your designs created on iPad directly from Affinity Designer itself using the Export Persona at the top of the window, or by going to the document button in the top corner. Here you can export an Instagram ready image such as a JPEG or PNG or even export your design as a print ready PDF file to be sent off to a local printer if you wanted to!


Affinity Designer for iPad is a great place to vectorise your artwork, especially when using an Apple Pencil but as I was sitting at my desk, I decided to move my Designer file over to my desktop computer with a larger screen for the vectorising stage.

So the first thing I needed to do was make a copy of my iPad Designer file and access it on my desktop version of the app.

By default Affinity Designer will separate your files within the app and the files you save externally or As a Copy. This is largely to ensure you don’t accidentally save over or delete any of your original files and also enables you to go back and make further edits to your originals too.

The easiest way to access your iPad file is firstly to click on the Save a Copy button on the Document tab at the top of the screen. Next you can rename your file and select where it will end up.

Choosing On My iPad is the easiest option as this simply drops the file into the Files app on your iPad and then once saved allows to you share the file via numerous methods such as Air Drop, Mail or Dropbox.

Opening up the copied document

Now I’ve gained access to the file, the first thing I wanted to do is make sure I was happy with the document size and configuration. Looking at the image on a bigger screen I thought it would be beneficial to make it more of a landscape shape instead of the original square format I had before.

This meant I could still export the finished image as a square like before, but I would also end up with a much wider option filled with more leaves and vines in case I wanted to use it as banner on a website or print out a non-square version at a later date.

To do this I simply clicked the Document Setup button on the toolbar at the top of the screen and entered in the new values (for my landscape version I’ve gone to 850 x 450).

Next I started tracing the jaguar design I made, and gradually began to build the image up again.

At this stage I want the illustration to have a really clean vectorised look so I’m staying within the Designer Persona of the app (instead of the Pixel Persona we were using on the iPad). Using the Pen Tool I can recreate all the raster elements I made previously as vector curves to give everything a really bold and clean look.

To keep things organised I redraw the various sections of the design on separate layers, so I can easily locate the different areas of the image as I progress through the illustration. Starting with the base layer and then the highlighted area of the jaguar you can see it start to take shape.

On the next layer I start to go into a bit more detail and let some of the key characteristics of the jaguar come through. Certain areas such as the detail in the eye, the spots in the fur and the whiskers are really important to include to make the image recognisable and also help to give the image a bit of character and depth too!

I decided to keep the vines and oversized leaves really bold and simplified to help keep the main focus of the image on the jaguar.

Design decisions like these are very personal and subjective though, so you could quite easily go into much further detail throughout the other sections of the design if you wanted to steer away from making your image too bold and simplistic.

At this stage I felt like the illustration was finished so I saved my design to my relevant Dropbox folder so I could easily access the file from any location or from a different device.

Making more changes on iPad

If you’re anything like me then you’re probably very indecisive (which is one of the reasons I love working with vector designs, as the adjustment possibilities are endless).

So when I got home later that day, I had a feeling that something wasn’t quite right with the illustration I’d made. Because I’d decided to save my work onto a cloud storage provider, I was able to open up the exact file again on the iPad and take another look at it!

Simply by opening the Affinity Designer app, tapping the + icon in the top right corner and choosing Open From Cloud I could access the same file I was working on earlier in the day to see what I needed to change.

Using one of the many Adjustment Layers found on the right hand side of the document window, I chose to try out adding a simple HSL Adjustment to the design to see if that gave me a more pleasing look.

By selecting the specific colour ranges (such as the green of the leaves or the yellow tones of the jaguar) that thankfully did the trick perfectly and allowed me to blend in the jaguar to the background, giving the whole image a much more vibrant and surreal feel!

Hopefully you’ve picked up some useful tips to incorporate into your design process or workflow, but while you’re here why not check out some of our other Affinity Designer articles too, or click on one of the tags below to browse other related articles!

Product expert

Matt is our Affinity Designer Product Expert and spends most of his work life split between both the Affinity desktop and iPad Designer apps. In his spare time he can often be found screen printing pictures of skulls, playing drums in a funk covers band, or knee deep in music production software trying to sound like Kaytranada. See Matt’s work on instagram @mattsearston.

Credits & Footnotes

All images by Matt Searston