Using Affinity Photo on the iPad

In the two years since its launch, Affinity Photo has taken the world by storm. It has proved to be a fully-fledged image editor that rivals (and in many areas outdoes) Photoshop, with a price tag of only $49. Now the people behind it have launched a mobile version, Affinity Photo for iPad.

The iPad version provides far more power and sophistication than we’re used to seeing in a mobile application, and is very much like using the desktop version. That said, it does have hefty overhead requirements: it will work on an iPad Pro or the very latest iPads, but nothing more than a year or so old. If you have an Apple Pencil, all the better.

This walkthrough can do no more than scratch the surface of this vast, supremely capable app, but it should give you an idea of what to expect.

Open your image

Photo can open images from your camera roll, of course, as well as images from iCloud and Dropbox. If you don’t know what all the buttons and icons are for, holding the question mark icon at the bottom right pops up explanatory labels.

Quick selection

The first task is to select the figure, to remove her from the background. Photo works with ‘personas’, which are separate editing environments; you’ll want the Selections persona to reveal its toolset. The Quick Selection tool makes a speedy job of the initial selection – just drag it over the object you want to select it automatically.

Refine the edges

Just like Photoshop, Photo has a Refine Edge dialog. Here you can brush over tricky areas such as hair, and the background will be removed from within the strands.

Save the result

You can view the background in Refine Edge as white or black, or, as seen here, as transparency. When you’re done, choose to save the result either as a selection, or – better – as a mask for the current layer, so you can edit it later if you need to.

Add an image

You can, of course, add multiple images to your composition. To do this you’ll need to go back into the Photo persona, and then use the Commands item on the top toolbar to select the Place command.

Placing the image

Curiously, the image doesn’t appear immediately after you’ve selected it; you need to drag out its bounding box to place it into your composition. But this makes sense since you’ll always want to scale an image as you place it.

Fast erasing

You could just erase all the background from this rust image manually, but the Background Eraser, nested behind the regular Eraser tool, does a good job: it samples the color you first click on, then erases only that color as you drag over the unwanted area.

Scale and rotate

When you choose the Move tool in the Photo persona, you’ll see a bounding box around your layer. Use the handles to scale it, and use the small white handle (seen here in the corner of the woman’s eye) to rotate it.

Distortion heaven

Photo has its own version of Photoshop’s Liquify filter, and it’s so powerful it requires its own persona. With a variety of tools to choose from, you can twist and smear a layer into exactly the shape you want.

Change layer modes

To make the face visible through the rust, we need to change the layer mode, selected from the Layer Options panel. You can cycle through the modes using the arrow keys; I’ve selected Hard Light for a strong effect.

Add a mask

You can add a layer mask by choosing a new Mask layer from the button at the top of the Layers panel. As in Photoshop, paint in black to hide the layer, and paint in white to reveal it again. You can set the size, hardness, and opacity of the brush using the dials.

Add a background

You can add multiple layers to a composition, and drag them up and down in the Layers panel to reorder them. By putting the woman and the rust layers into a new Group, you’re able to move the two together.

Add some texture

A new image of clouds, added at the top of the layer stack, ties the woman and the background together; changing the mode of these clouds to Vivid Light allows us to see through it to the layers beneath.

Let there be light

One of Photo’s greatest strengths is its innovative Light tool, which lets you shine a light from any direction – with full control not only over the size and focus but the ambiance, specularity, and shininess of the light as well.

Experiment with adjustments

All the regular adjustments are here in Photo. And, as a real innovation, they all show their effect on the image you’re working on in the thumbnail previews. I’ve used an Exposure adjustment to darken the cloud background.

The finished image

Here’s the completed artwork. To be able to put together an image like this on an iPad is an extraordinary feat – all the more so when you consider that all the adjustments and effects are live, and can be edited and readjusted at any time.

Photo for iPad is a desktop app in a tiny, mobile package. If you’re looking for a reason to upgrade to an iPad Pro, this could well be it.

Posted on: July 17, 2017

Steve Caplin

Steve is a freelance writer, artist and designer, and the author of over a dozen books, including the popular How to Cheat in Photoshop series and the Amazon #1 best-seller Dad Stuff. His training videos can be seen on, Retouch Pro and elsewhere.

5 Comments on Using Affinity Photo on the iPad

  1. ” The Quick Selection tool makes a speedy job of the initial selection – just drag it over the object you want to select it automatically.” Which tool is the Quick Selection tool? Did you mean Smart Selection?

  2. Lakshmi Narayanan

    October 13, 2017 at 11:25 pm

    Can we use pen tool (Affinity photo Ipad) to make selection and path similar in photoshop?

    • No, there’s no equivalent to Photoshop’s Pen Tool in Photo for iPad. It’s one of the very few Photoshop tools that Photo doesn’t support.

  3. dude your example was dope as f. Cool tutorial.

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