Affinity Photo for Tattooists

Why is affinity photo a better digital tool for tattooists?

Despite lacking a few features that might be crucial to some photographers and designers. Affinity Photo is perfect for Tattooists & more than capable of taking over the majority of your editing needs...

3 Main Benefits


  • Affinity Photo is a low one-time payment
    You can get Affinity Photo from the Mac App Store / Microsoft Store in Windows 10, or you can download it directly from Serif’s website for a one-time price of £48.99.
    If you also want the iPad version of Affinity Photo is costs you £19.99.
  • Photoshop is subscription-based
    A Photoshop subscription comes with Lightroom at a monthly price of £9.98, which is the cheapest option. If you just want Photoshop as a Creative Cloud subscription the price changes to £19.97.
    In the 2020 version of Photoshop, the iPad version is included in the monthly subscription.
    As you can see the price difference is quite huge.

A Big Saving

  • By comparison, if you were to buy both Affinity Photo for Mac + iPad you would look at a total price of £68.98. I bought Affinity Photo from version 1.5, and three years later, I haven’t been asked to pay for any upgrades.
  • One year of subscription to Adobe’s Creative Cloud Photography plan would be approx. £120. Two years of subscription would be £240 and three years would be £360.
  • Over three years’ time, you would pay roughly £290 for the extra features in Photoshop plus Lightroom.
    But they’re not necessarily features I need as a tattooist. So why pay for stuff I may never use?

Built for iPad...

Affinitys iPad app is built for iPad. It’s a full version of the desktop application running on your iPad that has been built to take advantage of all the touch controls and gesture we already use. The iPad is fast becoming the creative tool of choice for us and the best device for tattooists. This makes Affinity Photo for ideal Tattooists. The ability to draw and manipulate photos on a device returns creating tattoo designs to the tactile, organic thing that we all love. No keyboard required. If you want to switch and you prefer your laptop the desktop version is exactly the same and you can easily switch between devices during your creation process. Create the  design on your laptop, switch to drawing on it on your iPad and then return to outputting it on laptop if you want!
This is miles ahead and certainly NOT what Adobe currently offer in their iPad photoshop apps.

Undo history saves with image...

Affinity Saves undo history even after closing. It saves the undo history with the image. This means that you can revert to any undo stages no matter where in the editing process you are.

Affinity Photo for Tattooists

Affinity Photo is a perfect digital tool for Tattooists


One of the major differences is that Affinity Photos workspace is divided into personas that are accessible through buttons at the top bar.
The different personas group related features together. This makes the interface slightly less cluttered and a little more user friendly than Photoshop.

Affinity Supports Photoshop Plugins

There’s a big chance that you can continue to use most of the Photoshop plugins you own as Affinity Photo supports Photoshop plugins. However this is only on the desktop version and not on the iPad.
Once installed most plugins work without issues, but with the difference that you apply the plugin effect to the active layer, and not to a new layer, as you might be used to in Photoshop.
Personally I used to use lots of plugins back when image editors weren’t as fully featured as they are now (photoshop 3 only had 1 undo!) but these days I find less and less need for them.

Affinity Photo for Tattooists

Affinity Photo For Tattooists

So, who is this primer for?

This guide is designed to help Tattooists either switch over or start using Affinity photo for the creation of Tattoo designs and stencils as a viable replacement for Adobe Photoshop.

New to it?

If you’re a Tattooist who’s completely new to Affinity this guide will help you get started as quickly as possibly. When it comes to digital tools, Affinity Photo is great for Tattooists. It covers all the basics the you’ll need to start creating designs right now.


If you’re a tattooist who’s already experienced Affinity on a desktop, you will have absolutely no problem diving headfirst into the iPad version of Affinity Photo. This guide will help you get into it quicker. It’s the same program—but with touch!


If you’re a Photographer or a Graphic Designer using Photoshop professionally and looking to switch I doubt this guide will help you very much. Thankfully, there’s huge community of Affinity users who are illustrators, designers and photographers creating tutorials that will help you. I suggest you start by watching some of their videos as they have loads of great Affinity content and advice to offer. Keep looking and good luck!

Getting Started

setting up affinity for the first time

The first thing I always recommend when jumping into a new program is to set up your interface and settings. This simple first step will instantly make your initial first steps feel a lot more comfortable. You can access the preferences by clicking on the Gear icon found in the upper right-hand corner of the Affinity Photo app.
  • First,

    you have your Undo Limit, which maxes out at a crazy 2,000 undos. I recommend keeping it around 25-50 for the sake of performance.

  • Next up, how often you’d like things to Autosave. I find autosave incredibly useful because for some unknown reason I forget to save stuff on my ipad all the time! I guess the lack of ‘Apple-S’ just throws me off…
  • Next

    set your Language and your Default Save Location. I highly recommend Dropbox. If you want to know why, check out this video. But at this moment in time you can’t set the default location to Dropbox. You can select ‘On My iPad, Icloud, or Google OneDrive. Hopefully Dropbox will be available in future.

  • For now

    , I simply save to my iPad and then move the file to my Dropbox. Then I ‘open from cloud’ to work on it. Its an extra couple of steps but it gives me back the benefits of my existing workflow.

  • In Interface, you will find your Background Gray Level. I personally find that a darker background allows me to focus on the artwork. Set it however you prefer it.
  • And finally, you will also find Left Handed Mode. I am left handed but for this tutorial I’ll be using the interface in right handed mode for your benefit.

Creating A Document

Press the + icon found in the upper right-hand corner of the Affinity Photo app’s splash screen to access new document options. From here, you can choose from several options, including:
  • Create a whole New Document, which will bring up your typical options of Size, Color, and some document presets.
  • You can also import New From Clipboard or From Photos saved to your iPad.
  • You can also select my preferred option Open From Cloud.

Cloud Workflow Example

  • I create a new document and name it with the clients name.
  • I save it to the iPad
  • Then I move it from my iPad to my ‘tattoos’ folder in my dropbox
  • This folder is organised by year/weekNumbers/clientName
  • Then I go back to Affinity and ‘Open from Cloud’
This keeps all my artwork organised and backed up online in Dropbox. Which is my preferred cloud sync service. If your using iCloud or Google Onedrive you can set your default save location to one of these and shorten the steps.

Document setup and target resolution

When you set your document you’ll want to take a few things into consideration. Document size, resolution and colour space.
  • Create a new document to  bring up the options
  • I set my document size to A3 (297 x 420mm) This allows me to create the artwork a little bigger than I’ll need it and to use a blank body part to layout my artwork on. I think this just helps me get a better idea of how it will fit.
    It also means that should I ever need to print the artwork larger (on a banner for instance) it will look a bit better when I scale it up.
  • Next I select 300dpi as the resolution. It is very important that the resolution of the document matches the resolution of the target device. The target device in this case is either the printer in your studio or your brother stencil machine. Both of these devices print 300dpi. If you set your resolution lower than 300dpi your artwork will print blurred and it’ll make a terrible stencil.
  • Finally I select RGB/8 – Adobe RGB(1998) for the colour space. If you work in Black and Grey select Grey/8  – GreyD50.

The Interface

The Affinity user interface is 95% identical to Photoshop, so if you’re migrating you’ll quickly feel at home. Affinity Photo is perfect for Tattooists. The logic behind Affinity Photo is just the same as Photoshop, however, you might have to look for a few things in other places, even though 95% of the features and menu items will be in the same spot in the top menu.
The right side panels are also very much like those you find in Photoshop. You have the layers panel, history panel, adjustments panel and all the other things you already know from Photoshop. Working with masks and selections is also almost the same as in photoshop

Ipad Gestures

The familiar hand tool that we’re used to using for interacting with documents on the desktop versions is massively upgraded when it meets the iPad. Because drawing tattoo art is a ‘natural’ method of creation when combine with the iPad, Affinity Photo is great for Tattooists. Moving, scaling, zooming and rotating are all done intuitively with your fingers. You can also hold one or two fingers on the screen as a modifier for controls such as Shift and Alt.

How to Zoom in Affinity Photo

You zoom in and out by placing two fingers on the screen and then pinching. If you pinch outwards, you will zoom in, and if you pinch inward, you will zoom out. You can also adjust the Zoom by going into the Navigator found on the right-hand side of the screen.

How to move in Affinity Photo

To move the document, simply take one finger, touch, and drag. Make sure the View tool is selected. If you have another tool selected, like the Paintbrush tool, you will want to use two fingers instead of one, so that you won’t apply the tool.

How to Rotate in Affinity Photo

To rotate, you will first have to go into the Navigator, as Rotate is turned off by default. Once it’s turned on, you can rotate by using the rotation dial within the Navigator or by making a pinch and swivel motion.
To reset your canvas’s angle, click the rotation dial, input 0, and hit OK.

How to Redo and Undo in Affinity Photo

Redo and Undo are also controlled using gestures. You can Undo by doing a two-finger tap on the canvas.
Redo by doing a three-finger tap on the canvas.

How to Duplicate, Delete, Cut, and Copy in Affinity Photo

If you hold down on the canvas with one finger, a quick context menu will open up containing theDuplicate, Delete, Cut, and Copy options.


How to Create a New Layer in Affinity Photo

Create a layer by opening up the Layers panel, found on the right-hand side.
Tap the + sign. From here, you can create a Pixel or Fill Layer. As well as layer masks and groups.

How to Re-Order and Group Layers in Affinity Photo

Re-order a layer by tapping and dragging.
To re-order multiple layers at once, use a swipe gesture on any layers you’d like to move to select them. Do the same to deselect layers To select multiple layers at once, select a layer, and then use two fingers to select another layer either above or below the initially selected layer. All layers between the two selected layers will become selected themselves.

How to Group Layers in Affinity Photo

You can group things together by selecting the layers you want to group, and then making a pinch-in gesture. You can then ungroup layers by selecting the group and pinching outwards. Alternatively, you can hit the Group Layers icon found inside the Layers panel, to the left of the + icon. I much prefer the second method!

How to Duplicate in Affinity Photo

Duplicate a layer by selecting the Move Tool, double-tapping the layer on the canvas that you want to duplicate, holding down on the layer with two fingers, and then dragging with a finger on your other hand.

How to Move Layers in Affinity Photo

To Move a layer around, hold your finger inside the image, and pan around. Remember, if you want to Pan the canvas, and not move the layer around, you will use two fingers instead of one.

How to Resize Layers in Affinity Photo

To resize layers tap and drag the control nodes—the blue dots found around the image. Some images and layers will by default constrain, keeping the original aspect ratio, whereas groups of layers or objects wont. This can be confusing at first but you’ll soon get used to it. Whatever the case, you can use a one-finger modifier to toggle the constrain mode to suit whatever behaviour you want. While resizing the image with one finger, use your other finger to press down on the screen.

How to Rotate Layers in Affinity Photo

Rotate by holding the top control handle and swiveling to either the left or right.
If you want more precise control, you can open up the Transform panel found on the right-hand side. Here you can adjust the order, Flip, and Rotate, and adjust the Dimensions by either tapping to change the numbers manually or by swiping up or down on the dimension dials.

How to Adjust Layer Settings in Affinity Photo

To get all of the fine-tuning layer options such as Opacity and Layer Modes, select the layer you want to adjust, and then click on the Layer Options icon in the Layers panel (shown as three dots in a circle).You can also choose to Lock and rename a layer in the layer options.

How to Change Layer Modes in Affinity Photo

Layer blend modes are endlessly useful. You can adjust the layer mode by clicking Normal and selecting from the list that appears.
Alternatively, you can swipe through each layer mode individually by using a swiping gesture over the layer mode options.

How to Add Adjustment Layers in Affinity Photo

To access the adjustment layers, click on the icon of the three-circle pyramid found in the right-hand toolbar. A list of all of your adjustments will come up.
Let’s start with a Brightness/Contrast adjustment layer. When tapped, the options available to the adjustment layer you choose will come up towards the bottom of the screen.
To adjust the settings, either swipe on the various setting dials or you can tap them to input the amounts manually. Each adjustment layer will have its own options.

How to Add Filters in Affinity Photo

All of your Filters can be found directly below your adjustment layers.
Like with adjustment layers, all Filters will have their own filter specific options that will appear at the bottom of the screen. Along with the live preview you can also choose to have a split preview by hitting the Split icon giving you a before and after view of your photo.


As its probably one of the tools you’ll need first and use the most often. Let’s take a quick look at the basics of the Paint Brush tool. 

Where to Find Brush Categories in Affinity Photo

First, we have the Brush Categories, which will hold all of Affinity Photo’s default brushes. You can switch through the brushes by going towards the top and hitting Basic, which is what your brushes are set to by default.

Where to Find Brush Settings in Affinity Photo

Once you have the Brush tool selected, all of its settings will pop up towards the bottom of the screen. Here you have your Width, Opacity, Flow, Hardness, and Color.

How to Import Brushes in Affinity Photo

You can import your own brushes by tapping the Three-Lined icon on the upper right of the Brushes panel and choosing Import Brushes. From here you will choose wherever you have your brushes saved. This can be either on your iPad or ‘in the cloud’
On a side note; the brushes you’re watching me using will soon be available on my website.

More Brush Settings in Affinity Photo

To further adjust a brush, beyond just the typical size or flow, tap and hold on a brush, choose Edit and all of its possible settings will come up. If you want to reset the brush back to default you can tap, hold and then choose Reset.
Hit the Pin icon found towards the top of the Brushes panel to keep the Brushes panel open. This is handy when painting  as the constant opening and closing can get incredibly annoying.


First, we need to switch into the Selection Persona. This is where we will find all of our selection and extraction based tools. I will do a more in-depth look at selecting and masking at a later date.
Because this is a getting primer I’ll stick with the basics for now. You have all the normal selection tools to choose from. Its up to you to decide which is best suited to the task at hand.


  1. Smart selection Tool
  2. Freehand Selection Tool
  3. Marquee Tools
  4. Flood Selection Tool
  5. Color Select Tool
You can see all of the selection options towards the bottom of the screen. Including whether you want to add to Add or Subtract from a selection and the Brush Width.

Step 2

Of course, however you make it, you will likely want to refine your selection. Hit the Refine Selection tool found at the very bottom of the toolbar. Your adjustment should be set to Matte by default.

Step 3

Next, adjust your brush, and drag across the edges of any hair, cloth or…anything really that needs to be selected. This tool works exactly the same in the iPad version as it doe the desktop version! So, for instance, if too much gets selected, you can change from Matte to Foreground and fill in any part that should be in the foreground. Once you are happy, choose your Output, in this case, New Layer with Mask and then hit Apply.

Step 4

Now, if you want to add a Layer Mask without creating a selection all you have to do is choose the layer you want to add a mask too, hit the + icon found in the layers panel, and then select Mask Layer.
Then use a black brush to mask out any areas. I find this option often the most useful because you can do it so much quicker and more accurately with the Apple Pencil. It just feels a lot more natural to me.


Finally, at the end of every work session, you are probably going to do one of two things: save or export.

How to Auto-Save in Affinity Photo

Affinity Photo for the iPad can save a document in one of two ways. It will first Auto-Save all on its own, saving the file internally within the app’s memory. This is great for maybe one or two projects, but things are going to start piling up real fast. So save and close the document to free up some memory.


As long as you have some sort of filing system in place you can reopen the document later. Don’t forget that Affinity save the undos with the document only whilst it remains in the app document browser window. Once you close it, all your undos are gone forever.

How to Save a copy in Affinity Photo

The second option is to save a copy of the file by tapping the Document menu and choosing to Save a Copy. From here, you can rename your file and decide where to save it to. You can This will save as an Affinity Photo file, and it can be opened in the desktop version of Affinity Photo without having to convert or merge any layers!

How to Export in Affinity Photo

But if your design is all finished, the next step will be to print it to make your tattoo stencil. If you’re hand stencilling or using a thermofax, simply print it to your printer direct from Affinity.
You can use this method to print direct to your Brother Printer but its often better to export your stencil file and use the Brother iPrint and Scan App. Go to the Document menu and choose Export to bring up all of the exporting options.


You have all of the exporting options the desktop version has. But more often than not the little share icon in the bottom left corner is all you’ll need. Hit this, and select save to photos. Then open the file up in the Brother app and make your stencil from there.

Affinity Photo for Tattooists