Create Fluid, Gorgeous Sketches with Paper

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Paper by FiftyThree

One of the main draws of the iPad is that it’s an easy and effortless tool for drawing and sketching. It’s portable, lightweight, and you can easily share your work with your friends and colleagues. The downside to this is that drawing on an iPad doesn’t have the same feeling as drawing on paper. There are several drawing apps which try to approximate this sensation, but it can be hard to recreate that effect when you’re smoothly gliding a finger or stylus across the smooth glass screen.

Paper (by FiftyThree) stands out as one of the simplest and most beautiful ways to create sketches and drawings. Although the app has just recently launched, it’s already been named Apple’s “App of the Month” for March 2012 and has an impressive 1.5 million downloads. Let’s take a closer look at Paper and see why it may be one of the best drawing apps available for the iPad.

First Run and Home Screen

When you start Paper for the first time, you’ll see a brief overlay box which gives you the basic instructions for using and navigating the app. The video above is also available through the app in case you need a brief refresher. Just tap the FiftyThree logo in the top right corner and you’re ready to go.

Intro video

As you can see, navigation is smooth and fairly intuitive. Familiar iOS gestures like tapping, swiping, and pinching make it easy to open and close notebooks and flip through pages. You can add more notebooks by tapping the plus icon, and tapping the trash can icon will delete notebooks. When your notebook is open, you can use tap the plus icon and trash can icon to add and delete pages. (From what I could see, there’s no limit to how many pages you can add — I easily added over 300 pages to an existing notebook with no problems.) The Share icon only becomes active once you open a notebook.

Notebooks are easy to customize. As you swipe across notebooks, you’ll notice a small information icon in the top right corner of each notebook. Tap that and you’ll have the option to change the name of the notebook and customize the cover from either a photo in your Camera Roll or choose from one of eleven covers provided.

Forgive my bloated Bart Simpson sketch.

Drawing Interface

Once you open a notebook, you can tap on any empty page to access the full page drawing interface. The tool tray will pop up, and you can select any of the available tools to begin sketching. The app comes with two free tools — an eraser and a fountain pen (which is called the Draw tool). With the Draw tool, you can create pressure-sensitive strokes in any of nine available colors. There are four other tools available (Sketch, Write, Outline, and Color, which are a pencil, a marker, a pen, and a paintbrush, respectively) but each costs $1.99 to unlock. You can also purchase the entire set of tools as part of a $7.99 bundle through an in-app purchase.

Full Page  Full Page + Tools

Unless you’re doing some heavy-duty drawing and coloring, the Draw tool will suffice for most anything you would use Paper for, such as wireframing, quick sketches, or taking notes. If you make a mistake, just circle counter-clockwise with two fingers to undo your last few sketches. After a few tries, this will soon become a pretty easy gesture to remember since you don’t need to go back to the Tool Tray in order to correct a mistake.


Sharing Options

The only real settings for Paper are accessed from the Homescreen once you open a notebook. Click the Share icon and you’ll have options here to share drawings to Tumblr, Twitter, or Facebook. You also have the option to export photos via email or to iPad’s Camera Roll. Tapping the FiftyThree icon at the top left brings up a menu where you can view your Paper welcome video, access FiftyThree’s support forum, and visit FiftyThree’s website.


Although Paper is quite easy to use, it’s not without its foibles. The app is only oriented for landscape view, so one-handed navigation for closing notebooks can be a bit difficult if you have smaller hands. It’s also a bit difficult at times to bring up the Tool Tray without creating an extra stroke on the page. You are fairly limited in terms of colors (only nine) and paper (one color, one texture), so hardcore artists may think Paper is a bit too simple. One tool I would have loved to see is a “paint bucket” so I could color an entire page. The Color tool is the closest tool that can accomplish this, but it’s a paid add-on, and it only paints in watercolor layers, not a solid color.

Speaking of price, that’s perhaps the biggest drawback about the app. The free version is great, but even if you want to add two or more tools, that’s a price of $4.98 or up. At that price point, you could purchase Autodesk Sketchbook Pro with more tools and color options.


Paper’s simple interface and easy tools make sketching and drawing on your iPad a smooth and elegant experience. In-app purchases for additional tools are a bit pricey, but if you stick with the default Draw Tool and your imagination, you may be pleasantly surprised at how Paper’s easy and slick interface doesn’t get in the way of your creativity.

Paper by FiftyThree - FiftyThree, Inc.

Paper is free on the iOS App Store and requires iOS v4.3 or higher to run. Download the app from the App Store link below or by using the App Store button provided.

Download Paper

Maurice CherryMaurice Cherry
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Maurice Cherry is a web entrepreneur, freelance technology journalist, and technology consultant for non-profit organizations and politicians. He is best known as the creator of the Black Weblog Awards, the world’s premier event for showcasing bloggers, podcasters, and video bloggers of the African diaspora. Maurice is also Creative Principal at 3eighteen media and an adjunct professor with DeVry University. Maurice is an honors graduate of Morehouse College, and currently lives in Atlanta, GA.

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