Daily iPad App: Paper by FiftyThree may make you an artist


I am not an artist. I love art, but don't have the necessary skills (except for those I've picked up on my own) to really do anything that I'd want other people to see. When some of the early iPad drawing/painting apps started coming out, I eagerly bought them to try, but found that my lack of talent was just transferred to a new medium. A new iPad app, Paper by FiftyThree (Free, in-app tool purchases available) may actually help me to become a half-decent artist.

After you've downloaded Paper, you have a one tool available - Draw. Draw is an expressive ink pen that responds much like the steel-nibbed pens we used in art class in 7th grade, except there's no way to drip ink on yourself or the page. All of the other art tools -- Color, Sketch, Write, and Outline -- are available through in-app purchase for US$1.99 each or as a combined "Essentials" purchase for $7.99.


Launching Paper, you see three Moleskine-like notebooks on the screen. To open one for viewing, you tap on it, and you're immediately rewarded with a two-page view of the notebook. To zoom in on a set of pages, make another tap; to get back to the notebook view, you pinch two fingers together. New notebooks can be added from the main screen of the app by tapping a "+" button, or erased with the tap of a trash can button. You can name each notebook, and give it a cover photo or texture.

Once you're in a page view in a notebook, you can begin to draw or paint. I immediately purchased the Color (water painting) and Sketch (pencil drawing) tools; I frankly wish I had just spent the full $7.99 and bought the Essentials. When drawing or painting, you can either use the eraser tool or a "rewind" function to get rid of mistakes. Rewind uses an swipe and rotate gesture to "turn back the clock" on your misdeeds.

The tools are all available from a tool tray that slides up with a swipe and can be put away with another swipe. I found myself grabbing a tool and color, then dropping the tray out of sight so I could concentrate on my work.

For each tool, you have a limited palette of nine colors. Unfortunately, you can't change that palette. The Fifty-Three team says that they want people to concentrate on creating, not getting picky about colors. While this works well with some tools, like Color, which let you blend transparent colors, it's kind of annoying with the pen and pencil tools. You can layer different colors, of course, so I'm not sure that alternative palettes are a definite need -- instead, Paper users just need to understand how to layer colors properly. A quick look at the comments on the FiftyThree support forums shows that many people are asking for alternative palettes.

I've dabbled in watercolors in the past, and I found the Color tool to be the closest thing yet to a watercolor set for the iPad. The tool works just like a watercolor brush, letting you build up color by laying on more "paint," blend colors, even use the white paint like a gouache. I didn't try the Write and Outline tools, but they are essentially fine and broad point markers for marking up your paper.


The Sketch tool is also the best pencil-drawing tool I've found for the iPad. Using my Adonit Writer Pro stylus with Paper, I felt like I was really drawing on a piece of paper. Speaking of the paper, your "canvas" is 2048 x 1536 pixels, so it takes advantage of the Retina display.

Images that you create can be shared through Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter or by sending an email. When you share an image, it's exported as a JPEG at 1024 x 768 pixels. I found a good way to get full-resolution images -- I just do an iPad screenshot, and then the image shows up in my Photo Stream in full resolution.

How good is Paper? Let's just say that every other "art app" that I purchased in the past has been taken off of my iPad. I love the concept and execution of this app, and it's going to be my sketch and watercolor pad from now on. Paper makes me wish that I hadn't spent a lot of money a few years ago putting together a portable watercolor kit...