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Paper – The App You’ll Wish Were Actual Paper

by on April 3rd, 2012

So there was a lot of buzz earlier this week over this little app called Paper, made by the folks behind the now-vapourware Microsoft Courier tablet, and let me start by saying this. Make sure you download the right one. There are, apparently, two apps called Paper when you search in the app store, and the other app is much less functional, pretty or even interesting to write about. This review won’t be about that version of Paper.

In a nutshell, Paper is designed and styled around the concept of a Moleskine notepad. Or rather, an ultra-simplistic, multi-purpose pad of high quality, premium paper, (which sets Moleskine apart from other notepads…not to mention the oft-hefty price it carries). Now, those of us who have tried paper-mimicking apps on the iPad have often found it lacking – that the touchscreen isn’t precise enough for use with a finger, or that the final product just looks like chicken scratch rather than a handcrafted document. Paper aims to change all that, and it comes pretty darn close.

Unlike other paper clones out there, Paper doesn’t measure just the direction of a stroke, but also the speed of the stroke as well. This allows for some rather interesting effects when it comes to brush stroke width and style. Here’s what I mean.

The first brush (the free one) is a simple fountain pen. Now, if you’ve used fountain pens before, then you’d know that fountain pens have a specific style wherein the lines are typically thinner and sharper initially and grow to in size as the ink flows more freely. Conversely, a pencil would be consistent across the stroke, but offers some inconsistencies in the line itself. Here’s an example:

See what I mean?

It doesn’t stop there though. The app is able to simulate blending the ink as if it were on a page to create new colours and effects. While simple in concept, when this gets paired with the other (paid) pen tips available, you can start to see some interesting effects to create unique and visually stunning projects. Here’s what I quickly jotted.

And this is something that the folks at fiftythree were able to do.

So there’s definitely a lot of potential to the app, especially for visual artists looking to find a way to be minimalistic in their art bag. The convenience, however, comes at a price. The core app, first and foremost, is free. However, as I alluded to earlier, extra brushes will cost you (at $1.99 a pop, or 6 for $7.99) and one of those premium brushes is an eraser. (Don’t worry, the undo option built-in is free.) The price may be steep, but considering the level of engineering involved to create the app, it’s actually a steal.

My biggest concern with the app is that it’s still very much a pen-and-paper app, designed to work with a pen (or more crudely, a touch capacitive stick) and not your finger, so no matter how great an artist you are, you would most likely not be able to create the same kind of masterpieces from the get-go. You would probably be better off with a shudder Samsung Galaxy Waffle Note.

Another potential pain point is that the app is probably a bit too visually simplistic. In full screen editing mode, I often find myself at a loss as to where to find the extra pen tips (and color palettes), or how to get out of the page and close the notepad. [As a note, you swipe up from the bottom of the screen to get the pen tips and you pinch to go back to notepad mode.] While probably a design feature, this kind of full-screen engrossed experience may actually work against the user.

Another design flaw is the inability to export the images to your Photos app or the iCloud Photo Stream. There are a number of other options such as Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and via email, but not simply saved to the device itself.

Now, it seems like there are a number feature gaps, but the folks at fiftythree appear to be responsive and receptive of feedback, managing a very active Get Satisfaction account where they take user comments and recommendations. This is a good sign and will probably point to updates and more [paid] pen tips coming down the pipe. For now, though, seems like fiftythree has done a great job creating an app that will draw more content creators to the iPad platform.

Played with Paper already? Let us know what you think in the comments. Maybe you all can share your own creations too!

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Posted under: App Store, Reviews

  • Alex

    This has become one of my favourite Tumblr tags: #madewithpaper

  • http://www.andrewsallen.com Andrew S Allen

    FYI, Eraser comes free.

  • jordancournoyea

    The UI is seriously flawed. You can not draw anything from any edge in. If you try to draw a line from the left or right edges towards the middle it try’s to turn the page forward or backwards. If you try to draw from the top it activates your notification centre. If you try to draw from the bottom it brings up the pencil selector. All of these functions are extremely frustrating and ruin the experience. Also, a very limited selection of colors is very disappointing.