Paper By FiftyThree is a utilitarian sketching app with a gorgeous interface

Jul 13, 2012
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If you’re the type of person who looks at an empty Moleskine journal as an irresistible world of creative possibilities there is an app for iPad worth checking out. Paper by FiftyThree took home an Apple Design Award for their minimalist offering and it’s easy to see why the UI is worthy of accolades. But […]

If you’re the type of person who looks at an empty Moleskine journal as an irresistible world of creative possibilities there is an app for iPad worth checking out. Paper by FiftyThree took home an Apple Design Award for their minimalist offering and it’s easy to see why the UI is worthy of accolades. But seldom has an app had me of such two minds before.  As an unskilled would-be artist, the clean interface and simple implements have allowed me to create some of my best work on any medium, digital or otherwise. But, the app’s austerity, however appealing, is also limiting.

Paper By FiftyThree strips away clutter and the need for documentation beyond a few seconds with the tutorial screen. You can create an infinite number of notebooks and add cover art if the basic journals don’t appeal. Each notebook is opened with a tap and closed with a pinch. Inside are naked pages. Hidden in a drawer at the bottom is the tool tray. Within are the included fountain pen and a few extra implements simply named color, sketch, write and outline. Each costs $1.99 via in-app purchase or the entire set can be had for $6.99. There is a muted pallet with eight colors if you include black and white. When painting, they can be layered and blended to create wonderful effects.

That’s it. Journals can be emailed, shared on Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr, and individual images saved to the camera roll. iPad Retina Display is supported, but note images are saved as .JPGs. Paper by FiftyThree is not meant to replace a full-featured painting app. Still, leaving out the ability to zoom, limiting export options, and not allowing control over line thickness makes the app a little too utilitarian.

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There’s also no undo option. The app has a neat rewind feature that uses a two-finger gesture, like winding a clock backwards, but it’s imprecise. To some degree line thickness is controlled by stroke speed. Faster means thicker thus for detail work, you have to move quite slowly. This is exacerbated by the inability to zoom, and seems to only work on the fountain pen.

While having a limited and complimentary color pallet is intentional and even wise, a few extra sets, particularly one with primary colors for blending would be welcome. That said the lack of layers is refreshing. For creating quick impressions and for water painting Paper by FiftyThree is dreamy. The app is not going to replace anything I use for writing, sketching or painting, but has already won its spot in my drawing folder, for its simplicity and lovely results.

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Lisa Caplan

Lisa Caplan writes app lists and guides as well as reviewing iOS apps and games on various tech sites, most recently on her fledgling iPhone and iPad giveaway blog, AppTudes. She is thrilled to be joining the stellar reviewing team at Appolicious. Located in a balmy Montreal suburb, Lisa has an advanced degree in Creative Writing, and has had an Apple computer by her side since 1979! She is a talentless art nut, bibliophile and accessory junkie. Lisa looks forward to sharing her gaming addiction and love for all tech that promotes culture, communication, social awareness and education at every level.

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