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If an iPad and a Moleskine Had a Child …

An app brings the sketchbook experience to tablets.
April 5, 2012

Let’s begin with a video.

That’s a little introduction to Paper, a new app for the iPad. (You can download it for free here, but if you want to beef it up with features, you may rapidly be forking over money in two-to-eight-dollar chunks.)

I recently posed the question of whether designers would warm to the iPad 3 in a way that they hadn’t to its previous iterations. Apps like Paper are a step in the right direction for a more design-friendly iPad.

The Verge has a thorough and thoughtful review of Paper, which I encourage you to read. In it, and in the interview with Paper’s creator embedded at the end of this post, we learn that Paper has a Microsoftian pedigree; the team that made Paper had been working on Courier, the cool-but-now-dead Microsoft tablet.

FiftyThree, the company behind Paper, points out some of the coolest features of its app on its site. The app was designed to take advantage of the new iPad’s über-high-res Retina display, even allowing you to “see stunning details in your creations you couldn’t before—like pencil texture and watercolor edge bleed.” The app also employs what it calls an “expressive ink engine”; tools behave in quirky ways, different from how they act in the real world. The Verge gives one example: a fountain pen on “Paper” works very differently from a fountain pen on paper—in the app, a faster swipe will give you a thicker line.

The coolest feature, it would seem, is what the app makers call “rewind,” a curious idea when applied to a sketchbook, but a brilliant one. You saw it in the video above: a two-fingered maneuver lets you gracefully undo that wayward brushstroke—or 50 of them. The Verge reports that the idea came from Andrew S. Allen, a FiftyThree designer who is also a filmmaker; he wanted to replicate the editor’s experience of using jog dials within the app.

Here’s a time-lapse of someone making a sketch using Paper. For a compendium of nifty uses of the app, FiftyThree’s blog is a good place to start.

The app isn’t perfect, nor does it profess to be. Its utility is seriously held up by the lack of a perfect iPad stylus, a quest that, as I’ve noted, is unfolding on Kickstarter and elsewhere. But it’s an app that seems to have been created with a deep sense of design integrity, and a deep commitment to the same principles of simplicity that make that ancient piece of technology—the sheet of paper—such a powerful creative tool.

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