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First Look: Paper has big potential, several flaws

Serenity Caldwell | March 30, 2012
While testing the new sketching app Paper, I couldn't decide whether I loved or hated it. Paper has the potential to be brilliant, but in its present form has too many flaws for it to earn a place in my iPad's dock.

While testing the new sketching app Paper, I couldn't decide whether I loved or hated it. Paper has the potential to be brilliant, but in its present form has too many flaws for it to earn a place in my iPad's dock.

Like many "sketchbook" programs for iOS before it, Paper provides a series of notebooks which you can customize and sketch in to your liking. The app does the notebook interface better than any of the others I've tried; it allows you to customize the cover with an image or photo from your library, skim through completed notebooks, and enter drawings, add pages, or share them with just a tap.

I love skimming through virtual sketchbooks like this: It's all the fun of browsing through someone's Moleskine, but with swiping instead of page-turning. And the graphics are top-notch; on a third-generation iPad, slowly turning a page is almost as fun as doing the drawing itself.

The tools

The free version of Paper offers a nib pen for sketching, an eraser, and a smattering of colors with which to illustrate your drawing. The pen is fairly robust for a simple sketching tool, and if you're just planning to do some writing and line drawings, it could suit you just fine.

You can add up to four additional tools (a pencil, marker, ballpoint pen, and watercolor paintbrush) for $2 each, or buy the full set for $8. I purchased the entire toolset to experiment with, but the two you absolutely have to add to your arsenal are the pencil and the watercolor brush.

Paper doesn't provide in-app pressure support. Instead, Paper's pens and brush use speed to control the opacity and line width. It's not the first app to take this approach, but Paper locks you into both its speed formula and tool sizes. You can learn the system after a bit of practice, but it's not fun. (Tip: The slower you move the eraser, the smaller the erased area will be.)

Paper's pencil tool may be my favorite part of the app; it's the best implementation of a pencil and real sketching on a tablet I've seen, even without pressure sensitivity. This is in part due to the way you use a pencil versus other tools: You naturally make quick, thin lines, and the app is fine-tuned for that sort of use.

Clumsy brush

The watercolor brush is less precise, but its effects are lovely: The color blending reacts in such a way that I often felt like I was mixing real watercolors. Where it fails, however, is in its speed formula. It's almost impossible to paint a large swath of canvas without leaving much lighter spots or creating large blotches in the middle. Also, its brush, which is about the size of a finger, feels too big and clumsy on most drawings; unlike the finer-tipped pencil and fountain pen, there's no way to color anything of detail and not have it look sloppy.

 

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