Paper, created by design studio Fiftythree, may be one of my favourite tablet drawing apps ever to grace the iPad. If I didn’t put so much trust in reality, I would’ve sworn that the company found some way to magically turn its supply of charcoal, watercolors, markers, and inkwell pens into lines of code that, when run on an iPad, made beautiful artwork. See also: Best iPad/iPhone apps.

It has, hands down, the best digital rendering of a pencil tool I’ve ever seen, and watercolors are bright and have just the right texture against the digital paper. The app itself is laid out simply, letting you sketch in the pages of moleskine-esque books, or flip from drawing to drawing. For the Paper app, Fiftythree also invented a brilliant way to undo strokes, which involves using two fingers to swipe counterclockwise in a circle (or “rewind”) to take away unwanted marks.

I adore Paper, as you might have guessed. But sadly the app as-is has a few major flaws that make it exceedingly frustrating to work with. You can’t zoom in on the canvas, which limits the kind of precision you can get from your drawings. Colors, too, are limited; you only get nine swatches of black, grey, white, brown, red, yellow, blue, green, and purple to work with. For those well-versed in the art of color mixing, this may not be a problem, but that sadly doesn’t include the majority of the population.

Watercolours, as beautiful as they are, have serious limitations when combined with Paper’s “pressure” rendering engine. The app uses speed to control line widths and pressure; unfortunately, this means that if you’re trying to color something carefully, you may very well end up with a blotch of colour where you meant only a light touch. And you can’t resize brushes for more fine-tuned coloring.

Fiftythree has hinted at updates coming down the pipeline which may fix some of these issues.

Paper: Specs

  • Compatible with iPad.Requires iOS 4.3 or later
  • Compatible with iPad.Requires iOS 4.3 or later


Despite minor issues, I’ll continue to use Paper where I can, and hope we’ll see an update that allows me to change my recommendation from problematic love to “If you haven’t downloaded it already, what are you waiting for?”.