Hands-on with Paper 1.2.1: Colors and pressure support give drawings new life

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In the months since its March release, FiftyThree’s Paper has become my go-to sketching app for doodling, planning, or quick drawings. I’ve used it to design my new apartment, create a few Twitter avatars, and sketch away a few Saturday afternoons. But the first iteration of Paper, as beautiful as it was, had its flaws: fixed brush sizes, limited color palettes, and no zoom. Wednesday’s 1.2.1 update, which brings both color mixing and support for the Pogo Connect pressure-sensitive Bluetooth stylus, doesn’t fix every problem I have—there’s still no way to enlarge the canvas—but it’s a wonderful step forward. I took the update for a brief whirl, using the Pogo Connect as my chief drawing implement.

First things first: Though this update does give you several color palettes to choose from—including, thank goodness, several shades of skin tone—you’ll need to pay an additional $2 if you want unlimited color choice. Along with the various brushes you can purchase, this brings the total cost for Paper to $9, which I think is more than fair for what the app can do.

Tap Mixer's white circle to get traditional color picking tools.

And what a color tool Paper has brought forth. Mixer is both a color picker and a palette mixer: You can either tap the white circle inside the Mixer to bring up sliders that allow you to pick the right color shade, or you can rely on old-school color mixing to get what you want. Pick an initial color from the palette view and swirl the white circle clockwise until the color takes up the entirety of the black circle, then pick a secondary color and swirl the white circle counter clockwise (as if you were mixing it into the circle). Your initial color will change into the second color, giving you all the hues in-between to pick from. You can even go back and forth—clockwise and counter-clockwise—to see the full range between colors.

Much like the app’s other features, the Mixer takes a few moments to get used to, but once you do, it’s unbelievably cool and very useful. And once you find a color that you like, you can either draw with it directly, or save the color as a permanent shade. Paper gives you two empty palette sheets for storing custom colors; you can also overwrite system colors by dropping new color samples on top of them. (To restore the app’s original colors, tap on the FiftyThree logo in the upper right corner of the notebook screen, then tap Tools.)

You can find settings for the Pogo Connect by tapping the FiftyThree logo.

The other big addition in this update is support for the Pogo Connect, a review unit of which I happened to have on hand. Working with the Pogo’s pressure support is a dream: It’s well-balanced, and the software implementation in Paper is simple and easy to set up. If you have a Connect, go to the FiftyThree logo and tap on Pogo Connect, then flip the toggle to On; the app finds the Pogo, then displays its status, battery level, firmware, and an option for toggling the Pen button to use Undo.

Actual usage of that pressure sensitivity in Paper varies depending on the tool you're using. The Draw (fountain pen), Outline (marker), and Color (watercolor brush) tools translate pressure to line-width: They start off thin, then increase about three times in size. The Sketch (pencil) and Write (felt pen) tools, in contrast, don’t seem to take any pressure input at all. (FiftyThree wrote in after this article was published to note that Sketch should vary in opacity and Write in both opacity and line width, though I can't personally reproduce it.)

Unfortunately, there's no way to set beginning size and end size, so you can’t customize how big or small you want your lines to be—they're pre-set. And because it doesn't look like Paper is converting the Pogo Connect's pressure into opacity for the Color tool, you still get weird issues with watercolors; the darkness of the watercolor is still dependent on speed, rather than pressure.

In truth, while the Pogo Connect is a nice addition for linework, I don't know if I'd use it as my sole Paper tool quite yet; in addition to my tool problems, the stylus’s large rubber tip sometimes makes it challenging to work on detail (a double problem, when you consider Paper’s lack of zoom support, too). But I hope for improvements. FiftyThree has been incredibly proactive in pushing out major updates in the last year; with any luck, zoom and expanded stylus support is in the works.

Updated on 11/1 to add a statement from FiftyThree.

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At a Glance
  • Though Paper deliberately eschews the bells and whistles of veteran drawing apps, it's still the best program for naturalistic sketching and drawing.


    • Paper keeps its tools simple and puts complications and creativity in the hands of its users
    • The Rewind tool is excellent for undoing mistakes.


    • Horizontal only; no vertical journal option for iPad mini
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