I'm a sucker for great design, so when I got a chance to test out the Paper app for the iPad, I was immediately struck with how well-designed and beautiful it was. It's not often that you can open up a piece of software, not read any of the directions, and immediately start creating lush sketches, drawings, and paintings. Not paintings in the normal sense of the word, but this app does watercolors in such a realistic and intuitive way that it almost fools me into thinking I'm a real painter. One of the creators, Andrew S Allen, has had his work featured here before. He runs Short of the Week, and I got a chance to talk to him a little bit about the app and what might be in store for the future.

First, here's the introduction video from FiftyThree (directed by Andrew S Allen):

A description of the app in their own words:

Mobile creation done right. Paper was designed from the ground up for touch and creating on the go. No fussy buttons, settings or other distractions. Paper works the way you think, like a familiar notebook or journal. Have all of your ideas with you in one place.

Essential tools, settings-free. Productivity meets beauty. No settings. Always beautiful—like great tools should be. Just pick up a tool and instantly begin to Sketch, Write, Draw, Outline and Color. Draw comes free with Paper.

I have to say, I am not an artist, but it's amazingly easy and intuitive to use. Each specific tool is sensitive to the amount of pressure you apply  - and it responds accordingly. They seem to enjoy using a stylus (specifically the Wacom Bamboo), which will work better for specific drawing tools, but I've just been using my finger with great results - the only issue is that with your finger it's a big difficult if you're using one of the smaller tools and you need to trace over a line or continue a line if you pick up your finger. In just a few minutes I've been able to come up with rough sketches for storyboards that I can use for my next film. They are far better than anything I could have made using pencil and paper, and I've noticed that I can work much faster. Did it turn me into a professional artist? Of course not, but it has given some amazingly accurate results. If you are a little more artistically inclined it's going to be the most satisfying experience you've ever had drawing on an iPad (or any tablet for that matter). Check out some larger screenshots:




The app is really as simple as it looks (and it looks great thanks to it's Retina Display compatibility) - you've got notebooks, and within each notebook you have pages on which you can draw. The app utilizes the gestures in a very smart way - pinch to zoom in and open up the next level, and spread your fingers apart to get back to the previous level. Swipe up near the bottom of a page to bring up your tools, and swipe down to remove it. Intuitive is really an understatement.

Being able to easily share these drawings is a main selling point, and it's as simple as emailing a photo from the iPad. You've got four options for sharing: Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook or email. There are so many possibilities and situations that could take advantage of an app like this - from real artists to filmmakers to web designers. It's a perfect tool for when you want to jot down an idea or make a simple sketch (or a complicated one). The great thing for me is that I can treat this app like it's a real notebook, and I can do everything almost as fast using physical paper. I'm not a big fan of wasting paper, but this virtual paper is limitless, and you can add as many pages as you like.

Paper doesn't feature any menus, but it does allow you to undo actions in a particularly nifty way - you take two fingers together and rotate counter-clockwise to start removing previous actions - and vice versa to redo. The action itself is actually called rewind, and it's just another well-designed and intuitive feature. There are 20 levels of undo on the new iPad and iPad 2, and 5 on the iPad 1.

So you might be asking what the catch is - and there's a small one. The FiftyThree team are releasing the app completely free, except you only get one drawing tool with that free app. You must purchase the additional drawing tools for $2 each, but if you get all of them at once, it's only $8. For an app that is this beautiful and functional, $8 for all of the drawing tools is nothing.

It's available in the app store starting today for all iPad versions. You can get there from the link below, and all of the extra drawing tools are purchased inside the app.

Here's my Q&A with Andrew:

How did your animation experience influence the design?

Animation is about building a believable world and everything in it down to the last detail. And an app is much the same way. I think if you look closely at the subtleties in the animations in Paper you'll see a lot of that attention to detail to make every bounce or swipe feel real.

What makes this drawing app different from some others - why might filmmakers want to use it instead of a regular drawing app?

Paper is about capturing ideas. It's the story notes, character sketches, and storyboards that you come up with on the train at night. Ideas are actually very delicate, so when we look to capture them, we grab for something simple like sticky notes. Paper eliminates all the barriers keeping you from capturing your ideas. There are other good drawing apps out there but they're productivity tools for creating illustrations, so ultimately you have to be an illustrator to make good work which requires serious skill and a lot of time.

We spent a lot of time developing our custom Expressive Ink Engine which eliminates all those distractions. Your writing, sketching, and everything looks amazing and you don't have to mess with any settings.

Paper is also social. So it's really simple to draft up a few sketches and share them to your film's Tumblr blog, Facebook, or Twitter. It's a very satisfying to be able to sketch out an idea and get it out to the world instantly.

Are there any plans to add shapes (like squares) or a custom shape tool?

We use Paper ourselves (we kinda built it for ourselves after all) and we wanted to give everyone a chance to use the app for free. But for those who want to do more with it, we have a suite of in-app tools based on different creative skills like sketch, write, outline, color. We're starting with these because we consider these to be the essential creation tools. The great thing is you only buy the tools you need. And further down the road we'll be developing other powerful tools for specific fields like filmmaking or industrial design.

What about the possibility of creating templates - like a storyboard template for filmmakers or a comic strip template for comic book artists?

Paper is where I've been doing all my storyboarding (like the intro video we created for the app). I've invited a few filmmaker friends to try it as well, and so far the response has been humbling. A talented filmmaker from China, Qiao Li (Kitty & Lala) is using Paper to storyboard his next short, XY_Z:Prologue, which will be a post-apocalyptic, sci-fi shot north of Beijing.

At any point in the future might Paper be able to use the cloud and collaborate with other artists?

I think great things happen when ideas are remixed. Stay tuned on that. ;)

Links: Paper by FiftyThree - iTunes  &   Paper by FiftyThree - Website