Paper + Pencil

Paper is an iPad sketching app from FiftyThree. The app has been around for a few years, but the company recently ventured into hardware with a new Bluetooth stylus. Pencil is specifically designed to pair with Paper, and the combination of Pencil + Paper unlocks special features in the app.


Paper is a beautiful app for sketching and jotting down notes. It offers a number of great tools, including a watercolor brush, a color mixing palette, a nice zoom feature, and a cool rewind gesture. Pencil has a very nice shape—kind of like a stick of charcoal—which feels pleasant in the hand. The elongated sides of the rubber tip allow you to use the sides for shading, like sketching with real charcoal. This effect greatly enhances the watercolor brush. Pencil’s Bluetooth connection provides some very nice special features in Paper: palm rejection, using both ends of the stylus in multiple modes, and the ability to blend and smudge with your finger. Palm rejection allows you to rest your hand on the iPad while sketching, using multiple modes saves you from constantly switching between pen and eraser mode, and blend mode is one of the nicest features of Pencil + Paper. While Pencil works fine as a regular stylus in other drawing apps, these little extras don’t translate.

The rubber tip is a little too wide and even a little too rubbery—the size, squishiness, and grippiness make it hard to draw accurately at times. The eraser also seems similarly flawed: if you try to angle the eraser to use a smaller surface area, it thinks you’re using your finger and switches to Blend mode instead. Pencil also doesn’t provide pressure sensitivity—rather, the size of the line relies on your drawing speed. Since the tip is large and pressure sensitive, this feels like a weird design choice—one that doesn’t allow you to draw any kind of bold, variable line slowly and methodically. Depending on your drawing style, this might be annoying, though it’s not a deal breaker.

The worst thing about Pencil, however, is that it can only be linked to one device. Signing in with another Apple ID or into a different Paper account still allows the use of Pencil’s enhanced features on the same iPad, but you can’t use Pencil across multiple iPads. This is a serious drawback, since it effectively means you can’t buy a new iPad and continue to use your Pencil as anything other than a basic—albeit stylish—stylus. Likewise, Paper’s sync functionality is lacking: you can’t import a sketchbook made on one iPad to another, and there’s no integration with Dropbox or anything that would help you save in-progress work across devices. This issue seems to have been a common complaint of Paper users for a few years (according to quite a few online help forums), and it doesn’t seem like a solution is imminent.

Paper is a fun app with a many cool features, but without a sync solution to transfer work in the native Paper format, it’s not the most efficient way to work. As a stylus, Pencil is on the expensive side, but it’s a great tool—as long as you never plan to get another iPad.