iPad sketch app Paper adds brilliant creative templates [Review]

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These exquisitely designed digital journals in Paper by WeTransfer will get anyone’s creative juices flowing.
These exquisitely designed digital journals will get anyone’s creative juices flowing.
Photo: Graham Bower/Cult of Mac

Looking for some fun stuff to do with your Apple Pencil? Then you should definitely check out today’s update to Paper by WeTransfer, which introduces a new Paper Store.

Despite its name, the Paper Store doesn’t actually sell paper. Instead it offers a range of 28 digital journals created by brilliant designers and illustrators. These journals are filled with creative prompts, exercises and drawing tutorials that will get your creative juices flowing. And they’re a whole lot of fun to use.

Doodling has never been so easy or productive.

Paper by WeTransfer: A drawing app with a difference

There are loads of drawing apps to choose from for Apple Pencil, including some incredibly powerful ones like Procreate and Adobe Fresco. In comparison, Paper by WeTransfer looks pretty basic. And that’s precisely the point.

Paper doesn’t offer advanced tools for professional illustrators and artists. Instead, it keeps things simple, so anyone can use the app quickly and easily, without instructions.

In other words, it’s designed for doodlers. You could use Paper to keep a journal, draw diagrams, create detailed schematics, or other sensible, grown-up things. But for most of us, Paper is simply an opportunity to mess around and have some fun. And it seems Paper’s developer, WeTransfer, is completely fine with that. In fact, with the new Paper Store, doodling is positively encouraged.

Even turning the page is fun with Paper's digital journals.
Even turning the page is fun with Paper’s digital journals.
Screenshot: Graham Bower/Cult of Mac

Skeuomorphism is alive and well with Paper app’s journals

It’s not just simplicity that differentiates this iPad drawing app, though. Paper offers a unique concept called “journals.” These Moleskine lookalikes provide a way of organizing and grouping your sketches into notebooks.

You can give each notebook a unique cover design and flip through the pages in a 3D view. It‘s reminiscent of the Cover Flow effect Apple once used in iTunes. Cupertino shunned this kind of sumptuous skeuomorphism during Jony Ive’s tenure as Apple’s chief design officer. He famously preferred austere flatness. But Paper provides a welcome reminder of just how gorgeous skeuomorphism can be.

Navigating through journals is fun and intuitive. You effortlessly swipe back and forward between the pages, pinch to close journals, and reverse-pinch to open.

Journals are a delight. They really are Paper’s special sauce. So it’s no wonder WeTransfer is using them as the foundation for its new Paper Store.

The Paper Store helps you get past blank page syndrome

The Paper Store is a new feature in Paper version 4.5. The idea is simple. You buy journals created by WeTransfer’s design team, together with a selection of freelance artists, illustrators and designers. These journals come prefilled with content that you can interact with using your Apple Pencil.

The range of journals is pretty varied. Some are drawing tutorials, giving you step-by-step instructions on how to draw a variety of objects. Others provide creative prompts to stimulate your imagination. There are even some life-coaching planners. The idea is to help you get past blank page syndrome (the visual equivalent of writer’s block).

The problem with most drawing apps is that you’re initially confronted with a completely blank screen. That can be a little daunting if you’re not a professional artist. Your Apple Pencil may be poised at the ready, but you just don’t know where to begin.

The Paper Store solves this problem by replacing the blank page with something more interesting to get you started.

The Paper Store looks visually stunning.
The Paper Store looks visually stunning.
Screenshot: Graham Bower/Cult of Mac

How Paper Store journals work

The journals you buy from the Paper Store are pretty much the same as ones you create yourself using the app. The key difference is that they come preloaded with a locked layer of non-editable content. It’s the digital equivalent of buying a printed exercise book with spaces for you to write and draw things — it’s a bit like a coloring book.

Some of the journals also include editable content, which you can erase to reveal things, or copy and paste to create patterns.

WeTransfer gets a lot of mileage out of this simple concept, using the format in all sorts of imaginative ways. Everything from giving cartoon characters a haircut to interactive botany lessons.

Some journals are better than others

At launch, the Paper Store offers 28 journals to choose from. Most of them cost 1 credit ($1.99), but there are a few free ones to try out. The cover designs alone are so nice that it’s a pleasure to scroll through the store.

I have a few personal favorites. The Science of Doodling Flowers is a clever way of enhancing your doodling powers while learning something about the structure of plants at the same time. Draw Hair is as ridiculously silly as it sounds, but it’s actually lots of fun. It reminded me of the classic Wooly Willy toy, where you use a “magic wand” with a magnet on the end to create hairstyles out of metal filings. Tiny Meditation provides a unique and fun introduction to mindfulness. Learn to Draw Portraits provides a practical starting point for tracing photos.

But some of the journals do feel a bit more like fillers. For example, Wabi-Sabi is just an empty, ruled exercise book. The only twist is that the lines are a bit wonky. At $1.99 that feels overpriced. And in Recipe Notebook and Planners, you are expected to write text with your Apple Pencil. The absence of handwriting recognition here is a massive omission. If I go to the trouble of writing text in a journal, I expect to be able to search, copy and paste it.

Drawings are for sharing

The most notable omission from Paper, in my opinion, is the absence of any social component. I’d like to see a gallery where you can share your doodles. For example, the Creative Creatures journal invites you to draw hybrid animals, like a pig-shark or a panda-horse. I’d love to be able to browse a gallery of how other users have responded to these prompts. It feels like WeTransfer missed a trick here.

Turbocharge your doodling powers

While some of the journals may feel a bit weak, the overall launch offering is impressive. I’m really looking forward to seeing how the Paper Store develops. I know several friends who bought an Apple Pencil that ended up permanently clipped to the side of their iPad Pro or lost at the back of a drawer because they couldn’t think of how to use it. Fear of the blank canvas is very real. But the Paper Store may just provide a solution.

P.S. If you’re looking for more doodling inspiration, check out my posts on how to draw a portrait with Apple Pencil and 101 Digital Touch sketch ideas.