Review: Pencil Stylus & Paper Drawing App by FiftyThree

This review will cover the Paper drawing app (iOS) and the Pencil stylus, both created by the company FiftyThree.

Paper is one of my favourite drawing apps on the iOS. When it was launched, the drawing tools inside the app were sold separately but now they are free.

Pencil is a stylus created specifically for the Paper app. By specifically, I mean that it provide extra dimension to how you would use the drawing tools in the app. Pencil does work with other apps but only as a just a simple stylus like those cheap stylus under $10.

I like the cylindrical packaging the stylus came in. In additional to the stylus, there's also a spare rubber tip and eraser.

Pencil comes in three colours: wood, graphite and gold. They actually use real wood for the body because the texture of the grain can be felt. It's very attractive and has a lot of character. Every wooden Pencil looks different.

The stylus body is rectangular. It has a nice weight, nice to hold and comfortable for long periods of drawing. The build quality is excellent. Finishing is wonderful.

The stylus uses a spongy rubber tip. Just beneath the tip is a piece of plastic, so the tip doesn't press all the way in.

This is an electric stylus and the battery is built in. To charge, you just pull out the battery by grabbing the tip (remember the hard plastic inside?) and pull, then plug it into a USB port.

To replace the tip, you just twist the tip 90 degrees and it will drop off. Very easy. I've read several reviews mentioning that the tips wear out fast and the app will stop detecting the stylus.

Before you can use the smart features of the stylus, you need to pair it with the Paper app. Just locate the small circular button with a pencil icon in it and use Pencil to tap and hold until that pencil icon is lit up. Same thing when you want to turn off the connection.

Here's the first sketch I drew with Pencil.

The Paper app has only five drawing tools and one eraser. The drawing tools are the fountain pen, pencil, marker, pen and brush.

The lines in the sketch above was drawn with the pen and colours added with the markers.

One thing about the drawing tools is there's no way to change to the stroke thickness. It's kinda of like a bummer because it would have given the app so much more flexibility.

The colours from the markers are layered colours, just like the multiply mode in Photoshop. If you layer red over blue, you will get purple. If you layer other colours on black, it will still be black.

The whole black tip of Pencil can be used to draw. If you use the pointed tip, you'll get a thin stroke. If you use the sides with larger surface area, you get a larger stroke. The side doesn't work for the pen tool, which makes sense.

Same thing for the rubber eraser at the back of Pencil. Use the narrow side and you erase a small area and use the broad side to erase large areas. It's intuitive.

Paper and Pencil do not support pressure sensitivity. The stroke thickness for most of the tools, for example the pen as shown above, depends on the speed at which the stroke is drawn. The faster you draw, the thicker the stroke.

For the brush tool, the faster you draw, the faster the colour will fade to transparent.

The pencil tool is fun to draw with. You can use the tip and sides of Pencil for drawing. When using the sides for shading, you can continue to layer digital graphite without lifting the stylus.

Paper Drawing App and Pencil Stylus by FiftyThree - 01
I like how the pen tool always leaves a small blob at the start and end of each stroke, almost like a ballpoint or felt pen.

Paper Drawing App and Pencil Stylus by FiftyThree - 02
This was drawn with the fountain pen tool and coloured with the marker tool.

Paper Drawing App and Pencil Stylus by FiftyThree - 03

Paper Drawing App and Pencil Stylus by FiftyThree - 04
Here you can see some colour layering in action. You can layer the same colour over itself and it will get progressively saturated. To have flat colours, just colour without lifting the stylus.

Paper Drawing App and Pencil Stylus by FiftyThree - 05
This was drawn with the pen. Sometimes I do wish that I can increase the thickness of the stroke.

Paper Drawing App and Pencil Stylus by FiftyThree - 06
This drawing was created with both the tip and the sides of Pencil.

Paper Drawing App and Pencil Stylus by FiftyThree - 07 Paper Drawing App and Pencil Stylus by FiftyThree - 08
If you use the marker for drawing, then you'll just get thick consistent strokes. The fountain pen tool will have tapered edges.

So here are the pros and cons for Paper and Pencil

+ Simple drawing app with intuitive tools
+ Free
+ You can create many journals with many pages
+ You can mix your own colours like mixing pigment
+ You can email drawings to yourself
- Only five drawing tools included
- Cannot change thickness of strokes for drawing tools
- Watercolour brush effect doesn't look nice
- You can't choose colours to not overlay
- No layers
- Does not support pressure sensitivity

+ Beautiful and well designed stylus
+ Enhances features of drawing tools inside the app
+ Rechargeable by USB
+ Easy to replace nib
+ Accurate, no calibration required
+ Easy to pair with the drawing app with no problems with disconnection
- Two replacement tips and one eraser cost USD $20
- Resolution of drawings are only 1024 by 768 pixels
- Stylus features only works with Paper app
- No pressure sensitivity


When the app first came out, I was quite skeptical about it, especially when it's named Paper which I felt was quite generic. Also, with the exception of the fountain pen, you actually have to make in-app purchases to buy the four other drawing tools. Now all the drawing tools inside the app are free.

I think the most important thing is it's fun to draw on Paper with Pencil. Simplicity is a big thing for both and simplicity is the experience you get when using them.

Highly recommended.


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