Gilles Vandenoostende

Hi, I'm Gilles Vandenoostende - designer, illustrator and digital busybody with a love of language, based in Ghent, Belgium.

Thoughts on FiftyThree's Paper

I came across an interesting article on how Paper’s new color mixer works:

In the new version of Paper released last week, you mix colors with your fingers, like it’s paint–only somehow more beautiful. This one magical feature burned a year of development time, resurrected the work of two dead German scientists, and got Apple’s attention.

It’s a good article so go read it. I made the color-mixer in-app-purchase last week and I’ve had some opportunities to play around with it. Here are my thoughts on it, and Paper as a whole.

I’m not sure how I feel about Paper and its new color mixer. I love the app for sketching, and I felt that the originally limited (and fixed) color palette was an interesting creative constraint: you worked with what you had. Some people felt the same way and described it as the Instagram for people who draw, which I feel is apt: even those of us with little to no art skills could make something aesthetically pleasing with it, in the same way that Instagram’s filters can make crappy cell-phone pictures look better than they ought to, simply by virtue of its pleasantly analogue feel.

But now they added a color mixer the app is climbing out of the toy-box and is inching into more professional territory. It portends you should be able to utilize every color in existence, yet I feel as though I’m constantly struggling against the app’s skeuomorphic design. I feel like it’s holding me back, unlike purely digital painting apps like Brushes 3 or Autodesk’s Sketchbook Pro which are much closer to giving you the power usually reserved for professional tools like Photoshop.

One thing that irks me is that with certain tools Paper decides wether a color should multiply when blending (i.e. darkening whatever’s underneath) or if it should be opaque (i.e. cover up what’s underneath) in a very digital on/off way. For instance, if you have 49% white and 51% color, it multiplies, but if you’re at 51%-49% it suddenly covers. Since you have no precision control over this mix it’s easy to mess up.

I know it’s emulating traditional painting in this regard, but in real life you have some control over the paint/thinner ratio (the analog equivalent of opacity), which Paper doesn’t give you any real control over (but then Paper also gives you the ability to undo, so there’s that).

That said, I still love playing around with it (and I really should post some more of my drawings). If you think of it as a sketchbook (and give yourself permission to mess up) it’s great, but at the end of the day it’s still a toy app, whereas apps like Brushes 3 could be used to make finished artwork that I could drop into Photoshop and use in production. I think that’s a shame when you consider how great the rest of the app feels to use.

I wish Photoshop also had a similar sketchbook mode so I wouldn’t have to mess with the file system when I just want to do a quick speed-painting, sketch or finger-exercise.

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