Impressive iPad Sketching With Bamboo Paper

As a device that begs to be touched, it’s little surprise that there are plenty of tablet-style “drawing” applications available on the App Store. Some focus on a sketching and artistic approach, where others strive for accuracy and precision. Although you’ll never get the same level of accuracy that you’d have with a dedicated graphics tablet, some of these apps manage to pull off a great experience.

Today, I’m going to be taking a look at Bamboo Paper, developed by the tablet manufacturer Wacom. It’s encouraging to see the company moving into this market, expanding from their traditional tablet line-up. They do, unsurprisingly, produce a pen accessory to go with the app, but we’ll get to that in due course…

Notebooks and Pages

You’ll start out looking at the front cover of your first notebook. The design of the application is beautiful in its simplicity, and it’s hard not to appreciate the effort that has gone into crafting a stunning layout:

Your Digital Notebook!

Your Digital Notebook!

You receive a single notebook with the free application, though an in-app purchase can unlock up to 20 extra notebooks for $1.99. It’s a clever limitation to have — Bamboo Paper works just fine with one notebook, but if you’d like to support the developer and stay a little better organised, $1.99 is a small price to pay.

Purchase Extra Notebooks

Purchase Extra Notebooks

You can also customise your notebook — either by the front cover colour, or the type of paper inside (blank, lined, or squared). A nice touch, and it covers all the bases.

Customise Your Notebook

Customise Your Notebook


So let’s open our first notebook and dive right in… You’ll be presented with an incredibly helpful sketch that the kind people at Wacom have prepared for you already:

The Sample Sketch

The Sample Sketch

This is hands down my favourite addition to the app. It combines a simple instruction manual with a clear demonstration of Bamboo Paper’s capability. Almost all the functionality of the application is included right here in a single page:

  • Back to Library – This takes you back to the main notebook page.
  • Sharing – Bamboo Paper has plenty of sharing options. We’ll get to these later!
  • Undo/Redo – Seemingly unlimited undo/redo support is a must in an application like this.
  • Pen/Eraser – You can either add new sketches with the pen, or erase them accurately.
  • Clear Page – Want to start over from scratch? This will clear your page entirely.
  • Bookmark – You can bookmark a specific page, though the reason for doing so seems slightly unclear…
  • Drag and Zoom – As you’d expect, two fingers can be used to zoom or pan around. This was the only part of the app that didn’t work quite as smoothly as I’d hoped.
  • Pagination – Just tap in the lower right/left corner to move between pages.

Pen Settings

Pen Tools

Pen Tools

If you tap and hold anywhere on the document, you’ll be presented with a dialog of different pen tools. These allow you to select one of three thicknesses of pen, along with one of six different colours.

The options available are fairly limited, but this restriction means that you’ll spend more time sketching and less time fiddling with colours. After all, this is a sketching tool – not an artistic canvas. There are plenty of other apps for that!

An Amateur Example

Looking at Wacom’s example is all well and good, but how does Bamboo Paper fare when used by a complete sketching novice (yours truly)? I was pleasantly surprised! The application seems to have a very accurate drawing engine that allows accurate sketching using a fairly inaccurate pointing implement – your finger:

My Attempt...

My Attempt...

It’s impossible to replicate the attractive handwriting from Wacom’s example using your finger. For this level of accuracy, I expect you’ll need to get your hands on a stylus — Wacom offer the Bamboo Stylus. I would certainly consider picking one of these up if I was using the app on a regular basis, though they seem to be out of stock at present.

Sharing Your Work

Sharing a Notebook

Sharing a Notebook

Sharing a Page

Sharing a Page

There are two levels of sharing available in Bamboo Paper. First, you can share an entire notebook from the main screen. This is done either through emailing the whole notebook as a PDF, or printing using AirPrint. Exporting a PDF worked well in our testing.

Second, you can choose to export just a specific page. The options for doing so are slightly more in-depth — you can email as an image, save to your Camera Roll, or print using AirPrint. There’s notably no option to export a single page as a PDF.

Sketching Heaven

I’ve previously used several apps on the iPad for what I would consider to be “drawing”. These offer a fun experience with plenty of brush types, colours, transparency, layers, and much more. They’re a great way to try your hand at some digital painting.

Bamboo Paper successfully differentiates itself from this genre of app, aiming instead for accuracy, precision, and an altogether more professional feel. This begins with the stylish notebook cover when you open the app, and extends through the whole experience. If I didn’t enjoy the feel of pencil on paper so much, this would be the application I use for digital sketching.

If you’re going to commit to Bamboo Paper on a regular basis, I strongly expect that some type of stylus would be a good move. You can read a few of our thoughts on this topic if you’d like to find out more.


Turn your iPad into a paperless communication tool with Bamboo Paper, and enjoy one of the best note-taking engines we've used to date.

  • Peter

    iPad really needs physical stylus. And I mean real, accurate stylus like HTC flyer.

    • David Appleyard

      I’d have to disagree with you on that one… A fairly famous quote from Steve Jobs is “If you see a stylus, they blew it”. People don’t naturally want to use a stylus with a device, and there’s nothing more natural than a good old finger :-)

      For accurate sketching, absolutely get a dedicated graphics tablet!

      • Roger Dean Oldén

        I would say that I interpret that quote as if you need a stylus to operate the device properly, they blew it.

        But having a stylus for being able to draw more accuratly on the ipad would be great, and I hope that Wacom could supply one to use with their SBP app :)

    • Jon Gold

      Check out the Adonit Jot – best stylus around.

  • Roger Dean Oldén

    I mean bamboo app and it would be great if it works with SBP as well

  • Elton

    I can’t agree with Roger more about drawing with a stylus on an iPad is more accurate. However, I’d like to point out NOT all styluses are created equally. I am an inventor based in Hong Kong, and it is a habit of mine to drop down ideas and thoughts of invention on my iPad. I has tried more than 30 styluses on the market and very disappointed to found all the pens needed to be manually pressed toward to the screen in order for a pen stroke to be fully recognized. Short or light strokes are always partially ignored which is very annoying in a creative process.

    To avoid the need to retouch every other pen stroke, I have decided to create my own stylus. After months of prototyping and change of design, I finally found the key to build a super responsive stylus. A month ago, I have launched a crowdfunding project for my new stylus, XStylus Touch for iPad, on IndieGoGo. The project will run until Oct 31, 2011. Up to this moment, there are more than 160 supporters have joined the project.

    I hope you can come visit the website and take a look at the demo video.


  • Pingback: The Top 100 iPad Apps | iPad.AppStorm()

  • Joel Keats

    I started writing on my ipad when i fortuituously come across Bamboo Paper app. It was fun and easy to use and I enjoy the smoothness of its digital ink the most.

    Because Bamboo is my first handwriting app, naturally I tend to think that there must be tonnes of apps out there that is better – after all, Bamboo is free!

    I bought Notability and Penultimate, after reading the long list of positive word of mouth – frankly, Penultimate is good but still not as good as Bamboo paper. Sure, the other apps are full of functions but then the most important feature of an app like is still the quality of the renderings.

    As far as I know, Bamboo paper is still the best.

  • Pingback: Sketchshare: Sketching With Friends Done Right | iPad.AppStorm()

  • Pingback: 50 Fantastic Free iPad Apps | iPad.AppStorm()