Paper: Making Notebooks Beautiful Again

From time to time, software can surprise us. Once meant only as a tool, software can take us places we never dreamed, and help us do things in ways we never thought possible. But in some cases, software does even more than accomplish; sometimes software is simply beautiful.

Paper is beautiful software, created to give us something we lost when we moved from notebooks to tablets. The design and function of Paper is unlike any iPad app experience I’ve yet had, giving back so much of what I remember from years of filling up Moleskine journals. To see what beautiful software like Paper can do, read on past the break!

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Welcome Back to Your Notebooks

The second I opened Paper for the first time, I knew I was looking at something special. I haven’t seen an iPad app with this level of effort and detail put into something as simple as the category selection screen.

Paper was created by a team of developers known for their efforts in creating the long-expected but ultimately unreleased Microsoft Courier, a product expected by many in the tech world to totally revolutionize tablet computing. Courier never saw the true light of day, but the developers at Fifty Three were clearly undeterred in their goal of replacing paper notebooks without replacing the notebook.

Not a lot to say about the interface. Other than wow.

Greeted by a collection of a few notebooks on the main screen, I found myself instantly wanting to dig in and start writing, drawing, and creating. People often criticize apps for seeming to care more about aesthetics than utility, but the brilliance of Paper is that because it is so beautiful, it makes you want to use it in a productive way!

Act Natural

A lot of apps open with tutorial screens showing you how to move in and out and get the most from the interface and features. Paper is not one of those apps. Instead, the focus is on getting in and getting creative. Using Paper made me feel like those 4-year-olds we all see on YouTube playing with iPads for the first time. No one had to tell me what to do. Intuition was enough to let me explore and discover the ins and outs of Paper. I was amazed at just how natural everything felt.

Everything. Makes. Sense.

I couldn’t figure out how to turn the page without drawing a line, and then it struck me to start with my finger on the iPad’s bezel and swipe inward from there. Page turned. Mind blown. I couldn’t see anything onscreen to take me out of a page and back to the previous screen. So I pinched two fingers together. Back I went. Even without detailed instructions, using Paper just felt so natural it was like using an honest-to-goodness notebook again.

Write It Down

As much as I was floored by the look and design of Paper, my real joy was in filling empty pages. I didn’t have an iPad stylus handy when I started playing with Paper, but even so I found the handwriting to be remarkably accurate and responsive.

That actually looks like my writing, only better.

Not only did the handwriting actually look like mine, Paper made my handwriting look beautiful.

Pick a Tool

Paper is not for everyone, at first. By default, you scribble, draw and write on the pages of your notebooks with the Draw tool, which acts very much like a fountain pen. You can always change the color of ink, and grab an eraser to wipe out mistakes. But, when you find yourself needing a pen for writing, a marker for marking or a pencil for sketching, you’ll need to purchase the proper tool via an in-app purchase.

Try it. Buy it. Use it. Love it.

Each tool is demoed for you inside of the app, and can even be tried out live before making a purchase. Each additional tool costs $1.99, or you can purchase the whole set for $7.99. At first I wasn’t too sure about the model of pay-per-tool, but with Paper being totally free to download and start using, it makes total sense to let people pay to use Paper the way they need most. I can’t draw for beans, so Sketch wasn’t high on my “must-have” list. But with the amount of writing I do and how much I miss my Moleskines, $1.99 for Write was worth every penny.

Oddly enough, buying the tools individually is cheaper if you get the US version, but the whole set option is cheaper for most other currencies!

Fill Your Shelves

Paper lets you add notebooks from the main screen by simply tapping the plus sign. Each notebook can be renamed, given one of 11 gorgeous covers, or even adorned with a photo of your choosing. Again, Paper isn’t about shifting paradigms and abandoning the past; it’s more about reclaiming something we all know and love.

Cover your work.

Share Your Love

Paper comes out-of-the-box with the ability to email out pages of your notebooks, as well as send them up to popular social sites like Tumblr, Twitter, or Facebook.

Tell the world how much you love Paper.


If you love your iPad but miss the experience of filling real, physical notebooks, let me assure you that Paper is the closest thing to a real notebook outside of a real notebook. It’s just plain amazing software, from the accuracy of the handwriting to the drop-dead UI design. Nothing looks quite like or feels quite like Paper.

Paper is a safe place for all your ideas. Even the weird ones.

Paper is free to try out, but does use in-app purchases if you want to expand your set of tools.

Download a copy today and start filling up notebooks of your own.


The most beautiful notebook app for your iPad.

  • Jaime

    Beautiful but expensive ! At $1.99 EACH tool this app is far far away from affordable. If you need to take notes there are many choices that give you the same functionality for the price of only one tool. Sell it for 4.99 complete and I will buy it.

    • Mark

      Are you serious? It’s more expensive than a lot of apps, but then it works rather better than almost all of them at what it does. Buying the real world equivalents (degradable) of the tools would cost more than the app + all the bits. I have a ton of apps priced so as you can’t complain, but most are a waste of electricity, this isn’t. You’ve blown a serious chunk of cash on the fondle slab in the first place, why does less than 10 USD suddenly look like a rip-off?

      Fabulous app, and frankly a bargain at twice the price.

  • Henree G

    A bit too pricey, but the UI looks incredible.

  • Randy

    I have found the response time to be slow. I get part way around an “e” and end up with a “c” instead. Slow and easy makes a better character, but way too slow for quick thinkers, even for real pen and ink writers.

  • hanskfroschauer

    First of all, I really like Paper. It’s a beautiful app, and very nice to use. It’s not intended to replace apps like SketchBook Pro or procreate, which I use both, but use for creating ‘lengthier’ visual projects. Paper is intended for quick sketching, and it’s very good at that.

    There are however 2 caveats regarding this app, and I’m very surprised this article doesn’t mention them. There’s the pricing level, which seems quite high compared to similar apps, and presenting Paper as a free app may be factually correct, but is it really? It may be free to download, but to fully use it it’s far from free.

    And the second issue, which I’m even more surprised isn’t mentioned in the article, is that 4x 1,99 equals 7,96, not 7,99. Meaning to buy all the tools in the pack is more expensive than to buy them one by one. That’s an issue discussed all over the web, so it should have been mentioned in this article.

    I read ipad.appstorm daily, and really like the site, but I expect the articles to be serious reviews, and not just praise that smells like product-placement.

    • Joel Bankhead

      Glad you like the site!

      Thanks for your comments – I’m also a big fan of Paper and the way it works, although it’s certainly not a replacement for more professional tools it works beautifully for certain projects and ideas.

      As for the pricing issues, depending on which tools you need Paper isn’t priced particularly high, although $7.96 for the whole set doesn’t stack up brilliantly against more fully featured studio-grade sketchbooks like Procreate.

      I’ve added a note about the odd pricing structure, which should have, but didn’t, occur to me on editing because in the UK (and other countries) the pricing structure does favour buying the tools together. It’s £1.49 for each tool, or £5.49 for all four of them, which is slightly cheaper than the £5.96 to buy them all individually.

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  • cjred

    Yes this is my favorite sketching app, this app just remember those days where I was only using marker for rendering, pencil for sketching, pen for outlining (limited tools) just make it digital.

    It doesn’t need to have adjustable brushes and stuff and other protools. it just works……

  • Grant

    There’s no wrist protection. I don’t know about you, but I find it impossible to write a decent note with my entire hand raised off the surface. That’s a huge deal breaker for me.

  • Imee

    Best notebook app I’ve encountered yet. Best of all, it’s free. The only problem here is that the in-app pens/brushes are waaaay overpriced IMHO. But the quality of the images when downloaded to the Photos app? Very gorgeous! Plus the fact I can make unlimited notebooks? Wow. I love this app. A suggestion for them though is to allow users to import images and possibly draw over them, you know, like scrapbooks or sketchbooks. That, and a cloud server to back up your images/notebooks with (I would even pay for such a feature, depending on the price of course). It would then be the perfect app to go green – pretty much no more ink or paper to deal with!

  • Remco

    So, i am still not seeing why it is better than bamboo paper….?

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  • Jason

    I’m also skeptical about Paper’s place in the handwriting/notes/art world. On the first page of the example notebook, it claims to have found the perfect balance between utilitarian notebooks apps (I assume notability, etc) and high end art apps (like procreate). Yet I think that the opposite is true: By not provided the required tools for either kind of app, it does nothing well (except fun UI). It doesn’t have the tools for note taking (zoom, wrist protection, text, etc), and it doesn’t have the tools for serious art. So what are you supposed to do with it? It’s absolutely great for getting started with your new stylus and for showing off how great the ipad is— but at 8 dollars you got an app that won’t grow with you. You’re better of spending $9 and getting both Notability and Procreate.

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  • Marc

    It can’t zoom…

  • David Buck

    I think it’s a classy app. The price isn’t such a drag if you figure time and expense to go to a store and purchase real paper, ink, paint, brushes, erasures, etc…
    Maybe it’s just time to shell out the dough and get to drawing. It’s fun. That’s worth ALOT.