Procreate & Paper: The Engines Mean Everything

Sketchbook Pro. Brushes. Penultimate. Noteshelf. These are only a handful of some of the most popular apps available on the iPad today. Some may have even considered them your only worthy options for illustrating and note taking on a tablet. Chances are, if you own an iPad, you’ve heard of at least one of these names. If not, that’s fine, because today it isn’t about them.

While the aforementioned creativity apps are, in fact, excellent options for anyone looking to use the iPad as a digital note/sketchbook, a couple of apps have since crashed the party and are causing a lot of ruckus – they are Procreate and Paper by FiftyThree. What is it about these two that we love so much? Read on to find out…

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Leaders of the Pack

Before I get into the differences between Procreate and Paper by FiftyThree (which we will refer to as simply ‘Paper’ from here on out), I’d like to go over what they both do exceedingly well. While drawing and note taking apps on the iPad are a dime a dozen, only a small percentage of them are actually made so well as to have a perfect balance of both form and function.

Paper's gorgeous Journal selection screen

Paper's gorgeous Journal selection screen.

Where Paper and Procreate leave competition in the dust is found in both their inking engines. While apps like Sketchbook Pro, Brushes, and even Art Rage offer you the tools necessary to produce high quality results, none quite have the same level of polish and performance that Paper and Procreate bring. Even the slightest bit of lag in apps like these can have a huge negative impact on the overall experience; thankfully, every stroke on either of the two apps feels like an absolute joy.

Procreate 1.6 now features art stacks for better organization!

Procreate 1.6 now features art stacks for better organization!

When it comes to user interface, neither app ever feels like it gets in your way. Paper goes the ultra-minimal route while Procreate offers a bit more flexibility allowing quick and easy access to all the necessary settings without feeling cumbersome.

Paper: A Doodler’s Dream

Paper is not feature-rich, nor does it claim to be. Paper is all about its inking performance. It’s simply the most responsive engine around. On the new iPad’s Retina display, Paper looks downright gorgeous!

Doodling: The Next Generation

Doodling: The Next Generation.

Lines in Paper are so crisp and look so natural that it’s almost easy to forget you’re using an iPad. If you’re used to illustrating with vector graphics on applications like iDraw and Adobe Illustrator, you’ll have a blast with how easy Paper makes it to just jump in and start doodling your heart out. The way the stroke’s thickness dynamically changes depending on the speed you’re writing in is really something to see. While some may complain about FiftyThree’s decision to make lines start off thin during slow strokes and thick during fast strokes, I personally think that they made the right choice. Working on small details requires thinner, slower strokes and would never have worked had they chosen to reverse them.

Paper is the perfect companion for quickly sketching out ideas

Paper is the perfect companion for quickly sketching out ideas.

FiftyThree didn’t add a boat load of features to Paper because it’s not what they set out to do. Paper doesn’t need them. To understand Paper is to simply see it as a real notebook. No fancy layers and no magical pen that has the ability to change into millions of other colors on a whim. It’s just you, the app, up to 9 ink colors to choose from, and whatever your creative mind happens to think of next. Just try it and thank us later!

We reviewed Paper right here!

There is only one drawing tool that initially comes with Paper’s free download, but you also have the option to download additional tools like a Pencil, Paintbrush, and Marker for an additional $2 per item, or $8 for the complete set. While I have seen some people give Paper negative reviews for the $8 price, I will be the first to say that it’s worth every penny regardless. The developers deserve it with an engine like that.

A rough draft of a scene I'd like to work on

A rough draft of a scene I'd like to work on.

Paper came as a bit of a pleasant surprise for everyone on its release. Shortly after the release of the new iPad with its glorious Retina display, FiftyThree wasted no time giving us one of the most polished creativity apps I’ve seen in the App Store in a long while. Whether you’re storyboarding, brainstorming, or just wanting to doodle, Paper is definitely an app you’ll want to check out. It’s just that fun to use.

Procreate: iPad Illustration, Refined

Ah, Procreate. How do I love thee? This was and still is my go-to app for digital illustration.

Procreate sits on the other end of the “Totally Awesome” spectrum and takes on a more serious approach than Paper does. Where Paper’s custom engine feels more vector-based, Procreate’s Silica engine feels closer to raster-based painting with Photoshop.

A quick cartoon I threw together while trying out Procreate

A quick cartoon I threw together while trying out Procreate.

Savage Interactive’s OpenGL ES 2.0 Silica engine just screams on the iPad. Out of the box, Procreate 1.6 provides you with 45 brushes, including old brushes that came with previous versions of the app. If those weren’t enough, you’re also given the option to create your own custom brushes. On top of the endless possibilities presented to you in terms of brush creation, every brush handles wonderfully and textures look as if you’re using the real thing.

Refining the draft I created in Paper

Refining the draft I created in Paper.

Another well executed feature found in Procreate’s engine is its ability to blend colors together with its built in Smudge tool… it just works. There really isn’t much else to say about it except that it has definitely made shading a whole lot easier for someone like me who hasn’t quite completely grasped the concept.

Trying out blending effects with Procreate's Smudge tool

Trying out blending effects with Procreate's Smudge tool.

Procreate pretty much provides you with everything you need to take whatever you made in Paper to the next level. Good times ahead!


So which app comes out on top? Well… neither, really. The comparison of Paper and Procreate wasn’t about which app you should pick over the other. The experience of using either app feels so different, saying one isn’t as useful as the other just wouldn’t make any sense.

What I’ve presented here are two brilliant apps that make the experience of drawing on an iPad so fun, it’s almost crazy to not want to use both of them.

Not to get all corny, but think of Paper as the Yin to Procreate’s Yang. One excels in taking in great ideas quickly and beautifully while the other balances things out, taking those ideas and turning them into works of art. That’s really all there is to it.

So go on! We hope these two apps have inspired you to at least dip your toes in the water and create something terrific. After experiencing the speed and polish that Procreate and Paper have to offer, it might be hard to go back to anything else.