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Paper brings your sketches to life (hands-on)

A new note-taking and sketch app for iPad is generating quite a bit of buzz around the Web, and after only a few minutes with it, it's easy to see why.

The way Paper displays your journals with 3D pages is part of what makes this app visually appealing.
Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET

As CNET's Mary Jo Foley reported earlier today, former execs associated with the nixed Courier dual-screen tablet from Microsoft have joined together to make an elegant sketchpad and ideas app.

Paper, by developer FiftyThree, is free and offers only a handful of features initially, but it's just enough to make you want to sample some of the in-app purchases for more tools.

Upon launch you're presented with a welcome screen that outlines the simple set of tools. A tap opens a book, and swiping horizontally lets you turn the 3D pages. The feel of the app is very fluid, and it even accounts for your swipe momentum, so a stronger flick turns several pages until they slow to a stop. Details like these make the simple interface impressive, even without many bells and whistles. From there you simply tap on a page to start editing.

The app manages to make your sketches smooth and fluid, even with only a simple set of tools. Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET

Paper offers five different tools for different types of sketches and drawings, each with its own unique properties. The free version comes with the Draw tool (a stylized ink pen that makes it easy to make smooth lines), an eraser, and a simple color palette. There are four other tools that can be purchased individually for $1.99 each, or you can buy the full set of tools for $7.99.

The remaining four tools are all unique and will come in handy depending on what you use Paper for. the Sketch tool creates soft pencil lines; the Outline tool is for bold strokes; the Write tool gives you an ink pen that makes your freehand writing look better than you'd see on other apps of this type; and the Color tool adds painting effects and color blending for more-artistic projects. While I appreciated the quality of the added brushes, both the individual and package prices seemed a little steep to me.

Using the writing pen, you can make lists or take down journal entries and the app automatically smooths out your handwriting. Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET

When you're finished with your idea or sketch, you can close the book with a pinch gesture. Now you can touch the Share button to upload your sketch to Facebook, Tumblr, or Twitter, or you can send it via e-mail.

While there are several sketch and painting tools in the App Store, Paper has a certain elegance that few apps in this category can match. Even if you just try the free version, you will quickly see that a lot of thought went into making this app simple, yet visually appealing at the same time. In the coming weeks, I'll be interested to see if the price point for Paper's tools will be a roadblock for users interested in the complete package.