Paper with Think Kit may not be the world’s first diagramming app for the iPad. But it’s easily the most intuitive. It does away with all of the complex concepts and capabilities and delivers a simple, intuitive toolset that anyone can use to quickly produce a diagram for their next meeting or PowerPoint presentation, using an ingenious set of gestures and pen/finger interactions.
Earlier this year, when I took a look at Paper by FiftyThree for iPad, I thought it was just another drawing app. But its developers have just unveiled an update called Think Kit that adds diagramming to the popular iPad drawing app. It transforms Paper into a powerful, intuitive mobile whiteboarding tool that is a joy to work with and an excellent conduit for helping you make your creative ideas tangible.
This makes it ideal for casual users – who may need to create simple diagrams from time to time, and business people, who need to be able to communicate their ideas visually – but don’t have the time for a big learning curve.
Think Kit is a free update to Paper.
The power behind Think Kit
The Intention Engine is FiftyThree’s drawing recognition and rendering system. It recognizes and corrects dozens of shapes sketched in real time, while subtly preserving the uniqueness and feel of the user’s hand. It enables you to quickly and easily create diagrams with perfect-looking rectangles, triangles, circles, other shapes and connector lines. How?
To do so, you draw a rough shape using your fingertip or a stylus in a single motion – without lifting your writing instrument from the screen. Paper instantly transforms your rough, hand-drawn shape into a perfectly-proportioned digital one. It doesn’t completely “sanitize” your shapes and connectors so they look like they were produced using software; rather, they retain a bit of a hand-drawn feel. The app’s developers got this balance just right.
For past users of Paper, this excellent app remains a very powerful drawing tool, albeit with some powerful new capabilities. Think Kit simply adds a new type of “pen” to Paper’s tool tray at the bottom of the screen. As with previous versions of Paper, you can easily slide it out of the way to make more room on-screen for your diagrams.
To create diagrams even faster, Think Kit offers an intuitive way to duplicate shapes: Simply tap and hold a shape to select it, then tap with a second finger in a blank area of the work space and drag your other finger away from the object you have selected. Viola – an exact duplicate of your selected object. If it’s important that multiple shapes in your diagram have the exact same dimensions, then Paper’s duplicate shape function is an elegant, simple solution!
You add connector lines to your diagram in a similar, intuitive way: Hand-draw a line between two shapes, pause briefly, and then lift your stylus or fingertip from the screen. Paper displays blue arrowheads on either end of your line. Tap the one(s) you want to keep, and the app adds them to the line.
Enhancing your diagrams in Paper
Modifying and embellishing your diagrams in Paper is also easy and intuitive. Coloring a shape is a simple matter of tapping a color swatch in Paper’s tool tray and then tapping within a shape in your diagram. Doing so immediately fills it with that color.
Think Kit also supports something called “freeform fill.” It’s best illustrated with an example. Let’s say you want to create a simple area chart, with two intersecting lines and background colors. Simply drag your finger or stylus to create a line that approximates the shape of the line that represents the upper edge of the area fill. Then continue to drag your stylus or fingertip down to the X (horizontal) axis of your chart. Think Kit automatically fills in the region with the color you’ve selected.
To move an object, you simply tap and hold your fingertip or stylus inside the shape to highlight it, and then drag it to its new location. You can also draw a lasso around multiple objects to select and move them.
If you make a mistake, Paper’s innovative “rewind” gesture lets you undo your design as many steps as you’d like. You invoke it using a two-fingered, counterclockwise circular motion on the screen. A circular, translucent clock appears on screen, and gives you graphical feedback as Paper undoes the previous steps in your drawing process, one my one.
This is a very elegant and easy way to “back up” your diagramming process to an earlier state. It’s a joy to use.
Paper enables you to export individual diagrams as PNG files for use in PowerPoint, KeyNote and other business applications. In addition, you can export entire notebooks to PDF, PowerPoint, Keynote or as a collection of images.
How can you use Paper?
As a series of videos on the FiftyThree website illustrates, it’s easy to use Paper to create:
- Venn diagrams
- Quadrant diagrams
- Pyramid diagrams
- Area charts
- Organizational charts
I strongly encourage you to watch these videos, because they will give you a tangible sense of just how intuitive and easy to use this app really is. My words, no matter how eloquent, can’t do it justice. But this brief video can:
Paper with Think Kit is an ideal tool for thinking alone or with others. Compared to laptops, tablets encourage information sharing. You can easily have a discussion with a colleague or client, diagram it in Paper, and then hand your iPad to him or her and ask, “Is this what you mean?” That’s powerful!
Paper plus – what else? Pencil
Paper is optimized to be used with FiftyThree’s highly-regarded stylus tool, which is called (naturally) Pencil. it’s designed to enable you to switch from sketching to erasing by simply turning the Pencil around, just as you would flip an old-school pencil in your hand to erase something you drew. It’s also pressure sensitive, which enhances its usefulness for creating art using Paper.
There’s one small catch, however: Pencil’s advanced features only work with the iPad 3. It will function as a conventional stylus with earlier versions of Apple’s ubiquitous tablet. Pencil is available in several different styles and finishes; its price starts at about US$50. Get details about Pencil here.
Clearly, the developers at FiftyThree put a lot of thought into making Think Kit’s functionality as intuitive as possible, and into leveraging the iPad interface. It’s the closest thing to using pencil and paper to create a business diagram. In other words, it’s a tool that enables you to capture your ideas at nearly the same speed as you think of them.
I had a lot of fun creating diagrams with Paper, and I think you will, too! Paper is a free download from the Apple AppStore; the latest version comes with the Think Kit diagramming toolset.