Skip to content

Paper creativity: apps for drawing, origami, notes and more

Expand your creative horizons beyond your device’s bezel by throwing paper into the mix

A criticism leveled at iPhones and iPads is that they’ve replaced all manner of physical objects. Once, where you’d have found sketchpads, books, musical instruments, telephones, and even televisions, now you get a black rectangle.

But some enterprising developers recognize the qualities of tactile, physical media. Often, this results in them cleverly combining the iOS experience with paper, pencils and pens.

That’s what this roundup is about – our favorite apps for creative paper-related tasks. There are apps that convert sketches into editable digital documents, immerse you in papercraft pursuits, help you learn to draw, and more.


$2.99/£2.99 • v1.8.3 • 95.5 MB • By Pixle

Foldify’s roots are traditional papercraft. The app provides templates from basic geometric forms – cuboids; pyramids; cylinders – to the likes of cars, houses, and tiny arcade cabinets. These can be printed and then put together by way of deft folding and a dab of glue. But the iPhone component offers more than just shapes.

Choose a template and you can unleash your decorating skills – or lack thereof. You can import photos, scribble on to the template, and slap stickers everywhere. A 3D render of your work is always in view, so you have an inkling of what the model will look like when constructed.

If that all sounds like hard work, delve into Foldify’s online area instead. There, you can download amazing creations, such as a blocky Steve Jobs, and a rather fetching Peanuts dog house. Get good at the app, and you can share your own creations, too.

Download Foldify

iOrnament Crafter

$1.99 • v1.0 • 99.4 MB • By science-to-touch

This app exists in a similar space to Foldify, but is abstract in nature. With its developer seemingly obsessed with maths and geometry, the app enables you to turn a tessellating pattern into a 3D model, which can subsequently be printed and made.

The app includes a large number of patterns – and you can make your own if you buy sister app iOrnament. The 3D models are limited in number, but look rather lovely on the screen as they lazily spin, and are fun to put together.

Beyond that, the app has non-paper features, too. You can transform patterns into eye-bending kaleidoscopes, export them as animations and videos, and “create loxodromic double spirals”. We’re not sure what that last of those is – we’ll admit to copying that from the App Store description. But the paper stuff works nicely if your brain’s not in maths mode.

Download iOrnament Crafter

Learn How to Make Origami

$1.99/£1.99 • v1.2 • 17.1 MB • By Andreas Bauer

This origami app is split into a guide – which outlines symbols and techniques – and models. There are 22 models in all – not a massive selection, but the classics are present and correct. With a small pile of paper and a couple of hours to spare, you’ll end up surrounded by boxes, birds, flowers, and festive ornaments.

For each model, you get a photograph of what you’re aiming for (which might sound obvious, but few apps do this). Then there are the steps, which are simply but clearly illustrated, and can be displayed individually or as a scrolling pane of thumbnails.

Given that the internet is awash with freely available origami tutorials – and the App Store has dozens of free origami apps – you might question buying one. But this app’s all about the experience. In other words, Learn How to Make Origami is really nice to use and therefore worth the outlay.

Download Learn How to Make Origami


$1.99/£1.99 • v1.3.0 • 39.6 MB • By Yatatoy

One for kids – or adults with a sense of play and fun – Drawnimal combines the alphabet, drawing and animals. For each letter, the app has you sketch a simple doodle, with your iPhone at the center. Once you’ve done this, tapping the screen brings an animal to life.

Like the entire Yatatoy catalog, Drawnimal is sweet-natured, looks superb, and has educational value. The combination of paper and iPhone works brilliantly. With ‘A’, for example, you draw a little spiked tail, protruding from the bottom of your iPhone. A tap and this comes alive as a cartoon alligator that snaps its huge jaws.

If there’s any downside to Drawnimal, it’s that you’ll go through reams of paper once a kid gets hold of the app – and won’t get your iPhone back for some time.

Download Drawnimal


$7.99/£7.99 • v1.6 • 54.6 MB • By Creaceed SPRL

Carbo brings handwritten ideas, notes and sketches into the digital age, but in a way that’s more useful than a straightforward scan. Initially, however, Carbo seems identical to an iPhone scanner – you snap a doodle, which is cropped and rendered more readable by fiddling around with contrast settings.

What happens next is the clever bit – Carbo converts the scan into digital artwork that can be edited. The tools you get are quite basic – a pen with three nibs, an eraser, and a selection lasso – and there’s no way of adding typed text to an image. However, the lasso is smart, intelligently selecting contiguous portions of a drawing for subsequent repositioning.

When you’re done, you can fine-tune your image’s stroke thickness, and there are visual styles to choose from (such as ‘Blackboard’ and ‘Blueprint’). Tagging and high-resolution exports round out an impressive app.

Download Carbo

Marvel — Design and Prototype

Free • v6.6.3 • 87.4 MB • By Marvel Prototyping LTD

Like Carbo, Marvel turns sketches into digital documents. But instead of notes and diagrams, Marvel focuses on app design.

On scanning in a set of sketches, you build up a slide deck. You then add tappable hot-spots, which during playback link to other slides, either instantly when tapped, or by way of an optional transition. The process is straightforward – you don’t need to know the slightest thing about app development to get started.

A drawback is the limitations imposed on imported images. They can only be replaced – not edited. This is a pity, because it’d be great if you could scribble over them and add text. There is, at least, a workaround: work with blank pages (+ > Create Design) and import your snaps into an image region you resize to fill the screen.

In any event, as an efficient way to get an app idea from sketchbook to iPhone, it works well, and the basic structure makes it suitable for other use cases, such as figuring out presentation flows on your iPhone, and non-linear storyboarding.

Download Marvel — Design and Prototype


Free • v1.5 • 4.3 MB • By Alexander Zolotov

This one’s deeply weird, providing a strange, compelling take on audio recording and playback. Given the iPhone’s digital nature, PhonoPaper is resolutely analog in an intriguing way.

You start by recording some audio using your iPhone’s microphone, which PhonoPaper turns into a kind of 2D audio barcode. This image is saved to Photos, and must be printed out. PhotoPaper is then used to scan – or ‘play’ – the paper, so you can hear the audio. Well, sort of.

The result often resembles an eerie soundtrack from an old science fiction TV show. Still, this means even the most mundane of recordings is potentially interesting, as you move your iPhone back and forth, catching glimpses of words and metallic echoes, and wondering if the app has a free play mode to scan everything nearby. (It does. It’s equally bonkers.)

Download PhonoPaper


Free • v1.0.6 • 24.9 MB • By Andy Drizen

As we’ve noted before, you’re well covered if you want to draw on your iPhone. But you can also use your smartphone as an aid to improve real-world drawing skills. The future is AR – with the likes of SketchAR you ‘trace’ what’s on your screen on to a sheet of paper. But the experience is currently glitchy. To that end, Arty’s traditional approach is a better bet.

With Arty, you load an image from your iPhone, and make basic adjustments – such as boosting contrast to bring out the lines. (The app’s built-in filters entitled ‘sketch’ and ‘outline’ are, alas, generally pretty useless.) The Grid and Compare tabs are then where you’ll spend your time.

The former places a grid over your image, which you can mirror on your paper. Tap Compare and you can hold your iPhone over your drawing, lining up a translucent version of your photo to see if you’re on track. It’s all simple stuff, but does the job nicely.

Download Arty