FiftyThree: Bringing Traditional Design Into the Digital Age
FiftyThree is changing the landscape of digital designs with Paper, Pencil & Mix.

Printing Ninja

A blank sheet of paper is an amazing thing.

Sure it might not look too exciting at first glance, but a sheet of paper offers something almost no other tool can: limitless possibilities.

That, combined with the intuitive nature of using a pencil and paper to jot down notes, sketch mockups and brainstorm ideas, was why four technology gurus from Seattle decided to bring the simplicity of paper to the digital age.

“They realized that no matter how sophisticated technology became, when they first sat down to brainstorm, they always went back to a pencil and paper,” said FiftyThree Chief Publicist, Rachel Romano. “And they found that they weren’t the only ones.”

FiftyThree Inc. Co-Founders Georg Petschnigg, Andrew Allen, Jon Harris and Julian Walker

FiftyThree Inc. Co-Founders Georg Petschnigg, Andrew Allen, Jon Harris and Julian Walker

After launching FiftyThree Inc. in 2011, Co-Founders Georg Petschnigg, Andrew Allen, Jon Harris and Julian Walker got to work using their extensive expertise in technology, design and communications to change the way people create.

And in March of 2012, that change occurred with the release of their first app, so perfectly named after the ultimate inspiration – Paper.


After release, Paper made an immediate impact on the digital design scene.

Winning Apple’s coveted “App of the Year” for 2012 and gaining the acclaim and praise of countless art and technology publications, Paper became the go-to app for people looking to create beautiful digital designs.

Paper provides users with the limitless options of a blank sheet of paper.

“From the beginning, the idea has always been to give people the tools to express themselves,” Romano said. “Paper is where ideas begin. It is a blank canvas, a white board, whatever you need it to be to begin your creative process.”

Providing users with only the essential design tools, the FiftyThree team designed Paper to be as seamless as possible.

Incorporating traditional draw, sketch and outline tools along with a few features of their own, Paper was an easy transition for users who typically use the traditional paper and pencil as well as other digital design products.

Paper combines incredible functionality with eloquent beauty.

Two years and more than ten million downloads later, Paper is one of the world’s top and most popular productivity apps. And users have taken their use of Paper way beyond doodling and note taking.

Of those millions, one user is world-renowned architect Daniel Libeskind. Recently at Apple’s 2014 World Wide Developer Conference, Libeskind described the sense of using Paper as “a sense of freedom, a sense of emancipation from technology. It allows you to communicate as if directly from your heart, from your soul — it’s just part of you.”

Architect Daniel Libeskind using Paper at Apple's WWDC 2014.

Architect Daniel Libeskind using Paper at Apple’s WWDC 2014.

“We have doctors who sketch things out to better communicate with their patients, teachers who use it in their classrooms, business professionals who use it to create presentations and so much more,” Romano said.

However, despite the enormous success of Paper, the FiftyThree founders never intended to stop there in their quest to help people create.


A blank sheet of paper provides the canvas, but the pencil is what gives the ideas life.

Pencil is FiftyThree's beautifully crafted stylus that perfectly pairs with Paper.

Encouraging users to “Think With Your Hands,” Pencil was launched by FiftyThree in November of 2013 and is the perfect complement to the intuitiveness and simplicity provided by Paper.

Although almost all existing styluses are modeled after pens, FiftyThree created Pencil to be just that – a pencil.

Pencil provides the normal capabilities that you would expect from a pencil.

Not only does Pencil gives users a natural, comfortable tool to create their ideas, but the stylus come complete with all the normal capabilities you would expect.

Don’t like what you came up with or made a small mistake? Just flip Pencil over and start erasing. Use the surface pressure and blend tools to give your sketches depth, all while Pencil’s palm rejection allows you freedom to rest your hand on the screen – just like you naturally would on paper.

Pencil's gambit of tools includes surface pressure, erasing, palm rejection and blending.

“Your finger can only get you so far,” Romano said. “And when you are first starting your design, you naturally want to be using a tool that will help you get the job done.”


The Web is full of inspiration, but the possibilities to immediately interact with that inspiration is extremely limited.

FiftyThree’s latest product, Mix, is an extremely cutting-edge, collaborative design tool that allows users to take other users designs and add their own creative touch.

“We wanted to connect inspiration with action in a way that we have never seen done before,” Romano said.

Operating within Paper, users can browse designs that have been submitted by other users. Then, with a simple tap, Paper opens with that design ready for creative expansion. Then that design can be submitted again for another user to build upon with their own ideas.

Although Mix is currently only available by signing up for an invitation, FiftyThree is planning to open it up to the entire public toward the end of October. Mix also will be available on the Web for users who do not have access to the Paper app.

Beautiful designs from beautiful products

What started with a desire to help people create has turned into a suite of apps that has changed the landscape of digital design.

FiftyThree Inc.With only three years of being on the market, FiftyThree has taken app quality and usability to the next level.

“Everything we do, and you can instantly tell from when you walk into our offices or sit in on a meeting, is all about our users,” Romano said. “We focus on what we want to give people, what is it they’re responding to and thinking of what tools and services we can build to best enhance their creativity.”

Our take? These tools are flat out cool. FiftyThree has managed to incorporate everything needed to to bring traditional style, paper and pencil designing into the digital age. If you have not checked out Paper, Pencil or Mix, you are really missing out.

Looking to start creating right now? Paper is freely available for Apple users.

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About the Author
Kenny Austin is an expert of print quality and accuracy, product analysis, and print production processes.
Kenny and the team order print jobs from every major printer to test quality, value, customer service, and more. See their reviews here:


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