Gadgetell Review: FiftyThree Pencil

Sections: Accessories, Apple

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For the past year or so I’ve been using the FiftyThree Paper app on my iPad to doodle. It wasn’t until this summer that I got serious about learning to draw, but the timing couldn’t be better because I fell into possession of a Pencil, the smart stylus developed for a more productive drawing experience in Paper.

Surface Pressure

Surface Pressure

The stylus pairs with the application via bluetooth by touching the tip to the pairing spot in the tool bar. In three seconds, it’s connected. A more precision tip is just the tip of the iceberg. (Heh). What the stylus really offers is a more realistic digital drawing experience. When drawing with the Pencil, Palm Rejection allows you to lean your hand on the screen without interrupting your strokes. But you finger isn’t necessarily useless, either. With your fingers, or a regular stylus, you can blend your colors. Flip it around and you’ve got a real live eraser– no switching tools in the toolbar for an eraser. It’s worth noting that the pencil will be capable of Surface Pressure, the act of turning your pencil tip to the side for a wide line, when iOS 8 drops.

During a CE Week press conference, Co-Founder and CEO Georg Petschnigg introduced us to the complexity of the algorithms that create each minute effect in the Paper app. I can’t imagine what sorcery went into creating the Pencil, but I will say this: I’m impressed.


The pencil is sleek and easy to maneuver. The tip and eraser are standard stylus material with the sensors inside. The battery is attached to the tip, which pulls out and plugs directly into a USB port to charge. It takes about an hour to charge and last for a couple days. The tip is very soft, has a lot of give, and wears down until it needs to be replaced (spare tip and eraser included).  At about six inches in length, it’s perfect for carrying around in your pocket, tucking behind your ear, etc… Artists will appreciate the convenience.

Here’s a side-by-side view of the same picture drawn digitally and with a pencil and paper: Screen Shot 2014-07-10 at 11.27.23 AM


Getting into the nitty gritty, the Pencil is not overhyped. Going from a standard non-connected stylus to a Pencil is like walking through the gates of Heaven and being handed a beer by a pajama-clad Jesus. It cuts the effort of digital drawing in half and is so easy to use that you genuinely forget for minutes at a time that you’re not drawing with a real pencil/marker/pen/whatever. As with any piece of technology, the Pencil has its pros and cons:

Pro: The tip offers amazing precision.

Con: If angled awkwardly or not applied with enough pressure, the app won’t register the Pencil and will smudge the image as if you were blending with a finger. But, with the undo feature, this is a minor inconvenience.

Pro: Eraser tip. Total time saver.

Con: The eraser end is a little less precise and takes a lot of effort to use on a small detail.

Pro: Obviously with a digital drawing experience you won’t run out of ink, clutter your space with eraser shavings, or have to stop to sharpen your pencils. Every stroke is perfect.

Con: No value gradient! Changes in pressure don’t offer any differentiation in value of color when using the pencil tool. However, a value gradient can be achieved with a repeat shading technique. It might add a small amount of time to your project, but looks just as nice.

Con: Sometimes the app will just stop registering the tip at all, but I was usually able to wake it up by rage-doodling.

Pro: Rage doodles are inconsequential because you can undo them and hide the evidence of your frustration, unlike an IRL hissy fit.

Con: Drawing on the edges is a bit wonky and takes practice.


XJUdlrf8g1HP_CSxPC8CkcyttUlUhGKAKinA-K88DkAThe Pencil is awesome and so much fun to use. It’s sturdy and comes with a spare tip and eraser, so I estimate that I could use this pencil for years to come. As I develop my digital skills, and get as good as those talented jerks on Instagram, the Pencil will probably become my favorite art tool.

You can get the [easyazon-link asin=”B00JP12170″ locale=”us”]Pencil for $59.95[/easyazon-link], or [easyazon-link asin=”B00JP12300″ locale=”us”]$74.95[/easyazon-link] for the Walnut casing model, which also includes the capability of magnetic attachment to your iPad.

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