Compulsive doodlers like me miss the good old days of paper, pens and white space for random scratches. Laptops, tablets and smartphones have almost done away with the need for handwritten notes — at least in meetings — and have likely decreased the amount of global doodling by half (totally my guess). Platforms such as Paper and Doodle.ly, though, are helping to revive this creative (or time-wasting) impulse.
I’ve been using the Doodle.ly iPad app and social network (you can draw directly on the website) for more than a year. Its simplicity — lack of tools, no zoom, layers, fixed aspect ratio — was part of its appeal. The Doodle.ly sketchpad was the closest thing I had to real pen and paper. Unlike pad and paper, though, Doodle.ly has always offered almost unlimited undos.
Now Doodle.ly has overhauled the drawing platform with a sharper, completely reorganized interface. It offers key new features that, while keeping it well away from power-house tools like SketchBook Pro, add welcome options and help for doodlers who felt constrained by the limits of the iPad canvas.
Doodle.ly 2.0 adds pinch-and-zoom, along with realistic media options that include pens, markers, and crayons. When you draw with them, it looks like you’re putting real pen, crayon, pen or marker to paper. There’s even some interesting kinematics: When I drew quickly with the pencil, the line was hard at the start, but trailed off at the end. If I drew the line steadily, not changing my speed as I moved, the line was consistent.
Each of the media, all of which are now consistently visible, has its own limited color set. There are few options here: The pencil draws in shades of gray and the crayon offers just eight colors — not exactly a “Box of 64” options. As long as you understand this is a doodle platform — and not an art tool — the limited selections shouldn’t bother you too much.
The addition of zoom is notable — it takes Doodle.ly one step closer to being a real drawing app. Before this update, the page remained fixed and you couldn’t zoom to adjust fine details of your doodle. With pinch-and-zoom, now you can get almost pixel-close. This works well for drawing, but is less effective on the eraser tool. Part of this is because there’s no thickness adjustment for any of Doodle.ly’s tools. However, the larger problem is that the eraser’s size is not relative. If you zoom all the way in, the eraser’s mark is just as large as when you were zoomed out. That makes it hard to remove thin lines in more-detailed doodles.
Doodle.ly, which is free to download, is a social tool. If you publish what you draw, the community can see and vote on it. In Doodle.ly’s initial launch, this was the only way to preserve your artwork.
The new Doodle.ly adds the ability to publish doodles to a private photo library, so only you can see your handiwork. The feature is not obvious, though: you have to hold down the “Publish” button to save to Doodle.ly or to your own Photo Library. You can also publish directly to Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr, or copy, email, even attach your doodles to messages. It’s a lot of sharing flexibility.
Doodle.ly also lets you follow other doodlers. You’ll see their drawings in your feed, and you can use the Gallery buttons to see popular drawings (those that have a lot of Likes) and the latest drawing from everyone on the network.
A word about those Likes: Doodle.ly is, as of now, still a small network, so building Likes is difficult. As a social network, it can be vaguely unsatisfying. To that end, Doodle.ly has revamped its social notification process. With the previous version, I had noticed that I never knew when someone had liked my Doodles until I had dug into my profile — which was hard to find. Now, with the redesigned interface, the profile is easier to access and notifications should show up when I get Likes and followers. Since I was testing a beta of the new app, I couldn’t see this new feature in action.
Despite the limitations — you still can’t doodle in portrait mode — and its small social network, I still like Doodle.ly. I hope this update expands its network and makes it a far more vibrant doodling playground.