Courtesy Morpholio

The programming savvy designers behind New York–based Morpholio Apps have released another tool for Trace (iOS, free), the app they first released in 2012, to encourage individuals to sketch and ideate on their iPads. Stencil allows creatives to do exactly what its name implies, but on a digital platform: Overlay a graphic cutout atop a drawing, fill it with any color or color gradient, slide the template over, and repeat.

But what makes Stencil noteworthy—and patent pending—is its ability to generate a custom cutout from any image, photograph, or illustration, beyond the supplied 160 stencils that come with the app. This cutout could be a common architectural symbol, a decorative pattern to be repeated as wallpaper, or an image unique to a client, individual, brand, or place that can become a super graphic when stenciled atop a rendering.


To create a custom stencil, users snap a photo with their mobile device, adjust the contrast or invert the image, and convert it into a stencil with the tool. The stencil can be saved for future use. The tool also allows user to create stencils from any JPG, PNG, or PDF file in their file archive or saved in the cloud. Once set atop a drawing, the stencil can be filled with any of Trace’s colors palettes, created by New York–based graphic design firm MTWTF, using any of Trace's eight brushes.

The drawn stencil can be exported as a PDF or image file. If the stencil aligns with the scale registration of the Trace “paper,” or drawing board, then the image can be exported on a 1:1 printing scale, says Morpholio co-creator Toru Hasegawa.

Courtesy Morpholio


Although the Stencil tool is simple in concept and usability, creating the tool presented its challenges. “It’s a balance of not just converting an analog technique into digital, but also adding in the extra pixel magic dust along the way,” Hasegawa says. Programming the stencil to be used as easily as ruler or triangle was less about the logistics of coding, but more about thinking through an intuitive user interface, he adds. “Designing the interface [to behave] in an expected way is the ultimate goal and challenge—removing all the mental friction to [allow users] to focus on the content at hand.”

The Stencil tool’s 160 pre-made silhouettes comprise: 25 people, 26 trees, 13 plants and bushes, 13 symbols and annotations, 11 patterns, 18 cars, 38 chair types, five kitchens, and 11 bathrooms.

In March, Morpholio released ScalePen, a feature that allows designers to control line weights easily in Trace.

Courtesy Morpholio