AD App Guide: Morpholio Trace

ArchDaily’s Architecture App Guide will introduce you to web and mobile apps that can help you as an architect: productivity, inspiration, drafting, and more.

Today we introduce you Morpholio Trace, an intuitive  drafting tool that brings one of the most frequent tools from our desk to a mobile touch device: the tracing paper. The app, developed by our friends from The Morpholio Project, lets you draw on top of images (imported from your camera or other sources) as if you were using tracing paper. A collapsible menu provides you basic set of  tools (add more layers, choose from two colours, three widths, save) that enable you to to draft, sketch and review. No fancy fatures, just what you need. Functional minimalism that is not often found in many apps, related to the architectural background of Trace’s creators.

Trace, essential to any design or creative process, allows users to instantly draw on top of imported images or background templates, layering comments or ideas to generate immediate, intelligent sketches that are easy to circulate.  

I tested the app, which is available at the App Store, and it was very intuitive to use. I used it with both my fingers and with a my Pogo Sketch pen, and it was very easy to grab a photo, put a tracing paper on top of it, start sketching on different layers and send it via email.

The app won’t replace the good old tracing paper we have in our boards, but will rather extend its functions and make it more collaborative.

More info from the creators after the break.

My sketch on top of a photo of the British Museum I took a few weeks ago

Trace explores the role of technology in the conceptual phase of the design workflow through a digital version of trace paper, and fosters communication amongst a global design culture. Trace, essential to any design or creative process, allows users to instantly draw on top of imported images or background templates, layering comments or ideas to generate immediate, intelligent sketches that are easy to circulate.

Courtesy of Morpholio
Courtesy of

The uniqueness of Trace is most visible in two primary modes.  One is communication, in which the user can simply trace over something in order to give feedback or convey information quickly, and graphically. The second is idea exploration. “You are plugging yourself into a recursive feedback loop, as you iteratively build up an idea, taking several passes at it,” says co-creator Mark Collins. Both allow creative cultures to maintain conceptual thinking as well as critical feedback throughout the design process.

Courtesy of Morpholio

Created by architects, Trace addresses a number of questions about how the proliferation of device culture, social networking, and cloud technology are changing the way designers work and connect on a daily basis.  It has been predicted that in 2020, there will be 50 billion mobile internet connections worldwide, the equivalent of seven devices per person.  It is crucial that experimentation and research that harnesses the power of these devices, and makes tools specifically for the design and creative fields, occur in tandem with this rapid evolution of culture and process.

Sketch based on AD logo, courtesy of Mark Collins

Time Tested Process + New Technology

What are the origins of an idea? How do we layer thoughts to create a generative workflow? How do we use memory as a way of distilling the most important decisions?  Those that have ever used trace paper know that the drawings you create are unique in multiple ways. “The layers of paper literally act like a brain.” says Collins, “They allow for remembering (by retracing) and forgetting (by adding new layers).” “These sketches are indebted to the many layers of thought from which they evolve, and inherently become a drawing that represents the sum of your most important ideas.” says Co-Creator Jeffrey Kenoff.  “For any creative culture, drawing on trace is just a different act, serving as a tool for generating ideas, communicating feedback and allowing one to truly think freely.”

Sketch courtesy of Ahmed
Sketch courtesy of Ahmed Elhusseiny

Other Evolutions in Design Culture

In the architectural world, trace can also be seen as an antidote to the prevailing digital model based design process, including parametric modeling and BIM (Building Information Modeling).  The ease of creating automated or data based models can lead to a bypassing of crucial steps in the conceptual process, particularly if forced to be far too specific, far too early.  Design tools should dis-inhibit through freedom and flexibility – something most CAD tools could strive further towards.  It is a goal of the Morpholio Project to make software that opens up exploration and super-charges the creative brain, keeping constant the various streams of valuable feedback.  “The emphasis is on design processes that are reflective and conceptual versus merely iterative.” says Co-Creator Anna Kenoff.  Trace argues that it is valuable to take sketches out of CAD programs, draw on top of them; analyzing intention, concept, or diagram, and then plug them back in.  “Whereas BIM software improves production optimization, the Trace software is about assisting and evolving design process traditions by exploring new relationships between brain, hand, and technology.” says Co-Creator Toru Hasegawa.

Sketch courtesy of James Kehl

How Trace Works

The Trace App is beautifully simple, intelligently clean and familiar in its canary yellow background. It begins with a single page on which to sketch and allows for a variety of underlays, including templates, photos, or any imagery pulled from the cloud. From the first line it provides effortless access to a variety of simple functions. The key function however is the “New Trace Layer” button, which allows a user to take their sketch and add another sheet, then another, and another until the idea or sketch is built to its final stages. With each layer the user can adjust the opacity to either highlight or hide the information behind it.  “Tracing over something is absolutely the foundation of the app,” says Hasegawa, “Layers of trace paper are not the same as “layers” in Photoshop or other tools.  Here, they are the stacking of ideas, as opposed to the organizing of files.”

Courtesy of Morpholio

In addition to using trace to build an idea, the app simplifies many other forms of feedback in the design process. The software imagines gathering information such as field conditions, construction photos, contact sheets, or sourcing imagery, and streamlining the process of editing, commenting and communicating instantly in sketches with an efficiency that words alone cannot achieve.  Trace will also be integrated with the Morpholio app which works off the portfolio model to create an interactive platform in which to present, share and critique imagery. Morpholio’s groundbreaking “Eye Time” functions combine with a global community of users to provide invaluable feedback on work shared through its variably public arenas: Crit, Pinup, and Community.  Trace expands upon Morpholio’s notion that that feedback is the most invaluable and generative resource for designers, and further propels crucial design processes into the cloud era.

Download Morpholio Trace from the App Store (iPad)

Cite: Basulto, David. "AD App Guide: Morpholio Trace" 25 Sep 2012. ArchDaily. Accessed 25 Oct 2014. <http://www.archdaily.com/?p=276327>
  • Tomas Faria

    muito bom !

  • mos

    Is a stylus recommended? If so does anyone suggest a preferred stylus such as the bamboo??

    • http://www.ronenbekerman.com Ronen Bekerman

      The Bamboo is best, I used it and now use the Bamboo Duo (with actual pen on the other site for sketch on real paper too).

  • http://www.archdaily.com David Basulto

    mos, not necessarily. It does improve the experience. I used the Pogo Sketch pen.

  • Skylar Kitchen

    What is she using for tape?

    • Morey

      They’re called dots. Found at art supply stores in a neat little package that automatically feeds them to you quickly, but not as quickly as in the video… :)

  • http://www.ronenbekerman.com Ronen Bekerman

    I wish there were more colors and maybe a pencil like strokes too – not just solid color / ink.

  • Javan Chapple

    What tape? From the video? Those are drafting dots, and “she” sure has some hairy arms. Lol

    This app is amazing! I’ve been playing with it all day, and while I’ve preferred white trace paper over the yellow (wish that was an option) it’s really impressive how helpful this app is. It’s simplicity at first seems like a limitation, but instead proved quite useful because it forces you to commit to any decision you make (no changing lower layers) which broke down that blank page mental block and really got the ideas to pour out. I will most likely be using this app on a regular basis, thanks for sharing David!

  • therkitekt

    For a little more the price you can download SketchBook Pro for iPhone or Android, which functions and looks far better than this. Morpholio is a nice idea, but really from a purely functional view, Sketchpad runs more seamlessly and provides a greater accuracy of drawing.

    Furthermore, you can then export your drawings to the full PC/Mac platform and refine your drawings into true digital drawings.

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  • Alfiya Karimova

    You should review and write more articles about applications. It could be so useful for your readers!

  • Alexi

    When can I get this on Android?