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Prefer your notes as a freeform mix of words and sketches? Then a regular note-taking app won’t cut it for you. You’ll need a reliable stylus instead—and a digital handwriting app to go with it.
We’ve already shared some awesome stylus pencils for iPad and iPhone. Today, we’ll help you find a great handwriting app to use it on.
Do You Use Apple Notes?
If you’re an Apple Notes user, you might want to explore the app’s in-built handwriting and sketching features before you hunt for other apps. The same goes for OneNote users.
For Evernote fans, Penultimate (from the same developers) is likely a solid solution for you.
Now let’s take a look at five worthy note-taking apps you can experiment with. Four of them are free!
Paper is a polished app. It gives you three default notebooks or “journals” to begin with. Browse through the one named Paper Tools for a quick walkthrough of the drawing tools you’ll find in the app. Tap any of the journal pages to see these tools in action and try them out for yourself.
To open a journal, tap on it. If you want to return to the main view, get there by closing the journal with a pinch. Want to adjust stylus settings? You’ll find those and other app settings hidden behind the slider icon at the top-right on any view.
It’s nice to have a visual way to identify a journal. That’s where the journal cover comes in. You can pick from one of the eight color options available for it.
Upgrade to Paper Pro ($8 for six months) and you get some stunning cover options, complete with beautiful colors, patterns, and gradients. But that’s not all.
The premium version also includes custom covers and unlimited color swatches, for starters. It also comes with a special feature that lets you turn free-flowing lines into precise lines and shapes.
Download: Paper (Free, subscription available)
2. Inkflow Visual Notebook
Inkflow doesn’t look as fancy as Paper, but it does the job. It allows you to intersperse your sketches with text and photos. What’s more, you can move and resize all of it easily with the marquee-select tool.
Not a fan of the plain white background for notebooks? You can switch it out with blank or ruled paper, grid lines, or music staff. Look under the Stationery section of the Share menu to find these options. (This menu also hides export and tweet buttons.)
If you don’t mind sticking to black scribbles in your notebooks, the starter version of Inkflow is a rather nice option. But if you want to make your notebooks colorful, you’ll need Inkflow Plus ($10). It adds a color palette, paint brushes, and custom paper backgrounds, among other features.
Another point worth mentioning is that notebooks have a cap of 20 pages each in the free version. But you don’t have to worry about running out of notebooks—you can create as many as you like!
Download: Inkflow Visual Notebook (Free, premium version available)
— Ian-Simeon (@IanDaves) April 11, 2018
You’ll find a handful of robust paid apps that allow you to take notes and annotate PDFs on your iPad with a stylus. We’ve chosen Notability for the glowing reviews it receives everywhere on the web. That it’s designed to work with the Apple Pencil is a big point in its favor (check out the best Apple Pencil accessories to make yours even better).
What kind of maneuvering can you do with Notability? For starters, you can write, type, annotate, and most importantly, draw. This drawing includes creating precise and free-form shapes, move objects around, add color, and more.
Need the option to import content, convert handwriting to text, and backup/share to cloud services? The app can do all three. It’s also handy that the app allows you to work on two notes side-by-side and search for handwritten notes.
Notability is versatile, which implies an abundance of features. Don’t let them overwhelm you. Explore them one by one and you should soon have the hang of them. Scan the default notebook that outlines all the app’s features in case you need a little help.
If you don’t mind paying for one of these digital handwriting apps, you should consider these three Notability alternatives as well:
Download: Notability ($10)
Apple’s Pages app might seem like the odd one out in this mix because note-taking is not its primary function. Apple Notes is made for that.
But since Pages comes bundled with good text and drawing tools, there’s no reason why you can’t use it for note-taking. On the smaller screen of an iPhone, it probably makes more sense to use Pages for casual note-taking than for word processing. Typing up documents is better done on an iPad (or a Mac).
Like the other apps in this list, Pages allows you to type, sketch, import/export data, share notes, and annotate PDFs. You can also add shapes, audio, equations, charts, and tables.
To test out the drawing tools, first create a new Pages document and tap the Plus button in the toolbar. Next, switch to the last tab (Media) and tap on Drawing. You’ll then see a blank canvas within your document and a lineup of drawing tools at the bottom. Feel free to play around with them.
5. Bamboo Paper
This free, iPad-only app has been around for a while. It comes from Wacom, the Bamboo stylus maker. You don’t need one of Wacom’s proprietary styluses to use the app, but it does promise a better handwriting experience within the app.
Bamboo Paper assures precision in your drawings and comes with a handful of brushes to add nuance to your sketches. It could well turn out to be your go-to sketching tool if you’re a creative.
As you would expect from any decent handwriting app, you have options to add text and photos to your notes. You can also export your notes to cloud services and social networking sites.
If you often jump between platforms, you’ll find Bamboo Paper on Android and Windows tablets as well. Don’t worry about losing the ability to edit or quality of your sketches when you move between platforms—you won’t.
Since your notes automatically get backed up to Inkspace, Wacom’s cloud backup service, you can go right ahead and focus on the note-taking part.
Also keep an eye out for the Bamboo Note app that’s set to launch.
Download: Bamboo Paper (Free, premium version available)
Take Note With Your iPhone
There’s a perfect digital handwriting app out there for you. List your personal must-have features before you go looking for it. The roundup above is a good place as any to begin your search.
And to complement your notes, make sure you also use iPhone reminders efficiently.