Best handwriting note apps for iPad: Notability, Penultimate, Noteshelf, and more!

Best handwriting note apps for iPad

Looking for the best iPad apps to help you scribble out handwritten notes? The iPad paired with a stylus can make a great note-taking alternative to traditional pen and paper. From writing out math problems to sketching out a design, sometimes handwriting is just more natural and efficient than typing with a keyboard. If text editing apps don't get the job done, hand-writing note taking apps might. But what handwriting note apps for iPad are the absolute best?


Best handwriting note apps for iPad: Notability

Notability for iPad not only lets you take handwritten notes but lets you record audio, import documents for editing and annotating, and much more. With many different pen styles, thicknesses, and editing tools, there's something for every situation. The palm rest feature of Notability also lets you rest your palms on the edges of the screen without getting unwanted marks on the document you're working on. Zoom mode in Notability is unmatched by others and moves on its own as you write for much more accurate results. Notability is also a universal download for iPhone and iPad and contains several syncing options including Dropbox and Google Drive so your notes are always in sync across devices.

If you need a great all around note taking app that offers flexible sync options and an iPhone app all in one, check out Notability.


Best handwriting note apps for iPad: Penultimate

Penultimate comes standard with graph, lined, and plain paper choices with options to pick up additional types as in-app purchases. There's no audio option, but you can also open your sketches or notes in third party apps including Evernote, Notability, Dropbox, Box, iBooks, and more. Penultimate integrates into your existing Evernote account so all your notebooks and sketches are available to you no matter which app you launch.

If you're an Evernote user and don't need iPhone support or the ability to record audio notes, Penultimate is worth a try.


Best handwriting note apps for iPad: Noteshelf

Noteshelf has a gorgeous interface that puts all the tools you need only a tap away. From the way notebooks are organized to how you access pencils and brushes, Noteshelf provides an amazing user experience. Noteshelf also has several export options including Dropbox, email, iTunes, Camera Roll, Evernote, and more. While many other note apps making you purchase additional styles of pens and papers, Noteshelf gives you a ton right off the bat that will be more than enough for the majority of users.

For a great user experience and lots of pen and paper options without any additional cost, look no further than Noteshelf.

Notes Plus

Best handwriting note apps for iPad: Notes Plus

Notes Plus manages to pack a huge punch into a user friendly and clean interface. One of the staple features of Notes Plus is the accuracy and clarity of handwritten notes, which also comes complete with protection against accidental marks by integrating a versatile palm rest. Notes Plus also supports audio notes, shapes, PDF annotation, automatic backup via Dropbox, left-handed mode, and much more.

If you want a clean interface packed with features, Notes Plus is what you want.

TopNotes Pro

Best handwriting note apps for iPad: Top Notes Pro

TopNotes Pro, like Noteshelf, is a beautifully designed notes app that lets you doodle and scribble while saving all your creations in beautiful digital shelves. You can password protect any notebook you'd like for additional protection if you'd like. TopNotes Pro also features wrist protection to help prevent accidental marks from your palm. You can also edit, annotate, and complete fillable PDFs in TopNotes Pro. To achieve even finer detail, TopNotes Pro features a magnification feature as well. Before you hand your iPad to someone else, you can enter read only mode so no edits are made unintentionally. The only down side I could find to TopNotes Pro is that it doesn't appear to support shapes.

For a great user experience combined with password protection, read only mode, and fillable PDF support, give TopNotes Pro a try.

Your picks for best handwriting apps for iPad?

These are our favorite apps when it comes to sketching, doodling, and jotting down handwritten notes on the iPad. If you use any of the above, let us know in the comments what made you pick it over the others. If you use something else, make sure to let us know that too!

Note: Originally published, August 2013. Updated, June 2014.

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Allyson Kazmucha

Senior editor for iMore. I can take apart an iPhone in less than 6 minutes. I also like coffee and Harry Potter more than anyone really should.

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Best handwriting note apps for iPad


This is the one I use for school. Great app and awesome tech support via their website. I would highly recommend them.

I have been using Notes Plus for a couple of years now. Hands down, it has been the best note taking app. I wasted money on several apps before buying Notes Plus.

I have been a long time user as well (since version 2.0) and it always amazes me how an app this feature rich that works so well is always ignored and snubbed on the "Best Of" list. When you check out the comments though it gets a lot of support. Great app and now its even better!

Yep. V3 was an amazing app, but some awkward UI elements. A lot of that has been cleaned up now, and it seems like a true rockstar app. It's a bit pricier than the other...but pricier is still less than $10 for crying out loud. It's a superb app.

I have tried all the ones mentioned, and I feel that Notes Plus is by far the best Note Taking App out there. With the new Evernote Jot Script (which supposedly works only on Bluetooth 4.0 enabled Ipads), it even works on my Ipad 2 which is only Bluetooth 2.1+EDR and I find it now an even better Note Taking App.

I do notice though that Penultimate has managed to considerably reduce the smudges caused by my palm resting on the ipad screen in their latest version, though their lack of magnification, is still a problem. I feel if Notes Plus can just about bring their palm rejection to the same level as Penultimate, then it will be the best.

Penultimate just updated this month to a new version that is horrid. Completely new format for everything. Everyone is complaining. And the palm rejection works worse... To top it off, what few palm marks show up now can't even be erased. I will have to try Notes Plus now. Thanks for all the info.

Over the past year, I have used Notability for a variety of writing and sketching needs, from illustrating connections between components of my new media system to recording and note taking during seminar sessions.

Notability 5 is a worthwhile improvement over the previous version. A few observations:

* The app's slightly improved appearance shows minor hints of iOS 7 influences.

* The menu appears less cluttered, and it is easier to discern which elements are Dividers and which are Subjects in the library sidebar.

* The palm rest finally works smoothly and reliably for me.

* The Note icon in the library now sports a tiny blue mic, instead of a red dot, to indicate a saved audio recording. (When I first began using Notability, I thought the red dot on the Note icon meant that the document had exceeded an obscure file size threshold.)

* Also, the Settings panel layout is much improved as well and easier to navigate.

I'm not motivated to try iCloud sync between my iPad and iPod touch; using Notability on an iPhone or iPod touch just doesn't work for me. I do save some Notes to my WebDAV folder on Files Anywhere; however, I do find it easier and faster for me to backup most of my files to iTunes.

I use Note Taker HD in the classroom as a whiteboard/chalkboard replacement (I'm a professor). I pre-load it with some PDFs containing examples, then work through the examples by writing on the iPad (which is connected to a projector -- tethered, unfortunately, since our campus blocks the protocol used by AirPlay). At the end of each class, I post a PDF of everything I wrote onto my course web site, so we all have a record of what we actually did, including any examples I made up in response to student questions.

I picked Note Taker HD after trying many apps (Notes Plus was a close contender) because it has a zoomed region for writing (essential), could import/export PDF, and the handwriting when zoomed is the most responsive/fluid out of the apps I tried.

UPAD and Noteshelf have the smoothest and most accurate handwriting capture capability. The others have similar features but don't accurately capture the stylus movements on the screen.

UPAD is the best by far. I did a research a time ago and tried many note taking, handwriting apps and Upad has it all. Its simple but complete, elegant. I'd recommend this app for anyone at university or work. Its excellent for PDF documents.

For me it is ZoomNotes every time. Its got all the standard features and lots more that you didn't know you needed until you try them (like it's 'sub-documents'). Infinite zoom leaves you pretty much unrestricted when sketching out ideas. Bookmarks are a slick idea too - mark areas of your document which are relevant and then play them back in a presentation mode. Its image support and editing is good too.

Have you guys try Notes Plus? It should be on top of the list. All of the tools above are decent app but I find Notes Plus suite my style the most in term of Organising notebooks, Synchronising my notes to the cloud and most of all, it makes me feel in love with my handwriting :) I enjoy writing on my iPad even more than on paper :) the only one downsite of Notes Plus is its high price, but it has helped me way more than 9.99 bucks I gave in the first place.

I do not like Notes Plus....the features al all rich and everything but the flow of the app is horrendous to me... like moving notebooks and navigation though it! Also I use an iPad 2 which may be the problem but the app is so laggy and slow! I can actually see a good half second of delay when I write on the app. Also the app sometimes has to render my pages for a few seconds before I can see my text and everything.....overall looks like a great app but doesn't serve its functionality very well. I use goodnotes now

I've been testing a number of writing apps on my iPad 3 with a stylus. I care absolutely nothing about PDF annotation or sketching. I just want an app that does well to replace paper memos and paper brainstorming notes. In no particular order ...

-- pros: Evernote sync; add images
-- cons: no shapes, text, audio; no wrist guard
UPAD (Lite)
-- pros: moveable tool bar; add shapes, text, images; wrist guard; good ink capture; magnifier
-- cons: abandoned by developer?!?!
-- pros: wrist guard; add text, images; reasonable ink capture; magnifier
-- no shapes
-- pros: wrist guard, add images
-- cons: lags in ink capture; no size numbers on pen size (irreproducible line sizes)
-- pros: wrist guard; add text, pictures
-- cons: lags in ink capture; limited UI
Bamboo Paper
-- pros: add pictures, good ink capture
-- cons: no shapes, audio, text; no wrist guard
-- pros: add text, audio, pictures
-- cons: no wrist guard, poor ink capture
-- pros: toolbar on side
-- cons: no wrist guard, poor ink capture, lags in tool selections
DoAs (Lite)
-- pros: great tool set, wrist guard
-- cons: lags and sputters during ink capture
ZoomNotes (Lite)
-- pros: exceptionally feature rich sets of tools, smooth ink capture
-- cons: cluttered UI, shape recognition mis-fires

I have yet to test Notability and GoodNotes.

With the apps without wrist guards (Penultimate, Bamboo Paper, Notebook+, INKredible), I always leave sloppy markings on the page where my wrist touches the screen. They also have tools at the bottom that inadvertently get bumped and send me off page.

I wish key toolbars can be positioned on the sides (UPAD, INKredible, ZoomNotes). Reaching up and over a page to grab a new tool is cumbersome.

I am leaning toward ZoomNotes as the tool of choice.

Thanks for this top!
I always wonder why there is so many handwriting notes app. Some are really good (Paper is awesome) but why take handwritten notes on a tablet rather than paper?
I think that handwriting apps alone are limited because what you can do with your notes is very limited: view or share. So the only added value in comparison to paper is the sharing possibility, which is almost useless since not everybody can read your calligraphy…
I take notes for business so I prefer using a business tool such as Beesy, which handle simple handwriting notes to add comments on pictures or website screenshots, but also deals with all other project management issues. I think it’s the most relevant use of handwriting feature you can make… (You can also use a more classic note taking tool or project management app in addition with a handwriting app).

I've tried all of these and Notability is the clear winner for me. I love the fact that the audio syncs with what you were writing at the time, like a whiteboard app.

The ability to import webpages, shapes, and photos is also super useful. With Google Drive, it will even convert any Office file into a PDF that you can annotate.

I used Notability for my grad classes two years ago. I haven;t used it much since then. I do use Paper by 53 for work though a lot. It is great for diagramming, writing down meeting notes, sketching out elevations, etc.

I settled on Noteshelf a while back, when iMore did their first comparison post. I will look at Notes Plus though.

For me it was harder to find a stylus I liked than an app to write on. I don't type well, so I'm old school hand written. I tried all the big name styli, and I settled on the one from Hand, which I picked up when they were a Kickstarter project. It has the finest point and its easiest to use. It works more like a real pen than any of the others I used.

I'll look forward to an updated review of styli.

None of them the tactile response or feedback enough for me.
All have slow ink flow, and those with wrist guards, are less the perfect.
I have given up on my iPad in the note taking arena.
I have been taking not way too long and nothing comes close to actual pen and paper.

I wish someone would do a run down on the best styluses so I can use these apps more. I would also love to draw on my iPad but don't like traditional styluses and want to know more about some of these finer point ones on the market before I drop coin on one.

I probably should read thru this more carefully, but can all these apps use a stylus when taking notes? And does one work better than the others when it comes to hand writing recognition?


I don't do much handwriting on the iPad, since none I have tried do a good job of making my already sloppy penmanship legible. It may be because true Wacom digitizer support is lacking. I use old fashioned pen and paper then scan my notes into Evernote using Readdle's awesome Scanner Pro app.

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This article and the subsequent comments have been very interesting and helpful. I have tried a few apps for annotating PDFs and they were so terrible I have deleted them and can't remember the names, but none of the above ring a bell. I find it really frustrating having to pay for apps then evaluating them and finding them unsatisfactory - I wish it was possible to evaluate for 30 days free as a standard protocol. Anyway - my actual question is which of the recommended apps here sync successfully with OneDrive?