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

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

The best handwriting apps for iPad to jot down handwritten notes, sketch out ideas, and get things done that a keyboard just can't!

The iPad paired with a stylus can make a great not-taking alternative to traditional pen and paper. From writing out math problems to scribbling down ideas to taking notes, sometimes handwriting is just so much 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. And here are my favorites!


Notability for iPad not only lets you take handwritten notes but lets you record audio, import documents for editing and annotating, and so 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 the ability to annotate and mark up external documents, record audio, and have cross-platform support for iPhone all in one, get Notability.


Penultimate integrates into your existing Evernote account seamlessly. 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.

If you're an Evernote user and you don't need the ability to record audio notes, get Penultimate.


Noteshelf has the best interface and most extensive toolkit, from the way notebooks are organized to how you access pencils and brushes, and more. 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, and most likely be more than enough for the majority of users.

If you're more worried about interface and having options when it comes to paper choices and pen tips, get Noteshelf.

Paper by FiftyThree

Paper by FiftyThree isn't technically a handwriting app made for note taking but it can double as one. For users looking specifically for tools that handle detailed sketches or drawings, Paper is great. With options for different pen types and notebooks as well as advanced features such as color mixers and other markers, you can draw fine tuned drawings without ever picking up a pen. It's also available for free if you're okay with just the basic tools. For more advanced ones, you can choose what you'd like or buy kits as in-app purchases.

If you plan on doing a lot of sketching rather than note taking, get Paper by FiftyThree.

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. If you use something else, make sure to let us know that too!

Allyson Kazmucha

Editor for iMore, Potter pundit, and the ninja in your iOS

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There are 25 comments. Add yours.

Tim Watson says:

I'm curious if anyone has used Neu.notes+? It and Noteshelf were the runners up for my next sketch app.

wizard32843 says:

I used UPAD, and now GoodNotes. Both are pretty great as well.

evilgrimace says:

NotePlus. Just released their version 4.0 today.

langley182 says:

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

tdwatts3 says:

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.

AndresE says:

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!

pictor says:

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.

Pingaley says:

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.

Ides of Buster says:

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.

andrew.bennekamper says:

I'm pretty impressed with Note Anytime

sunhou says:

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.

albogs says:

I love UPAD. I don't understand how it's not on the top of this list.

burrtoe says:

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.

KtKathe says:

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.

sldramat says:

Why's nobody saying anything about Notesuite?

hytechlawyer says:

I have tried nearly all the available handwriting apps. My favorites are UPAD and Penultimate.

iSheni says:

Notesplus is the best handwriting app for heavy writing..

iSheni says:


jimmyapp says:

I'd recommend Noteshelf. Here is review on this and some other apps-

edm60 says:

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.

samwinona says:

Upad clearly belongs at the head of the list.

Cuong_Nguyen says:

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.

TroyKirin says:

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

Jeffrey Weimer says:

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.