Best note-taking apps for iPad and Apple Pencil 2023

iPad Pro 2021 Hero
(Image credit: Christine Romero-Chan / Future)

The iPad, whether you have the latest regular iPad, an iPad Air, the highly portable iPad mini, or Pro model, is great for taking notes at work or school. That's because all of these iPads have support for the Apple Pencil (version depends on your iPad model), allowing you to take handwritten notes and even sketch things out when necessary with ease. But to do that, you also need the best note apps for Apple Pencil. Here are some of our favorites. 

Before diving in too deep, read up on which iPad models support Apple Pencil so you're on the right track if you haven't already bought the hardware.

Apple Notes

(Image credit: Apple Notes)

Notes (Free)

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Believe it or not, the built-in Notes app on your iPhone and iPad can do more than just type notes and dictation. You can also add handwritten notes, sketches, and drawings in the Notes app. Just start a new note and select the drawing tool, and write or sketch away! Apple has native text recognition search and in-line scanning and annotation support too. It's definitely limited compared with third-party apps since it primarily uses iCloud, but it's better than nothing, and it should already be on your iPad (and iPhone).

You can download Notes on the App Store (opens in new tab).

GoodNotes 5

(Image credit: Time Based Technology Limited)

GoodNotes 5 (Free with in-app purchases)

If you're a power user when it comes to note-taking, GoodNotes is one of the best note-taking apps for iPad and Apple Pencil. GoodNotes is packed with plenty of robust features, including handwriting and sketching with Apple Pencil. You can choose from a massive selection of digital paper types to suit any need you have: lined, graph, design, music notation, and more. If that's not enough, you can also upload your own custom template too, and there are different cover styles for digital notebooks that you can write or sketch on for further personalization.

When it comes to actual handwriting, GoodNotes also excels. It supports writing and drawing with your Apple Pencil or even a third-party stylus option. There is built-in handwriting search recognition, text conversion, and more. This powerful and comprehensive note-taking app works great on iPad with Apple Pencil.

You can download GoodNotes 5 on the App Store (opens in new tab).


(Image credit: Ginger Labs)

Notability (Free with in-app purchases)

Another great option for the best note-taking apps for iPad and Apple Pencil, which most of us use here at iMore, is Notability. Like GoodNotes, it is a powerful app, but it is a tad easier to use for most people. It has tools for handwriting, drawing, annotating PDFs, making shapes, highlighting, moving objects around the page, adding audio notes, integration with photos and web clips, and so much more. There are plenty of paper styles for handwritten notes and sketches, like grids. You can share your digital notebooks with third-party syncing services like Dropbox, Google Drive, or Box, and even print them out with ease.

It may seem a little overwhelming at first but Notability does have a friendly tutorial to help guide you through the basics of using the app on the first launch.

You can download Notability on the App Store (opens in new tab).

Microsoft OneNote

(Image credit: Microsoft)

Microsoft OneNote (Free with in-app purrchases)

If you're invested in the Microsoft Office ecosystem, then OneNote is a good option. And even if you aren't, it still works nicely by letting you view and edit notes. With OneNote, you get a fully-featured note-taking app, complete with handwriting and sketching tools that work perfectly with Apple Pencil. This means you can handwrite important notes, sketch diagrams and ideas, and even annotate existing documents that you already have in OneNote.

Other features include rich text notes, photos and audio, calendars, and more. If you need to share your notes, you can do so by sharing a link to your entire digital notebook, making it a great study tool.

You can download Microsoft OneNote on the App Store (opens in new tab).

PDF Expert – Read, Edit, Sign

(Image credit: Readdle)

PDF Expert (Free with in-app purchases)

If your note-taking is more about annotating and marking up PDFs, then PDF Expert is a great contender since it does so much more than Apple's own built-in Markup extension. With PDF Expert, you can easily open PDFs from iCloud or any other third-party syncing service. From there, you can fill out forms, sign documents, and use tools like a digital pen, shape tool, underline, strikethrough, and highlighter to do as you please. You can even make stamps out of frequently used wording, edit the structure of the PDF document itself, and so much more.

The free version of PDF Expert allows you to read, annotate, highlight, draw, fill forms, and more. You'll need the Pro subscription features to do things like edit original PDF text, add or edit images, sign documents, protect with a password, redact sensitive data, and more.

You can download PDF Expert on the App Store (opens in new tab).

Nebo: Notes & PDF Annotations

Nebo Screen

(Image credit: Nebo)

Nebo (Free with in-app purchases)

Do you enjoy handwriting notes but want it converted into regular text just to make life easier, especially if your writing is a little hard to read? Then MyScript Nebo is one to consider for handwriting conversion. With the Nebo app, you can use your Apple Pencil on your iPad to write out, by hand, anything you want. Nebo will convert on-the-fly, and the conversion is also non-destructive — this means you can preserve both the handwriting and the text if it is not a perfect translation.

There are multiple digital pen tools offered in Nebo, so you can choose whatever you like best and add photos and videos, diagrams, and even equations alongside your text. With Nebo, you can convert handwritten text a paragraph at a time or as an entire notebook. You can also export as text, HTML, PDF, or Word documents. Syncing is also available through MyScript's own service, or you can choose iCloud, Dropbox, and more.

You can download Nebo on the App Store (opens in new tab).

Noteshelf - Notes, Annotations

(Image credit: Fluid Touch Pte. Ltd.)

Noteshelf ($9.99)

Noteshelf is an excellent alternative to GoodNotes and Notability, making it one of the best note apps for Apple Pencil and iPad. With Noteshelf, your notes can consist of your handwriting, as well as PDF annotation, and even recorded audio. Noteshelf claims that the experience with the app is just like writing on a notepad — smooth and fluid. There are different pen styles to work within Noteshelf, including a fountain pen that replicates the elegant experience.

You also get handwritten note conversion, allowing you to search through your notes, even if they were handwritten. And if you don't like plain old digital paper, Noteshelf has hundreds of different paper styles and templates to choose from. This is a premium app packed with a ton of useful features, and it's easy to use.

You can download Noteshelf on the App Store (opens in new tab).


(Image credit: Rama Krishna)

Whink ($4.99)

Looking for a simple note-taking app for Apple Pencil with a sleek interface? Then Whink could help you out. With Whink, you get natural handwriting tools, just as if you are writing with a pen and paper. Whink features a gel-pen tool with natural ink colors, so it's definitely geared towards professionalism and simplicity. You can zoom in on your notes for high precision, which is great if you want to sketch or draw.

Typing is just a tap away, and Whink also has PDF and photo annotation features, shape tools, and audio recording capabilities. Sharing notes with others is easy; you can sync everything with iCloud or other services like Dropbox. Plus, the price is slightly lower than some of the other options mentioned here.

You can download Whink on the App Store (opens in new tab).


(Image credit: Deliverance Software Ltd.)

ZoomNotes ($7.99)

Are you the type of person who loves to sketch out ideas and thoughts on a whiteboard? Then ZoomNotes is the ideal app for you. ZoomNotes is one of the few apps out there that provides a huge zoom range so that you can handwrite notes, sketch diagrams, and ideas on a near-infinite whiteboard, right on your iPad with Apple Pencil. The range in ZoomNotes is pretty much endless when compared with the other note-taking apps, so if that's what you've been looking for, then ZoomNotes is for you.

It provides eight different pen types, from gel to nib to pencil, and it has handwriting recognition so you can search all of your handwritten notes. There is also support for layers, split-screen (two views of the same document), internal linking, unlimited paper sizes and styles, and so much more. ZoomNotes is an infinite digital whiteboard on your iPad (and even in your pocket with iPhone).

The standout feature in ZoomNotes is definitely the zooming capabilities, which is why ZoomNotes is one of the best note apps for Apple Pencil and iPad.

You can download ZoomNotes on the App Store (opens in new tab).

It's like writing on paper with pen

Sometimes you just can't beat the old paper-and-pen experience, but life is easier with digital notes. These are a few of our favorite options when you want the best note apps for Apple Pencil and iPad.

Of course, one of the benefits of having an iPad and Apple pencil is the ability to draw. So don't forget to check out some of the best drawing apps for iPad when you want to let those creative juices flow. 

We also recommend you take a look at our pick of the best e-reader apps for iPad. Like drawing, sometimes reading is better with a real book in front of you, but there are loads of reasons why ebooks are a good option for most people.

Christine Chan

Christine Romero-Chan was formerly a Senior Editor for iMore. She has been writing about technology, specifically Apple, for over a decade at a variety of websites. She is currently part of the Digital Trends team, and has been using Apple’s smartphone since the original iPhone back in 2007. While her main speciality is the iPhone, she also covers Apple Watch, iPad, and Mac when needed.

When she isn’t writing about Apple, Christine can often be found at Disneyland in Anaheim, California, as she is a passholder and obsessed with all things Disney, especially Star Wars. Christine also enjoys coffee, food, photography, mechanical keyboards, and spending as much time with her new daughter as possible.