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How to take notes on your iPad with an Apple Pencil -- 3 very simple ways

The iPad and Apple Pencil are a fantastic combination for those who want to take notes on the tablet's screen. Here are all the ways you can quickly and easily start jotting down your ideas.
Written by Jason Cipriani, Contributing Writer
Reviewed by Alyson Windsor

Apple's tablet has many different uses. For some, it's a total computer replacement, while others use it to watch video, read books and game. Another popular use of Apple's iPad is using it to replace a tablet of paper and a pen, or a sketchbook and a pencil. There are a few different ways you can jot down your latest idea or quickly draw an example of what you want to create on the iPad.

Also: The 4 best iPad models in the market

In order to use your iPad to take notes, you'll, of course, need an iPad and the appropriate Apple Pencil for your iPad model. I'll include a list of which iPad model uses which version of the Apple Pencil at the bottom of this post. 

1. How to use an Apple Pencil with the Apple Notes app

The easiest way to start using the Apple Pencil to take notes on your iPad is to open the Apple Notes app, tap the New Note/Compose button in the top-right corner and start writing or drawing. You don't have to select the Apple Pencil icon before you start using it. That icon only brings up additional tools for you to change the type of tool the Apple Pencil is set to, like an eraser or a marker, along with ink color. 

Also: The 5 best note-taking apps for iPad

The Notes app is able to identify handwritten text, allowing you to copy your handwriting as text, or if you switch to the pen tool with an "A" on it, your writing will be automatically converted to text as you write. It's pretty accurate, even with my horrible handwriting. In fact, any app where you use the Apple Pencil and see the pencil with an "A" on it can transcribe your handwriting. 

To copy your handwritten notes into text, long press on the first word until it's highlighted. Next, drag the highlight selector tool until all of your writing is selected and then wait for the menu to show up, asking what you want to do with your selection. 

Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/ZDNET

2. How to take notes from the lock screen

This is a hidden feature that I admit I forget about all too often. You can start taking notes in Apple's Notes app using the Apple Pencil directly from the lock screen, even when your iPad is asleep. 

Instead of waking and unlocking your iPad, then opening the Notes app, all you need to do is tap your iPad's screen with the tip of your Apple Pencil. A blank note page will then open, ready for you to start writing or sketching. 

Once you're done, the document will be saved to the Notes app for future reference. You can control whether a new note is created each time you use this feature, or if the last note you were editing is opened by going to Settings > Notes > Access Notes from Lock Screen.

Jason Cipriani/ZDNET

3. How to use Quick Notes on the iPad

Starting with iPadOS 15, Apple added a feature called Quick Notes to the iPad. Quick Notes lives as a popup that slides out of the bottom-right corner of the screen, letting you add links to whatever Safari page you're currently on, or you can begin writing with your Apple Pencil and save it for future access. 

Trigger Quick Notes by swiping towards the middle of the screen from the bottom-right corner. The last Quick Note you were using will show up by default, or you can tap on the compose button and create a new note.

Also: iPad (2022) vs iPad (2021): What's new?

All of your Quick Notes will be saved to the Notes app in a folder labeled Quick Notes. 

If you want to change which corner you use to trigger Quick Notes, open the Settings app, then select Apple Pencil and look for the Pencil Gestures section. 

Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/ZDNET

iPad and Apple Pencil compatibility list

The $129 second-generation Apple Pencil will work with the following iPad models:

  • iPad mini (6th generation)
  • iPad Air (4th generation and later)
  • iPad Pro 12.9-inch (3rd generation and later)
  • iPad Pro 11-inch (1st generation and later)

The $99 first-generation Apple Pencil will work with the following iPad models: 

  • iPad mini (5th generation)
  • iPad (6th generation and later)
  • iPad Air (3rd generation)
  • iPad Pro 12.9-inch (1st and 2nd generation)
  • iPad Pro 10.5-inch
  • iPad Pro 9.7-inch


Do you have to pay for an app to take notes on the iPad?

Not at all. The Apple Notes app comes preinstalled on your iPad and is completely free. Not only is it available on your iPad, but if you own a Mac or use an iPhone, your notes will sync between all of your Apple devices using your iCloud account.

That said, there are some fantastic third-party apps you can use if you're willing to pay. GoodNotes 5 is what I personally use, but Notability is another app that's popular and well-reviewed. Microsoft's OneNote is another note-taking app that's worth checking out. 

Is it better to take notes on paper or iPad? 

Tough call. There's something intimate about writing notes on paper instead of a screen that helps me, personally, with retaining information. However, I also tend to lose or misplace notebooks. And it never fails, whenever I need to access a specific note from a meeting, my notebook is missing or is in my office when I'm nowhere near it. 

Taking notes on the iPad is an easy and convenient way to have all of your information with you at all times. It may, however, take some getting used to on your part. 

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