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How to use ChatGPT to digitize your handwritten notes for free

This is easily the most underrated GPT-4o feature.
Written by Sabrina Ortiz, Editor
ChatGPT text extraction
Sabrina Ortiz/ZDNET

Writing down notes using a pen and paper scratches an itch that typing text just doesn't. Studies have shown that physically jotting down notes is a better way to retain information. That said, by writing stuff down, you miss out on the perks of digital notes. ChatGPT helps you get the best of both worlds.

When OpenAI supercharged the free version of ChatGPT with GPT-4o in May 2024, users gained the ability to upload files, including images and documents, and to interact with images in multiple ways, such as extracting text. 

Also: How to use ChatGPT to analyze PDFs for free

This feature means you can upload handwritten documents, from sticky notes to meeting and class notes to packing lists, and convert them into text. Then, you can use that text to create new content by copying and pasting it into presentations, emails, outlines, essays, Quizlets, and more.

Sounds too good to be true? I thought the same, but after testing the tool, I can assure you that it works efficiently and quickly. Getting started is simple, and you will not want to stop once you start.

How to use ChatGPT to digitize your handwritten notes

ChatGPT for handwritten notes
Sabrina Ortiz/ZDNET

1. Log in to your OpenAI account

Even though you can access ChatGPT without creating an OpenAI account, you need to sign in to access GPT-4o and its many perks, including image uploads. The good news is that creating an account is easy, and the perks are well worth it. 

Also: How to use ChatGPT to write a cover letter (and why you should)

If you don't have a ChatGPT account, you can easily create one on the sign-in page. You can also log in with your existing Google or Microsoft account. I opted for the latter option, so I don't have to memorize another username and password.

Log in to ChatGPT

If you haven't created an account, click on Sign Up. Otherwise, log in with your OpenAI credentials.

Screenshot by Maria Diaz/ZDNET

2. Upload your image

Once you log in, you will be brought to the ChatGPT interface with a blank text box. Next to the text box, you will find a paperclip icon, which you can click on to upload your photo from several different sources, including Google DriveMicrosoft OneDrive, or your computer. 

If the image is readily available on your device, you can drag and drop it into the text box.

Also: How ChatGPT (and other AI chatbots) can help you write an essay

I wouldn't worry about what your text looks like. I uploaded a sticky note I wrote over the weekend in cursive, as seen below, and ChatGPT had no problem understanding and outputting the text.

Sabrina's to-do list sticky note
Sabrina Ortiz/ZDNET

If you add the picture with no text prompt, ChatGPT will most often automatically extract the text and present it to you, typed out. To ensure the chatbot knows what to do, however, I recommend adding a simple text prompt like, "Can you extract the text from this image?" and then hit enter.

ChatGPT paperclip icon
Screenshot by Sabrina Ortiz/ZDNET

3. Use your text for whatever you need

Once ChatGPT outputs the extracted text, you can check to ensure the result accurately represents your text. In every instance I have tried, the chatbot has been word-for-word correct. Then, you can copy and paste the text wherever you'd like. Some use cases include presentations, emails, virtual sticky notes, and outlines.

ChatGPT sticky note text extraction
Screenshot by Sabrina Ortiz/ZDNET


Is GPT-4o free to use?

Yes. In May, OpenAI supercharged the free version of ChatGPT by upgrading its model from GPT-3.5 to GPT-4o. The LLM upgrade gave the free version of ChatGPT many perks typically reserved for ChatGPT Plus members. ChatGPT Plus' remaining advantage is that when GPT-4o is at capacity, subscribers will retain priority access, while free users are downgraded to GPT-3.5.

How much is ChatGPT Plus?

ChatGPT Plus is currently priced at $20/month. Some perks of the membership include priority access to GPT-4o, a greater message limit, an enhanced data analysis experience, and access to DALL-E 3 image generation. 

What else can I do with GPT-4o?

The GPT-4o upgrade gave the free version of ChatGPT many features typically reserved for ChatGPT Plus subscribers, including accessing GPT-4 level intelligence, uploading images, PDFs, and other files, analyzing data, creating charts, and using GPTs.  

What is the best GPT-4o feature?

The best GPT-4o feature depends on your everyday workflow. For me, the most underrated feature is being able to digitize your notes because it solves a real-world issue of mine. I have not found any other tool to be as accurate.

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