Handwritten Notes


I recently got an IPAD Pro, and am using the stylus a fair amount with it. I like the ability to annotate with it.

One useful feature would be “handwritten notes”. This is one thing I’m using OneNote for. I keep a notebook that just has pages of handwritten notes. Say I’m planning something, and write out a diagram (my most often use case actually). I whip out the ipad pro, make my diagram. Then can go on the desktop version and save as PDF -> DevonThink.

That 2-step process would be nice to avoid. Instead, if DT To Go could give a nearly “unlimited” space to zoom and diagram, then when saved would take the boundaries of what was written on and “shrink” the canvas to fit and that’s what’s synced. If I was to edit that note, then to be presented with the unlimited canvas again so I can add to the existing diagram.

Having OCR capabilities wouldn’t be required, and that presents a huge problem (handwriting style, language, etc). But the ability to put this into a folder I can look at later and determine if worthwhile enough to do in a proper program (such as OmniGraffle or OmniOutliner).

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A freeform Note format is in discussion but nothing concrete planned. It is not a trivial thing, especially as the format has be compatible with the Desktop as well.

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nods thanks for the feedback. I think a PDF format may be the best long term. So maybe it’s as simple as if you’re editing the existing note that it creates a copy in memory, update happens, then write it back to the original file.

Just a thought. I am glad to hear it’s in discussion!

On iOS 11 I find it useful to do quick diagrams in Notes. If DEVONthink to Go is open in slide-over mode on one side of the iPad Pro, then I lasso the diagram from Notes and drag it over to a group in DEVONthink to Go and drop the image. I also am using the pencil for this.

Right now I’m experimenting with different things for handwritten notes. And DTTG already has almost everything I need.

I started with a blank PDF (created with Pages) and put it into my DT database. In DTTG, I created a new PDF page (using the Premium feature, I believe). I then deleted the blank page. I now have an empty PDF that I use as a template. Whenever I want a handwritten note, I duplicate that PDF and start writing. When I need a new page, I create it within DTTG.

Since this is just a PDF, it’s already compatible to almost every platform and relevant app. It already supports different page styles (lines, grids, blank, etc.), colors, and page formats. I believe it also satisfies many (if not most) use cases for which people want to use handwritten notes.

What I’d like to see is a way to simply create such a PDF in DTTG (just like PDF Expert allows me to do). There is already a button to create files, in which I can create Text, Media, Bookmarks, and so on. I believe adding PDFs to that mix is relatively easy (creating PDF pages is already possible, it just needs to create such a page in a new file).

Would that be possible? Or is this already possible and I just missed it?


It’s not possible currently by just clicking a button, but it’s an avenue we’ve discussed as a possibility.

Thanks a lot!

Duplicating the template file will have to do for now.

I like to use the best editor for the job.
I use Notability on my iPad. Goodnotes is also useful; it has an ocr feature
When finished, I use the share menu to save the document in Devonthink

I also use Myscript Stylus, an alternate keyboard that does the ocr conversion as I write

I’m not sure if this is what you are looking for, but I use GoodNotes for iOS for handwritten notes and I have the app’s auto-backup feature store PDF versions of the notebooks to Dropbox. I’ve set DT to index the GoodNotes Dropbox backup folder. (I separately index GoodNotes backup folders of notebooks within relevant DT databases too, keeping work notebooks separate from personal notebooks within my DT databases.) I believe GoodNotes attempts to add OCR on its own. Anyways, hope that help; works quite well for me.

So to summarize: As the PDF annotation tools are suitable for drawing and adding handwritten notes, basically what’s missing is an option to create a new, empty PDF?


At least for my needs, yes. I only need to create new, empty PDFs.

This is basically what I already suggested in this thread: DTTG for taking notes / creating board diagrams - so definitely colour me interested as well!

There is similar functionality in “PDF Expert” on the iPad. You can add a variety of different sheets (ruled, checked, dot paper etc.) in white, yellow and blueprint and it is widely used among teachers for board diagrams etc. However, a simple blank PDF would already be a good start for DTTG.

A simple solution in the form of a PDF is best in my opinion - good possibilities for further markup at the Desktop as well as easy sharing with other people.

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We are considering some potential paths on this. Thanks for the input.


searching for handwritten notes on DTTG, I bumped on this thread.

I basically am in the same situation as @TheDarkTrumpet was in Nov '17 :slight_smile:

Has there been any development in the “consideration of some potential paths”?

the simple solution of blank PDFs creation would be great.

Thanks for your time and great app development!

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I’m new to DTTG, and I ran into this issue, too. I want to use the Apple Pencil to sketch out ideas by hand every now and then, which, as discussed above, is impossible. So I created a shortcut that creates a one-page, blank PDF in the Global Inbox and then opens that file in DTTG. Not ideal perhaps, but it works. You can download the shortcut here: Shortcuts


Welcome @gmgodwin

Thanks for the suggestion… and stay tuned! :wink:

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I’m not sure where this issue is at the moment, and since I’m still in the process of building a new information infrastructure for my work (following Evernote’s decision a while ago to drop scripting support) I can’t swear as to how well it will work out. But with those caveats aside…

I use Notability for taking handwritten notes. Notability has a feature that allows you to automatically back up PDFs of the latest copy of all of your notes to DropBox. The new copy of a note overwrites the previous copy. So if you index that folder into DEVONthink you automatically have PDFs of all of your handwritten notes.

Again, I am not certain how well this is going to work in practice, but the tests I’ve run so far work well. There are some things that I’ve not played with:

  • How does OCR work in this case? Is it lost when notes upgrade? My guess is, “of course it is,” but perhaps you can tell me what to expect.

  • I am assuming that as long as the name of the DropBox folder is the same on all machines that notes will be indexed and accessible for every machine sharing that database. I have not played with indexing in DTTG, but anticipate it will fail there. Although past handwritten notes can easily be imported rather than just indexed.

Another solution would be to index the .note files themselves. Since Notability has a desktop app, that would be beautiful. The .note files are stored on iCloud Drive. There are two problems, however. The first is that you can access the relevant folder by going to System Preferences → iCloud → Manage Storage → Notability → Open in Finder. When you do so the folder opens and claims to live under iCloud Drive. But when you look at iCloud Drive, no Notability folder appears, even as a hidden file. Hard to index that.

The other problem is that while Notability is perfectly happy to read in one of those files as a NEW note, what it will not do is simply open the existing note in the app. Notability desperately needs a custom URL scheme, preferably with deep linking.

As much as I hate to say it, I may have to start using OneNote instead of Notability. (Argh). OneNote DOES support deep linking, and these links can be accessed and opened locally from inside DEVONthink:

  • Inside OneNote, copy a note or paragraph within a note as a link.

  • The link that you get will be to the web location of the note. When linking from DEVONthink (or any other app), preface the web URL with onenote:// (i.e., enter the URL as onenote://https://onedrive.live.com/view… )

  • When you open the link, specify “Open link in MicroSoft Onenote”.

Bingo. You have the current version of the deep linked location in the note sitting in front of you in OneNote, ready to go. All of the above can of course be easily automated.

I truly loathe the idea of moving my note taking to OneNote for a number of reasons. Apart from the fact that it is MicroSoft, they have made the kind of absurd decision not to support OCR on the Mac version. On the other hand, if I need OCR I can always save it as a PDF and do the OCR there. I’m wondering if there might also be a way to use the Macs nature OCR capability to grab images in OneNote, do the OCR, and write it out.

Another huge problem with OneNote is that it does a poor job importing PDFs for markup.

But while I would prefer not to use OneNote, I absolutely cannot live without being able to access research. materials and notes with URLs. I’m trying to make myself believe that accessing Notability’s PDFs will do the trick, but I may not succeed. I may wind up going with Notability for marking up PDFs, but using OneNote for just handwritten notes. Ugly…

My world would be WILDLY better if LiquidText had a custom deep linking URL scheme.

Relevant to all of this, I wonder if people have seen the Manifesto for Ubiquitous Linking that appeared recently, spearheaded by Angel Vu (PDFpen) together with a note of names from a bunch of different companies and universities.