I prefer taking handwritten notes as I can do it easily and quickly with just a pen and paper. To make the most of my notes, I want to digitize them to keep them safe and make them searchable. Notebooks take up space and it is difficult to carry multiple notebooks around. Digitizing handwritten notes also allows for syncing notes between devices. If you are in the same boat as me, you may wonder how to digitize your handwritten notes for future use.
There are many options for digitizing handwritten notes, but none of them is perfect. From typing your handwritten notes to scanning them to make them searchable, each method of digitizing handwritten notes comes at a price – either in terms of effort, speed or cost. This table provides a summary of the different digitizing options with their pros and cons.
Manually typing all notes
Scanning with a physical document scanner before storing as a PDF or image
Scanning using your smartphone and making it searchable in Evernote or OneNote
Scanning and using an app or software to convert handwritten notes to text
Electronic writing-on-paper pens
Digital handwritten notes
Let’s look at each of these methods individually to make it easier for you to decide which method to use under different circumstances. Each method has further options available for digitizing your handwritten notes.
1. Typing Your Handwritten Notes
This is an easy option, but it is a manual process that could take long to complete if you have many or long notes handwritten notes that require digitizing.
2. Scanning And Storing Your Notes
Another old-fashioned method of digitizing handwritten notes is by scanning them. You can use a physical document scanner, especially if you have many loose pages of notes to scan. After scanning your notes to a PDF or image, you still need to import it into a note-taking or note-storage app for further use.
With the advances in technology, you no longer need a physical scanner to scan documents. To scan your handwritten notes, here are some scanning options:
- If you have a smart phone, there are many apps available to scan documents, I love using Evernote or Evernote’s scanning app, called Scannable. They are both quick and easy to use. You can take a picture of your notes from within Evernote or you can scan your notes using Scannable. Both Scannable and Evernote will save your picture to a note in Evernote (Scannable can also export to other apps). Even though your notes will be in a picture format, its content will be searchable as Evernote can perform an optical character recognition (OCR) search of pictures with handwritten notes.
- Another app that offers handwriting recognition is OneNote. OneNote’s OCR facility offered is better than Evernote’s but it requires more steps to make it searchable. You need to create a note with a photo of your handwritten note, then you need to use the desktop app to right click the image to make it searchable.
Both Evernote and OneNote are free applications. Both are available across different platforms, including iOS, android and desktop (PC and Mac).
3. Scanning and converting your notes to text
The ideal is for digitizing handwritten notes by converting it to editable text. This is usually done through OCR. The most important thing to remember is that the quality of the conversion will depend on how clear your handwritten notes were.
The best available options are:
- Pen to Print is an app that lets you take a picture of your handwritten note before performing OCR on your handwriting and converting it to digital text. The app allows you to sent the digital text to another app. Pen to Print is not a note storage app, but a processing app to convert handwriting to digital text only. Pen to Print is not free, but is available at a reasonable cost. Based on the reviews of the app, it seems to work well. It is important to remember, however, that you will have to do some quality control by reviewing the digitized notes to fix some errors caused by illegibility of your handwriting.
- You can also upload a PDF document or image that you have scanned (with a physical document scanner or through one of the apps mentioned previously) to your Google Drive. From there you can then open the document or file in Google docs and it will automatically convert it to text. This works reasonably well, but a review of the converted text is important, especially if your handwriting is not the best.
- You can also use a scanned PDF and use software to convert it to text. There are many applications available for this, including Adobe Pro, PDF to DOC and Soda PDF, of which the last two are free. For these, like with the other OCR options, you need to review the converted text to make sure there are no missing text.
4. Electronic writing-on-paper options
Under electronic writing-on-paper options, there are several tools that can help you create digital handwritten notes. Take your pick from the following tools:
- Wacom has a bamboo pad to which you attach paper before writing your notes. The pad will sync your written notes with an app. From the app you can export your notes to your normal note-taking or note-storing apps, such as Evernote, Dropbox or Google Drive. This is an expensive option as you need to buy the pad and a special pen to get started. Ink refills for the pen is another cost to consider before choosing this tool.
- Livescribe offers another tool to write digital notes. Livescribe offers a variety of digital pens to choose from. While you are writing the pen saves your digital notes on their built-in storage. When you are ready, you can sync the pen to your computer and it will download your notes in either PDF or image format. To use the Livescribe pens you need to write on any dotted paper. This method may save you time, but it is pricey.
- My favorite notebook brand, Moleskine, has its own system for digital handwritten notes. Their system comprises a special pen, special dotted paper and an app. The pen’s built-in storage is great and can save many notes (approximately 1000 pages) before you need to sync to your computer. This is another time-saving option, but it is expensive.
5. Taking Digital Handwritten Notes
The iPad and Apple pencil (and similar devices) made digital note-taking popular. You can take notes directly on the iPad with the Apple pencil using one of the multitude of note-taking apps that are available. Although this is still handwritten notes, it feels different from writing with a pen on paper. There are tools available to make it feel more like a pen-and-paper experience, but it will never feel the same as writing with a pen on paper. Writing your notes directly on an electronic device saves time and you can print your notes if you prefer using paper versions for studying or reviewing later. It is the most expensive of the options for digitizing handwritten notes and definitely not something everyone can afford.
These are the options available for digitizing your handwritten notes. Which method you use depends on the time and money you have available. I use Evernote and Google Drive most of the time for digitizing my handwritten notes. The method I choose depends on whether I need to edit the notes in which case I use Google Drive, or just have access to them in which case I use Evernote.