Apple Notes User Guide for the iPad

Getting started (beginner)

This user guide focuses on Apple Notes for the iPad.


Apple Notes is a minimalist app; its homepage is also its workspace. It is divided into three columns. Starting from the left, you have a column for your folders, notebooks, and notes. Tapping the sidebar icon (top left corner above the first column) toggles your folders column. That means, it hides or shows it.

Tapping the two-arrow icon toggles the notebooks column, which gives you more room to write your notes. When all three columns are visible, the two-arrow icon can hide all the columns, but it only brings up the notebooks column.

Folders, in Apple Notes, can go to two main locations: iCloud or On My iPad. All the folders (and their notebooks) in iCloud sync across all your Apple devices that are using the same Apple ID. You can therefore see the notes on your iPhone and Mac as well. Notes under On My iPad are local, they don’t sync across devices.

Under each location, you can then have your folders. When you tap a folder, the notebooks it contains show up on the notebooks column in front of the folders column. You can see the name of the opened folder at the top of the notebooks column. To open and see the notes, simply tap on them and they will appear in the notes section. This is where you write and edit your notes in Apple Notes.

New folders

Before you can take notes, you must first create folders for your notebooks. Tap the new folder icon (bottom left corner) below the folders column > choose the location for your folder: On My iPad or iCloud > name your folder > tap Done to save it.

New notebooks

Choose the folder you want to add a new notebook to > tap the new notebook icon (top right corner) and you can start taking notes. To change the paper template for your notebook, go to the three dots icon (far right corner) > Lines & Grids > choose a template you want. Apple Notes has three line spacing options for your lined and squared paper.

Typing notes

Apple Notes can add body text directly to the page. Body text does not mix with any other items in your notes. Structure your notes, by tapping the text icon at the top or on the keyboard toolbar. You can add a Title, Heading or Subheading. You can also convert these back to Body, or Monospaced text. Format your text to make it bold, italic, underline or strikeout

Apple Notes supports numbered and unnumbered. You can convert a paragraph to a bulleted list, or create a new list from scratch. Levels in your list are easy to create using the indentation tools (under the text tool or the keyboard one). They are also easy to understand because your bullet points change as you add levels to your list. For this, Apple Notes uses three bullet point types. Dash bullets don’t change when you add hierarchies, though. They are, therefore, ideal for taking basic notes. Numbered lists have one type of numbering; they don’t change with levels.

Interactive checklists add simple to-dos to your notes. Like your numbered lists, levels don’t change the checklist icon. As you check off completed tasks, they move to the bottom of the list. You can turn off this animation if you don’t like it, by going to your iPad Settings > Notes > Sort Ticked Items > and choosing to do it Manually.

To create a table in Apple Notes, tap the table icon on the top toolbar. This adds a 2×2 table to your notes. You can tap the three-dots icons on your rows and columns to add or delete them. The three-dots icon appears on the row/column where your cursor is. Once you have added some information to your table, you can tap the three-dots icon to select a row or column > go to Format to make your text bold, italic, underline or strikeout for the whole row or column. You can also do this for individual text. Here are other things you can do with your tables in Apple Notes:

  • Select multiple rows/columns, simply drag the dots on the selection.
  • Rearrange the rows and columns, by long-pressing the three-dots icon until the row/column lifts off the page > drag it where you want it. The table icon, when editing a table has options to:
    • Copy Table for pasting in other apps.
    • Share Table to other apps. 
    • Convert to Text to remove the table but keep the text. You will need to organise the text, though.
    • Delete Table

Handwriting notes

In Apple Notes, the toolbar with your handwriting tools is mobile. You can move it around the four sides of your screen, or minimise it by swiping it to a corner. You can turn on Auto-minimise (under the three-dots icon) if you want it to automatically tuck away when you tap any part of your screen.

Apple Notes has three pen types, one pencil and a watercolour brush. The first two pen tools are both ballpoints. Though they look different, they write exactly the same way. The third pen is a calligraphy pen. Customisation options are the same for all the writing tools in the app, they all have:

  • five fixed thicknesses
  • opacity scale ranging from 0 – 100%. The percentage opacity of each tool shows on it as a number on the toolbar.
  • five default colours on the toolbar that you can’t change. To use custom colours, you must add them to the secondary colour palette. Go to the sixth colour circle (the one with multiple colours) on the toolbar > choose the colour you want from the Grid, Spectrum, Sliders or colour picker. The colour picker is the easiest to use when the colour you want is already in your notes. Tap the plus icon on your toolbar to add the new colour. On this secondary colour palette, you can add as many colours as you like. Long-press to Delete a colour.

Write your notes using the Apple Pencil (for accurate handwriting representation), or use a finger by turning on Draw with Finger (under the three-dots icon).

The handwriting experience in Apple Notes is amazing. There is no lag, it feels natural, and palm rejection is perfect.

Apple Notes uses raster ink, which loses its resolution when zoomed in if you share the notes out of the app. It means, the notes you write in the app, best stay in the app.

The highlighter tool in Apple Notes goes behind your ink. Even at 100% opacity or when layered, it does not dim your notes. The also has five sizes and the same colour palettes as the pen tool.

The Pixel Eraser has five fixed sizes and it erases per pixel, while the Object Eraser erases per stroke, no matter how big the stroke is.

Pages in Apple Notes are vertically infinite, but with fixed widths. They continue extending downwards as you write, without you needing to add any new pages. Your handwritten notes and the typed body text do not mix in Apple Notes.

Adding items to your notes (intermediate)


In Apple Notes, you can freely draw your shapes or use the shapes tool in your handwritten section. For hand-drawn shapes, you can any writing tool. Once you’ve drawn your shape, keep your Apple Pencil pressed on the screen until it transforms. The app supports only nine regular shapes: circles, ellipses, squares, rectangles, triangles, stars, hearts, pentagons and speech bubbles. It also supports straight lines, curves and arrows. Once you have drawn a shape this way, you can’t modify it in any way; except move it around the page (using the lasso tool).

Using the shapes tool on the toolbar, you can add the shapes listed under it. You can adjust these shapes, once you have added them to your notes. To modify a shape, tap on it to bring up a customisation menu on the toolbar, which allows you to change the following:

  • border colour and opacity
  • border width
  • fill colour and opacity
  • resize and rotate the shape. The shapes added with the shapes tool remain editable after you’ve added them.

The green dot (on some shapes) changes the curves, number of sides or looks (depending on the shape). On arrows, it can change their curvature.

Arrows also have options to modify their line width or where the arrowhead goes. You can remove it, and add it to one end or both ends of the line.

With all the shapes, you can change the opacity of the whole shape, which includes its border and fill colour.

To draw irregular shapes, you must use the ruler tool on the toolbar. Use two fingers to rotate it while drawing the different sides of your shape.

Photos & videos

When adding photos to your notes in Apple Notes, you can either:

  • add one from your library (camera icon > Choose Photo or Video)
  • drag and drop the photo from any app
  • take a photo with your iPad camera (camera icon > Take Photo or Video > Use Photo). You can Retake photos you don’t like.

Images have different options depending on where you place them. You can add them either to the body text or handwritten notes.

Body text images go above or below your text in a block of their own that does not mix with the text. Long-pressing the image gives you options to display Small Images or Large Images. This affects all the images in your notes, not just the one you make the changes on. Tapping an image opens it in a separate window for Markup, where you can:

  • annotate the image with handwriting tools
  • add Description (under the plus icon on the toolbar), Text, Signature and shapes. Tap Done to save the changes and exit the Markup window.

Apple Notes has a tendency of adding photos to body text, blocked away from your handwriting. You can simply drag it to the handwritten section. Long-press to lift the image off the page > move it to your handwritten notes. To ensure your images go to the handwritten section, drag and drop them over some handwritten notes, then move them afterwards.

Handwritten notes can mix with your image, and this section supports PNG images (they don’t have a background). You can resize and rotate your images.

For videos, you can record them in the app or add one from your Photos library. They only go to the body text section and they are blocked as well, meaning they don’t mix with anything else. You can:

  • play the video in full screen
  • rewind or fast-forward 10 secs
  • adjust the Playback Speed (under the circled three-dots icon).

When in full-screen mode, you can stop your video to extract any text or handwriting from the screen, using Live Text. Simply tap the Live Text icon (next to the playback speed icon) for the app to highlight all the notes in your video. You can then select some sections to:

  • Copy for pasting in your notes
  • Translate
  • Look Up the meaning of words
  • Search Web to Google the word on the internet.

Text boxes

To mix handwriting with text, you can use text boxes in the app. On the toolbar with your writing tools, tap the plus icon > Add Text. The app adds a text box and you can start typing. Drag the dots on the text box to rearrange the text in it. You can also move the text box around the page.

Select some text to edit it by either going to the text icon on the far right corner of the keyboard toolbar. You can then change the following:

  • font: text boxes in Apple Notes have more text options than body text. They even support custom fonts.
  • font-size: ranging from 5-300pt.
  • alignment of the text: left, centre, right or justify.
  • format to make the text bold, italic, underlined or struck out.
  • change the colour.

Using the two-finger gesture, you can rotate the text box.


Under the plus icon, you can also Add Signature > Add or Remove Signature. Tap the plus icon at the top left corner of the popup window to add a new signature. You can then write your signature with the Apple Pencil or Finger.

Go to New Signature (middle top of the popup window) to describe the type of your signature.

Clear (below the signature) if you’re not happy with to signature, rewrite it. Tap Done to save it to the app.

Once added to your notes, you can change the pen thickness and colour of your signature. You can also resize and rotate it.

Apple Notes doesn’t let you edit a signature you’ve already saved, you can only delete it.

Lasso tool

The lasso tool in Apple Notes picks everything on the page so you can move it around to rearrange your notes. Tapping on the selection brings up a popup menu that lets you:

  • Change the colour of your text, handwriting and shapes in that selection
  • Cut 
  • Copy
  • Delete
  • Duplicate

You can Insert Space Above the selection then adjust it using the tag on the left side of your screen. You can also create space between sections by simply tapping an empty space on your page, then Insert Space. This, not only creates space, but it can also remove it (which is helpful when you have put too much space). The easiest way to create space in your notes is to just draw a line where you want some space using the lasso tool. You can then drag the line (left side of the screen) to create as much space as you need.

When you don’t want to move everything together, simply tap on the items you want to move. You can tap your image, text box, shapes you have drawn with the shapes tool and signatures. Tapping on hand-drawn shapes doesn’t work, though. For that, you have to use the lasso tool to select the shape, and then move it.

You can also use the selection tool on your handwritten notes. When different items are close together, selecting your handwriting alone can be challenging. In such cases, it is better to use smart selection. By long-pressing your handwriting, you can select it as though it is text. This only works on your handwriting and nothing else on the page, it can’t even pick up highlighters.

Each item on your page has some unique functions that pop up when you select them. You can Share (three-dots icon on selection) your shapes, signatures, text boxes and images out of the app, as images. You can also Straighten (tap selection to bring up popup menu > forward arrow > Straighten) your handwriting.

iPadOS 17 updates (public beta)

Linking your notes 

Links in iPadOS 17 only work on your body text in Apple Notes. To add a link, tap a blank space as though you want to start typing some notes. Bring up the popup menu on the cursor > Add Link > start typing to search for your notes in the app. You can choose to use the note title for your link by turning on the option (Use Note Title as Name) or you can turn it off to write your own name for it > tap Done to save your link. 

You can also add links to already existing body text in your notes. Select the text you want to add a link to > Add Link > tap Done to save. 

With the URL option, you can link to notes outside of Apple Notes. For example, I can link to notes from GoodNotes by simply copying the link for the notes and pasting it into Apple Notes. This can also let you link to websites. 

To open the links, simply tap on them to go to your other notes in Apple Notes. With notes from other apps, you’re taken to them directly. For web links, you go to the website you’re linking to. 

Long-pressing links brings up a popup menu to Open, Copy or Share the link. 

To edit a link, select the linked text > Edit Link > make the changes you need > tap Done to save them. 

To remove a link > select the linked text > Remove Link.

Toolbar updates

The ruler tool in the app is now darker than before. 

There is a new writing tool; a crayon (between the pencil tool and calligraphy pen). Like all the other writing tools in Apple Notes, it has five fixed thicknesses and opacity options. The crayon can do everything that other writing tools can including drawing shapes. 

The toolbar now has a plus icon for adding different items to your notes: text boxes, signatures, and shapes

Apple Notes now supports stickers, a systemwide iPadOS 17 feature (that we’ll cover in a different video). To a sticker, tap the plus icon on the toolbar > Add Sticker > choose a sticker for your collection (tap to add it to your notes). You can then resize or rotate the sticker. The three-dots icon lets you Cut, Copy, Duplicate or Delete the sticker. 

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