Make Your iPad A True Writing Tool

For me, the iPad is the ultimate device for paperless reading, writing, and photo viewing. The comfortable viewing size of the iPad makes it a perfect electronic notebook for reading ebooks, PDFs, typing short emails, and viewing lots of photos. There are also some very good apps that actually allow you to use the iPad like a notepad.

Steve Jobs and Apple probably didn’t envision the iPad being used this way, but the smooth glass service of the device makes it a pretty handy tool for jotting notes, grocery lists, brainstorming and outlining ideas, mind mapping, and drawing simple designs. Let’s check the best free option for handwriting notebook apps, and then examine a few low-priced alternatives.

Bamboo Paper

If you want to test out how it feels to hand write on your iPad, the makers of Wacom tablets have produced Bamboo Paper, specifically designed for the iPad.

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The best way to hand write on the iPad is using what is called a Stylus pen, but I don’t recommend going and buying one until you get a feel for using a handwriting notebook app. In the above screenshot, I quickly wrote using my index finger. Stylus pens help with a little more precise handwriting, but finger writing works just fine when you don’t have a pen nearby.

Bamboo is beautifully designed and functionally easy to use. When you launch the app, it has the look of one of those Moleskin notebooks.

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Before tapping on the cover of the Bamboo notebook, notice that you can tap the menu gear at the bottom, which brings up a small collection of colored inks and three types of paper (not captured in the screenshot)—blank, lined, and graph papers.

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The essential feature for these type of apps includes an undo, redo, and full erase tools. Bamboo Paper has all three. There’s even a button to clear the entire ‘sheet of paper’. In the app’s toolbar, you can also change the color of the ink and export your notes to your iPad’s Photo Library, email it, or print it. On the front cover of the app you can select to export the entire notebook of pages.

Bamboo Paper makes for a fine introduction to handwriting on the iPad. However, it does have a few missing features that regular users of the app will want. Though you can bookmark pages in Bamboo, it allows for only one notebook. Also, it doesn’t export pages to popular services like Dropbox. So if you get hooked on Bamboo, you might consider one of the few low-priced alternatives below.


One of the handwriting apps I’ve been using for quite some time is Penultimate ($1.99). It contains all the features of Bamboo Paper, but much, much more.


You can create as many notebooks as you like. In addition to the three types of papers, you can order for .99 cents packets of other types of papers for writing, planners, blank music sheets, graphic designing and games like Hangman.

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Penultimate has what is called a Wrist Protection feature which, when enabled, stops the palm of your hand making marks on a sheet of paper as you write.

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You can also easily navigate through pages of your notebook using the thumbnail view of the app. Like Bamboo, Penultimate allows you to export pages and full notebooks in PDF format via email, your Photo Library, iTunes, as well as printing. However, Penultimate also doesn’t have Dropbox integration.


For a few dollars more, Noteshelf ($4.99) probably provides the fullest features out of all the notebooks reviewed.

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Noteshelf contains everything found in Bamboo and Penultimate, with additional features allowing you to export pages and notebooks to Dropbox and Evernote. Noteshelf also allows you to import and re-size photos in your notebook pages.

Which notebook app you choose will largely be based on how much you prefer handwriting on your iPad as opposed to typing. You might start off with the free Bamboo app and if you see yourself using it a lot step up to one of the commercial paid apps. Also, you will need to shop around for a Stylus Pen. They costs between a few dollars and upwards to $35. Start with the low priced ones that you can find on Amazon.