When you first enter the world of digital note-taking, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the number of options that are out there.
Over the past few years I’ve been experimenting with all of the apps that caught my eye, in search of those that are best suited for sketchnoters – folks who want to incorporate some quick drawing and diagramming into the note-taking process.
Based on that experience, here’s my list of the best iPad apps for sketchnoting.
What makes the app Concepts great is its infinite canvas, vector-based, “sketchy” approach. I find it particularly useful when creating mind maps that might grow to any size, as I share in this video:
You can check out a whole playlist of videos I’ve made about Concepts here.
I also appreciate the underlying philosophy of the developers of that app, as co-founder David Brittain shared in his conversation with Mike Rohde, which I captured in these sketchnotes:
For those reasons, Concepts is my current favorite sketchnoting app, but the rest on this list have a lot going for them, as well as distinct features that might make them a great fit for you.
These next two have a lot in common and fall into the category of a more traditional note-taking app – the app experience is built to mimic pen-and-paper note-taking.
There’s a page-by-page, top-to-bottom flow that provides some nice constraints to the note-taking process.
Here I share some of my early experiences with GoodNotes:
Since I like the design and feel of this app, it’s my current favorite in this category. But the next one has a single feature that might put it over the top for you.
Notability is similar to GoodNotes in its approach and appearance, but it has one feature that makes it stand out: audio recording that syncs with your notes so that you can play back any portion of what you listened to while seeing your sketchnotes replayed as well.
If your primary note-taking need is for live lectures, then this app is a no-brainer!
Here’s a video in which I first experiment with that feature:
I’ve also heard of educators using that playback feature as a presentation tool (the visuals more so than the audio).
The possibilities are endless!
Let’s switch categories again, moving next in a more illustrative direction.
Procreate was the first app that I used for sketchnoting.
It’s a tool built for illustrators and designers, but it caught the attention of visual note-takers early on. You can adjust your canvas size, take advantage of a full library of pens and brushes (or create your own), and use layers to help you organize different sections of your notes.
Here’s an example of some sketchnotes I took using Procreate.
If you want to go in a more artistic direction with your sketchnoting, then Procreate is a great option for you.
To round out this list of top apps for sketchnoting, I wanted to include a collaborative whiteboard app. Within that category, Miro has been my favorite.
What makes that app special is that it’s available as a desktop app or from a browser, in addition to apps for iPad, Android, and Windows.
Multiple users can be working on the same board at once, which makes it great for teams. There’s a bit of a learning curve though, so I think it’s best suited for those situations when you’re working on a long-term project with a team, so that you’re not stuck spending half of your time available just getting to know the tool.
To see that app in action, check out this coaching call I had where I encouraged my guest to share their sketchnoting work to the board as a reference, and then I did some sketchnoting throughout our conversation:
Since it has been rare for coaching call participants to sketchnote along with me, I’ve switched to Concepts for those calls – I call still upload student work to reference and then use the set of Concepts pens and highlighters that I’m most comfortable with.
I hope that breakdown was helpful for you!
Here’s a visual summary of the strengths of each of those apps:
I encourage you to start with the one you’re most intrigued with and see if its style and features meet your note-taking needs!
Make the most of these tools
If you’d like some support getting to know the features of those apps and deciding how to weave them together into a sketchnoting process that works well for you, then check out our course Digital Sketchnoting:
Throughout that course you’ll get to know the individual features that make the apps above (and others like them) powerful, and you’ll learn how to build up a sketchnoting process that leverages those features rather than being overwhelmed by them.