PDF annotations with Apple pencil and OCR: have a I missed something?

Hi all,
Just revisiting my approach to marking up the many PDFs that enter my academic life on the iPad. I’m wondering if anything exists at the moment that can run handwriting recognition on my margin scrawls with the Apple pencil. I’ve got a nice workflow for extracting highlights to dump into Drafts as page numbered markdown notes, where I can then work with the highlighted texts. This works with most PDF apps. But in terms of my penciled notes, I am left with “ink” in the markdown, as it is not capturing the handwriting. I’ve just taken a quick gander at the options and didn’t see anything out there, but wondered if I missed a solution. Any ideas?

1 Like

Until three years ago I worked for a company that accepted order forms filled out by hand. The hardware and software we used to scan the forms was very expensive and accuracy was probably no better than 95% - after proofing. And we knew what to expect in each field (name, address, city, state, zip) which allowed us to correct much of the information by matching it to public and commercial databases.

AFAIK handwriting recognition still lags way behind standard OCR. If your “scrawls” resemble block printing there may be hope. I used to take photos of white boards after meetings and later Evernote could find key words in the photos. Otherwise the solution you seek might require one of the AI solutions that are now becoming available to businesses.

I hope I’m out of date and someone else has a solution for you.

Thanks @WayneG. I’m actually pretty happy with the considerable recent progress in OCR handwriting technology. I’m a big user of Prizmo Go, whose OCR is quite frankly incredible, for whiteboards and various other “real world” handwriting. I’ve developed a decent workflow for using it. Goodnotes is also quite great for handwriting recognition on the screen. I suppose I was just hoping for a PDF reader that allows both highlights and pencilled annotations to be exported in one swoop, instead of having to go back and catch them and re-type. I suspect this is still in the realm of wishful thinking.


If your scribbles are reasonably legible Goodnotes should be able to make your notes searchable at least.


This is not an answer to your question, but I wonder if you would be able to elaborate on your workflow for extracting highlights? I have not worked out anything useful on that and get quite frustrated with the exported summaries one gets with apps like iAnnotate which include the codes for colours and the like.

1 Like

Yes, no problem. Busy teaching this morning, but will cobble together some screen shots of my process this afternoon/evening. (“cobble” is a key word here – the process works well for me, but may not for you!)

1 Like

Here you go. Happy to explain further if it is not clear there!


Oh wow!

That is extremely helpful - and very clever.

Once I escape my current frenzy, I shall experiment with it.

Thank you!

1 Like

I could be missing something here, but are there any PDF apps that support apples “scribble” feature, where you just write on the screen and that handwriting is turned into text via the OS rather than through an app feature.

Here’s PDF expert demoing that:

What this would require is that you create a “note” and scribble in that rather than scribble on the doc itself


Thanks - yes, I do know about scribble. It just doesn’t work as well for me – I find it super finicky and it kind of doesn’t flow while I’m reading and annotating. I’d prefer the ability to have everything handwritten and then extracted afterwards. I could almost imagine writing up comments in Goodnotes and then dragging the OCRd text to Drafts, but then I’d have more work on the Drafts end. I suppose I’m just a bit particular, and this is why my need will likely not be met. Oh well :wink:

1 Like

I too find the scribble feature too finicky and inaccurate.

For handwritten note taking, I use GoodNotes. Notability is also oK.

I wish there were a way to multi-select with the lasso tool in Goodnotes. Then I could imagine simply lassoing all my handwritten notes, and dragging into a Drafts document, then using arrange mode. (The drag and drop between handwritten notes in Goodnotes and Drafts is pretty magical!)

Any more news on this? Flexcil might be able to do this, but I can’t work it out - has anyone tried it?

I find scribble in a note/comment works well with just about any of the PDF readers, but I find it cumbersome to use the comments box and it doesn’t allow the visual-ness of scanning for your margin note (as in " I remember I scrawled that halfway down the page somewhere…").
I like the new Zotero beta PDF reader, but the markup is quite limited. on the upside, extracting quotes into Word is now extremely easy and comfortable, complete with active Zotero citation/reference.
But I agree, transforming the handwritten notes in the margin remains my biggest wish!

That is a great accuracy rate for OCR. And if it’s referring to accuracy of just handwriting, that’s amazing!

I block print all the time in various apps in order that there’d be no confusion. The text recognition still gets mixed up, sometimes on the dumbest things.