The Ultimate Guide to Goodnotes App – Take Good Notes on iPad (updated 2021)

Attention paperless professionals: You CAN take searchable handwritten notes on your iPad and waste ZERO paper! 

2021 digital planner goodnotes app

More and more people are ecstatic about this way of taking good notes by hand. You can now scribble and remember your notes with ease, without wasting one piece of paper. All you need is an iPad, the Apple Pencil, and Goodnotes app. Here’s how I transformed my iPad into my best 2021 digital planner.


Eager to try it before jumping into details?

Download my FREE 2021 Digital Planner and get started today.

What is the Goodnotes app?

You may be familiar with the bulky paper notebooks, the never-ending phone to-do lists, and the fancy reMarkable tablet. But did you know you can take beautiful, searchable handwritten notes directly on your iPad?

It’s time to meet Goodnotes 5 app – the note-taking apps that everyone is talking about. Goodnotes app lets you take handwritten notes in endless digital notebooks and annotate imported PDF, images, and Powerpoint documents directly on your iPad. It has a MAC version too, but for now, let’s talk about the iPad version.

Why use a note-taking app?

Note-taking is not for everyone. But it’s an excellent option if you’re often taking personal notes, family notes, work notes or, lecture notes … and you want to:

  1. stop carrying around so many heavy paper notebooks
  2. have all your notes and documents neatly organized and always with you
  3. take notes by hand (so you can remember them better), yet easily erase mistakes without leaving marks
  4. search and find what you wrote
  5. share your notes with family and colleagues

What CAN you do with Goodnotes 5 app?

Whether you’re creating default digital notebooks or annotating imported PDF documents, you can use Goodnotes 5 app to:

  • outline your plans inside a digital planner
  • capture your thoughts inside a digital diary
  • take meeting notes using a simple meeting note template or a ready-to-use digital appointment book
  • create your daily to-do list
  • scribble and share your notes during ZOOM calls (share your iPad screen for everyone to see)
  • create a workout planner and track your fitness progress
  • keep track of your meals inside a meal planner or meal diary

What you CAN’T do with Goodnotes 5 app

Using the Goodnotes app for digital note-taking is like writing on a paper notebook inside your tablet. So there are some limitations like:

✘ it does NOT sync with Google Calendar
✘ it does NOT sync with Outlook Appointments
✘ it does NOT send reminders
✘ it does NOT create links between notebook’s pages

10 reasons why you’ll take good notes in Goodnotes 5 app:

1. Organize your notes in folders

With Goodnotes 5 it’s easy to create as many folders and subfolders as you need, then move digital notebooks between them. 

And you can choose to display all folders and documents as lists or as a grid for a comfortable experience.

To create a folder tap the + New > Folder Name the Folder > DONE

To move a folder tap the Arrow (next to the folder’s name) > Move Select a Location > Move

Digital planner for Goodnotes. Folders in Goodnotes app - digital planners

2. Open documents in tabs or side by side

By far, this is the best feature to have when working with the same documents every day. You’ll found it extremely helpful to have all these digital documents open and ready to use while taking notes on multiple documents at a time.

Digital planner for Goodnotes. Documents in tabs in Goodnotes 5 app - digital planners

Plus, Goodnotes app has made multi-tasking easy: you can read an article on one side, and take notes on the other. Or easily drag and drop information from one note to another.

Digital planner for Goodnotes. Drag and drop in Goodnotes 5 app using Multi-tasking for iOS - digital planners

3. Get organized inside a Notebook (using the Outlines)

Are you annotating on PDF files that have built-in Table of Content? Then look for all those pre-defined sections inside the Outlines section (go to the 4 rectangle icon > Outlines) to quickly jump from one section to another.

The Table of Content (Outlines) in Goodnotes 5 app - digital planners

If you however want to add an outline inside a digital notebook AFTER importing it to Goodnotes 5, you can do that too from the Thumbnails section.

pdf outline goodnotes 5

4. Search your handwriting effortlessly

Using the fantastic Search function, no matter how many digital notes and PDF files you have stored inside your library, you can quickly find the note you’re looking for, by searching a relevant keyword – whether handwritten or typed. 

OPTION 1: Search the Entire Library of Notebooks

For every Library Search, you’ll get organized results based on “Titles,” “PDFs,” “Document Outlines,” “Typed Notes,” and “Written Notes.” Plus, searching on Goodnotes only takes a few seconds (not minutes, like in other note-taking apps).

To search in your entire Library go to the main Dashboard and in the bottom bar tap the Search > type the Term > hit Search (in the keyboard)

Digital planner for Goodnotes. Global search in Goodnotes 5 app

OPTION 2: Search inside a Digital Notebook

To search inside a digital notebook only, open the notebook and on the top navigation tap the Search icon > type the Term > tap the page where the term was found.

search digital notebook goodnotes 5

5. Annotate PDFs with ease

You can easily import a PDF document and start taking notes in seconds (assuming you have a good WiFi connection). To import a PDF file, go to Goodnotes 5 Dashboard, and tap +New > Import locate the PDF file > hit Select

import digital planner goodnotes

Start adding notes by tapping the pen icon in the Toolbar and select your Pen Type (I love the Ball Pen) or Text tool.

While you’re in the Editing Mode you can also:

  • Erase your handwritten text
  • Highlight any text on the page
  • Move images, or text around (using the lasso tool)
  • and add pictures or stickers

editing mode in goodnotes 5

6. Navigate digital planners using the hyperlinks

If your digital notebook has hyperlinks, you’ll need to go back to the Viewing mode by tapping the Pen in the Toolbar once more. While this requires some extra tapping and may disrupt the note-taking process, it can be useful in some cases to prevent clicking on hyperlinks while writing. This possibility of clicking a link or a monthly tab and going to different sections inside your digital planner is essential when you have hundreds of pages to flip!

viewing mode goodnotes 5

7. Use templates to organize daily, good notes

Goodnotes 5 comes with a set of basic templates for portrait and landscape notebooks. Just go to Template Library and choose from various covers and paper templates, from the graph, dotted, and lined paper, to weekly planners. Plus, you can easily add your custom templates to create the notebook you want.

To access the Template Library go to the main Goodnotes 5 Dashboard and hit the Gear icon > Notebook Templates.

goodnotes 5 default digital templates
goodnotes 5 default digital templates

In my 2021 Digital Planner, I have also included a fantastic collection of digital templates to enhance the planning experience. The advantages of using these built-in template pages (instead of the Goodnotes defaults templates) is that:

  1. you’ll still see the right side navigation on the template page too (just like in your entire digital planner)
  2. you won’t mess up the monthly tabs hyperlinks when copy-pasting a built-in template to a new location
digital templates 2021 digital planner

8. Add, move or delete pages easily

Goodnotes 5 is a great app when it comes to managing digital notebook pages without losing your mind! 

You can easily add pages, move or delete one or multiple pages at once, duplicate pages, change a page template or rotate a page without changing the whole document. 

To edit pages, go to the 4 rectangle icon > Thumbnails and start playing around.

Digital planner for Goodnotes. Copy, rotate, export multiple pages at once in Goodnotes 5 app - digital planners

9. Copy-paste pages without messing up the hyperlinks

You can also copy-paste one or multiple pages in a new location. It is handy when you’re using built-in templates inside a digital planner. With the Copy-Paste function, you can copy a template page and paste it ANYWERE inside the planner, without messing up the right-side monthly tabs’ hyperlinks.

To quickly copy a page go to that page and select the 3 Dots icon > Copy page.

To paste that page go to the new location and tap the + icon > Paste Page.

copy page goodnotes-5
paste page goodnotes 5

10. Easily share your notes

In Goodnotes 5 you can export editable or flattened PDF files, images or .goodnotes formats. This comes in very handy when you’ll need to share your good notes. You’ll be able to export one page, multiple pages or the entire document and share it with your clients, colleagues, friends or family members.

Digital planner for Goodnotes. Export options  in Goodnotes 5 app - export editable PDF - export flattened PDF - export image

Plus, a lot more flexibility to edit the digital notebooks:

  • Settings flexibility – in Goodnotes 5 I can opt for top/bottom toolbar that can improve my digital handwriting experience. I do however like the default option with the top editing toolbar.
  • Easy to import images/stickers with or without transparent background
  • Easy drag & drop text, photos from other apps into Goodnotes 5 with Multitasking
  • Great handwriting experience – great sizes and color choices for the ink, and highlighter. Also, I can easily customize them with my own colors and stroke thickness.
  • Advanced lasso tool – This works very well! I can move the selection around the page, copy it, delete it, resize it or rotate it! For the handwritten content I can also change the pen color or convert it to text.
  • The eraser tool works super smooth – it can delete parts of the stroke, the entire stroke or the highlighter only, giving me so much more flexibility when taking notes
  • Presentation Mode available – this is a killer feature when you need to present in front of an audience. Just mirror your screen and you’re good to go. I did not use this feature yet, but I hope I’ll have the chance to use it soon. To use this feature just tap the Share icon and choose to Collaborate, Export your pages or, enter a Presentation Mode.
export presentation mode goodnotes 5

7 reasons when you may NOT LIKE Goodnotes 5

  • You can’t add links to pages – Being able to add a link from one particular note (like the client’s name) to another page inside your notebook (like the client’s profile page or project’s page) may be excellent. Still, Goodnotes has not yet implemented this feature.
  • POOR Performance and speed – This is the main reason I do not use Goodnotes 5 as my main annotations app. You may experience Goodnotes 5 as being laggy or slow; files do not import correctly, and the app crashed on files bigger than 7-10MB (so pay attention if you’re using a lot of images or stickers).
  • Requires a considerable storage space on my iPad – Definitely, Goodnotes 5 app has a lot to improve in this chapter. It easily exceeds 1 GB of storage. Since I like to keep my digital planners and notebooks inside the app for 1-2 years, keeping the storage size as decent as possible is necessary.
  • Unproductive and less intuitive toolbar layout – If you wish for a simpler and more organized toolbar, Goodnotes 5 may not be for you. I suggest to try Noteshelf app instead.
  • Not so easy to bookmark and label a page – This is a very useful feature whenever I need to bookmark a client profile page, or a particular meeting. However, in Goodnotes 5 app there is no straight forward and efficient way to do this. You can bookmark a page (add to Favorites), but you can’t label that bookmark. A workaround would be to go to Thumbnails or Favorites tab, click on the small arrow on the bottom left of a page thumbnail, and tap Add Page to Outline. You will be prompted to add a page title and you’ll find this new labeled page inside the Outlines tab.
  • DOES NOT HAVE the Record and playback audio – This is a killer feature that GoodNotes 5 does NOT have. Would have been so useful to audio record my meetings or skype discussion while talking notes on my dedicated Digital Clients Book. Hopefully the team will include this into a feature app update. If this feature is essential for you, try Notability app instead.
  • DOES NOT recognize dates links, emails and phone numbers so I CAN’T add events to the calendar, call a phone number or write an email.
  • Go Back / Go to Page buttons – I got used to these 2 buttons when working in Goodnotes 4 (“Go Back” no longer exist in Goodnotes 5 app – such a pity!) so I could see how massively useful they are! If there is one NEW feature that I would like to see implemented in Goodnotes 5 that would be the “Go Back” Button

Learn more about Digital Planners

(and some info about the 2021 Outline Planner)

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