Here's my situation: I am a theoretical physicist and I am producing tons of handwritten notes every day. Also, I am working both from home and in my office. In order not to carry a ton of paper with me every day and to reduce the waste I bought a graphic tablet and wanted to create my future notes on my hard drives. For this, I need to be able to do the following

  • Create Empty documents (in DIN A4 for printing) and write my notes via the graphic tablet
  • Import PDFs and other graphic formats into my handwritten notes, or alternatively write on PDFs
  • Ideally, work with and export as vector graphics, I don't want to rasterize imported graphics unless needed (i.e., this is optional but very much wanted).
  • Do all of the above both on Linux and MacOs

My current working machine is a Mac, however, in 3 years I probably discontinue Mac, in which case I don't want to lose everything to proprietary file formats. So far I considered Inkscape, however, the port for MacOs is just awful; I won't considering reinstalling it ever on the Mac. Next, I currently use Krita, which has a really nice support for the tablet and is pretty straightforward to use with external graphics. Yet, it lacks export to PDF, constantly crashes on MacOs, its vector graphic capabilities are antic and I personally have the feeling that a full-blown painting program is a little overkill for simple handwritten notes. Lastly, I checked OneNote today. However, as far as I see it, one can only save the notes to the Cloud? Also, for Linux, one needs to rely on the Web Interface of OneNote and Microsoft is not known for maintaining a proper longterm Linux support (see Skype). I gladly will investigate any other proposals of portable and free software.

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    Request for clarification: Are you looking for this tool to do OCR from your handwriting as well as vector graphics and pdf import? Are you positing directly that you want solutions which are not locked into an Apple walled-garden paradigm? Apr 3, 2018 at 16:03
  • I ask because... I transitioned 1 1/2 yrs ago from hand sketch/note-taking in notebooks for design (architecture, 3D modeling & IT Network Topology) to using an iPad Pro & Apple Pencil, using apps: Concepts for vector design & sketching, Procreate for fine arts rendering, and Nebo for handwriting capture, and have been finding this a very sustainable toolset and method overall. I can export vector art as pdf or svg, I can save out raster art in a wide range from highres pngs on down, and from Nebo the OCR is directly embedded from the get-go, and it's learned my handwriting rather well. Apr 3, 2018 at 16:04
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    Nebo is cross-platform: iOS, Windows, Android - and given it'll run on Android, safe bet it can be ported to any ** nix*. Concepts: concepts.tophatch.com/?lang=en <br/> Procreate:procreate.art <br/> Nebo:myscript.com/nebo Apr 3, 2018 at 16:06
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    @GerardFalla I do not care about OCR a lot. Would be nice to have, but since I am mainly writing formulas this could hurt more than it is a benefit to me. I would prefer to keep everything vectorized since most of my notes have sketches. Also, I feel like that most of my mistakes I have in my notes do not require that I erase everything but rather insert "something in the middle" which is easier with vector graphics.
    – manthano
    Apr 4, 2018 at 6:58

3 Answers 3


Check out Xournal++. It works with Linux, MacOS, and a Wacom tablet or active stylus. You can use a 2-in-1 convertible laptop like HP Envy, Lenovo Yoga, etc.

Another option would be to use an IPad with the Apple Pencil and the Myscript Nebo app. I use this set up as part of my daily workflow. You can have equations recognized from your drawings as well as have your handwriting converted to text for searching and easier implementation in other writing projects. Myscript Nebo lets use keep everything organized OneNote style or you can easily export the recognized text with drawings etc. or the unrecognized text and drawings to another application.


Looking for different tools for over a week now, I decided to summarise the advantages and disadvantages of all tools I have tested so far. Just that there is no confusion; I consider only tools for hand written notes. Other apps and services like Evernote or Google Keep are thus not considered.

Short Summary

Focusing to have hand written notes in a vector graphics form immensely reduces the available tools. I have found no program for note keeping, which is able to do this. Thus I considered a lot of design and graphic programs. These have the advantage that the usually can use the full potential of your graphic tablet (if you use one as input device).

One Note


  • Made primarily for note keeping
  • Semi platform independent: Support for Windows & MacOS, Linux Users need to rely on a web-based interface
  • All notes can be encrypted


  • Does not support vector graphics: Manipulations of sketches and Notes are thus slightly cumbersome
  • PDF manipulation only possible to some extent.

Subjective Points

  • Current version (at least on MacOS) only supports infinite canvases. This is especially bad for printing.
  • Cloud-based. Have your files everywhere, however internet access might be mandatory.



  • Platform independent. Runs on all major platforms (up to some exceptions, see disadvantages)
  • Vector-graphics support
  • PDF support and natural, vector-based PDF manipulation
  • Free and Open Source


  • The MacOS port comes straight out of hell.



  • Platform independent
  • Graphic Tablet support
  • Great Interface
  • Free and Open source


  • The vector graphics manipulation is horrible slow
  • Primarily rasterised
  • Only supports PDF import, no PDF manipulation, no PDF export
  • Crashes all the time (especially during saving!), at least on MacOs

Affinity Designer


  • Primarily made for vector graphics. Works amazingly well and written nodes or sketches are easily manipulated and changed
  • Great PDF support. Manipulation of PDF's on a vector basis possible
  • Support for graphics tablets
  • Primarily a Designer Tool, thus can do much more than just store notes
  • Fast! Even with multiple files, open one does not feel


  • Supports only MacOS and Windows
  • Costs 60€

Adobe Illustrator

I will test this program for creating hand written notes in the next weeks, when I get my license


  • Most expansive tool on this list. Probably useful only if you have the license anyway.
  • Supports only MacOs and Windows

may I suggest masterpdfeditor it has the best handwriting feel and ability to open multiple tabs and copy and paste the hand writing as vectors (pdf) pics, text etc

another one, if you don't mind working fullscreen is OpenBoard its meant for white boarding but will do what you want easily and export to pdf

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