GoodNotes as a PDF reader (2022)

The basics

The line separating PDF readers and note-taking apps is becoming blurry every day. In GoodNotes, multiple instances can open a PDF and notebook at the same time. The tabs in the app, open even more documents so you can switch between them if you need to. A PDF on one side and a notebook on the other is the simplest way to take notes from a PDF on the iPad.

For annotation, GoodNotes uses the same tools you’d use for note-taking. You can therefore handwrite comments and highlight sections in your PDF. You can also long-press some text to Highlight or Strikeout text. If you highlight your text this way, the app only seems to support the yellow highlighter, with no options to change the colour.

Like any decent note-taking app, GoodNotes deactivates hyperlinks in your PDF when you’re using your Apple Pencil. That way, you don’t accidentally navigate to a different page when annotating your PDF.

The cool features

Here are some features that make GoodNotes a great option for simple PDF reading. The app:

  • Recognises outlines if your PDF has one.
  • Creates custom outlines: in GoodNotes, bookmarking pages and adding them to an outline are two different things. You can do both in the application. You can also Filter to choose the outline you want to see; the one for your PDF or your custom one.
  • Select multiple pages to copy, rotate, export or delete them. 
  • Add blank pages before or after a selected page. The new page can be an image, scan or photo.
  • Import a document from Files to add to your PDF. If the document you add is a word or ppt format, the app converts it to PDF first.
  • Drag & drop sections of your PDFs into your notes. Though it’s a two-step process, at least it’s doable. It would be better if it were a one-step process.
  • Collaboration lets you work on your PDFs with other people.

Exporting PDFs

Once you’re done working on your PDFs you have several options to export them. You can export with active hyperlinks and custom outlines by making a PDF Editable. For example, I could export this Paperless X digital notebook out of GoodNotes to Notability and all the links will keep working. You can also Enable Handwriting Recognition to keep your handwriting searchable in other apps.

The limitations

GoodNotes is first a note-taking app, then a PDF reader. It, therefore, has a few limitations for PDF reading. You can’t:

  • Add space around your pages to add more annotations
  • Annotate PDFs in cloud services
  • Dark mode doesn’t work on PDFs
  • Create hyperlinks
  • Big PDFs are generally a problem for all PDF readers on the iPad.

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