The homepage

On the homepage you can arrange your documents accordingly to name or date. Your documents display as thumbnails or lists

The selecting tool (on the top left corner) selects multiple documents. This takes you to a new window with options to export, duplicate, move or delete the selected notes. 

Exporting Options

GoodNotes 5 exports notes in four formats: PDF (flattened/editable), images and GoodNotes. PDFs and images allow you to export your notes with other apps and non-GoodNotes 5 users. The GoodNotes format only opens in the GoodNotes; it is therefore suitable for sharing with GoodNotes users. 

Here is how to create hyperlinks in GoodNotes

PDF exports prevent anyone from editing your PDF annotations. Flattened PDF exports deactivate hyperlinks in your notes but editable ones keep hyperlinks active when exported to other apps. PDFs can be exported with or without page backgrounds/annotations. 

Page template options

Next to the Selection tool, is the Settings button. Notebook Templates takes you to page templates in the app. The app has blank, ruled, dotted, squared, Cornell, legal, single column mix, single column, three column, two column left, accounting, monthly planner, to-dos, weekly planners, guitar tablature and music paper templates.  GoodNotes 5 supports many paper sizes (A3-A4, Letter, Tabloid and GoodNotes Standard). It has three paper colours (white, yellow and dark). These templates come in portrait and landscape modes. You can rotate your pages if you choose the wrong orientation. These paper templates might not work for everyone.  Which is why the app allows you to import your own paper templates into the app’s template library. 

The app gives your notebooks covers; for beautiful thumbnails on the homepage.

App Settings

Next, on the Settings icon, under Settings, you can customise the following: 

  • Handwriting recognition
  • Document Editing
  • Stylus & Palm Rejection
  • iCloud Settings
  • Email to GoodNotes
  • Backup Data
  • Automatic Backup
  • Searching Index
  • Troubleshooting

Select the default language for handwriting recognition in your app under Handwriting Recognition. GoodNotes 5 supports 17 languages (English, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Russian, Simplified Chinese, Spanish, Thai, Traditional Chinese, Turkish).

Under Document Editing, you can prevent your iPad from locking the screen automatically. When you turn this off, your iPad will not sleep when GoodNotes 5 is open. 

Turning off Status Bar hides the time and battery level on your iPad. This gives the app a minimalist look. I leave mine on because I always want to know what time it is.

Pull to add page is a shortcut for adding new pages (with the previous page template) to your notes. Turning it off means you will be adding new pages using the plus icon. The gesture is faster.

You can choose the position for your toolbar: top/bottom.

For the zoom window, you can turn on auto advance. The app automatically moves your zoom tool as you write and you don’t have to do it yourself. I always struggle with the tool when trying to move onto the next line. The app doesn’t show your previous line in the zoom window. Which is the main reason I personally don’t use this feature. 

Automatically open new imported documents does exactly what it say, when turned on.

Open Documents as New Tabs lets you open your documents in new tabs. If you turn it off, the app will replace your opened notes with the new note you are opening on the homepage. 

Styluses Supported

Styluses & Palm rejection gives you options to choose a smart stylus and some customise your Apple Pencil (Single Finger Panning, sensitivity and writing posture).  

Under smart stylus, GN5 only supports the  following styluses: 

  • Apple Pencil 1st generation
  • Apple Pencil 2nd generation
  • Logitech Crayon
  • All non-Bluetooth capacitive styluses

 Single finger panning allows you to scroll through your pages with one finger (when your Apple Pencil is connected and active). Turning it off, means you can only scroll with two fingers. It is more comfortable to scroll using one finger, I suggest turning this option on.

You can set the sensitivity of the app’s palm rejection. There are three levels of sensitivity: high, medium and low. For the best handwriting experience, high sensitivity is best. 

You can also choose your writing posture. The app has eight possible positions. For some weird reason, I always struggle to pick one. I know how I hold my pen, I just can’t make a decision when asked the question. I always find myself wondering: is this a trick question? 

You can enable iCloud to sync across your devices. GoodNotes 5 syncs all your documents without a problem. Though sometimes you have to wait a few seconds when you open the app, if there are any documents that need syncying.

Backup options 

Backup now, is manual. Automatic backup is better. You can auto backup to Dropbox, Google Drive or OneDrive. This is an update GN5 added a year after its release. 

Search Indexing  gives you the option to allow GoodNotes 5 to index your PDFs and Handwritten notes. I like the fact that GoodNotes 5 gives me the option to turn this off when really it is not up to me. When disabled, you can’t search through your documents (they will not be searchable).  

Troubleshooting lets you restore default templates and regenerate missing thumbnails.

Trash Bin

This making sure everyone is happy.  Most apps just call it one or the other but GoodNotes 5 calls it both! This is where you restore your documents you’ve accidentally deleted. 

You can import data from GN4. Moving from GN4 to GN5 is a walk through the park. That was very thoughtful. You can rate the app and read about it

The homepage now has a new shortcut icon for Auto backup. It gives you details on your last backup (date and time) and lets you pause or see progress details of ongoing backups.


At the very top of your documents, the plus icon New lets you:

  • create a new notebook, folder or QuickNote
  • add an image, scan or photo (from camera)
  • Import documents from Files

GoodNotes supports folders within folders. You can have an infinite number of folders in GoodNotes 5. This allows you to be highly organised in the application. 

To quickly annotate an image, import it Photos or just take one with your camera. This is very useful for lectures and meetings. When you don’t have time to draw what’s on the board. Just snap a pic and annotate it. 

At the bottom of the homepage, you can view your documents or favourites. The documents section of your homepage is what we have been discussing up to this point. Under favourites, you can selectively view your favourite 

  • pages only
  • folders only 
  • documents
  • Any (all your favourite documents)

Universal search

Universal search lets you search all the documents in your app; both handwritten and texts. Searching through the app organises your search results, saving you a lot of time. Your search results are organised according to: 

  • written notes 
  • titles 
  • PDFs
  • document outlines 
  • typed notes

Creating digital notes in GoodNotes

I will go through all the icons on the tool bar from left to right, starting with the top bar icons followed by the lower bar.

The arrow on the far left corner takes you back to the homepage. It’s your exit button out of the workspace.

The document thumbnail icon give you a glance at your document (page thumbnails, favourite pages and document outline).  In this window, you can select multiple pages for copying, rotating, exporting and deleting. This lets you edit your notes quickly and painlessly. The ability to edit multiple pages at once makes GoodNotes 5 a great app for document editing. 

Your favourite pages are those pages you have bookmarked in the app. You can also bookmark each page by simply taping the ribbon icon on the top right corner of the page thumbnail.

Outlines displays the contents of your document, particularly useful for PDF reading. This section will of course be empty if your document doesn’t have an outline. You can also create your own outline for your PDFs and notes in GoodNotes 5. 

 Each page thumbnail has a down-facing arrow with editing options for individual pages. You can:

  • add a page before/after the current page
  • duplicate the page
  • add the page to the outline
  • Export the page
  • open that page in a new instance/window
  • delete the page (move to trash)

You can search your notes in the workspace. GoodNotes 5 will search through your handwritten notes, PDF, text and scans (if they have been added through the scanning feature within the app).

The bookmark icon lets you bookmark favourite pages. Simply tap on it to add the current page to your favourites. When it is red, it shows that page is bookmarked.

 The export icon lets you export the current page or all pages. You can export specific pages out of GoodNotes 5 as well. This is also the icon with settings for your presentation mode and for printing your notes (for when you are required to submit physical paperwork).

In the middle of the top toolbar, is the title of your notes. Tapping on it will allow you edit the name. This section also contains document info (location, last edit and number of pages). Below this, you can move the document to a different folder. 

Next, on the left corner are undo and redo buttons. Next to them is a plus  icon. It lets you:

  • add pages to your notebook (before/after current page or after the last page of the document) 
  • add an image from Photos
  • scan documents into your notes
  • add a photo to your notes using the iPad camera
  • import a document from Files
  • The next icon is the Apple Pencil icon. When the pencil in the icon is crossed, the Apple Pencil is activated. You can write your notes in the app.  When it is encircled, then the Apple Pencil is deactivated. When deactivated, you can tap on the hyperlinks in your documents. 
  • Hyperlinks don’t  respond to your fingers’ touch when the Apple Pencil is activated. 

The last icon on the top tool bar is the three dots icon with options to:

  • copy page 
  • rotate this page
  • add this page to the outline
  • change template
  • go to page (skip pages in your document)
  • clear page
  • Some settings on (as those found on the homepage): 
    • scrolling direction
    • stylus & palm rejection
    • document editing

Zoom tool

The first tool on the lower tool bar is the zoom icon, for adding tiny handwritten notes to fit more information on your page. The zoom window has navigating icons  for moving the tool around as you write your notes.

The icons on the left let you create a margin for your page. On the right are arrows for moving your zoom window as you write. When set to auto advance the app will automatically move your zoom window for you. 

Pen tools

Next tool on our tool bar is the pen tool. GoodNotes 5 has three different pen types (fountain, ball and brush pen). The handwriting experience is GN5 has improved dramatically. It feels good writing in the app. There is no lag and the palm reject is excellent.

You can customise your pens at the end of this tool bar. You get options to change your pen colour and its size. GN5 allows you to save three colour templates and three size templates for your pens. I hope they add more options. 

The pen sizes in GoodNotes 5 are measured in millimetres (from 0.1mm to 2.0mm). It is very easy to adjust these to exactly the width you need. Though personally I prefer Notability’s approach for sizing pens.


The next icon is the eraser. Tap on it once to use it in the app. Tap it again (once already selected) to customise it. The first option you get it to clear page.  This of course erases everything you have done on the page (annotations, text boxes). These are you eraser options in GoodNotes 5: 

  • erase entire stroke
  • erase highlighter only
  • auto-deselect 
  • When turned on, auto deselect, GN5 automatically reverts back to the tool that you were using before the eraser. At the far right side of the toolbar you can select the size of your eraser from the three available sizes. 

Next  to the eraser, you have the highlighter. It can straighten out your highlights if you turn on the option to draw in a straight line. Those tend to look neater. 

Shapes tool

The shapes tool can fill colour your shapes. Your fill colour and shape edge have the same colour. You can’t customise them to be different. The option to snap to other strokes is very useful to turn on. If, while drawing a triangle, you lift your Apple Pencil off the page, then draw the third side of your triangle as a single line; it will automatically be snapped to the other strokes you have already draw. 

Lasso tool

The lasso tool can selectively pick up your: 

  • handwriting only
  • images only
  • text boxes only
  • all these three at once

You have this much control over what your lasso tool, which is great! Once you have selected a section, the lasso tool allows you to:

  • take a screenshot to share with other apps
  • resize the section
  • convert handwriting to text
  • change the colour of your notes of your 
  • cut, copy or delete the section

While resizing your section,  you can also rotate it. GoodNotes 5 has some preset colours to choose from  when changing your colour. You can also choose custom colours

Handwriting recognition

Handwriting recognition for converting your handwriting to text is good. You can select your language from the lower right corner of the popup window. GoodNotes 5 supports a total of seventeen languages. Once your section has been converted, you export it to other applications. Or copy it and paste it into your notes. GoodNotes 5 doesn’t automatically replace your handwritten section with the converted text. After pasting your text, you have to manually delete the handwritten section. This is just a lot of work. This tool needs some improvement.

Photos and images

You can insert a photo from Photos. Once added, you can resize and rotate your image. You can even stretch or shrink it.  You can crop your image (as a rectangle or freehand). You can share the image; just the image.

You can take a photo into your notes. Sometimes there’s just not enough time to copy an image on the board. Just snap a picture and annotate the photo. You can do everything you do with photos as normal once you’ve taken your photo.

The text tool

The text tool in GoodNotes 5 is on the app’s worst feature. A text box appears around your text while typing. It disappears once you’re done. 

Tap on the text to customised it, the text box reappears. You get options to select or select all the text. You can paste if you have any to paste. You can make your text bold, italic or underlined it. The app can read out the text for you when you tap Speak Sentence.

On the far right side of the tool bar, you have colours options for your text. You also have formatting tools to make your text bold or italics; as well as styling options for your text. These include: 

  • alignment options
  • font size 
  • font type
  • text background colour
  • text box border colour
  • text box border thickness
  • text box padding 

You can save your styling options as default.

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