Scanning for digital notes

What software do I use to convert handwritten notes into a digital form?


Like many scientists, I make lots of notes: cribsheets, reading summaries, analysis details, ideas ... and I end up with a huge volume of paper, boxes of old journals and notebooks. Not only does this take up a large amount of room, but it's also difficult to search and related materials are scattered across multiple books.

Thus, for a long time I've been searching for a digital solution, something would allow handwritten notes to be stored and searched. The below is a quick comparison of apps to acheive this. Soft requirements are:

  • Android-based
  • It should work with any page, with no special paper or pens required
  • Cleaning up and straightening scan if need be
  • OCR, taking handwriting to searchable text
  • Frictionless exporting of resulting image to useful organisational tool or system, like Evernote

General results

  • All of the solutions below are Android apps, with scanning done via a Samsung S6.
  • There's a huge number of possible programs out there and I mostly looked at just obvious candidates, dismissing those with medicore reviews or unprofessional appearance.
  • Surprisingly, especially given how many packages boast of image filters and options for cleaning up scans, scan quality is roughly equivalent across apps. Light level and direction can make a huge direction.
  • OCR quality was disappointing, but that's probably the consequence of device limitations (processing on a mobile device), technical limitations (OCR is hard) and my terrible handwriting. Those apps that use a central service to convert fared much better.
  • Conversely, any program that can export to Evernote can leave the OCR to its impressive qualities.
  • Cost is a tricky issue. Often the most important features of a scanning app will be locked away in a "pro" version or subscription. Which is understadable but makes them difficult to assess. Complicating this is that some apps come in several versions and it can be hard to see what you pay and what you get.
  • Some of the apps tested use "special paper", i.e. pages marked up such that an associated app can better recognise page limits and text. Obviously there are considerations here (especially the cost of the paper), but here I'm just looking at process downstream of scanning, i.e. if I was to use this system, how does the scan and OCR work?

Individual approaches

Adobe Scan

  • Can use the camera to photograph and scan any page and is good at framing the page.
  • The scan results are good, and are automatically straightened.
  • OCR ...
  • The results can be synced to the "Adobe Cloud" or emailed, which is not so useful.

ABBYY FineScanner

ABBYY is the high-end scanning program and comes with the expected eye-watering price. There is a free version which this is based on.

  • Can use the camera to photograph and scan any page and is good at framing the page.
  • The scan results are good - although perhaps best with black-and-white - and are automatically straightened.
  • OCR is behind the subscription paywall, although a trial conversion simply returned the gnomic "not recognised".
  • Sharing is basically only emailing.


One of the usual recommendations given on forums, CS gives a clear results and exports to just about anywhere (Box, GoogleDrive, email, Evernote ...)

Notebloc is a "special paper" solution with an application that looks near identical to ClearScanner,


Sold as a basic, no-frills scanner, TS certainly is that. While the scan quality is fine, it had some troubles framing the images

IntSig CamScanner


RB is a "special paper" solution - you write in special books and scan them with RB's own app. The cost of the books is eyewatering but the



If you want to get your notes into Evernote, why note just let Evernote do the scanning?

  • The Evernote camera will photograph and scan any page. It's so-so at framing the page, with a little bit of jittering around that maybe the result of low light.
  • The scan results are decent, although a shaky faint pen stroke seemed to get slightly degraded. Scans are automatically straightened.
  • OCR (in Evernote) is so-so.
  • Obviously, it's easy to get the results into Evernote. Consecutive pages can be placed in the same document.