How to Create Sketches in Notes for iPhone and iPad

You don't need a special app to doodle on your iPhone

The iPad Pro supports the all-new Apple Pencil, a stylus created the Apple way. Image © Apple, Inc.

The Notes app that comes preinstalled with the iPhone and iPad has a hidden secret: a sketch pad. You can use Notes to doodle a quick drawing next to a note you are taking for class, or you can use it as a drawing app complete with multiple brush sizes and colors. When you combine the sketch pad with the ability to add photos from the device's camera roll, you end up with a quite powerful tool and one of the few note-taking apps that actually lets you draw next to your notes.

However, in a very un-Apple-like way, doodling in your Notes isn't quite as simple as tapping a button and drawing on your iPhone (well, okay, it is, but just not the first time you try). There are actually two different ways to draw within Notes:

  • The Sketch Pad: The full sketch pad is designed as more of a professional tool. There are three different brush sizes, a myriad of colors, an eraser and a ruler. You can also rotate you sketch. The drawing shows up as a block within your Note and you can edit it at any time, so you can add to the sketch later on if you get interrupted. This tool is great for iPad drawing because it supports the Apple Pencil.
  • Inline Sketches: These are meant as quick drawings that exist seamlessly with your text. They are useful because they don't have a border, so the transition between the words you've typed into your note and the drawing is seamless. Inline sketches, however, have a lot of downsides. They don't offer as many colors as many colors as the sketch pad, don't have the ruler tool and have a different eraser functionality. Inline sketches include a selection tool that isn't available on the sketch pad, but the biggest difference between the two is that you can't edit an inline sketch after you save it.

    Which one should you choose? The inline sketch tool has some features that make it easier for those without an art background to create a quick doodle on a drawing pad, but shouldn't be discounted even for professionals. The biggest draws of the full-fledged sketch pad is the ability to edit the drawing later and the ruler that can help sketch out precise drawings.

    How to Sketch on the iPhone or iPad Using Notes

    Adding a new or inline sketch on the iPhone or iPad is as simple as choosing the right options:

    Screenshot of the Sketch Pad in Notes
    1. First, launch Notes.
    2. Inside the Notes app, start a new Note by tapping the compose button in the upper right corner of the screen. This button looks like a square with a pencil on it.
    3. If you want to create an inline sketch, tap the a button with an image of the tip of a pen. The button is located in the bottom-right corner of the screen. If the on-screen keyboard is being displayed, the button is at the far right side of the toolbar above the keyboard.
    4. If you want to create a full sketch, tap the circular button with a plus sign and choose Add Sketch from the pop-up menu. This button is located to the left of the inline sketch button.
    5. The drawing will appear wherever the cursor is within the text, so if you have already typed a note, the sketch will appear after the typing.

    How to Draw Using the Standalone Sketch Pad

    The basics are the same whether you are using the sketch pad or the inline tool. You can choose between three different brush sizes: pen, marker and pencil. The pencil size is great for drawing shapes to help frame your drawing and for shading, while the pen and marker sizes create solid drawings.

    Screenshot of the Sketch Pad in Notes
    The sketch pad includes a ruler for precise drawing.

    You also have a wide variety of color choices. If you are holding you iPhone in portrait mode, which means the home button is at the bottom or the top of the phone, you will only see one color at a time. But if you tap the color, you will see a wider array of colors. You can also scroll through these colors by swiping left or right on the colored circles. When you choose a color, the tip of the active brush size will change to that color, which makes it easier to see which brush is active.  

    You also gain two special tools when using the sketch pad: the rotate button and the ruler tool. The rotate button is at the top right corner of the screen. It looks like a box with an arrow curved around the upper right corner. This button will rotate the entire image 90 degrees counter clockwise.

    The ruler tool places a ruler on the screen that you can manipulate with your fingers. You can drag it to any place on the sketch pad and rotate it by placing two fingers down on the ruler and moving one of those fingers in a circular motion around the other finger. The ruler will display the angle while you rotate it, which is great if you need a very precise angle. With the ruler on the screen, anything you draw right next to the ruler will be aligned perfectly with it.

    You can exit the drawing using the Done button at the top-left of the screen. You can also go back to the sketch at any time and edit it by tapping on it in the note.

    How to Doodle With Objects Using Inline Sketch

    While inline sketch and the full sketch pad may seem like two versions of the same basic tool, they are actually very different. The inline sketch allows you to draw using objects. This means everything you draw from the time you put your finger or stylus down on the screen until you pick it up again is an 'object.' So if you draw an 'S', pick up your finger, and then draw another 'S', you have two different objects: the first 'S' and the second 'S'.

    Screenshot of the Sketch Pad in Notes
    The inline sketch tool allows objects to be easily duplicated.

    This is an important distinction because it changes how the eraser works using the inline sketch tool. The eraser is right next to the three brush sizes, and instead of erasing just the area you touch, the eraser will delete the entire object it touches. So if you touch any part of that second S, the entire S will disappear.

    Make a mistake? Don't worry. You can tap the undo button to erase a mistake. (Or use the undo button to unerase an erasing mistake.) The undo button is a circle with a curved arrow pointing to the left and is located at the top of the screen. One you undo something, the redo button will appear beside the undo button. It looks the same but with the arrow pointing to the right and it will 'redo' whatever you just erased with the undo button. These two functions are your very own rewind and fast forward buttons.

    Inline sketches also have a unique tool: the selector. This can be a quite powerful feature in the right hands. When you have the selector active, you can draw on the screen to 'select' the objects you have drawn. Anything the selector outline touches will be selected. You can then move all of these objects by holding your finger down on the selection and moving it to a new location. And if you quickly tap the selection, you will get a menu allowing you to cut, copy, delete or duplicate the selection. This makes Notes a great iPad or iPhone drawing app for beginners because it allows us to cheat.

    Unfortunately, the inline sketch tool is limited to just black, blue, green, yellow and red for colors.

    When you are done with your doodling, simply tap the X button at the bottom-right corner of the screen. Remember, you cannot go back and edit an inline sketch, so be sure you are finished!

    How to Share Your Sketch With Friends

    Who doesn't want to show off their stuff? You can share your drawing with friends and family, but if you are using the inline sketch tool, you will need to exit the tool before sharing your work.

    Screenshot of the Sketch Pad in Notes

    You can share the inline sketch by double tapping it within the note. This will bring up a menu allowing you to cut, copy, delete or share the sketch. When you tap Share, you will see the share sheet pop up. You can choose to share it via a test message, mail, Twitter, Facebook or even save it to your camera roll.

    You can share a full sketch pad drawing even as you are working on it by tapping the share button at the top of the screen. This is the button that looks like a box with an arrow pointing out the top. This will bring up the same share sheet with the same options as for the inline sketch.