Best Apple Pencil apps if you don’t sketch or draw

Best Apple Pencil apps if you don't sketch or draw

When I purchased a 12.9” iPad Pro back in November, I bought an Apple Pencil to go with it. When I decided against the 12.9” iPad Pro, I still kept my Apple Pencil.

Even though I don’t draw, I found a lot of other ways the Apple Pencil fit into my workflow — and because I knew sooner rather than later, Apple would release a smaller iPad with full support for the Apple Pencil.

That day has come, and I can’t wait to get back to using my Apple Pencil. Here are some of the best Apple Pencil apps that have absolutely nothing to do with sketching or drawing:

PDF Expert

Best Apple Pencil apps for people who don't sketch or draw

PDF Expert is hands-down my favorite app for editing and managing PDF documents on the go, and the Apple Pencil makes the entire experience even better.

I’ve never been a huge fan of using my finger to highlight or place symbols and arrows on a document. However, I’ve never really found a stylus that I liked enough to bother with. Most of them have tips that are too wide or broad, or the lag resulted in illegible text. (My handwriting is bad enough without any help).

With the Apple Pencil and PDF Expert, I feel as if I’m marking up and annotating an actual piece of paper. And as I’ve mentioned many times before, PDF Expert’s excellent interface is incredibly simple and easy to use, which means I can quickly work my way through documents and send them on their way in minutes.

Oh, just remember to turn palm rejection off inside the PDF Expert app itself so the Apple Pencil works the way it should.

Best Apple Pencil apps for people who don't sketch or draw

The Notes app that comes stock on every iPhone and iPad almost feels as if it were made for the Apple Pencil. While some people love using it for sketching, I love using it just to write.

Sure, I still type notes out far more often than I write them, but there are many times I want to draw arrows, highlight, or scribble a little side note down. Using the Apple Pencil to do these kinds of things just feels more natural than using my finger.

Of all the note taking apps I’ve tried on the iPad, the Notes app is hands-down the most responsive in terms of the Apple Pencil. While it doesn’t meet all my needs, it’s getting close, and the Apple Pencil integration takes it one step closer.

  • Built-in to iOS


Best Apple Pencil apps for people who don't sketch or draw

The Notes app may work just fine for a lot of people, but if you want a more powerful option for notes, look no further than Notability. Not only can you type and take handwritten notes, you can do all kinds of useful things like record audio and import PDFs.

Whether you’re in a boardroom or a classroom, the ability to record audio for later and scribble down notes at the same time is invaluable. I’ve recommended Notability to college students many times and they come away delighted. You can literally import an assignment PDF and work on it right inside the same app as you record your lecture.

When Apple announced the Apple Pencil, Notability was one of the apps I was most excited about. I only wish the iPad and Notability would have been around during my days of sitting through 2 hour lecture halls and recitations.


Best Apple Pencil apps for people who don't draw

Almost immediately after publishing this, it was brought to my attention on Twitter that I should be mentioning GoodNotes 4 as well. I wasn’t familiar with GoodNotes prior to this morning, so I can’t say anything on it personally but it was the first of many mentions I got recommending it (as well as the comments on this article vouching for it).

What I find most intriguing about GoodNotes is that it can turn handwriting into actual typed text via OCR, and it does it really well, as Kirk McElhearn recently demonstrated.

So if you’re in the market for a great note taking app, even if you have horrible handwriting, GoodNotes appears to be another great option.


Best Apple Pencil apps for people who don't sketch or draw

I may not sketch or draw, but I edit tons of photos on my iPad. As apps have gotten better and better, my need to open my MacBook and launch Photoshop has shrunk. (Disclaimer: I still use Photoshop on my Mac every single day, but my dependency is constantly shrinking.)

Editing travel and personal photos is one task I’ve grown to enjoy doing much more on my iPad than my Mac, with Pixelmator specifically. My iPad’s touchscreen gives me much finer control over little details. I can zoom in and out and make minor adjustments that may be more challenging with a regular mouse and keyboard.

However, even with a touchscreen, I’ve still come across times where my fingertip was too wide to make the minor adjustment I needed to, or it would have been a lot simpler with a more precise tool. This is where I’ve really come to love the Apple Pencil. I can use correction and repair tools in the smallest of spots, or even use the side of the Apple Pencil to quickly shade a darker or lighter area of a photo.

When it comes to precision control, the Apple Pencil has quickly become an invaluable utility for me in apps like Pixelmator.

Color Splash

Best Apple Pencil apps for people who don't sketch or draw

I’ve had Color Splash installed on my iPhone and iPad as long as I can remember. It’s my favorite selective coloring app of all time. I was ecstatic to see the developers add full support for the Apple Pencil.

While zooming in and out works in most cases, just like it does in Pixelmator, this is another app that’s really made me appreciate the exact precision the Apple Pencil offers.

Color Splash isn’t an advanced editing app by any means, but it’s easy to use and lets you make some really cool and unique edits. The Apple Pencil just gives me more control over the little things, which can sometimes make a big difference.


Best Apple Pencil apps for people who don't sketch or draw

Adult coloring books are all the rage now. When I first picked up my larger iPad Pro back in November, one of the first things I did was go on a hunt for coloring book apps. Initially I came away sorely disappointed. Then Pigment hit the App Store.

I can’t count the amount of nights I curled up with my iPad Pro, Apple Pencil, and a blanket. I’d literally lose track of time, which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. It helped me relax and decompress from the stresses of the work day. It’s one of the things I’ve missed most since giving up my larger iPad Pro, and I’m excited to be able to get back to it with my 9.7” iPad Pro.

Since then, several other coloring apps such as Recolor have also popped up on the App Store. I’ll be trying other coloring apps out as well, so if you have any other suggestions, I’d love to hear them in the comments.

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See also:

Your favorite Apple Pencil apps?

There are tons of Apple Pencil apps out there, many of which have absolutely nothing to do with being able to draw or sketch. If you’ve found other great ones, I’d love to know about them in the comments.


  1. Great list! In addition to Notability, I highly recommend Goodnotes. Notability is great for students, but Goodnotes is head and shoulders better for teachers because of its presentation mode, which hides all the tools when using an external projector or Apple TV.

    • I use Goodnotes extensively for client notes, signatures and presentations. Now that it has a desktop version that syncs seamlessly between devices it has got even better. I tried every annotation app out there and Goodnotes is by far the most superior. Also, it works perfectly with the pencil.

  2. Odd little app as it’s more of a technology preview I think but ‘MyScript Stylus’ an ios keyboard that recognizes handwriting.

  3. Another vote for GoodNotes. Two other great note-taking apps are Whink (seems to be the speediest for me) and Noteshelf. The latter shines by having the best fountain pen simulation I have seen yet and a huge selection of paper backgrounds including Cornell, musical scores etc.

  4. I use ZoomNotes for taking notes in class and working on homework. It’s even better with the Apple Pencil. I loved the app before, but so much more now.