iPhone Notes: Everything You Need to Know

Use unassuming Notes for just about everything

Using iPhone notes app (concept image)

Klaus Vedfelt / DigitalVision / Getty Images

Notes is a powerful and complex app that provides many features. Here are a few tips on how to use the basic Notes features, as well as advanced features such as encrypting notes, drawing in notes, syncing notes to iCloud, and more.

This article is based on the version of Notes that comes with iOS 12 and iOS 11, although many aspects of it apply to earlier versions.

Create a New Note in the Notes App

To creating a basic note in the Notes app:

  1. Tap the Notes app to open it.

  2. Tap Add Note (the pencil and a piece of paper icon that's located in the lower-right corner).

  3. Use the on-screen keyboard to type a note.

  4. When you're done typing, tap Done.

    iOS Notes app with the New Note and Done buttons highlighted
  5. Go to the top of the screen and tap Notes to return to the Notes home screen.

By default, the note is assigned a filename that includes the date (or time) and the first few words of the note and is positioned at the top of the list of notes.

To edit an existing note, open Notes and tap the note you want to change. Then, tap the text to display the keyboard.

Format Text in a Note

To make the note visually appealing or better organized, add formatting to the text.

  1. Tap a note to open it.

  2. Tap on a line of text in the note to display the keyboard with a formatting menu that includes icons for grids, text formatting, checklists, and coloring. If you don't see the formatting menu, tap the plus sign that's located in the upper-right corner of the keyboard.

  3. Tap Aa to reveal the text-formatting options.

  4. Tap the text and drag the handles to define the selection to format. Then, format the text using the selections that include bold, italic, underlined, and strike-through text, alignment and bullet options, and more.

    Text formatting options in iOS' Notes app
  5. Tap Done when you're finished formatting the text.

Make a Checklist in a Note

To use Notes to create checklists:

  1. Open an existing note (or start a new one), then tap anywhere in the note to display the keyboard.

  2. Tap the + icon above the keyboard to reveal the formatting tools.

  3. Press and hold a list item and drag the handles to highlight the entire item. Then, tap the checkmark icon to add a circle in front of the selected item.

    A note in the iOS Notes app with the plus sign and checkmark formatting button highlighted
  4. Tap Return on the keyboard to add an additional checklist item. Tap the checklist icon, if needed, and continue until you've created the full list.

  5. As you finish each item on the checklist, tap in the circle in front of it to mark it as done.

    Adding and checking off items on a checklist in Notes

Draw in Your Notes

If you're a visual person, sketch in your notes. In an open note, tap the pen icon in iOS 11 and higher (tap the squiggly line in iOS 10) above the keyboard to reveal the drawing options. The available options differ depending on the version of the iOS, but options include:

  • Tool: Choose from a pencil, marker, pencil, or eraser. Tap a tool to select and unselect it.
  • Color: Tap the black dot at the right to change the line color.
  • Undo and Redo: To undo a change or redo it, tap the curved arrows at the top next to the Done button.
  • Create a second page: Tap the square icon with the plus sign in it. Move between pages by swiping with two fingers.
  • Tables (iOS 11 and up): Tap the grid icon to insert a table. Then, tap More (...) on the top or side of the table to edit the row or column. Tap a table cell to add content to it.

Attach Photos and Videos to Notes

You can add more than text to a note. When you want to quickly reference other information, attach a file to a note. Attachments can be any type of file including documents, photos, and videos.

  1. Open a note.

  2. Tap the body of the note to display the options above the keyboard.

  3. Tap the + icon in the toolbar above the keyboard in iOS 11 and later. In iOS 10, tap the camera icon.

  4. Tap Take Photo or Video to capture a new item. Or, tap Photo Library to select an existing file.

    iOS Notes app with the plus sign and Take Photo or Video buttons highlighted
  5. If you chose Take Photo or Video, the camera app opens. Take the photo or video, then tap Use Photo (or Use Video). The photo (or video) is added to the note, where you can view or play it.

    iOS Notes app with the Use Photo button highlighted
  6. If you chose Photo Library, browse the Photos app and tap the photo or video you want to attach. Then tap Choose to add it to the Note.

Scan Documents

In iOS 11 and up, the Notes app includes a feature that scans documents and saves the scanned documents in Notes. This tool is especially good for saving receipts or other documents.

  1. In an open note, go to the formatting toolbar above the keyboard and tap the + icon.

  2. Tap Scan Documents.

  3. In the camera view, position the document on-screen so that it's surrounded by a yellow outline.

    Scanning a document in the Notes app for iOS
  4. Tap the large circular button to display a cropping grid indicated by a white outline. Adjust the circles at the corners of the grid to position the white line at the edge of the document.

  5. Tap either Keep Scan or Retake. If you select Keep Scan, and it is the only scan you need, tap Save.

    Scanning and adding a document to a note in Notes for iOS
  6. The scanned document is added to a note.

Attach Other Kinds of Files to Notes

Photos and videos aren't the only kind of file you can attach to a note. Attach other kinds of files from the apps that create them, not the Notes app itself. For example, to attach a location follow these steps:

  1. Open the Maps app.

  2. Find the location you want to attach.

  3. Scroll down on the screen and tap Share.

    The Maps app for iOS with the Share button highlighted
  4. Tap Add to Notes.

  5. In the attachment window, tap Add text to your note to add text to the note. Select Save to save a new note. Select Choose Note to select an existing note before tapping Save.

    Saving a location to the Notes app for iOS
  6. The note opens showing the attachment. Tap the attachment in the note to open the original map in the Maps app.

Not every app supports sharing content to Notes, but those that do follow these basic steps.

Organize Notes Into Folders

If you have a lot of notes or like to keep your life super organized, create folders in Notes.

Create Folders in the Notes App

  1. Tap the Notes app to open it.

  2. In the notes list, tap the arrow in the upper-left corner.

  3. In the Folders screen, tap New Folder.

  4. Give the folder a name and tap Save to create the folder.

    Creating a new folder in the Notes app for iOS

Move Notes to Folders in the Notes App

  1. Go to the Notes list and tap Edit.

  2. Tap the note or notes you want to move to a folder to select them.

  3. Tap Move To.

  4. Tap the folder you want to move the Notes to or tap New Folder to put the notes in a new folder.

    Moving notes to a folder in the Notes app for iOS

Password-Protect Notes

When your notes contain private information such as passwords, account numbers, or plans for a surprise birthday party, password-protect notes.

  1. Open the Settings app on the iPhone.

  2. Tap Notes.

  3. Tap Password.

  4. Enter the password you want to use and confirm it. Or, activate Use Touch ID or Use Face ID (depending on your iPhone model) by moving the slider to the On/green position.

  5. Tap Done to save the change.

    Setting a password for the Notes app in iOS Settings
  6. Open the Notes app and select a note you want to protect.

  7. Tap the Share icon.

  8. Tap Lock Note to add an unlocked lock icon to the protected note.

  9. Tap the lock icon to lock the note.

    Locking a note in the Notes app for iOS
  10. When you (or anyone else) tries to read the note, a This Note Is Blocked splash screen appears, and you have to enter the password or use Touch ID or Face ID if you activated that setting.

  11. To change the password, go to the Notes section of the Settings app and tap Reset Password.

The changed password applies to new notes, not notes that already have a password.

Sync Notes Using iCloud

The Notes app used to exist only on the iPhone, but it's available on iPads and Macs, as well as in iCloud on the web. Because these devices can sync content with your iCloud account, you can create a note anywhere and have it appear on all your devices.

  1. Confirm that the devices you want to sync notes to are signed in to the same iCloud account, that is, they all use the same Apple ID.

  2. On the iPhone, go to the Settings app.

  3. Tap your name at the top of the screen. In iOS 9 and earlier, skip this step.

  4. Tap iCloud.

  5. Turn on the Notes toggle switch.

    Turning on iCloud for Notes in iOS Settings
  6. Repeat this process on every mobile device you want to sync the Notes app with via iCloud. On a Mac, open System Preferences and select iCloud. Place a check next to Notes, if it isn't already checked.

With that done, every time you create a new note or edit an existing one on any of your devices, the changes are synced automatically to all the other devices.

Share Notes

Notes are a great way to keep track of information for yourself, but you can share them with others. To share a note, open the note you want to share and tap the Share icon. A window appears with many options including:

  • AirDrop: This tool is a wireless file-sharing feature built into iOS and macOS. With it, you can send a note to the Notes app on another iPhone, iPad, or Mac using Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. Learn how to use AirDrop on iPhone.
  • Message: Send the contents of a note in a text message. When sending to another Apple device, this option uses Apple's free, secure iMessage system.
  • Mail: Convert a note to an email by tapping this button. It opens in the default Mail app that comes with the iPhone.
  • Save Image: If an image is attached to the note, tap this button to save the image (not the entire note) to the Photos app on the device.
  • Print: If you're near an AirPrint-compatible printer, this option wirelessly sends the note to the printer for a quick hard copy.
  • Assign to Contact: This option works only with images attached to notes. Tap it to assign an image in a note to be the default photo for a person in your Contacts app (your address book).

Collaborate With Others on Shared Notes

Invite others to collaborate on a note with you. In this situation, everyone you invite can make changes to the note, including adding text, attachments, or completing checklist items — think of shared grocery or to-do lists.

The note you share must be stored in your iCloud account, which is the default, and not solely on your iPhone. All collaborators need iOS 10 or later, macOS Sierra (10.12) or later, and an iCloud account.

  1. Tap a note, such as your grocery list, in the Notes app to open it.

  2. Tap the icon in the upper-right corner of a person with a plus sign.

  3. In the sharing tool, select how to invite other people to collaborate on the note. Options include by text message, mail, social media, and others.

  4. In the app you choose to use for the invitation, add people to the invitation. Use your address book or type their contact information.

    Adding people to a note in the Notes app for iOS
  5. Send the invitation.

When people accept the invitation, they're authorized to view and edit the note. To see who has access to the note, tap the person with plus sign icon. Use this screen to invite more people or stop sharing the note.

Delete Notes

There are several ways to delete notes.

To delete notes from the Notes list, when you first open the app:

  • Swipe right to left across a single note and tap Delete or the trash can icon.
  • Tap Edit and tap multiple notes that you want to delete. Tap Delete or Delete All depending on your version of iOS.

From within a note:

  • Tap the trash icon at the bottom. If you don't see it, tap Done in the upper-right corner, and it appears.

Recover Deleted Notes

If you deleted a note that you now want to get back, the Notes app retains deleted notes for 30 days, so you can recover it.

  1. From the Notes list, tap the arrow in the upper-left corner.

  2. In the Folders screen, tap Recently Deleted.

  3. Tap Edit.

    Recently Deleted folder in the Notes app for iOS
  4. Tap the note or notes you want to recover.

  5. Tap Move To at the bottom of the screen.

  6. Tap the folder you want to move the note or notes to. Or, tap New Folder to make another folder. The note is transferred there and no longer marked for deletion.

    Recovering deleted items in the Notes app for iOS

Advanced Notes App Tips

There are endless tricks to discover and ways to use the Notes app. Here are a few extra tips for how to use the app:

  • Use Siri: Use Siri to create a new note. Activate Siri and say, "take a note" or "start a new note." Then say what the note should contain. Siri transcribes the note for you.
  • Create Notes From Other Apps: If you use an app that lets you select text, Mail or Safari, for example, create a note by highlighting text. In the menu above the selected text, tap Share, then tap Add to Notes. In the window that appears, add any additional information and tap Save to create a new note or Choose Note to add to an existing one.
  • Permanently Delete Notes: Notes that you delete are kept for up to 30 days. If you want to delete notes right away, go to the Recently Deleted folder. Then, swipe right to left across a note and tap Delete. The note is deleted immediately.