How to scan documents in Notes and third-party apps on the iPhone and iPad

Relatively few people buy stand-alone scanners these days unless they work with printed documents, photos, or photographic negatives, and most financial, medical, and legal documents show up in digital form—but not all. That’s particularly true if you have kids in school and are tasked with endlessly filling out variations of the same form, by hand and often submitting as paper.

Apple has built in a scanner into Notes for a few releases, which lets you capture pages or images as documents, and then edit them directly (via the embedded Markup tool) or export them as PDF to fill in forms or make other modifications.

Based on reader email and online questions in forums, relatively few people seem aware of the power hidden away there. Like most iOS/iPadOS apps, Apple’s gradual improvements don’t overcome people’s memories of what didn’t work or what was omitted in earlier releases.

You can also upgrade to a third-party app if you need more advanced features than Notes provides, particularly in accessing text digitized via optical character recognition (OCR), and better editing and assembly of finished documents.

Scan with Notes

Notes provides an efficient, but not highly featured document scanner:

  1. Launch Notes.
  2. Create a new note or select an existing one.
  3. Tap the camera button and select Scan Documents.
  4. With the document beneath the camera, try to get it as level and square as possible. If the Auto setting is on (the word Auto appears in the upper-right corner), Notes captures a page whenever it detects a document. This lets you auto-scan by swapping out pages beneath the camera or pointing the camera at a series of pages. You can also tap the shutter button in Auto mode, or tap Auto to switch to Manual after which you must tap the shutter button to capture a document.
  5. In Auto mode, documents are captured and keystone correction applied. In Manual mode, you can adjust the corners of a document, and then tap Retake or Keep Scan. (Keystoning is the effect of a rectangle appearing to be a different shape when not captured—or projected as with a slide projector—absolutely squarely.)
  6. Continue scanning until all pages are captured.
  7. Tap Save. Notes attempts to extract some text at the top of the document to use as its title.

In step 4, you can also adjust colors captured, as well as choose a flash setting.

mac911 scan left adjust right IDG

Notes automatically figures out where a document sits against a contrasting background (left). You can adjust a scan afterwards for color and other parameters (right).

Once a document is saved, you can tap it in the note, and then add additional pages, adjust cropping and colors, rotate it, and trash it.

You can also share it, including using Markup, which lets you use a previously stored signature or create a new one by tapping the + sign in the lower-right corner and then tapping Signature. Tap Done when finished to store the revised document page in Notes.