Exploring ink in OneNote

Applies to
Microsoft Office OneNote™ 2003

You click or tap the Pen button on the Standard or Pens toolbar in OneNote. You draw the mouse or tablet pen across the page. A line appears. Have you just put ink on the page?

Informally, OneNote documentation refers to marks that you make with the pen tool as "ink." However, if you are running OneNote on a Tablet PC, the ink may be technically known as "digital ink."

Understanding digital ink

What is digital ink? Simply put, it's ink that is identified by software as handwriting. You can select digital ink just as you would select typewritten text and then manipulate it in some of the same ways that you manipulate text:

  • Copy and paste handwriting to other pages in your notebook or to other Office programs.

 Note   When you paste handwriting into another Office program, the handwriting is converted into typewritten text.

  • Apply paragraph formatting, such as bulleted and numbered lists.
  • Perform full-text searches.

If you want digital ink to look tidier, you can convert it into typewritten text.

The Microsoft Windows® XP Tablet PC Edition operating system and the Tablet PC hardware combine to form a platform that is built for drawing, handwriting, and handwriting recognition—whereas on a laptop or desktop computer, the lines you place on the page are just lines, similar to using the Pencil tool in Microsoft Paint. Because the Tablet PC platform is required for creating digital ink, other digitizing devices, such as pen digitizers and pen tablets, do not produce digital ink.

Ink classification

When OneNote classifies whether ink is merely marks on a page or is digital ink, OneNote is determining whether you are drawing a picture or writing in a language. This distinction occurs only if you are using OneNote on a Tablet PC, because only Tablet PCs support digital ink. On laptop and desktop computers, all ink in OneNote is considered to be a drawing.

If OneNote mistakenly classifies your writing as a drawing, OneNote cannot perform handwriting recognition for that writing, because the ink has not been identified as digital ink. (Conversely, OneNote may attempt to run handwriting recognition on ink that you intend as a drawing, resulting in a drawing that OneNote treats as a paragraph.) If you want to work exclusively in handwriting or in drawings, you can force OneNote to classify your ink appropriately by choosing a pen mode (on the Tools menu, point to Pen Mode).

Recognition versus conversion

Handwriting recognition is a process that OneNote runs on all ink that it identifies as digital ink. In this process, OneNote equates words and characters with your handwritten letter forms. Conversion, on the other hand, is the process of rendering the recognized handwriting as typewritten text. Because your handwriting is being recognized behind the scenes, you don't need to convert it to text to manipulate it as text (for copying, pasting, formatting, and searching).

 Note   When you paste digital ink from OneNote to Word, the handwriting is converted automatically, so that Word can display it in a particular font.

In OneNote, you convert handwriting into text by selecting the handwriting and then tapping Convert Handwriting to Text on the Tools menu.

Improving the handwriting experience

OneNote includes a number of features and settings that you can use to get the most out of handwriting, whether you want to improve the accuracy of classification and recognition or customize the interface to make handwriting easier.

ShowTips for successful handwriting

If you want the benefits of handwriting recognition, but you find that OneNote often misclassifies your writing as drawings, try the following tips:

  • Use rule lines to help you write neatly. On the View menu, point to Rule Lines, and then tap the line or grid style whose size best matches the size of your handwriting.
  • Show ink groups to know right away whether OneNote detects that you are writing words (Tools menu, Show Ink Groups command).
  • For best results, tap before you start to write. When you see the writing guide appear, you know that OneNote is classifying your writing as handwriting.
  • To prevent OneNote from misclassifying your writing, use a pen mode. On the Tools menu, point to Pen Mode, and then tap Create Handwriting Only.

ShowTips for following the writing guide

When ink groups are visible (Tools menu, Show Ink Groups command), a shaded rectangle appears as you begin to write. This writing guide expands horizontally to suggest both a width for your paragraph and when you should continue the paragraph on the next line.

To follow the writing guide, do the following:

  • To start a new paragraph, move the pen to the next line and start to write.
  • To start a new paragraph that's indented under the paragraph above it, start writing at the indented position, about half an inch in.
  • To start a new line of a paragraph without beginning a new paragraph, keep writing in the guide until a guide for the next line appears. Then, start writing the new line.

ShowTips for optimizing OneNote for handwriting

If you do a lot of handwriting, you may find it convenient to keep the appropriate toolbars always in view and to customize handwriting options.

  • Display the Drawing and Writing Tools and Pens toolbars (on the View menu, point to Toolbars).


  • OneNote tends to render each line you write as a new paragraph, but you can merge a new paragraph with the one above by clicking a particularly useful button on the Drawing and Writing Tools toolbar Button image that makes the current paragraph a continuation of the previous one.
  • By default, these toolbars are displayed vertically along the side of the OneNote window. You can drag them to the top or bottom of the page to make them horizontal or drag them to the side of the window to return them to the vertical position.
  • On the Tools menu, tap Options, and then tap the Handwriting category to set your preferences.
    • Use pen pressure sensitivity    This feature takes advantage of the Tablet PC ability to make lines darker when you press harder. OneNote file size is somewhat larger with this option turned on.
    • Automatically switch between Pen and Selection Tool    OneNote detects when you are using the tablet pen and automatically activates the Pen button. OneNote automatically switches to Selection Tool when you switch to mouse input.
    • Set the width that OneNote suggests for handwritten paragraphs    This option determines whether OneNote wraps lines of handwriting based on a narrow or a wide paragraph. If you find that OneNote starts a new paragraph where you intend to continue one from the previous line, use the option for narrower paragraphs, which causes OneNote to display the writing guide for the next line of the paragraph before you reach the edge of the screen.

 Note   This option can be used only when the Show Ink Groups command (Tools menu) is turned on.

Recognizing handwriting in multiple languages

Whenever you write, you're writing in a particular language. For the Windows XP Tablet PC Edition operating system to identify your ink as digital ink, the operating system must be running recognition software for the language that you are writing. This explains why, for example, sentences that you write in Japanese cannot be recognized on a Tablet PC that is running the U.S. English version of the operating system.

Because international versions of the Tablet PC operating system are built from the U.S. English version, OneNote can recognize handwriting in the language of the operating system and handwriting in English. So, even though Japanese handwriting is not recognized on a U.S. English Tablet PC, English handwriting can be recognized on a Japanese Tablet PC.

Language versions of OneNote

Although OneNote is available in nearly 20 languages, handwriting recognition in OneNote is available only when you run OneNote on a particular language version of the Tablet PC. The following language versions are available:

  • English (U.K.)
  • English (U.S.)
  • French
  • German
  • Japanese
  • Korean
  • Simplified Chinese
  • Spanish
  • Traditional Chinese

For more information about language versions of the Tablet PC, visit the Microsoft Windows XP Tablet PC Edition Web site.

In versions of OneNote other than those localized for Chinese languages, handwriting recognition is always on. Whenever you use ink in your notes, OneNote is doing two things:

  • OneNote determines whether the ink is just marks on the page or whether it can be recognized as a language. In other words: Is it just ink, or is it digital ink?
  • For digital ink, OneNote runs handwriting recognition behind the scenes, allowing you capabilities such as full-text search on your handwritten notes.

In Chinese language versions of OneNote, handwriting recognition is not always on; you need to turn it on by turning on the handwriting recognition guide (on the Tools menu, tap Handwriting Recognition Guide). Otherwise, OneNote classifies all ink as marks on the page—not digital ink.

Setup for language support

Depending on the language version of your operating system and of OneNote, you may need to enable the language you want to write in. For East Asian languages, you must install an Input Method Editor (IME) (IME: A program that enters East Asian text (Traditional Chinese, Simplified Chinese, Japanese, or Korean) into programs by converting keystrokes into complex East Asian characters. The IME is treated as an alternate type of keyboard layout.).

Enabling a language for editing makes language-specific options available in Microsoft Office programs. For example, if you are using the English (U.S.) version of OneNote, and you enable editing for Japanese, commands for recognizing Japanese handwriting appear on the Tools menu.

ShowEnable a language for editing in OneNote

  1. Click Start, point to All Programs, point to Microsoft Office Tools, and then click Microsoft Office 2003 Language Settings.
  2. Click the Enabled Languages tab.
  3. In the Available languages box, select the language you want to add, and then click Add.

The language appears in the Enabled languages box.

  1. Repeat step 3 for each language you want to enable.

ShowInstall an IME

  • Go to Downloads on the Microsoft Office Online Web site, search for the IME download page you want, and then follow the instructions there.

After you have installed the IME, you can access it from the Language bar that appears on the screen. For detailed information about using the IME, see the Help that is included with it.

IMEs are also included with the Microsoft Office 2003 Proofing Tools. For more information about Proofing Tools, search for "proofing tools" on the Office Online Web site.

Writing in various languages

After you have set up your computer and OneNote to support the language you want to write in, you are ready for OneNote to recognize your handwriting.

ShowWrite in English

All versions of Windows XP Tablet PC Edition and OneNote support handwriting in English. Simply start to write, following tips in the Improving the handwriting experience section of this article.

ShowWrite in Traditional Chinese, Simplified Chinese, Korean, or Japanese

  1. Turn on the Input Method Editor (IME).
  2. On the Tools menu, tap Handwriting Recognition Guide (this step is optional if you are writing in Japanese or Korean).
  3. Write your notes, placing each character in a box in the guide.


  • If you want to switch back to writing in English, turn off the IME.
  • For Traditional Chinese or Simplified Chinese, OneNote cannot recognize handwriting unless the handwriting recognition guide is turned on. For Japanese or Korean, OneNote can recognize handwriting when the handwriting recognition guide is turned off, but accuracy is greatly improved when the guide is turned on and you write in the boxes.
  • For Japanese handwriting, by default OneNote recognizes JIS level-one kanji characters only. To enable OneNote to recognize additional sets of JIS kanji characters, tap Tools on Tablet PC Input Panel, then tap Options, and on the Handwriting tab, select the Recognize rarely used characters check box.

ShowWrite in a language other than an East Asian language or English

After you have enabled editing for the language you want to write in, start to write in that language, following tips in the Improving the handwriting experience section of this article.

 Note   To switch between languages, select the language you want in the Set Language task pane (Tools menu, Set Language command). For OneNote to recognize handwriting in the language you select, you must be running OneNote on the corresponding language version of the Tablet PC.

Applies to:
OneNote 2003