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Yes, You Can Use Printables Without a Printer!

August 25, 2022 8 min read

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my full disclosure for more info. All digital downloads are for personal use only.

Do you like using printables in your planner, but don't have a printer? Or maybe you want to use them for school, but don't want to carry around all your textbooks and notebooks? Or perhaps, you love printables just like me and still made the switch to digital planning. In this tutorial, we will show you how to use printables without a printer using an iPad and the GoodNotes 5 app. 

Printables Turned Digital: How to Use Printables Without a Printer Using an iPad and GoodNotes App

Printables Turned Digital: How to Use Printables Without a Printer Using an iPad and GoodNotes App 


Before we dive into how you can easily you can use printables on your iPad, and the benefits of doing so, let's talk about the important difference between printables and digital planners (or other digital documents). After all, they are both PDFs, right?

Printable PDFs VS. Interactive PDFs


Printables are designed to be, well, printed. :) And digital planners are designed to be used on your iPad (or other tablets) which means they are something called Interactive PDFs. They have embedded hyperlinks in the PDF which allow you to easily jump from section to section or page to page. 


So what does this mean for you when using printables on your iPad? When you import a PDF that was designed to be printed into your note-taking app, like GoodNotes 5, you will not have the convenient features of hyperlinks and clickable tabs. 


Likewise, if you print an Interactive PDF that was meant to be used digitally, you will not be able to take advantage of the embedded hyperlinks that were carefully designed for you. This is, perhaps, the only downside to using printables on your iPad.

Benefits of Using your Printables on your iPad instead of printing them out


There are several benefits to using printable PDFs (like planners, calendars, journal pages, to do lists, habit trackers, fitness trackers, etc.) on your iPad rather than printing them out. Here are a few of our favorites:

  1. No more wasted paper! By using your iPad to access your printables, you can save yourself (and the environment) from using precious resources like paper and ink.
  2. Easier to carry around. Let's face it, even the lightest laptop is going to be heavier and take up more space in your bag than an iPad. And don't forget that many notebooks and textbooks are also becoming available in digital form.
  3. No more misplaced or lost printables! If you're like me, you're probably guilty of losing at least one printable every now and then. With your iPad, all your printables will be safely stored in one place - no need to worry about misplacing them ever again.
  4. You'll have less paper clutter. 
  5. You may fill in printables with your own writing, or you can simply type and delete text as needed.
  6. Your handwriting becomes searchable in apps like GoodNotes 5. So instead of flipping through pages trying to find when that doctor appointment was rescheduled to, you can use the search function in your app!
  7. More space for creativity! By using digital planners and printables, you open up more creative possibilities for how you want to plan and organize your life. You can personalize your planner to match your own unique style and change it up whenever you feel like it.

Using Any PDF in a Note-Taking or PDF Annotation App


What kind of printables can be used on an iPad? A "printable" is simply a PDF document that can be printed and filled out by hand.  You probably already have a collection of checklists, exercise trackers, simple meal planners, or gratitude lists that you’ve found in my shop or maybe on Etsy.  


PDF annotation apps allow you to write on top of PDFs, making it easy to markup and highlight important points. Some of our favorite PDF annotation apps include GoodNotes 5, Notability, and Adobe Acrobat.


If you want to use a printable in a note-taking or PDF annotation app, like GoodNotes 5, you will first need to import it into the app. To do this, open GoodNotes 5 and tap on the "+" button at the top left of the Document view on your screen. Then select "Import".


Next, navigate to where your printable is saved on your iPad and select it. The printable will then be imported into GoodNotes 5 and appear in your library; it will automatically open after importing. But if not, you just need to tap on the thumbnail of it to open the PDF.


Once you have opened the printable, you can annotate it by adding text, highlighting text, drawing on it, or using other tools available in GoodNotes 5. 


Check out how I imported my 30 Day No Spend Challenge printables and used my Apple Pencil to write on them! >>

I imported my 30 Day No Spend Challenge printables and used my Apple Pencil to write on them!

What supplies do I need?


In order to use printables on your iPad, you will need at least four things:

Optional, but life-changing:

How to save your printable to use on an iPad


If you want to save a printable to use on your iPad, you can save it in one of two ways:

  • Use a cloud storage service, like iCloud, Google Drive, or DropBox, and save the PDF to your cloud storage. 
  • Save it directly on your iPad.

Cloud-based storage is a huge plus because it doesn't use up limited and valuable space on your iPad.

How to change the name of your printable


If you want to change the name of your printable, follow these steps: 

  • Open GoodNotes 5 and in the Documents view (library of your digital notebooks) tap the document name beneath the thumbnail of the printable you want to rename
  • When the menu pops up, tap the name of the document and you will be able to type (or use the Scribble feature with your Apple Pencil) and rename your printable
  • When you are done, just tap outside the popup menu, and it will close with your document renamed

You can also find where your PDF is stored using the Files app and rename it there.

How to change the name of your printable

How to use your handwriting to fill in your printable PDF


If you want to use your handwriting to fill in a printable PDF, you will need a stylus like the Apple Pencil. Open GoodNotes 5 and in the Documents view (library of your digital notebooks) tap on the thumbnail of the printable PDF you want to use. The printable will open and you can start writing in it just like you would on paper! 


To make writing on your iPad easier, I love using paper feel screen covers. It makes your iPad screen less "slippy" to write on and it feels just like writing on paper!  

How to use your handwriting to fill in your printable PDF

How to use text to fill in your printable PDF


Maybe you don't prefer to handwrite on your PDF and you want to type instead. You can totally do that! 

  • Open the PDF in GoodNotes. 
  • Select the Text tool from the top menu
  • Tap on your PDF where you'd like to type
  • You can resize and move the text box around until it's in the right spot
  • Type in the information you want to fill in
  • Tap outside the text box when you are done

You can type on your printable PDF turned digital using the on-screen popup keyboard, or you can connect a Bluetooth keyboard to your iPad. 

how to make apple pencil convert handwriting to text


If you want your handwritten notes to be converted into text, you can do this using the Scribble setting on your iPad. 

  1. Open your iPad settings, and go to the Apple Pencil section. 
  2. Turn on Scribble. 

Now, anytime there is a text box for you to type in, you can write instead, and your iPad will translate your writing into text! 


If you don't have an Apple Pencil, or just don't want to use Scribble, there is a workaround to converting handwriting to text in GoodNotes 5.

  1. Select the Lasso Tool from the toolbar.
  2. Circle the handwritten notes you want to convert.
  3. Tap on the selection and tap Convert.
  4. Tap the Share button in the upper right and tap "Copy".
  5. Long-press on the page and tap Paste.

Users on the internet report that you don't have to have an Apple Pencil to use the Scribble feature, it appears to work with almost any stylus. 

How to use text to fill in your printable PDF


Maybe you don't prefer to handwrite on your PDF and you want to type instead. You can totally do that! 

  • Open the PDF in GoodNotes. 
  • Select the Text tool from the top menu
  • Tap on your PDF where you'd like to type
  • You can resize and move the text box around until it's in the right spot
  • Type in the information you want to fill in
  • Tap outside the text box when you are done

You can type on your printable PDF turned digital using the on-screen popup keyboard, or you can connect a Bluetooth keyboard to your iPad. 

How to add digital stickers to your PDF


Adding digital stickers to your PDF is a really fun way to personalize it! 


To add a digital sticker, open your PDF in GoodNotes 5. Tap the Elements icon in the top menu. Select the sticker you want to use! You can then place it, resize it, copy and paste it - all with no sticky residue ;) Check out my Ultimate Guide to Using GoodNotes 5 for your Digital Planner for a complete walkthrough of all the essential functions in GoodNotes 5. 

Using printable PDFs on your iPad is a great way to workaround if your favorite designer hasn't created a Digital version yet with embedded hyperlinked tabs (YET).


So, there you have it! You can now use printables without a printer. Just follow the simple steps we outlined above and you'll be on your way to using beautiful printables in your planner (or any other project) without having to worry about lugging around a printer or running out of ink. 


Using printables without a printer using an iPad and GoodNotes 5 app is easy and convenient. We hope you found this tutorial helpful. If so, please leave us a comment and let us know what you think. And if there's anything else you'd like to see covered here on the blog, don't hesitate to let us know that too. We love hearing from our readers!


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