Now you can handwrite directly into Excel cells

Writing into cells is now possible in Excel for Windows using the Action Pen in a new way.

Sadly, as we’ll see, the implementation is a bit clumsy and lacks documentation.

Action Pen was introduced earlier this year as a way to edit documents with digital ink gestures.

Action Pen handwriting into a cell

Draw | Drawing Tools | Action Pen lets you enter data by handwriting.

Click on the Action Pen and the worksheet zooms so each cell is larger with enough space for writing.  Use a digital pen (or draw on a touch screen) to write data into a cell.

Pause for just a moment and the digital writing is converted to standard values.

There’s no convert button, just pausing writing for a moment triggers an ‘ink to text’ conversion.

Leave Action Pen / Draw mode by clicking the Draw button on left of the Draw tab.

Handwriting data is an ‘in-cell’ version of the existing ‘Ink to Math’ and Math Input Control box.

Numbers and Letters only

The feature is for data entry only, not writing formulas.

Letters are converted to fill the cell.

All or nothing

Whatever you write in the cell overwrites whatever is already in that cell.  It’s not quite the “Quick Edits’ that Microsoft implies, but that’s not the problem.

Convert to text happens too quickly.  If you pause writing for a moment, the digital ink is converted to text, even if you haven’t finished writing in that cell.

Because the digital ink overwrites the whole cell, if you keep writing, it will erase what was converted a moment before.

We had a lot of trouble with handwriting in cells.  To get the above examples we had to quickly write on the screen, not giving Excel a chance to convert before we were finished.

The automatic Zoom In for Action Pen is a nice touch, making the cells larger on the screen and easier to write in. Unfortunately, there’s no automatic Zoom Out when finished, leaving users to restore the worksheet view on their own.

Microsoft hasn’t explained fully how the feature works and, in particular, how Excel decides you’ve stopped writing and converts ink to text.

Action Pen – handwriting in cells is in the publicly released Excel 365 for Windows build 13231.20200  aka   version 16.0.13231.20200

Action Pen, a renamed feature in Word, Excel and PowerPoint
Four great Excel Cell Styles that will light your way
Excel speaks aloud cells