Microsoft Journal, the ink notetaking app, grows up

Microsoft’s digital ink notetaking app, Journal, has grown up. It’s no longer ‘Garage’ trial software but part of Redmond’s official software line up.

If you like scribbling or notetaking with a digital pen, you can try out Journal.

Journal was a Microsoft Garage project which are trials of an app or technologies.  Journal seemed like a tester for digital pen extras that could be added to OneNote or Word but is now out as a stand-alone Windows only app.

Don’t confuse the 2022 Journal app with the old and now discarded Journal feature in Outlook.

Install Journal

Journal is for Windows 11 and 10 (recent releases only).  Get it from here to open the Microsoft Store.

It’s worth going through the Tip and Tricks starter journal because it explains some of the nifty features they are trying in Journal.  For example, underlining some text turns it into a heading.

Journal has digital ink features that don’t require a change of mode between ink and commands.  With Journal you can draw actions on the screen which the app interprets as having special meaning.  Office already has some options like erasing by ‘scribbling’ over text but Journal goes further.

Drawing a star automatically converts into a Flag that can be searched for later.

Use the pen to select / lasso items then fingers to move the selection around.

Just like in Word 365, a ‘scribble’ action can delete a word or there’s an Eraser on the ink toolbar.   According to the Journal team, 98% of erasing is done using the ‘scratch out’ action.

Quick Headings

Make a Heading by underlining some text.  Headings then appear in the Card or summary view:


There are little selectors (Microsoft calls them Cues) left of the page, making selection a lot easier and a mini-toolbar with actions: Copy, Copy as Text, Cut, Search and Delete.

Copy as Text shows that, like OneNote, drawn text is converted to searchable text that’s hidden away.

@mentions are possible by drawing an @ then the name of the person.

Tapping on a word will select it.  Drawing a circle around some text or drawing will select it all – like the lasso in Word’s Draw but without needing to switch modes.

The toolbar has ink, highlight, pencil and eraser options.  The Plus icon lets you insert a PDF or image.   Undo and Redo finish up the toolbar lineup.

A digital pen with a selection button can use it to switch between pen, pencil and highlighter.

Switching Ink and Keyboard

At top left, below the Pages / Cards tab is a search box with useful options tucked away on the right.

The first button switches between digital ink and keyboard input for searches.


The other Search button reveals more filters to find pages according to Stars, Headings (underlined), Highlighted, Drawings/Diagrams, PDF pages, PDF annotations and Lists.

PDF annotation

Click the + button to insert an image, grab a photo using the device or insert a PDF.

Drag and drop from Explorer to a Journal page works for pictures but not, as far as we can tell, PDF’s.

Once inserted the PDF can be annotated with any of the drawing tools, Pen, Pencil or Highlight.

A show/hide button at top right will toggle the annotations visibility.

Microsoft seems happy to hype the PDF annotation options but frankly, it needs a LOT of work.

  • Can’t insert a single PDF page from a longer document (workaround, take a screen shot and insert that).
  • No way to cut out parts of the PDF page, like the ads on the bottom part of our example above.
  • No zoom! It’s hard to understand this omission. It can be hard to read an inserted PDF because there’s no way to zoom in on the page detail.

Calendar integration

In Settings, you can link Journal to the calendar in a Work or School Microsoft account.

Personal Microsoft accounts are not supported … at least not yet.

Print and Export

Journal pages can be printed (including Print to PDF, naturally) or exported to OneNote via the Print / Export dialog.

Why Journal?

With the best will in the world, it’s hard to understand why Journal exists as a separate app. It still seems more like a set of technologies that belong in OneNote (and some do) than in a standalone program.

Journal also seems to go against Microsoft’s modern strategy of being more platform independent, unless there’s iPhone, iPad and Mac apps in the strategic plan. Even then, Journal still seems better suited to OneNote than sitting out on it’s own.

While Journal is obviously a ink-based app, it’s a shame there’s no ability to add keyboard text or emoji. Not even the Windows Emoji Panel works.

Most surprising is the lack of cloud integration. Surely it’s heresy at Microsoft to have an app that does NOT save data to OneDrive cloud storage? As it stands, Journal data is saved somewhere (undocumented) on the computer.

If you really like digital ink drawing or notetaking on a Windows device, maybe give Journal a try. Perhaps it’ll improve and prove worthy.

One mouse & keyboard with many machines – Mouse without Borders