Xournal++ note taking app running on Ubuntu

If you’re on the hunt for a handwritten notes app for Linux, be sure to check out Xournal++.

Xournal++ (which goes by the package name xournalpp) is a free, open-source and fully featured note taking tool for Windows, macOS and Linux desktops.

The app makes it easy to create new handwritten notes, draw diagrams and doodles, and sketch out your thoughts. A variety of different paper types are available including regular lined, squared/graph, and (for the resolutely creative) blank.

As Xournal++ is designed for note-taking and sketching it is best used with a graphics tablet or stylus, but you can use a regular keyboard and mouse too.

Keen to learn more?

Xournal++ Features

The developers of the app describe it as “…hand note taking software written in C++ with the target of flexibility, functionality and speed.”

If you’re well versed in open-source software you may recognise the basis of this app. A souped-up version of the Xournal note-taking app, Xournal++ is so named because, well, it offers several ‘pluses’ that the original app doesn’t.

But these additions make Xournal++ so good that even the developers of the original Xournal now recommend it to their users!

Xournal++ is based on Xournal, but with a stack of additional features…

What makes Xournal++ particularly interesting to me, as someone who’s championed the Write notes app for Linux in the past, is that Xournal++ supports Wacom tablet pen pressure.

Naturally this requires supported hardware, but it is extra useful for diagrams, sketches and adding emphasis to handwritten notes.

Its feature set is reminiscent of the Microsoft’s (long discontinued) Windows Journal app. No surprise; Windows Journal inspired a swathe of similar software across multiple platforms.

Xournal++ features include:

  • Support for Pen pressure, e.g. Wacom Tablet
  • Support for annotating PDFs
  • Fill shape functionality
  • PDF Export (with and without paper style)
  • PNG Export (with and without transparent background)
  • Layer selection
  • Map tools to mouse/stylus buttons
  • Sidebar with Page Previews
  • Support for image insertion
  • Configurable eraser tool
  • Customizeable toolbar
  • Shape drawing (line, arrow, circle, etc)
  • Shape resizing and rotation
  • Shape recognition

Rather uniquely the app also supports:

  • Audio recording and playback

Audio snippets get saved with the rest of the note, making it easy to revisit and replay clips within the original context.

One feature that Xournal++ does lack is OCR; this app cannot detect or translate written words into digital ones.

Easily Annotate PDFs in Linux

Annotate PDFs using Xournal++
Annotate PDFs (or just graffiti, like me)

A really compelling feature of both Xournal and Xournal++ is the ability markup and annotate PDF documents on Linux. macOS and Windows users have lots of choice in this area, but Linux? Not so much.

You can also import and annotate PDF documents using Xournal++ — which is very handy!

Xournal++ lets you import and open PDFs inside the app so that you can scrawl text on or draw and doodle over documents directly, no additional app or library is needed.

All of the tools available when note taking are available when marking up a PDF document. You can draw free hand in various colours and thicknesses, apply shapes, arrows and callouts, add text, move things, and more.

When you’re done you can choose to export your annotated PDF as a PDF — PDF export actually works here, too — or save it as a Xournal++ file for future editing.

File Format & Export options

An Exported PDFs
PDF I annotated in Xournal++ and exported as a PDF

To be truly useful as a note taking app you need to be able to easily export notes in common, compatible formats — and i’m pleased to see Xournal++ does just that.

Notes are saved in the .xopp format by default. This is a compressed XML file. PDFs are not embedded into this file so you will need to keep hold of them if you don’t plan on exporting your changes right away.

The app is also able to read/write to the original Xournal .xoj format too, though (obviously) advanced features like page backgrounds types aren’t supported.

All notes can be exported as regular image files (.jpg, .png) with transparency on or off, and PDFs can be exported in the same format with markup in tow.

How to Install Xournal++ on Ubuntu

Xournal++ is free, open-source software available for Windows, macOS and Linux. You’ll find a raft of installers and packages on the project Github page:

Download the latest release of Xournal++

Ubuntu users can add the Xournal++ PPA to install Xournal++ on Ubuntu 18.04 LTS and above:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:andreasbutti/xournalpp-master 
sudo apt update && sudo apt install xournalpp

Once installed just launch the app from the application screen.

After opening do take some time to explore the various layouts (View > Toolbar) and set up your preferred behaviour (Edit > Preferences).

If you plan on using the audio recording feature you’ll need to set both an audio folder and the input/output sources via Edit > Preferences).

Know of any other useful handwritten note tools for Linux?
Apps News handwritten notes pdf writing tools xournal