Going Paperless: Annotating Paper Books and Magazines without Marking Them Up

I have a lot of books, as well as a lot of old science fiction magazines1. I adore books, and the books that I have on my shelves are part of a collection. I read them, but I don’t want to damage them in any way, least of all by marking them up.

One of the things I love about Kindle book is that they are easy to mark up. You can highlight passages and add notes, and it is wonderful. What isn’t so wonderful is how cumbersome it is to get those notes out of the Kindle and into some other application–like Evernote, for instance. Michael Hyatt has outlined a method for this, but it is a very manual process. I would love to figure out a way to automate that process, and I’m toying with possibilities, but so far, I don’t have much in the way of results.

It turns out that it is actually easier for me to highlight and annotate paper books and magazines in Evernote than it is to get that same kind of information into Evernote from my Kindle. So I thought I’d share today how I annotate paper books and magazines in Evernote without ever marking up the book or magazine itself.

Step 1: Create a note for the book or magazine I’m annotating

Typically the first thing I do is create a note for the book or magazine I want to annotate. I often do this on my iPhone. I’ll create a new note, giving it the title of the book or magazine. For instance, as I was reading the November 1942 issue of Astounding Science Fiction, I created a note called “Astounding November 1942.”

Step 2: Snap a photo of the page I want to annotate or markup using the Document Camera feature in Evernote

When I come to a passage I want to highlight or annotate, I use the document camera feature in Evernote to snap a photo of the page directly from the note. I do this by going to the part of the note that I want to add my annotation, and then clicking the Attachment button and selecting the Camera icon:



You can select the Document Camera by swiping when in Camera Mode until “Document Camera” is centered in the selection window, like this:

Document Camera

Once I’ve selected the document camera, I make sure the page is focused and snap the photo, which is then added to my note in Evernote.

Step 3: Use Skitch to highlight the passage or passages that I care about

If you have Skitch installed on your iPhone, then this step can be entirely integrated from the note in Evernote. It works like this:

1. Tap on the photo of the page you want to markup in the note. The image will be displayed with some options at the bottom.

2. Tap the annotation icon, which looks like this:

Markup in Sktich

3. This will open Skitch with your image. Use the highlighter tool in Skitch to highlight the passages you are interested in calling out. The text highlighter tool looks like this, and you can change the color of the highlighter if you prefer:

Highlight Tool

4. Zoom into the document image, and use your finger to highlight the passage you want to select:

Highlight passage

5. When you are done highlighting, click the Save button at the top of the screen to save the annotated image back to the note.

Step 4: Add any explanatory text to the note near the page in question, if you so desire.

Sometime, I want to add some notes or comments of my own next to the page in question. So I’ll just jot them down either before or after the image of the page in the note.

That’s all there is to it. Repeat steps 1-4 for each page you want to capture and you’ve got a system for capturing annotations of books and magazines in Evernote.

The steps sound like a lot when you read through them, but they are well integrated steps and you can go through them very quickly. After 2-3 times, it becomes second-nature. It probably takes me 10-15 seconds to do this as I have described, depending on how long the highlight is, or how many comments I add that reference the image. Give it a try and see how it works for you.

If you have a suggestion for a future Going Paperless post, let know me. Send it to me at feedback [at] jamietoddrubin.com. As always, this post and all of my Going Paperless posts is also available on Pinterest.

Last week’s post: Quick Tip: Creating a Table of Contents Note from an Arbitrary Set of Notes.

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  1. I mean old. I have most of the run of Astounding Science Fiction from May 1939 – December 1950. I also have a very early issue of Amazing Stories from 1928.


  1. Are you familiar with eHighlighter?

    Create the book in eHighlighter (if it is modern, scan the ISBN number to fill in all the fields). Take a photo of the page. Highlight what you want to. eHighlighter will OCR the text. Syncs with Evernote.

    1. That was a new one to me. Looks interesting, but I like that ClipBook stays in sync with Evernote…I always worry the device will fail before I’ve pushed a sync again.

  2. Do you know this is the most clear explanation I have seen of Skitch and of how to use the Document Camera (which I couldn’t figure) so far?

    The only major issue I have with evernote is their p-poor documentation on how to use their stuff and the fact that it is hard to get questions answered.


    1. Actually, I can do this much faster than I can do the Kindle process (of course, that could just be my own failing). But it’s also beside the point because this is the process I use for stuff that is on paper–stuff that I don’t have in my Kindle, or in any other electronic form.

  3. Interesting. I, too, keep all of my annotations saved in Evernote, but for print books (and especially for borrowed books), I handwrite the key ideas and then scan my handwritten notes when I’m finished. Once saved in Evernote, they are searchable. Thanks for sharing your method, though. Definitely something to consider.

  4. I use a similar method for my kindle annotations. On my android devices if you hold down the menu button on my tablets or the power/home button it takes a screen shot of the book you are reading and then click share and you can put it in Evernote or Mark it up with skitch. Then put it in the right notebook and tag.

  5. Thanks Jamie, for the clear outline of annotating paper books. Like Jordan Collier, I handwrite annotations and then snap an image of my notes for Evernote.

    I hadn’t considered your process; it’s excellent.


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