How To Use Ink: Your Mac’s Built-In Handwriting Recognition Feature

Chances are pretty good that up until now, you had no idea that there is a built-in application on Macs that is capable of pretty decent handwriting recognition. The application, called Inkwell, is built into the Mac operating system and is shown only if you have a graphics tablet plugged into your computer.

Inkwell, more commonly referred to as “Ink” allows users to input handwriting via the graphics tablet for use in just about any program that accepts text inputs. The program also allows users to create quick sketches, useful for communicating information via image, chart or map. Read on to learn more about what Ink can do and how well it works.

How to Use Ink

Ink only shows up in your system preferences when a graphics tablet is plugged into your computer. Once your tablet is plugged in, just click on over to your system preferences and click on the Ink icon to quickly enable the program. At this point, it is easy to enable the handwriting recognition and open up the Ink window or menu bar icon to begin using the program.

The general application settings found in system preferences.

Tip: Make sure the “write anywhere” or “allow me to ink in any application” option is selected or the program is limited to use of the popup window.

The Ink window provides easy links to many of the functions of Ink. By utilizing the Ink window you can toggle the “write anywhere” option, do handwriting or drawing, use basic text commands and access the settings. This is the hub of all of the Ink functions, and while the window is intrusive at times, it’s definitely the easiest way to utilize the application’s functions.

The window and hub of all Ink functions.

Handwriting recognition is easy to use. Just open up any program that accepts text input (I tested it out in Pages) and then make sure the type cursor is located in the program. Then, just touch the pen to the tablet and start writing. Every time you stop writing, Ink automatically inserts the text you had written into the document you are working on.

Trying out the handwriting recognition tool. Easy to use!

Advanced Features

In addition to basic English handwriting recognition, Ink has a few other features. First, it is also able to recognize French and German writing and text. It’s easy to change the language. Just go to System Preferences and change the language settings for Ink. You can also tell the program to recognize any Western European symbols commonly encountered in the handwriting.

Languages available for recognition.

Handwriting recognition is nice but quite annoying if you have to switch back to the keyboard for spaces, punctuation and even the simplest corrections. Ink provides a decent gesture based system that pairs the mouse-like function of the pen and tablet with some simple written gestures to allow for most editing to be done without the use of the keyboard. Some gestures include space, return, escape and clear to name just a few.

Gestures available to use in the program.

Finally, you are able to access a simple drawing tool via the Ink popup window. Just switch from text to drawing at the very bottom of the page and you can whip up a quick sketch. This is handy for demonstrating simple concepts or sending quick images to friends via a program like iChat.

A quick drawing to send along.

My Thoughts on Ink

Ink does a pretty decent job of recognizing handwriting, at least the couple of handwriting styles that I tried. It even did a pretty good job of recognizing my roommate’s nearly unreadable scrawl. It’s easy to open up and write/draw in, the gestures work decently well, and the language selection is adequate. All of the good features aside, I doubt I will hardly ever use Ink again for the same reason I don’t use any handwriting recognition program on my computer, and that is that my typing speed is so much faster than my handwriting speed.

Ink does a perfectly fine job of basic recognition and is somewhat efficient to use, but I don’t think I will open it up very frequently. It might be convenient for occasional use if I am focusing on graphics tablet work and don’t wish to switch to a keyboard, and it was nice to utilize in iChat, but the speed of my handwriting and the uncomfortable method and difficulties of writing via the tablet make it an application I don’t foresee myself using in the future.

What are your thoughts on Ink? Have you used it or did you not even realize it exists? Do you foresee yourself opening up the application in the future or do you think handwriting recognition for common use on a computer is unnecessary?


A built-in Mac application which allows users with a graphics tablet to take advantage of built-in handwriting recognition.



Add Yours
  • ‘I doubt I will hardly ever use Ink again…’ double-negative => positive.
    Should be ‘I doubt I will ever use Ink again…’ or ‘I imagine I will hardly ever use Ink again…’

  • I installed my Wacom Graphire on my MacBook a few years back & I was amazed that I didn’t need the installers that came with it. I didn’t know about Ink until I played around with the settings and found the option for it. It takes some getting used to, but it’s pretty handy. Haven’t really tried using it that much, but I think I’ll give it another go.

  • Thanks for the guide. Inexplicably, Apple has not substantially changed Ink since its debut in Mac OS X 10.2. Meanwhile, Microsoft’s handwriting tools in Windows 7 and 8 are easier to use with superior character recognition.

  • Could the ipad act as a graphic tablet?
    you would need a relevant app which would fake a Wacom or similar and connected via the USB cable or bluetooth or WiFi

  • Pretty nice post. I just stumbled upon your weblog and wanted to say that I have truly enjoyed browsing your blog posts. After all I’ll be subscribing to your rss feed and I hope you write again very soon!

  • I’ve been wondering about the similar idea personally recently. Glad to see a person on the same wavelength! Nice article.

  • Can you change the colour of the ink when you are using the little sketch button in ink? I use ink all the time with my Wacom tablet because I can draw pictures and diagrams using the sketch button in ink BUT it I can’t find a way to change the colours from black. Can anyone help?

    • I also can’t find how to change the colour in the little sketch button option. I use this ALL the time and it is very annoying that you can’t change the colour so if ANYONE out there knows how to please can you let me know.

  • when i click send at the bottom right of the page
    WHERE the data is sended !

    let me know !

  • I have an injury to my left hand , so I need hand writing recognition.

    i can’t tell if the loned demo page works like the paper and pencil
    I’m used to. Also in a full 81/2 by 11″ page offered for a Mac ?



  • I am very disappointed. This feature is a far cry from the Apple ethos. Why can’t I use a simple plastic stick on the touch panel, or my finger nail? I had all this functionality in the Palm Vx years ago, and it worked fantastic. No need for multi hundreds’ of dollars worth of graphics pads and stylus’. Just use your finger. That is what Apple should have in handwriting recognition, it should just work. No wonder they hide it.

  • No one seems to have answered the question about whether or not you can change the colour when sketching. I also use this all the time but it is VERY annoying that you can’t change the colour.
    Does the Wacom tablet with ink sketching still work in Lion? I am thinking of changing but need to check it works on Lion first.