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Turn Evernote Into the Ultimate Paperless System With Scanned PDFs

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This post is part of a series called Going Paperless.
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Going paperless is a great way to remove clutter from your life, by turning your paper documents into digital copies. However, you’ll need great tools to help you with your paperless transition. Sure, you could save your scanned documents to your computer's hard drive, but then they aren’t easily searchable, backed-up, or available across multiple devices.

That's why I use Evernote to simplify my paperless life. It makes it simple to search and annotate scanned documents, from any device. In this tutorial, I'll show you how to use Evernote to organize your scanned PDFs, edit them, and find the info you need.

Please note that some of the features mentioned in this tutorial requires Evernote Premium, a service that costs $5 per month or $45 per year. You can use PDFs in Evernote without going Premium, but you'll get the most features if you upgrade.

Adding Documents To Evernote

If you plan on using Evernote for going paperless, you’ll need to scan your documents into the service. There are two ways of doing this: either import existing PDFs to Evernote, or use Evernote’s new “Scan To Evernote” feature with Image Capture on the Mac. I’ll show you how to do both of these.

Importing PDFs To Evernote

On the Mac

Uploading documents to Evernote for Mac
Uploading a document to Evernote.

If you already have PDFs scanned into your Mac, you can easily import them to Evernote without having to rescan them. To do this, open Evernote and select the Notebook that you’d like to store your PDF in. Then, find the PDF you’d like to import and drag-and-drop it into your Notebook. Your document will now automatically be uploaded to Evernote’s servers.

Editing PDFs in Evernote
Editing a PDF using Evernote.

A window will now popup that shows a copy of your PDF document. Look towards the top of this window, right above the copy of your PDF, and you will see three buttons. The the first button to the left allows you to annotate your document. When you click on this option, you’ll be able to add boxes, arrows, text, and highlights to the document. These edits will be imported with your document.

The second option to the right will give you a quick look of your document while the third option will allow you to re-save a copy of your document. This is helpful when opening the document on another computer that doesn’t have a copy saved to its hard-drive.

Once you’re done editing your document, you can name it from the textbox located towards the top of the document’s window. To save a name change, just hit the Return key on your Mac’s keyboard.

On the web

Importing documents from Evernote’s web client is actually very similar to importing using the Mac app. To do this, log into Evernote on your favorite web browser. Once logged in, click into the Notebook you’re using to store PDFs. Once in the Notebook, look towards the top of the window and click on the button labeled “New Note”. Name this new Note by looking towards the top of the Note window and clicking into the title menu that should read “Untitled”. Type in your Note’s new name and press the return key on your keyboard to save it.

Opening your note in a new window
Opening your Note in a new window.

To add a PDF to your newly created Note, look at your new Note and open it in a new window. To do this, click the box and arrow button located towards the upper right-hand corner of your Note.

Uploading a PDF via Evernotes web interface
Adding a PDF to your newly created Note on the web

Now, find the PDF you’d like to import on your computer and drag-and-drop into the window containing your Note. Your PDF will now be uploaded to Evernote.

Using Scan To Evernote On The Mac

If you need to import a document that hasn’t yet been scanned to Evernote, you can do so using Scan To Evernote and Apple’s Image Capture. This is because, when installing Evernote on your Mac, a plug-in is added to Image Capture that, when enabled, will automatically upload scanned documents to your Evernote account.

To start, make sure your scanner is connected to your Mac and powered on. Then ready a document for scanning, and launch Image Capture on your Mac. From the left-hand side of the Image Capture window, select your scanner from underneath the “devices” header. If your scanner is connected to your local network, it will be under the "shared" header. 

Now, look towards the right-hand side of the screen at your scanning options. From here, set the “Format” drop-down menu to “PDF” and change the rest of the scan settings as desired.

Scan to Evernote
Adding Evernote to Image Capture.

Now it's time to tell Image Capture to scan to Evernote. To do this, open a new Finder window and navigate to your Applications folder. Find your Evernote application within this folder and drag-and-drop it into the "Scan to" field within Image Capture. 

Now that you’re done tweaking your scan, click the “Scan” button located towards the lower right-hand corner of the screen. Once your scan is complete, a new Evernote Note will appear with the PDF of your scan attached. You can now modify your scan as needed within Evernote.

Using Evernote To Keep Your Paperless Life Organized

Searching Through PDFs With Evernote

Note: you must be an Evernote Premium user to use these search tools.

Search documents in Evernote
Searching scanned documents with Evernote. 

One of the best parts of using Evernote for going paperless is the fact that, for Evernote Premium users, it automatically makes your PDFs and images searchable. For instance, if you have a document with the word “iPhone” in it and search “iPhone” in the “Search notes” (upper right-hand corner) box within the Evernote Mac interface, your document will pop-up with all instances of “iPhone” highlighted.

Additionally, Evernote allows Premium users to search through individual PDFs. When viewing a PDF, press Command-F on your keyboard to bring up a search box. You can now type in your search to have all instances of it highlighted within the document.

Keep in mind that this functionality also works for images that have text, so if you have scanned JPEGs or PNGs, you don’t have to rescan to use the search functionality.

Keeping Your Documents Organized Using Tags

Now that you’ve scanned a few documents into Evernote, it’s time to keep your documents organized for quick and easy searching. One way to do this is by using tags. To tag a document, click into its respective Note and look towards the top of said Note. You will see a button labeled “click to add tags”. Click on this button.

Tags in Evernote
Adding tags to a Note. 

You can now begin typing tags. If you’re tagging a document with multiple different tags, tap the return key on your keyboard after each tag to make it a separate tag.

Tag search in EvernoteSearching using Tags in Evernote. 

Now that you have tagged your documents, there are a couple of ways to search for a document using tags. The first way is within the search bar in Evernote for Mac or PC. Simply type in the name of the tag you’d like to search for, and from the drop-down menu, click on your tag under the “tag” section of the search box. You can now search for documents within your tag.

Evernote tag list
Viewing a list of created Evernote tags. 

Additionally, you can click on the “Tags” button on the left-hand side of the Evernote app on your Mac or PC to view all tags that you’ve added to Evernote. To view all notes within one of these tags, click on the tag you’d like to view and look towards the upper right-hand corner of the screen. You’ll see a button labeled “Show X Notes”. Click on this button to view all Notes tagged with said tag.

Enjoy Your New Paperless Lifestyle!

And that’s it! You can now recycle your paper document, and enjoy knowing that your important documents are stored on your computer, backed up on the cloud, and available on all of your devices with Evernote installed.

Evernote's a powerful notes app, with tons of powerful features to help you add info and quickly find it wherever you are. Whether you're just starting with Evernote, or are already an Evernote pro, be sure to check out our other tutorials about Evernote to get the most out of it:

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