Apple’s iPad and Pencil combination makes for an excellent note-taking or digital drawing solution. But even though writing notes or creating art on the iPad has a lot of advantages over using analog pen and paper, the actual feel of writing with a plastic-tipped stylus on the iPad’s smooth glass isn’t great. The hard plastic of the stylus hitting the hard glass of the iPad can be noisy, slippery, and just unpleasant to use if you’re used to writing on paper.
Yet it doesn’t necessarily have to be that way. There is a small cottage industry of paper-feel (or paperlike or paper-type) screen protectors for the iPad that address this issue directly. And as someone who takes handwritten notes on the iPad every single day, I now swear by them.
These kinds of screen protectors have a different purpose than the typical clear plastic screen protector designed to prevent scratches on the screen. They have matte finishes that both diffuse the light coming out of the screen and provide a rougher texture for writing. This has the effect of providing resistance to the tip of the Apple Pencil, which makes writing on the glass feel more like writing on paper and provides more control over your strokes. They also reduce the tapping-on-glass noise you get with the Pencil on the iPad. Writing through the screen protector is no less responsive than without it, and you can still navigate the iPad easily with standard finger taps and swipes.
Yes, as expected, it makes the iPad feel more like paper, though I’m not going to tell you it’s exactly the same.
Common brands of paper-type screen protectors include Paperlike, Moshi (this is what I use on an iPad Mini and an iPad Pro), and PenTips, though there are many off-brand options on Amazon for lower costs. You can find options for every iPad on the market, from the base 9.7-inch model released a couple of years ago to the latest and greatest iPad Pro models. A matte screen protector will typically cost more than a basic clear one, with the name-brand versions running anywhere from $30 to $45 each.
The matte finish of the screen protector provides texture to the iPad’s surface, providing greater control over Pencil strokes Image: Paperlike
There are some downsides to be aware of when using a matte screen protector. Because these screen protectors diffuse the light coming out of the screen, there is an impact to the brightness and color saturation of the screen. If you use your iPad outdoors or you primarily use it for watching movies, this might be an issue for you. PenTips’ PenMat offers a clever solution for this: it magnetically attaches to the iPad, so you can easily put it on when you want to write or draw and take it off when you want to watch a movie or get the full brightness of the iPad’s screen. I haven’t used this one myself, but YouTuber Brad Colbow, who creates videos about making art on digital devices, recently tested it and came away impressed.
Those who write with a heavy hand or do a lot of drawing on their iPads might wear out the tip of the Apple Pencil faster with a matte screen protector due to its rougher texture. (This seems to be worst when tilting the Pencil for shading effects.) Replacing the Pencil’s tip is easy, and you can get four replacements for less than $20, but it is something to be aware of.
The matte screen protector almost makes my handwriting legible
I personally have never had an issue with the reduced brightness and contrast caused by the matte screen protector, so it’s something I leave on my iPad 100 percent of the time. And when I’m writing notes, it’s more comfortable to use, I have greater control, and you can almost read my chicken-scratch handwriting. It also eliminates glare when I’m reading or watching video. One last benefit is the matte screen protector seems to repel fingerprints and other grossness better than the bare glass screen.
If all you use your iPad for is watching video and entertaining young kids, then you probably don’t need to spend the money for a good matte screen protector. But if you’ve had ideas to use it for note-taking or digital art, then it’s one of the best accessories you can purchase — once you have a Pencil already, of course. And an iPad with a matte screen protector goes a long way toward providing a similar writing experience to something like a Remarkable while still being capable of all the other things an iPad is great for.