How to Draw and Write with a Stylus on Your Surface

By Andy Rathbone

People today think of tablets, such as the Surface, as easy ways to watch movies, read books, or browse websites. Yet, all of Microsoft’s pioneering “digital notepad” work isn’t lost. Your Surface still accepts your handwriting when you draw on it with a stylus — a specially designed, plastic-tipped pen.

As you write in either cursive or block letters, your Surface recognizes your scrawls, automatically converting your word into text. In some programs, Windows saves your handwritten text but indexes it. That not only makes your notes easy to relocate but also preserves any drawings you’ve added along with the text, a handy perk for Chemistry students.

Opening the Handwriting panel

Because all models of Surface accept a stylus, you can write by hand anywhere that Windows accepts typing. You can handwrite a letter in Microsoft Word, for example, or write the name of a newly created folder.

As you write, Windows converts your handwriting to words and drops them into the appropriate place.

The key is to call up the Handwriting panel by following these steps:

  1. Tap where you’d like to enter text.

    Tap any place that accepts text — an e-mail, a Word document, an entry in a calendar, or even the name of a new file you’re saving.

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    If the keyboard doesn’t appear (it doesn’t appear automatically on the desktop), summon it by tapping the taskbar’s keyboard icon, shown in the margin.

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  2. If a keyboard doesn’t display its Handwriting panel, tap the keyboard switching key and tap the Stylus option, shown in the margin.

    The Handwriting panel appears.

  3. Begin writing in the Handwriting panel, in cursive, block letters, or a combination.

    As you write, Windows quickly begins recognizing the separate words, listing them in order along the panel’s left edge. After you’ve written a short phrase, tap the Insert button. Windows inserts the words as text.

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If all goes according to plan, you’ll write your words, insert them, and move on. To bring yourself up to speed, tap the little question mark inside the rectangle (shown in the margin). Tiny visual tutorials show how to correct, delete, split, and join handwritten words.

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  • After you call up the Handwriting panel, it automatically appears as your preferred keyboard until you manually choose a different type of keyboard.

  • The Surface RT and Surface 2 require a capacitive stylus, the inexpensive type of stylus sold nearly anywhere. The ones sold for an iPad work fine.

  • The Surface Pro and Surface Pro 2 include a bundled digitizer stylus. More expensive than the capacitive stylus, the digitizer stylus allows finer, pressure-sensitive control when drawing. Those Surface models also include a special screen with palm-blocking technology that makes it easier to take notes.

  • Both types of styli work also in drawing programs.

Calibrating your stylus

Handwriting recognition works quite well in the Surface, perhaps because Microsoft has been perfecting it since its introduction in 1992. However, to make Windows recognize your writing style the most accurately, calibrate it: Let Windows watch as you tap a set of crosshairs on the screen. Windows compares your onscreen touch with the actual location of the crosshairs and behaves more accurately.

To calibrate your tablet, follow these steps:

  1. From the Desktop, swipe in from your tablet’s right edge to fetch the Charms bar; then tap the Settings icon.

  2. From the Settings pane, choose Control Panel at the top.

  3. The Control Panel appears.

  4. Tap the Hardware and Sound category; then tap the Tablet PC Settings section.

  5. From the Tablet PC Settings window, tap the Calibrate button.

  6. Follow the instructions, repeatedly tapping the onscreen crosshairs; then tap the Yes button to save the data.

Windows saves your calibration data, tracking the touch of your stylus that much more accurately. Feel free to repeat these steps anytime you feel Windows doesn’t correctly recognize your stylus.

Correcting handwritten mistakes

A mistake will inevitably creep onto the Handwriting panel. It won’t recognize one of your words correctly, for example, or it will turn an inadvertent keystroke into a period.

To correct mistakes in the Handwriting panel before you’ve touched the Insert button, draw a strikeout line through the misspelled words, word, or letters. When you lift the pen, the unwanted word disappears.

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Spot a mistake in text that’s already entered? Then run your stylus over the text that needs correcting, just as though you were highlighting it with a marker. As you highlight the text, it appears in the Handwriting panel for editing, as though you’d just written it by hand.

When the text appears in the Handwriting panel, draw a line through the words you’d like to remove, just as though you’d written them there, and the unwanted words disappear. Then tap the Insert key to put the corrected version back in place.

You can correct mistakes several other ways inside the Handwriting panel:

  • To correct a single letter within a word in the Handwriting panel, tap the word. Windows spaces the word out, letter by letter. Write the correct letter over the incorrect letter, and Windows replaces the wrong letter with the newly corrected letter.

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  • To add a symbol, tap in your document where the symbol should appear. When the Handwriting panel appears, tap the &123 key (shown in the margin). Tap it to see the available symbols and then tap the one you’d like to place into the document.

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  • For more tips on how to correct items in the Handwriting panel, tap the question mark icon (shown in the margin) in the Handwriting panel’s upper-right corner. Detailed animations show exactly how to correct, delete, split, and join letters and words.