How to use ChatGPT to digitize your handwritten notes for free

Sabrina Ortiz/ZDNET

Writing down notes with pen and paper scratches an itch that typing text doesn’t fulfill. Studies have shown that physically jotting down notes is a better way to retain information. However, by writing stuff down, you miss out on the perks of digitizing your notes. ChatGPT helps you get the best of both worlds. 

When OpenAI supercharged the free version of ChatGPT with GPT-4o in May, users could upload files, including images, documents, and more. This update allowed users to interact with images in multiple ways, including extracting text. 

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This capability means you can upload handwritten documents, from sticky notes to meeting and class notes to packing lists, and convert them into text. Then, you can use that text to create new content by copying and pasting it into presentations, emails, outlines, essays, Quizlets, and more. 

Sound too good to be true? I thought the same, but after testing the tool multiple times, I can assure you that it works efficiently and quickly. Getting started is simple, and you will not want to stop once you start. 

1. Log in to your OpenAI account 

Log in to ChatGPT

If you haven’t created an account, click on Sign Up. Otherwise, log in with your OpenAI credentials.

Screenshot by Maria Diaz/ZDNET

Even though you can access ChatGPT without creating an OpenAI account, you need to sign in to access GPT-4o and its many perks, including image uploads. The good news is that creating an account is easy, and the perks are well worth it. 

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If you have never created a ChatGPT account, you can easily do so from the sign-in page. You can also log in with your existing Google or Microsoft account. I opted for the latter option, so I don’t have to memorize another username and password. 

2. Upload your image 

ChatGPT paperclip icon

Screenshot by Sabrina Ortiz/ZDNET

Once you log in, you will be brought to the ChatGPT interface with a blank textbox. Next to the textbox, you will find a paperclip icon, which you can click on to upload your photo from several different sources, including Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, or your computer. 

If the image is readily available on your device, you can drag and drop it to your text box.

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I wouldn’t worry about what your text looks like because I uploaded a sticky note I wrote over the weekend in cursive, as seen below, and ChatGPT had no problem understanding and outputting the text. 

Sabrina's to-do list sticky note

Sabrina Ortiz/ZDNET

If you enter the picture with no text prompt, ChatGPT will most often automatically extract the text and present it to you typed out. However, to ensure the bot knows what to do and does so successfully, I recommend adding a simple text prompt like, “Can you extract the text from this image?” and then hit enter. 

3. Use your text for whatever you need

ChatGPT sticky note text extraction

Screenshot by Sabrina Ortiz/ZDNET

Once ChatGPT outputs the extracted text, you can check to ensure the output accurately represents your text. In every instance I have tried, the bot has been word-for-word correct. Then, you can copy and paste the text wherever you’d like. Some use cases include presentations, emails, virtual sticky notes, outlines, and more.