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Whirlwind Tour

This is a quick tutorial for beginners that will demonstrate:

  1. How to set up Xournal++ for the first time
  2. How to create a basic Xournal++ journal file
  3. The functionality of some common tools
  4. How to annotate a PDF file
  5. How to export a Xournal++ journal file to other file formats

We assume that the reader has already downloaded and installed Xournal++. If not, instructions can be found here.

How Xournal++ works

Xournal++ is a note-taking tool focused on handwritten notes and digital tablet/stylus input. To this end, notes are stored in files called Journals (.xopp format). A journal can be thought of as a collection of pages of different formats and sizes. The pages themselves contain visual elements such as pen strokes, shapes, images, etc.

To allow users to create, view, and edit journals, Xournal++ provides a graphical application (shown in the image below).

Image demonstrating the Xournal++ GUI

The application is divided into the following sections:

  1. The canvas displays the currently loaded journal and allows the user to create, delete, or edit elements.
  2. The toolbars allow the user to select tools, which are used to create and modify elements. For example, the Pen Tool Pen Tool icon can be used to draw/write strokes. The Select Object Tool Select Object Tool icon can be used to move, resize, and scale elements. One tool may be designated as the "currently activated tool" at any time.
  3. The sidebar is used to preview parts of the journal, including the pages and layers (see the section below). Furthermore, buttons at the bottom of the sidebar allow the user to create pages.
  4. The menubar contains a list of menus that provide access to less frequently used features, such as the Preferences window and the Plugin Manager.

This is roughly all the information that the reader needs to know to get started with Xournal++. For example, suppose we want to create a stroke. To do this, select the Pen Tool Pen Tool icon with a mouse, and then hold the left mouse button down across some portion of the canvas.

First time setup

Due to the wide variety of input devices that exist, the default input device settings in Xournal++ may not be appropriate for your system. Here, we briefly highlight the settings that may need to be changed in order for Xournal++ to work correctly for you. Settings may be changed by accessing the Edit > Preferences button in the menu.

Input device setup

If you are unable to draw strokes or type characters in the Text Tool, check out the Input System tab. This will list the input devices that Xournal++ detects, as well as the default device class assigned to each device. If the device class is incorrect, you can override the device class using the drop down menu to the right.

For example:

  • If you are using a combined wireless USB mouse/keyboard device, you may need to switch the input device from Mouse or Keyboard to Mouse+Keyboard Combo.
  • A drawing tablet stylus may be detected as a mouse, which means that pressure sensitivity will not work. To fix this, you may need to override the device as a Stylus.

Temporary tool button bindings

The primary "button" of each input device, such as the left mouse button or the stylus tip, will activate the currently selected tool when pressed. However, it is also possible to configure the input devices so that pressing a secondary button will temporarily activate a different tool. For example, the right mouse and middle mouse buttons are set to temporarily activate the Eraser and Hand tools (respectively) by default.


By default, touch motions on touchscreen devices will pan or scroll the canvas. An alternate mode, called "Touch Drawing", causes touch motions to invoke the selected tool instead. This allows strokes to be drawn directly with touch motions.

Creating your first document

Now that we've set up the default settings, we are ready to start exploring how Xournal++ might actually be used.

  1. The typical workflow begins with creating a new journal or loading an existing one. The former can be achieved using the File > New menu item (or by clicking the New Document Button New Document button on the toolbar), and the latter can be done by using one of the File > Open options (or by clicking the Open File Button Open File button on the toolbar).
  2. To create a stroke, select the Pen Tool Pen Tool icon from the toolbar. Hold down your stylus or mouse on the screen to initiate a stroke, drag it to draw the stroke, and then lift it to end the stroke. You can change stroke attributes such as shape, color, and fill using some of the toggle buttons and drop down menus in the toolbar.
  3. Add a new page by clicking the Insert Page Button Insert Page button or using one of the Journal > New Page menu buttons.
  4. Save the journal to .xopp format using File > Safe or by clicking the Save Button Save button .

Using tools to create and manipulate elements

The main way to create and manipulate visual elements is to use a set of tools that are built into the application. We've seen one such example above: the Pen Tool Pen Tool icon . Exactly one tool is marked "selected" at any given time, and the selected tool can be changed by pressing one of the tool buttons on the toolbar. Here is a list of some other commonly used tools:

Tool Functionality
Eraser Tool Eraser Tool icon removes strokes
Highlighter Tool Highlighter Tool icon like the Pen Tool Pen Tool icon but with transparent strokes (like a highlighter)
Text Tool Text Tool icon insert typed text (color and font are selectable)
LaTeX Tool LaTeX Tool icon insert LaTeX formula or diagrams
Select Object Tool Select Object Tool icon selects objects, so they can be moved, scaled, or deleted
Select Rectangle Tool Select Rectangle Tool icon select objects in a rectangular region

Of special note are the family of "select tools" like Select Object Tool Select Object Tool icon and Select Rectangle Tool Select Rectangle Tool icon , which are used to modify existing elements:

  • Select one or more elements using Select Object Tool Select Object Tool icon or Select Rectangle Tool Select Rectangle Tool icon . A pale blue rectangle called the selection rectangle will be drawn around them.
  • Only one selection can be active at a time. To cancel a selection, press on an empty part of the page with a selection tool, or switch to another tool.
  • Move the selected element(s) by pressing and holding them with your left mouse button / stylus.
  • Scale the selected elements(s) by dragging one of the eight white boxes around the edges of the selection rectangle. Alternatively, drag an edge of the selection rectangle.
  • Duplicate the selected element(s) by pressing the selection rectangle with the right mouse button (or button on stylus mapped to right mouse button).
  • Delete the selected element(s) by pressing the red rectangle with a cross. Alternatively, press the Del button on your keyboard.

Annotating PDF files

In addition to creating journals from scratch, Xournal++ can also be used to "annotate" PDF files by creating journals that use a PDF file as a background.

  1. Use either File > Open or File > Annotate PDF to load a PDF file.
  2. "Annotate" the PDF pages by using tools such as the Highlighter Tool Highlighter Tool icon , Pen Tool Pen Tool icon , and Text Tool Text Tool icon to add elements on top of the PDF pages.
  3. Save the journal to .xopp format using File > Safe or by clicking the Save Button Save button . Note that the .xopp file requires the original PDF to be kept around.

Exporting journals to other formats

Xournal++ can export a journal file to many different file formats.

  1. Open a journal.
  2. Use File > Export to PDF to generate a PDF file from the journal.
  3. To export to other file formats such as SVG or PNG, or to set export options such as the specific pages to export, use File > Export As to choose the file format and then set the export options.