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If you’re just getting started or are ready to purchase your first digital journal template, you’re in luck. This post includes the beginner basics, plus a free guide to get you started!

Digital Journal Template 101: Free Getting Started Guide

(1) What do I need to use digital journal templates?

To get started using digital journal or planning templates, you’ll need a bit of hardware and software.

Tablet & Stylus

First, you’ll need a tablet and stylus. Your tablet must be one that supports PDF annotation apps in order to use hyperlinked templates. The stylus is essential because you will be writing directly on your tablet. Generally, newer tablets on the market come with stylus support. If you haven’t purchased one already, be sure that the stylus you purchase works with your tablet.

The following are a few popular tablets that will work with digital journal templates include:

PDF Annotation App

Secondly, you’ll need to choose an annotation app that allows freehand writing directly on your PDF. Digital journal templates designed for these apps come with hyperlinks built in, so be sure that your app also allows for hyperlink navigation. Additionally, you’ll want an app with a variety of tools such as pens and highlighters with adjustable settings, insert images, and bookmarks.

If you do not currently have a PDF annotation app, I’d recommend doing a bit of research to see which app works best with your device before you download or make a purchase. Which apps are available to you will depend on your device’s operating system as well as your stylus. Since some apps cross platforms, you may also want to research apps that will be available to you across all of your devices.

The following are a few popular annotation apps for digital journal and planning templates along with their operating system(s):

When you have your tablet, stylus, and app, you’ll be ready to choose a digital journal or planner template!

(2) Digital journal template options

Next, it’s time to choose your digital journal or planner template. You will find a lot of options in the Digital Jouraling shop. Another great place to find a variety of templates in on Etsy.

Things to look for

While choosing a digital journal or planning template, consider the following keywords:

Hyperlinked PDF

Although you can upload any PDF to your app, hyperlinked PDF templates have additional features like tabs or buttons to help you easily navigate pages or sections.


One of the biggest factors when choosing a digital journal or planner template is deciding whether you’ll be working vertically or horizontally. This is a personal choice, and there is no right or wrong! Vertical or portrait orientation is most similar to writing on a piece of paper or folded-back spiral notebook. While horizontal or landscape orientation has the feel of an open book or two-page spread.

Digital Bullet Journal: Portrait or Landscape orientation
Featured in this image: digital bullet journals in vertical/portrait and horizontal/landscape orientations.

Minimal or Faux Binding

In addition to choosing the orientation of your journal, you’ll also choose the style. The two main styles of digital journal templates are minimal and faux-bound. Minimal templates offer a maximized writing space and small, discreet buttons for navigation. In contrast, faux-bound journals and planners look like a book, feature tabbed navigation and/or rings or spiral type binding seen on every page. Another example: minimal planner templates are likely to feature linked calendars while faux-bound have traditional dashboards for each section. Choose any style that looks appealing to you!

As you can see in the images, above, minimal does not necessarily mean undecorated. Our Ultimate Time Blocking Planner features cheerful colors and an interesting layout but still makes maximum use of the screen space. Alternately, our Pastel Digital Planner features a book-type layout with tabs and a virtual desktop behind the planner.


Depending on your journaling or planning style, the number or variety of templates may be important. You may want a journal or notebook with one, specific style of pages – like all ruled paper for instance. Or you might want to look for one with a variety of different templates to meet your needs, like multiple papers, planner set-ups, and note taking templates, for example. Planners may feature one, specific style of planning or give you options to customize your layouts with a variety of weekly, daily, and monthly set-ups.

Keep in mind that the more template variety means that your digital planner or journal will be more flexible. In other words, you’ll be spending some time setting up and customizing the templates yourself. That could be a big plus or minus, depending on your personal style.

Customizable Index

Many digital journal templates come with a page that contains a flexible set of pages that can be used for custom sections. This is especially handy if you’re setting up different sections for various projects, notes, courses, or time periods.

Minimal index example
Featured: Minimal Bullet Journal (Etsy), customizable index example


Another factor to consider is the length of the templates you choose. Some people like to have one, big file that stays open all the time for easy access for all of their journaling, planning, and notes. If you’re a one-file-to-rule-them-all person, look for “ultimate” or “all-in-one” in the title. These will be larger files with multiple uses.

On the other hand, some people prefer to compartmentalize their files. For example, one digital journal template specifically dedicated to journaling. While another template is specifically for weekly planning. Still another dedicated to budgeting, etc. If you prefer to compartmentalize, look for shorter files with less pages that you can dedicate to a singular task. Keep in mind that you can also use one file multiple times. Therefore, if you find a bullet journal template that you love, for example, you can dedicate one copy of that file to planning, one to journaling, one to goals, etc.


Another fun part of digital journaling is selecting the cover template you like! The cover you choose will be the thumbnail that you see inside your app. Some journals and planners come with a selection of covers. Others come with just one. This may be a deciding factor for you, however you are not stuck with the cover that comes with your file!

Stone Covers
Featured: Stone Notebook Covers
View all Digital Notebook Covers (Etsy)

Personally, I disregard the covers when selecting a digital journal template. I have a good collection of compartmentalized journals and planners going, and they all have mismatched covers – some vertical covers that fill the thumbnail, others are horizontal and shorter, one is even a square. Because I don’t like a variety of mismatched covers in my app, I designed sets of vertical notebook covers that provide a more organized, consistent look. See below for an example.


There are a variety of extras that might come with your digital journal template like coordinating stickers, bonus pages, or extra templates. These might tip the scales for you, but be sure that the main template is what you really love! Most extras can be purchased separately when and if you need them.

Digital Bullet Journal Stickers
With your first purchase, receive a free pack of 100 bullet journal style stickers!
Shop Digital Journal Templates (Etsy)

(3) Importing your digital journal template

So far you’ve got your tablet and app set up, and now you’ve selected your digital journal template. It’s time to dig in! The first thing you will need to do is download the PDF and import it into your app.

Downloading your template
Seems simple, but downloading the template to your iPad or tablet might be a little tricky. If you purchased from Etsy, for example, downloading to iPad from their app doesn’t usually work. You’ll need to open a browser tab (I’ve had the best luck with Safari), sign in, and download it from there.

Whatever device you’re using, make sure to download and store your digital journal templates somewhere safe, where you can find them again. Remember, you can use these templates multiple times!

Importing your digital journal template
Next, you’ll need to import the template into your app. The following steps work with all the PDF annotation apps I’ve tried:

  1. Open your app
  2. Select the + or arrow down (import) sign
  3. Find your file & upload it to the app.

One exception is the Xodo app, which uses your own file system to save the PDFs. In this case, simply find the file you’d like to use and open it to begin. It’s a good idea to dedicate one file folder on your device to Xodo, if that’s the app you’ve chosen to use.

(4) Understanding tools and navigation

While some annotation apps come with a getting started guide, others do not. Whichever is the case for you, go ahead in and start playing around. You’ll want to get used to navigating your new digital journal template and using the myriad of tools in your app.

One note about navigation before you get frustrated! If you’re ever working on your file, and you cannot get the hyperlinks to work – this may be the answer.

Anytime you’d like to write, the hyperlinked navigation will be turned OFF. Therefore, to use the built in hyperlinks, you’ll have to turn the annotation tools off. To write again, you’ll have to turn the annotation tools back ON. Look for a special button (look for a pen with a line through it) or on the middle of the screen with your finger or stylus.

To get a better feel for the navigation of your app, especially when it comes to using digital journal, notes, or planning templates, download our free getting started guide designed for your app below.

Coming Soon!
Free Getting Started Guides

or visit the DiJoShop on Etsy