Desktop Annotation on a SMART Board & Why It’s Important (Part 1 of 3)

Marja Vitti
News on May 24 2018

You’ve got a big decision to make.

You have the opportunity to upgrade your classrooms with the latest interactive display technology. But how do you know which panel to choose? You may ask yourself questions like, “What features really matter?” or “Which panel will be the easiest to use?”

Desktop annotation is the ability to easily write with digital ink over your desktop or applications. It should be a key feature of any interactive flat panel (IFP). It allows you to work collaboratively on documents or draw attention to a specific item being displayed to your class. In this series of articles, we will look at how writing with digital ink in your Microsoft Office applications works on different interactive displays.

When evaluating this feature, here are a few things you should consider:

  • Are you able to write over your application, and still use that application? For example, if I highlight text on a PowerPoint slide, will the highlight stay with the slide allowing you to advance through the presentation?
  • Are you only writing on a layer over the application? If so, can I save my writing?
  • In an application like Excel, can you write directly into a cell, or are you only able to write over the spreadsheet?
  • Do I need to indicate (by selecting a tool from the application’s navigation) that I am a pen after I have picked up a pen?
  • Does the display recognize the difference between my pen and finger?
  • Can multiple users write in different colors at the same time?
  • When I write in a web browser, does the ink stay with the individual tabs on the browser?
  • Do I need to download special software to enable annotation features?


Use the list above to help determine which IFP best suits your teachers’ and students’ needs. Surprisingly, this basic feature is widely inconsistent across the different IFP manufacturers. We tested desktop annotation with Microsoft applications and a web browser using five popular interactive displays:

Desktop Annotation on the SMART Board 6000 Series

The first interactive display we tested was the SMART Board 6000 Series.

SMART prides itself on ease-of-use, and that comes across in this video.


Pretty cool, right?

SMART Ink (desktop annotation on a SMART Board) lets you write directly over any desktop application without an “overlay.” This means that on a SMART Board the teacher is writing on the application, and not on a transparent layer that is sitting over the application.

As we swiped through our PowerPoint presentation, all of our digital notes remained specific to each slide – an invaluable feature that saves a ton of time. You can access all of the PowerPoint menus and toolbars. Because SMART doesn’t use an overlay, we didn’t have to worry about erasing notes before switching slides. All of our notes could be saved directly into the presentation for later reference.

Next, we tested Microsoft Excel. After writing a number, we could easily tap and convert to our writing to text, placing the number directly into a cell. This lets teachers make real-time changes to the file during class and save them directly to the spreadsheet. When we tested SMART Ink capabilities in Microsoft Word, we discovered that the functionality remained the same. Any digital notes could be converted to text, placed directly into the actual document, and saved.

The last piece of the puzzle was testing SMART Ink with a web browser. Because SMART Ink allows for text conversion and search capabilities, we could simply write out a search term to easily navigate to our desired website. We could write, highlight, zoom, erase, and scroll with ease. There are other cool tools — “spotlight” and “reveal” — that can be used to focus students to specific content on a website.


Consistency across the Microsoft Office applications makes it easy to learn and use SMART Ink. SMART Ink does not use an overlay, so writing over any application on the desktop was a seamless experience. Overall, for annotation the SMART Board is easy to use, intuitive for teachers and students, and ends up being a huge time saver.

Questions? Comments? As always, we’re here to help – simply visit us at or email our PD team at