#52Tech | Week 9: Scapple (Win & Mac desktop)

Scapple is the brainstorming, free-form text editor by the makers of Scrivener. Now that it’s out for Windows also, I finally found some time to give Scapple a go.

scapple definition

Scapple is often classified as mindmapping software. Strictly speaking, it’s not. It’s more a free-form text editor useful for unstructured brainstorming. Created for writers, Scapple will benefit many more creatives after some quick thought note-taking, with the bonus that your notes can be drag and dropped into Scrivener also.

I’ve long been a fan of mindmapping – in theory. I still use some good mindmapping apps for nutting out initial structure or concepts, but with Scapple I can see that going by the wayside, mainly because of the free-form capabilities of note-taking.

Mindmaps require a central starter node, from which deeper thinking is drilled out from the middle into branches and more branches. I don’t think like that. When plotting out ideas for a novel, for instance, I jump around from character to event to setting to another character, then join the related elements as I see fit. That’s often NOT a nicely organised mindmap or spiderweb.

This freeform text editing has benefits outside of pure writing. I’ve seen one reviewer using Scapple as a teacher lecturer. He puts Scapple up via an overhead projector, and uses it to capture discussions and topics as they occur. Apparently the Scapple notes are more popular with the students afterwards than his carefully prepared linear slideshow notes.

Mac Scapple (and Scrivener) users are gifted with more features in Scrivener which eases the integration between the two note systems – see Note 2 below for more on this. If you’re after a look at how Scapple and Scrivener on the Mac OSx work together, take a look at this review.

So let’s take a quick look at some of the features inside Scapple with some screenshots. The following is from Scapple for Windows PC. The Mac OS version of Scapple is at a different version number so may include additional features I can not use or am aware of.

Scapple environment

Why Scapple and not another free-form mapper app?

There are a few free-form mapping apps like Scapple out there, and certainly a lot of mindmap apps. For a list, check out my Listly List on the subject: Mindmapping Apps (feel free to add your own).

As a Windows user, I am thwarted currently with some integration problems between notes in Scapple and Scrivener, but the functions inside Scapple itself are truly beneficial to me. Not only is it a great freeform note-taker, allowing me to make connections as I like, but simple factors like holding a good spell-checker (with a downloadable English UK dictionary) and the ability to drag in and link images – wow, all on my desktop. And for so little money. Freeform connections lead to timecharts, workflows, and yes, mindmaps for my writing projects.

Now, if only Scrivener Windows had some updated features, and there was an iPAD version of both….a wishlist I’m sure L&L are very aware of.

Hot Tip:

big tip hereScrivener and Scapple Windows users may not have true drag and drop capability through the corkboard for notes, but how about having the whole scapple project board accessible via one-click in Scrivener?

Simply add the file via Add–> File and browse to the scapple project file on your drive. Accept the import, and a note will be created with an URL link. Click the link, and Scapple with the file inside will open for you. This works for any application files on your PC.

Another option is to simply export the Scapple project as a PDF or image file, and add that as a file into Scrivener.

Ideas for Scapple Use:

scapple book project
A sample novel project I put together. I used copious images for characters and settings, a family tree timeline to estimate years of birth and other events, text notes pulled in from a starter Scrivener project, other text notes typed in as they occurred, and connection lines.
  1. Free-form brainstorming, mindmapping, note-taking, flowcharting and timelines for writing or creative projects. Character profiles, event to character mapping, structure, ideas, research, links…endless uses. These are fantastic reasons to get Scapple.
  2. Education or corporate use: Use Scapple to document meetings, lectures or discussions and include images, text and connect up as they happen.
  3. Journaling – create a freeform journal of your thoughts with free-writing. Connect ideas and thoughts.
  4. Share through families – share scapple files via cloud-sharing or Dropbox etc, and have various family members add their ideas. They will need scapple installed on their desktops. There is also a Prevent Editing option should you simply want to share information without having it changed.
  5. Some scapple users have completely replaced any other note-taking software (like OneNote) with Scapple. (If you go this route, consider backup options and cloud storage plus security). I wouldn’t use it like this given the inability to attach other files (see Note 4 below). However, the URL links  and import of text work well to allow for external links and plain text notes from external resources.

App Overview

scapple iconScapple for Windows  and Mac OS (desktop). One license fee of around $15 gives you unlimited use across all your home computers, so share the app with your family. You can also trial the software for 30 days.

Literature and Latte: Scapple.

A good little tutorial video is available from the L&L page also.


  • Freeform text editor: Creating notes is as easy as double-clicking anywhere on the canvas and then typing
  • Make connections between any elements: making connections between ideas is as painless as dragging and dropping one note onto another.
  • Group notes with borders
  • Customise text with fonts, size and notes with colour fills.
  • You can move notes around and never run out of space.
  • Drag images in as a note.
  • Drag notes into Scrivener (for Windows users, this has to into the binder).

Some issues:

Note 1: The inspector window only really gives functions for text style and note body and borders, so is only helpful when within the Scapple canvas – where it floats on top. Unfortunately, the Inspector panel isn’t attached on first setup, so if you minimise Scapple, the inspector window remains open on-top of your other programs. If this included the ability to add a text note from this inspector window, from where-ever the inspector sat, it would be very helpful. Instead, it’s irritating. There is an option to embed the inspector which fixes this floating around (but cuts down the size of your scapple board – which I’m trying very hard not to spell as scrabble board).

Note 2: Windows users of Scrivener (like me) do not have a free-form corkboard mode. This is needed to make drag and drop of scapple notes into Scrivener corkboards work fully.  For Windows users, dragging a note from Scapple into Scrivener in cork board mode does not create a new note. But you can drag notes from Scapple into a binder folder and a new text file is created. Or, create a blank text note  then drag the note from Scapple into this. In both cases, only the plain text is copied over – formatting, background colours etc, disappear with this basic text drag and drop. Incidentally, the reverse can work also – drag Scrivener text notes (called Scrivenings) into Scapple.

Note 3: Restarting or opening Scapple doesn’t naturally open your last project (as Scrivener does). Instead you have a new default screen.  You have to select any wip projects from the normal file menu options to return to a current Scapple. This has its pros and cons, of course – if you’re using Scapple as a very at-the-moment get down thoughts quickly app, then opening into a new environment is the way to go.

Note 4: Drag in a document such as a PDF, but you’ll only get an image of the file’s frontpage (as per the image thumbnail you will see inside Windows Explorer). Dragging the image into Scrivener will not produce the file either, it’s simply an image.  You can, however, drag in both text or Word files, and be prompted to split the text into multiple notes (and by what deliminator) or not. This import of text (although rich text formatting is not imported) is a very nice feature.

52tech yearThis was a post in the #52tech goal – to investigate and share one technology post once a week for 2014.

You can find all the posts indexed via the #52tech tag, or top menu option at hunterswritings.com

8 thoughts on “#52Tech | Week 9: Scapple (Win & Mac desktop)

  1. Thanks for the nice review! Just a note to let everyone know that Scapple for Mac and Windows are pretty much identical (Windows has an inspector docking feature that Mac does not have, since floating palettes are less usual on Windows). The version number difference exists because tweaks to the Mac version were made to enhance Windows/Mac cross-platform compatibility within the format, as well as a few bug fixes.

    Scrivener-Scapple integration is mostly complete, save for freeform corkboards, as you note. One thing you mentioned is that stuff comes over plain-text. That shouldn’t actually be happening—you should be getting colour, bold, italic and so on. I would suggest contacting our technical support address if this is not working and it is important to you.

    One other thing, file attachments: links to files can in fact be created. You would do so in the same fashion as creating a text hyperlink to a website, but instead of typing anything into the URL field, drag and drop your file into that. The path will be printed in the box, click Okay, and now you can click on it to load the resource. We plan on making this a bit easier and more intuitive in the next update, so you can just drop files in to make a link—you would still need to create an explicit link for file types that are otherwise supported on the board, like .doc and .pdf. But, for example, you could drop ten .scap files into one board to create a “hub” Scapple board. You can do that now too, just make the links. To be honest we never really expected people to be using Scapple as a file hub—but it does make sense in retrospect. 🙂

    1. Thanks for the comprehensive feedback, Ioa. I’ve learnt a lot more from your comments, but will be contacting support over the lack of formatting I found in my own few tests. The hub board thing sounds fantastic and something that will help my own project organisation.

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