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Colour Code Notes in Evernote

Whilst working on another Evernote related post today I came across a suggestion from someone that I thought I could help with.  Would you like to be able to colour code your notes in Evernote?

So first of all I need to credit this idea to Thierry who suggested this to Phil Libin in his April Q&A session on the Evernote blog.  In essence what was requested was using the colour of the note's background to help as a visual filter.  As it stands I can't find any way to modify a note in the client applications to set the background colour.  But using the same principle as the templates workaround we can work with an exported note.  This makes it pretty straight forward to create a template for new notes to have a particular background colour, and possible to do the same for an existing note using an export-amend-import process ... but that's a bit fiddly.

The Evernote ENML specification notes that from any HTML that is pulled into Evernote, the BODY tag is stripped out, but the EN-NOTE tag can use some of the same attributes, including BGCOLOR which defines the background colour for a web page; or in this case a note.

I've created some simple background coloured notes and added these to my Evernote templates page if you want to download them, but here's how to modify or create your own.

Step one is to export your basic note.  The easiest way to do this is from a desktop client (Export under File), or via the context menu displayed when right clicking on the note in a list view.  Once you have your note, open it (an ENEX file) up in your favourite text editor and find the <EN-NOTE> tag.

Now you need to decide on your background colour.  Something you can still read text on.  You can specify it as a standard HTML standards name or an RGB triplet (a # followed by six hexadecimal characters).  A good list can be found on the web site.  Save the file and that's your template for importing.

Here's an example empty file with a yellow background. Take a close look at the last line to see how simple this really is.

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<!DOCTYPE en-export SYSTEM "">
<en-export export-date="20090314T120030Z" application="Evernote/Windows" version="3.5">
<note><title>Untitled Note</title><content><![CDATA[<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<!DOCTYPE en-note SYSTEM "">
<en-note bgcolor="yellow"></en-note>]]></content></note></en-export>

You can of course use the basic templating system (Windows / Mac) to set yourself up with some quick ways to get the imports running.  You could also adapt the journal template principle and substitute some colour selection routine to feed in your colour choice (e.g. from a set of menu options) and feed that into building your template on the fly (the journal solution picks up the current date).

When it comes to setting the background colour on existing templates, you could go through the same process I've just described, but this is every time - not just to create a template.  If you do find yourself doing this often, it may be worth considering developing a larger workflow which involves an automated substitution step using your favourite scripting language to insert the colour into the exported ENEX file.

Of course I expect that it might just be easier to wait for Evernote to include the option to amend this attribute within a desktop client, but if you fancy a challenge it should be a fun little scripting project.

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Reader Comments (3)

I was really thrilled to be able to color-code my notes, but I discovered that you can no longer edit the notes on the iPhone app. According to the error message, the mobile app can't edit rich text notes, only plain text notes. Any workarounds?

September 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterNewLight


I think I've read something somewhere that Evernote are working on something for this. The iPhone app currently only edits plain text notes or appends to rich text notes (blog post ref.), but this is down to what Apple allows developers to do on the iOS platform.

In order to do rich text editing, an application needs to develop a new / alternative keyboard or additional interface overlay to allow a user to do things like change fonts, highlight text, apply font modifications (bold, strike through, etc.).

I think developers had hoped that iOS4 might give them some additional options for this. I'm not on the Apple Developer programme for access to this stuff so I don't know for sure what is available.

So for now appending to a note is all that's available on the iOS devices, but hopefully we'll get some other options soon.

Personally I would at least like to be able to add and remove checkboxes. FastEver have found a simple way to implement this sort of thing (though only creation) so hopefully we'll see something in a new release within the next few months.

September 19, 2010 | Registered CommenterStephen Millard

If you want to colour code your Evernote notes and you have Microsoft Outlook then just create the note (just a stub will do) in Outlook then right-click the note to change the colour category to your choice, then right-click again to export to Evernote. Bob's your aunties live-in-lover.

November 24, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterbigredcat

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