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How To Annotate PDFs And Best Annotation Tools To Review And Collaborate

Written by Siddhita Upare
Published on March 21st, 2022

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PDFs have become our go-to document type, be it for reviewing the final design version before printing, sharing an invoice, or sending an official communication to the team.

But, there’s always that one looming question in our minds - “How to annotate a pdf?”

If you have ever tried to do that, you know it’s not as simple as suggesting a change in a Google Doc or leaving a comment in your Word document.

Add to that the pain of multiple people collaborating on one single PDF and it becomes even more complicated.

Despite its editing and collaborating limitations, PDFs are the favorite of marketing, creative, and many more teams for many reasons - they are easy to share, they preserve color accuracy and formatting, and the best part - they are universally used.

Worry not! You can have these pros without having to deal with its cons.

How?

Annotation tools!

What is PDF annotation?

Suppose you sent a PDF to your team to review a client proposal.

How do they leave comments? How do they suggest changes? Can they make changes to any design assets in the proposal? It becomes very cumbersome to communicate these things via email or through your Slack channel. For example, someone may have sent in an email saying, “Please change the aligning of the design asset” What if there are ten design assets? Which one is he talking about? Errors, back-and-forth communication, and misinterpretation are bound to happen. That’s where PDF annotations come into the picture.

PDF annotation refers to the practice of adding extra text, graphics, objects, or comments to a PDF document. Now, the team can easily point out the design asset they’re talking about in the PDF itself. The result? So much time and energy saved!

When do you need PDF annotations?

While trying to make changes to a PDF, you might have thought, “Ahh! Why does it have to be so tough? Why did they create a document that couldn’t be annotated?”

You might be surprised to know that the PDF format was created back in 1990s by Adobe. Its sole purpose was to replace large document files as the computing power back then was quite less. PDF rocked the world then! For two simple reasons - (i) it was easy to share these documents which was a great alternative to huge files that weren’t portable and (ii) it could combine all graphic elements in one single document and at the same time, keep the document size small.

Over the years though as new innovations popped up, PDF started losing its charm, owing to one drawback- it takes a lot of pain to even annotate one thing.

That’s when we started seeing many tools popping up that allow you to get rid of that one con and make PDFs magical once more.

Here are different scenarios where PDF annotation might come in handy:

  • Making notes PDF annotations are important especially when it comes to reviewing technical documents. You can suggest changes, leave questions, and ensure you don’t forget to follow up later. You can even assign things so that the entire team knows who is responsible for doing what.
  • Proofreading You need to ensure your content is free of any grammatical mistakes or errors. Be it your advertising copy, poster, or legal document, you need to make it go through proofreading.

While the proofreader may not be able to edit the PDF, he can leave suggestions of what needs to be changed and what needs to be discussed further, all the while leaving your original content intact.

  • Art and design review One reason people make use of PDFs for art and design review - images can be shared in high quality. You can then add PDF annotations saying, “Can you make the font a little larger?” or “Can you change the background color to a muted tone?” while pointing to specific parts of the design.
  • Compliance review There are many compliances, especially in sectors like pharmaceutical, cosmetics, and healthcare. Printing out an artwork that doesn’t comply to set regulations can lead to hefty fines. Through PDF annotations, your legal team can go through all the content and review and approve every campaign before launching.
  • Print annotation PDF annotation tools help you to consolidate all team members’ feedback in one PDF before pushing it to print.
  • Ad proofing Be it your digital ads or printable ads, your marketing and content team can make use of PDF annotations to fine-tune the minutest details of the print, color, typography, and the entire layout.
  • Wireframe annotations Web designers can make use of wireframe annotations to explain how a new feature may work. This could include visuals, different use cases, flow, and scenario examples. These annotations can even be used to guide your internal team of developers, copywriters, and even clients so everyone can provide their feedback at one place.
  • Catalog and magazine review Your catalogs and magazines may contain 100s of pages. Would you print all that and then give your suggestions? PDF Annotation tools allow you to have multiple review stages without having to manually print different PDF versions.
  • Remote collaboration Channels like Slack and email are inefficient when it comes to collaborating and giving out feedback. Not only do things get lost or unseen but they don’t have the extensive markup, commenting, and comparison capabilities that PDF annotation tools provide.

The major features in a PDF annotation tool

Before going through the options of PDF tools available in the market, know that you can’t edit your entire PDF. These tools will only allow you to make annotations to express your comments so that whoever views that PDF next has a fair idea of where to start and what to do.

That said, these are some major features PDF annotation tools have:

  • Highlighting
  • Comment placement
  • Strikethrough function
  • Ability to add shapes
  • Version history

If your PDF annotation tool has all these features, you’ll have a smooth time giving out feedback, collaborating with your team, or just leaving notes in your PDFs.

Benefits of using PDF annotation tools

How many times have you skipped annotating a PDF because it was difficult? We get you (we have done that too)! But there are times when you just can’t skip this process. Let’s say your client sent a legal document. You need to go through it to ensure the terms are fine with your company. Upon reading it, you want to add something or strikethrough something.

An annotation software allows you to do that and so much more. Here are the many benefits it can provide you:

  • Leave precise comments: Instead of sharing vague emails where you can’t point out the exact location, PDF annotation tools allow you to leave precise comments at precise places.
  • Less back-and-forth communication: What happens when someone doesn’t understand your vague email? You send threads of emails, all talking about a simple comment you could’ve left in the PDF itself.
  • Keep track of changes: One design undergoes many iterations. PDF annotation tools keep a track of all your different versions and also the latest version so that you can start your work without having to figure out the latest edit.
  • Better collaboration: You can see which team members have put in which comments, what you need to do next, and so on.
  • Quicker approvals: With all of the above benefits, guess what is directly impacted? Your turnaround time. With curtailing of inefficiencies and your entire process being streamlined, you can push your projects to launch faster.

How to annotate a PDF: Best PDF annotation tools

Here are the top 9 PDF annotation tools that will help you lower that frustration level when you work with a PDF.

Ruttl

AT 1

While Ruttl majorly focuses on website review, we also have a PDF annotator that many of our users use on a regular basis. It allows you to leave precise comments on PDFs and even use them to assign tasks to your teammates. You can even jot down notes in your PDFs so that you can refer them anytime you want. Collaborating becomes easier especially if your major work revolves around PDFs and you have to share feedback with your team on an ongoing basis.

Adobe Acrobat Reader

AT 2

Adobe Acrobat Reader’s new version comes with annotation features that will help you insert comments on PDFs using sticky notes or drawing tools, markup, underline and highlight text, and a lot more. One more interesting feature is the @mentions where you can tag your teammates and resolve comments once done. This makes sure everyone on your team stays accountable and updated. What’s more? You also get to use functions like search and zoom which makes working on small devices easier and painless.

PDFelement Pro

AT 3

PDFElement Pro works just like Microsoft Word, which makes it easier for people who are familiar with Microsoft Office Programs. You can annotate your PDFs with lots of tools such as highlighter, strikethrough, underline, shapes, sticky notes, text fields, and hand drawing to leave comments on PDFs and collaborate with your team. They also have a range of markup tools with which you can draw on PDFs and convey your message visually. It also doesn’t have a steep learning curve and is thus user-friendly for non-tech savvy people as well.

Xodo PDF Reader

AT 4

If you are dealing with a lot of legal documents that require filling digital forms and providing electronic signatures, Xodo can be your go-to tool. Apart from that, you can use various annotation functions like adding bookmarks, taking notes, leaving comments, and so on. They also have a unique feature called Xodo Connect that helps you collaborate online with your team. You no longer need to worry about uploading multiple documents as it has a syncing feature that automatically updates every document you work on.

Foxit Reader

AT 5

This PDF Annotation tool provides you with different features like typewriter, note, strikeout, underline, bookmark links, digital signature and multimedia attachment. As the interface is easy-to-use, the tool is used by many teams across the world. They also have some other functions such as digital stamps, area, and scales highlighters so if you’re extensively making use of these, Foxit PDF reader may be your ideal choice.

Nitro Reader

AT 6

Nitro Reader isn’t your full-fledged PDF annotation tool but it still provides all the basic features you’d require, like notes, highlight, strikeout, underline, and so on. It does not offer advanced features but does the work well if you have limited requirements. One more added benefit to Nitro Reader is you can convert your PDF to text and extract images from PDF.

Notability

AT 7

This tool was created not just keeping PDFs in mind but to take notes for other mediums as well such as storyboards, story guides, and so on. Notability is perfect for creators who need to advantage of note-taking and sketching tools to capture the minutest detail and even store them for future reference. You can also share these PDFs with your co-workers through email, dropbox, Airdrop, and Google Drive.

PDF-Xchange Viewer

AT 8

Similar to PDFElement Pro, PDF-Xchange viewer works just like Microsoft Word and is thus easy-to-use for most professionals. This annotation software allows you to highlight, strikethrough, underline, take notes, and draw. It’s perfect for teams who don’t want to use a complicated tool and just need basic annotation functions.

Annotating PDFs is surely not easy but with the help of these tools, you can make your life easier and collaborate with your team on multiple PDFs.

With PDFs being such a blessing (imagine sending large files back and forth instead), it’s time we switch to a better way to edit them.

Click here to annotate PDFs, websites, images and more on Ruttl.

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