PDF Tools & Tricks #1: Annotating & Notetaking

We see lots of students come into the library just before class to print a slideshow or document their instructor has just posted to Blackboard.  We also see plenty of people print journal articles just so they can use a pencil or highlighter to mark them up, or print out blank forms so they can fill them out with a typewriter. Have you been in that situation and wished you could save the trees and do all that on your computer or tablet?  You can — and here are some free or low-cost tools you can use to do it.

1. Adobe Reader X. If you’re still using version 8 or 9 of Adobe Reader, a simple upgrade can bring you a whole set of annotation capabilities.  Beginning in Adobe Reader X, you can select View > Comment > Annotations to enable the new “Annotations” toolbar, which allows you to highlight, underline, add a text note or sticky note — as long as the PDF document was originally created in a way to allow commenting.  In addition, you can enable the “Drawing Markup” toolbar to add a Text Box, Callout, Line, Arrow, Circle, Rectangle, Cloud, Polyline, or Polygon — or draw with a Pencil or Eraser tool.  Once you’ve made your notes and comments, you can save your annotated version.  This Adobe Help document includes information on how to comment & review using Adobe Reader X.

2. Foxit Reader. A very popular free alternative PDF reader — both for its functionality and quickness — Foxit Reader also offers a number of annotation and notetaking features.  Under the “Comment” menu, Foxit Reader allows you to add notes, highlight, underline, strikethrough, and more.  It also offers drawing tools: rectangle, oval, polygon, cloud, arrow, line, pencil & eraser.  One important feature that distinguishes Foxit Reader from Adobe Reader is the Typewriter tool. The Typewriter tool allows you to type text right on top of a PDF document, then save and/or print it.  Although some PDF forms are created to be filled out with Adobe Reader, the Typewriter feature in  Foxit Reader allows you to fill out even forms that weren’t originally created that way.  This blog post offers some observations on how grad students and other academics can use Foxit Reader’s annotation features.

3. Mac OS X Preview.  The default PDF viewer on Mac OS X also includes annotation and markup features as well.  Pull down the Tools menu and choose “Annotate” to add an oval, rectangle, note, or link.  To highlight, underline or strikethrough, simply select the text you want to mark up, pull down the Tools menu, and select “Mark Up” to choose the appropriate option.  For more, see this Macworld article.

4. For iPhone and iPad, there are a number of apps that offer varying levels of PDF annotation features, ranging from pdf-notes for free to PDFpen for $14.99, and many others in between.  This post from AppAdvice provides a listing and brief reviews of quite a few of these option.

5. For Android, Mantano Reader offers free and paid versions, both of which offer annotation features.