Annotating PDF Proofs: The Quick Guide

Annotating PDF Proofs: The Quick Guide

Posted by on February 20th, 2014


When someone hands you a printed document to edit, you don’t need to think twice about grabbing a red pen. The ability to draw and write directly on the paper makes communicating your ideas quick and simple. But what about a digital document? You can always print it out, but by the time you’ve written on it, scanned it in, and sent the resulting image, many of your notes could be illegible.

Believe it or not, digital documents are just as easy to edit and comment on, if you have the right tools—and chances are, you already have them. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be taking a look at proofing, commenting on, and editing digital files, starting with everyone’s favorite PDFs, followed by Microsoft Word Documents, and wrapping it up with Google Drive Docs.

Getting to Know Your PDF Reader

First things first: how are you opening PDFs? Although there are third-party programs out there, chances are you’ll be using the free program, Adobe Reader XI, or the professional version, Adobe Acrobat XI Pro. Many computers come with Adobe Reader pre-installed, which means you don’t even need to worry about finding and downloading it. (If you already have the free version on your computer, make sure you are running the latest version, or you may not have access to all the commenting tools.)


Once you’ve opened the file you want to proof, look for the “comment”  button on the right-hand side.  This should open up a window of tools and options. (You can also access this window by selecting View –> Comment –> Annotations.) We’re going to go over a few of the more essential ones, but take the time to play with all of them; there are a lot of great options.

Highlighting Text


The simplest annotation feature is the highlighter, which works exactly like you think it should. Just click the highlighter button—select your text, and you’re ready to go!


Once you’ve highlighted an area, add a note to it by right-clicking and selecting “Open pop-up note.”


Sticky Notes



You can also ad general comments to various area’s without highlighting. Choose the sticky note tool, and click where you want to place the note.

Now you’ll see a little window pop up, where you can type your comments. When you’re done, the note will close; just click on the speech bubble to bring it up again.



Strikethroughs and In-Text Notes

The Adobe Reader XI text edit windowIf your edits are more about the content than the images, Adobe Reader XI’s text editing tools may be just what you need. There are three main tools to look at: strikethrough, text replacement, and text insert.

The strikethrough is the simplest tool to use. Just select the “T” with a red line through it and highlight a portion of the text to cross it out. The text will still be visible, but it will be obvious that you want to remove it.



The text replacement tool, shown as the “T” with a blue line through it, allows you to indicate text to remove AND indicate new replacement text in a comment area.


The text insert tool, or the T with an arrow next to it, places a comment directly in the middle of two words. This allows you to note where to add additional copy, without disrupting the rest of the content.


Drawing Markups




Click on the “Drawing Markups” section of the comments window to view the different options. Ss you can see, there are a variety of different shapes you can use, all made to resemble a red pen. Let’s start by adding an arrow with comment:




Now we can put a circle around an important image:


And while we’re at it, let’s grab the pencil tool and do a little drawing.


Finally, once you’ve drawn something, you can grab it and movie it around on the page:


Note: in the professional version of the software, you can technically edit text, replace images, and make other large changes. However, as tempting as these features are, let your designer make those changes in the original file. That way, you can avoid going to press with a low-resolution image or even the entirely wrong content.

The Designer’s Side of the Process

commentcheckedNow that you know how to use Adobe Reader’s review functions, let’s talk about what happens once you send your newly-commented-on document off to your designer for revisions.

Every time you add a comment, use one of the drawing tools, or highlight text, a note appears in the comments list. This box can be found on the right side of your screen, underneath the various markup tools. Each comment has a checkbox, allowing it to be marked as complete or incomplete. This makes an easy to-do list for your designer, and keeps them from missing any small comments. If they have concerns, they can add comments of their own, and send the document back for further review.

And there you have it! If you need more instructions, check out Adobe’s in-depth guide. But even if you just use the highlighter and comment tools, you’ll still make the revisions process far more efficient on both you and your designer.


Kandra is influenced in her design by everything from Hubble Space Telescope imagery to the strawberry plants in her garden. Her concepts are known for their characteristic combination of warmth, simplicity and functionality, and for their strong resonance with her clients’ brand and corporate identities.

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