Sharing annotated PDFs created in different PDF viewers

pdf annotation1

At some point, you may be required to annotate a PDF with comments, notes or suggested changes and share it, or return it to someone – certainly as a proofreader working with digital media, you’ll have to do this. If you and your colleagues all use Adobe Acrobat Reader you’ll have no problem. But not everyone likes Acrobat Reader as it’s slow, blotted and is known to suffer from malware vulnerabilities. So what happens if you or you colleagues want to share an annotated PDF and you use one of the other popular free PDF viewers like Foxit Reader, Nitro PDF Reader or PDF-XChange Viewer. Can you view annotations or notes created in another PDF reader and importantly can you move those notes if necessary to read the underlying text which can often become obscured by the annotation boxes? Can you assume that your annotations will be viewable, movable and indeed editable in another reader? I had a look at these four PDF readers: I created annotations in each of the four PDF viewers, then tried opening the PDF and viewing, moving and editing that annotation in the others.

What I found was that Acrobat Reader (Sticky Note tool), Foxit (Note Tool) and Nitro (Sticky Note tool) are all compatible. Any note created in one reader could be dragged, minimised, viewed on mouse-over or edited in the others. Interestingly, Foxit Reader also had a selection of other annotation tools (underline, replace, insert, strikeout, etc) all of which were compatible in the other readers and these annotation boxes could be moved easily and edited in them all.

PDF-XChange Viewer is a little different with other annotation options. It’s my PDF viewer of choice and I’ve blogged about it before. With it, you can annotate with the Callout Tool and Text Box Tool as well as the Sticky Note Tool. Examples are shown below.

pdf annotation2

Sticky notes were no problem and could be dragged, minimised, viewed on mouse-over or edited in the other PDF viewers but the Callout boxes and Text Boxes (shown above in red) could only be moved or edited by someone else using PDF-XChange Viewer and so will obscure underlying text when opened in another viewer. I was using the latest version of PDF-XChange Viewer (version 2.5.194). When I used Acrobat Reader to open a PDF annotated by PDF-XChange Viewer, clicking on the Callout boxes or Text boxes would highlight the box handles but I could not move the boxes and so they obscured the underlying text. I did find that Foxit Reader would move the Text box created in PDF-XChange Viewer but if I resized it or moved the Callout box, the text fill would blank out.

So to summarise, if you have to share, send or return an annotated PDF, it looks like the Sticky Note/Note Tool is compatible in all four viewers including Acrobat Reader. Any note can be dragged, minimised, viewed on mouse-over or edited in the other readers. And Foxit Reader has a nice selection of compatible annotation tools. But if you’re using PDF-XChange Viewer, unless you know the other party has PDF-XChange Viewer, it’s best not to use the Callout boxes or Text box tools as the underlying text will be obscured and may be unreadable by the other party if they’re using another viewer.

Incidentally, the PDF used here for illustration is How to Use Jump-Leads. Follow the link for more information.

How do you annotate PDFs? Have you run into problems sharing them? Drop a comment below.

2 Responses

  1. Anon Says:


    these mirror my findings as well.

    the PDF-Xchange viewer seems to make a Hard Edit to the pdf.

    I’d also like to add that the Evernote PDF annotation tool makes hard edits as well, so those edits will be viewable in all other PDF viewers but not editable.

    And unfortunately, the PDF viewer in Evernote cannot view the contents sticky notes (although there is a visual indicator showing the presence of a sticky note, but its collapsed).

  2. Ex Says:

    I use Foxit with the callout feature to review CAD drawings. Unfortunately the callout boxes do not appear when opened with Nitro. Any solutions?

Leave a Comment

Please note: Comment moderation is enabled and may delay your comment. There is no need to resubmit your comment. Please do not use keywords in the Name field. Comments must relate to the post topic. This website is here to help people, not for advertising purposes.

Please complete puzzle and then submit your comment *
Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.

` `