Markup in ye olden days
For years designers, printers and their clients have
relied on what might be called analog markup solutions.
Proofs are made, comps are printed, couriers
are called and everyone whips out their markers and
starts scribbling. That’s followed by a flurry of faxing,
calling and e-mailing. Repeat as necessary until
final approval (or time runs out). But there are some
kinks in this traditional route: Couriers are expensive,
driving across town or shipping overnight takes
time in an already tight schedule and, well, some
markups can be open to (mis)interpretation.
I once worked on a large job that had been
extensively marked up for color corrections by a
customer whose handwriting—and penchant for
unorthodox abbreviations—was as creative as his
designs. Across one landscape scene, he had scrawled
“lighten mtns” (see figure 1). Since the instruction
seemed straightforward, we carefully masked the distant
mountain peaks and lightened them (figure 2).
Oops. Turned out that the customer meant
“lighten midtones”—wanting to open up the image
overall (figure 3). He was irked, and we reworked the
image at our own expense. It was a small thing, but it
illustrates the need for unambiguous communication.
Figure 1: Typing comments
in a PDF helps
due to penmanship.
What else could this
mean but “lighten
Figure 2: Lightened
the customer will be
Figure 3: Oh, you
meant “lighten midtones.”
Why didn’t you
Fast forward: a better way
Adobe Acrobat 4.0 introduced the ability to create
markups on PDF files, and the commenting and
review features in Acrobat have steadily improved
with each version of the program. Initially,
everyone in a review group had to purchase the
full-blown version. But Acrobat 7.0 removed that
roadblock by allowing users of the free Adobe
Reader to participate in reviews—as long as the
document creator used Acrobat 7.0 Professional to
open the doors for them. Besides eliminating the
aggravation of dried-up markers, Acrobat’s commenting
and review features continue to offer a
number of advantages over manual markups.
Legibility: Typing is more legible than writing,
especially at the fevered pace of some reviewers. Text
in a PDF is sharp and readable—and there’s no faxing
back and forth to further erode legibility.
Speed: E-mail is almost instantaneous. Let’s see
your courier beat that.
Multiple simultaneous reviewers: You can
invite as many participants as you wish to a review.
Everyone can mark up PDFs simultaneously; there’s
no need to pass around one PDF and wait for everyone
The commenting tools in Acrobat mimic real-life
markup tools such as sticky notes, highlighters
and markers. To display the comment and markup
tools in Acrobat 8.0, choose Comments > Show
Comment and Markup Toolbar, or click on the
Review & Comment button in the Acrobat toolbar.
(In Acrobat 7.0, it’s the Comment & Markup button.)
See figure 4 for the layout of the toolbar in
Acrobat 8.0. (In Acrobat 7.0, the markup tools are
divided between two toolbars and are accessed separately
via Comments > Show Commenting Toolbar
and Comments > Show Drawing Markups Toolbar.)
The Sticky Note tool is fairly intuitive: Select
the tool, click in the PDF and type in the digital
note that appears at the edge of the PDF page. Don’t
like the color? Control- (Mac) or right- (PC) click on
the note and choose Properties from the contextual
menu to change the color or the appearance of the
note icon. If it annoys you that sticky notes appear
outside the page, instead of smack on top of where
you clicked, you’re not alone. Luckily, there’s a fix
for this. In Acrobat Preferences, choose Acrobat >
Preferences for Mac (or Edit > Preferences for PC) >
Commenting, and uncheck the box for Create new
pop-ups aligned to the edge of the document.
Figure 4: Acrobat’s commenting
tools are very much like
real-life drawing and markup
tools. Except cleaner.
Not enough markup
tools for you? Choose
Tools > Customize
Toolbars and check
any additional markup
tools you’d like to use.
Note: use the Record
option with caution;
nobody wants a PDF
screaming at them!
When using the Text Edits tool (figure 5), just
pretend that you’re typing corrections, because in
reality nothing changes. You’re not actually changing
text in the PDF—you’re only indicating where
changes should be made. To indicate that you wish
to delete text, highlight the text and hit Delete or
Backspace. The text is marked with a strikethrough.
To replace text, highlight text and type the new text.
Acrobat strikes through the text and populates the
accompanying note with your new text. To insert text, click the PDF to create an insertion point and
type the new text. The added text is displayed in the
associated note. The Highlight Text tool lets you call
attention to selected text, and the associated note
holds your comments.
The Drawing Markup tools (figure 6) add ovals,
rectangles, text boxes, callouts, irregular shapes—even
clouds—to a PDF. All markups can have attached
notes: Control- (Mac) or right- (PC) click on any
markup and choose Open Pop-Up Note to type
comments, or choose Properties to change the color
of the markup.
The Stamp Tool (figure 7) is much like a rubber
stamp with interchangeable heads. Select a stamp
from the tool’s drop-down menu and then click in
the PDF. The stamps fall into four categories:
1. Dynamic stamps include the current time and
date at the moment they’re affixed to the PDF (and
some include the user name).
2. Sign Here stamps indicate where a signature
3. Standard Business stamps include Void,
Confidential and Approved (as if you will ever
4. Custom stamps are created from your own
artwork. Choose Create Custom Stamp from the
Stamp tool drop-down menu to use artwork in a
number of graphic formats, including PDF, JPEG,
AI, PSD and DWG files. You’ll be asked to select (or
create) a category for the stamp, and you’ll need to
give it a unique name.
Click and drag to scale a stamp as you apply it,
or drag on the selection handles of an existing stamp.
You can also rotate a stamp annotation using the
small round handle at the top of a selected stamp
annotation and dragging in the desired direction.
To delete any comment, select the comment’s
icon on the PDF and hit the Delete key.
Alternatively, you can select either the comment icon
or its associated note and Control- (Mac) or right-
(PC) click and select Delete from the contextual menu that appears.
Figure 5: In Acrobat
indicate desired text
changes with the Text
Edits and Highlight
Figure 6: The Drawing
Markup tools operate
like real-world pens
and pencils. Each
markup can have an
note. The Cloud tool is
especially festive, with
several flavors from
dotted to curvy to,
Figure 7: The Stamp
includes multiple prefab
Who said that?
While most comments use the current user’s system
log-in name as a label, you do have a bit of control
over the reviewer name that’s attached to some comments.
In Acrobat preferences, choose Identity and
fill out the form that appears (figure 8). If you don’t
populate the Identity form beforehand, the first time
you use the Stamp tool you’ll be asked to fill out the
Identity Setup form. Note that you can’t override
the log-in name that comes from your system.
While Dynamic stamps insist on using user login
information for their identities, you can manually
change the displayed name for other individual markups.
Select a Sticky Note or Drawing markup icon,
then Control- (Mac) or right- (PC) click a comment
to select Properties. In the Properties dialogue box,
choose the General option at the top and change the
author name. You can also choose Options at the upper
right of a comment’s open note to reach the Options
dialogue. Annoyingly, if you check the Make Current
Properties Default option, it maintains only the color
choice; the author name still defaults to the user log-in
name until you manually change the identity.
Figure 8: While you
can’t change the
name, you can change
the “official” name in
and then add niceties
such as title, organization
Sharing the fun
Of course, you’re probably not going to be adding
comments to your own PDFs; your collaborators
and clients will be doing that. How can they play
along? Prior to Acrobat 7.0 only users of full-blown
Acrobat could add comments to a PDF. Users of
the free Adobe Reader could only read and print
PDF files. But if you own Acrobat 7.0 (or 8.0)
Professional, you can open the doors for Reader
users. Choose Comments > Enable for Commenting
in Adobe Reader to enable a PDF for Reader commenting.
When Reader users open the enabled PDF,
they’ll see a new Comment & Review button in the
formerly barren toolbar, and they will have the full
complement of markup tools.
But once you solicit comments, how do you
coordinate all those complaints? Let’s face it: No one
writes, “love it!” and leaves it at that. The Adobe-recommended way to coordinate reviewers in a collaborative
environment is by using an e-mail-based
review. In the open PDF, choose Comments > Attach
for E-mail Review, and Acrobat leads you through
the steps, even composing the instructional e-mail
message to guide reviewers through adding comments
and submitting them back to you. You can
invite multiple reviewers and customize the e-mail
that accompanies the PDF.
When reviewers open a PDF that’s participating
in an e-mail review, they see a How To instructional
pane that guides them through the review
and submission process. When they click the Send
Comments button as instructed, the software constructs
an e-mail message, attaches the marked-up
PDF and sends it back to you. To consolidate comments
from reviewers, open your copy of the PDF
and the reviewer’s copy; then choose Comments >
Migrate Comments to transplant them.
As you can imagine, this method can clog up
your inbox with large PDF files. You can reduce
e-mail overhead by having reviewers just “peel
off ” the comments and send only those to you.
Acrobat doesn’t hold your hand (or theirs) with this
approach, but here’s how to do it. Instruct reviewers
to add comments and choose Comments > Export
Comments to Data File (in Acrobat or Reader 7.0,
it’s just Export Comments). Ask users to name the
exported file something that lets you know it’s from
them (e.g., “BobSmithComments.fdf”) and attach
it to an e-mail. Acrobat exports the comments in an
FDF file (that’s an F, not a P). Whereas the PDF
itself might be hefty, the comments-only FDF file is
petite—often just a few kilobytes. To import reviewers’
comments, open your copy of the PDF and
choose Comments > Import Comments. You can
simultaneously import multiple reviewers’ comments.
Two more approaches to collaborative commenting
exist, but require access to a common server
and some additional setup. See the Serving Up
Comments sidebar on page 22.
What’s everyone complaining about?
Once you harvest all those gripes, it may be
challenging to wade through a thicket of color
comments (figure 9). While Acrobat offers a list
of comments in the Comments pane (View >
Navigation Panels > Comments), you’ll probably
prefer the Summary feature instead. Choose
Comments > Summarize Comments to generate
a composite PDF that shows an easily read list of
comments with callout lines to a page thumbnail
(figure 10). Initially, the summary is a PDF stored in
RAM, so save the generated PDF as a reference.
Now tell your courier to take the day off.
Figure 9: Yikes! All
those comments make
it hard to figure out
Figure 10: Make it
easy on yourself:
to generate an aerial
view of all reviewers’
markups. There are
of summaries, but
this is my favorite:
Document and comments
lines on a single page.
Look to Acrobat’s
Help Guide for more
information on using
the Comment and
good resource on
wide range of Acrobat
Ted Padova’s Adobe
Acrobat 8 PDF Bible
(due Feb. 2007,
Wiley & Sons)
The product pages
on the Adobe website
devoted to features
and marketing. If
have a problem,
to the forums instead:
user-to-user advice is
priceless, and input
from Adobe participants
Serving Up Comments
Shared reviews store comments in a designated
folder on a server accessed by reviewers.
This can be a network folder available on
a local area network (the easiest approach),
a Windows server using Microsoft SharePoint
services or a WebDAV server.
SharePoint-hosted reviews must be initiated
by a Windows user, but Mac users can participate
in the review once it’s instituted.
A WebDAV-based review can be inaugurated
on either platform, but it requires some
advanced server skills unless you’re lucky
enough to already have access to a WebDAV
server. If you’re a .Mac subscriber, lucky you!
Your iDisk account is on a WebDAV server.
You’ll just have to make sure that all reviewers
have unique log-in names or mass confusion
In the next issue, I’ll
tackle the joys (and
pitfalls) of transparency
in Adobe products
7.0. While transparency
effects are easy
to create and visually
interesting, they present
the time comes to
actually print those
effects. But don’t be
afraid: If you play by
some simple rules
(and know the limitations),
your job will
print as you expect.