OS X’s Preview fails to display PDF annotations

Today I went through a set of changes the proof reader had made to the book’s preface. I could see his annotations in the document and was seriously wondering what the heck he wanted to tell me. I even went so far as to reply that I thought his changes would make matters worse. Turned out to be quite embarrassing, because apparently Mac OS X’s Preview.app does not do a very good job of displaying annotations inside PDFs.

See this screenshot:

OS X Preview displaying a PDF with annotations

The bars on the left each signify a single annotation in the document. Unfortunately neither are they aligned vertically with where the change is (see the red one saying “Swap order” – this is related to the red squiggly line right below the “Preface” heading.

Hovering over these bars will highlight the corresponding marker on the right, but will not reveal the comment associated with it. From what I can tell there is no way to get the text to show up. Zooming in and out changes the layout somewhat and makes a subset of the text visible – as in the screenshot. But there is no way to see them all. This made me assume, that there simply was no comment for the respective changes.

Tonight I wanted to print out the document including the annotations and did not find a way to do so from Preview, either. So I opened the document in Adobe Reader – which I generally find too slow for everyday-use. You might imagine my surprise when I saw this:

Adobe Reader showing the same document

This is the exact same file! All edits are highlighted much better and you can drag around the little comment hovers. Being able to read the comments made the changes suddenly become much more sensible, especially because some of them which I had previously considered strike-throughs were actually annotated with an alternative – better – phrasing.

Guess I will have to give Adobe some credit – and file a bug against OS X if I do not find any non-obvious way of getting at the information with Preview.app.


CAlessio said…
Well at least it did not destroy your document!
Below is the comment I put in the apple crash dialog when preview crashed on me earlier today. It describes what preview put me through today, which I hope is only due to instability of my macbook rather than bugs of the sw. After that I also found that when I add notes and then modify them, sometimes the modifications are not saved.

I used preview to annotate a handful of short (1 page) pdf files - all good. I am now trying to change the color of some underlines and clearly preview does not like that:
- when changing the color, the change is displayed, but the file does not appear as having been modified: the red top left window dot does not show the typical black spot in the middle and saving the file it's date does not change in Finder. Only way to persist the color change is to save as a new file.
- in the case of the crash again I was simply changing the color of an underline when Preview unceremoniously crashed!

And yes, I have tried restarting both Preview and the OS, but no difference.

Also, most irritatingly, earlier today Preview corrupted (for good!) one of my pdf files - I simply opened the file, selected an annotation (underline), deleted it and saved the file - upon saving Preview reported that he could not open the file because it was corrupted.

Save for crashing and misbehaving, but destroying documents is well beyond what can be accepted of a computer system - please give me some feedback re. what to do. Is this a known issue (in which case I will not use these functionalities) or some instability of my Macbook?
I am not sure where these problems come from. I stopped using Preview for editing documents - so I have no experience with crashes or document corruption.

However PDF seems to have become more and more difficult to handle, even for Adobe's Acrobat. I managed to crash it multiple times, even though fully updated, when annotating PDFs or reviewing other people's changes. So just keep making a lot of copies of the documents ...
Anonymous said…
Hey Daniel,

Did you ever find a solution to this? I just got caught in a similar situation.

~ Joseph
Anonymous said…
For a small number of corrections I prefer Preview’s layout to Acrobat’s - it’s easier to work with. Or it would be if you could rely on it!

It’s those ‘insert text’ or ‘replace text’ (blue) comments that are the most problematic, because the text is shown as crossed out in the PDF but the replacement text isn’t always shown in the comment.

If a standard (yellow) comment doesn’t fit within the box Preview gives it, it’s possible to scroll by double-clicking in the comment then dragging downwards. But you have to know there’s more text in the first place!
Pierre-Antoine said…
Preview does have some issues displaying more advanced documents. Preview doesn't support all types of annotations. It also doesn't support annotations transparency quite well. And what I find too bad is that it doesn't support digital signatures either. I suggest looking at PDF Studio, a PDF tool to view and manipulate PDF documents. It's actually a java application, so Daniel, that has to ring a bell since you're a java developer. Even though it might not be the most typical Mac application, it does the job quite well.
Julie said…
did you ever find a fix for acrobat not showing the blue annotations? Have the same problem...

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