Annotations in Preview corrupt PDF files

I have an issue with Preview and likely with the something underlying it. The minimum working example MWE of the issue is as follows:

  • Open a PDF in Preview
  • Add an annotation (e.g. just a single text box)
  • Save and quit
  • Open the edited file in Acrobat Reader
    –> Error Message
    An error exists on this page. Acrobat may not display the page correctly. Please contact the person who created the PDF document to correct the problem.

When I go back to Preview and remove the annotation, the problem still remains. It seems that the mere fact that I made an annotation retains some level of corruption to the file.

I recently (in the last month or so) restructured my fonts in FontBook, moving some to my local folder so that I could disable them. I went back and did a Restore Standard Fonts, restarted, and tried again. No luck.

The issue appears also to be underlying a corruption of files that I export as PDF from a different app (Curio).

I am on 10.14.6 with Preview 10.1.

I have yet to try Safe Mode. However, AFAIK, this would only tell me that some extension on my system is corrupting the process.

Any hints in the meantime would be appreciated.


Can’t say this will help, but there are many issues with Apple having restructured their PDF rendering and annotating engine and it’s still buggy in Preview - some files still do not render correctly while they do in PDF Expert and PDFPen. I can’t say I have a great solution, apart from staying away from Preview if it corrupts the PDFs Curio exports, and annotating them in other apps.

I agree with @anon85228692. At least part of your problem is related to Apple’s restructuring of PDF Kit in late 2016, resulting in many problems with PDF files in macOS. If I recall correctly, this was with version 10.12.2, macOS Sierra. It took many months for Apple to fix the worst of the bugs, but some persist.

Notwithstanding the persistent bugs in Preview, I prefer it to Adobe Reader for simple annotations. My workaround for Preview’s bugs is to “Export as PDF” any file that has been annotated. This results in a “flat” file that is clean and handled correctly by other apps such as Adobe Reader, PDF Expert and PDFPen. My intention is for the annotation to become embedded text (or arrows, lines, symbols, etc.) and to remain unchangeable and intact when the file is handled by other apps or operating systems.

I briefly tested the @DrJJWMac workflow in my 2014 iMac running Mojave 10.14.6 and Preview 10.1. I annotated, then saved, a PDF file in Preview. The annotation initially appeared intact when the file was opened in Adobe Reader version 2020.006.20042. However, trying to change the annotation (moving the text box, for example), resulted in strange behavior. Sometimes the text box would move, other times not. Also, the font color changed to black. It appears that whatever Preview does when a PDF file is annotated is handled well by PDF Expert and PDFPen, but not by Adobe Reader.

After saving the Preview-annotated file as a “flat” file (“Export as PDF”), Adobe Reader opened and handled the “flat” file without a problem. The annotations were recognized as text, not annotation text boxes, by Adobe Reader.

Thank you for your post. This confirms that I should continue my longstanding practice of saving (“exporting”) any annotated PDF files that are important or meant for archive.

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As I dig deeper into this, I have a growing suspicious that the issue is entirely a macOS related one.

I am running tests with qpdf --check. I get a rather catastrophic-appearing failure with any file that I annotate with Preview. The check fails with a notice that it cannot find /Root?? This remains even after I go back and remove the annotation that I had made in Preview. The files that I generate are only giving issues using Acrobat, not with any other PDF viewer.

Yes, at some point, I will likely just flatten the annotated files and move on from this Alice-In-Wonderland rabbit hole.



Does your qpdf-check fail with Preview-annoted, then flattened files also? In other words, does the flattening process (“Export as PDF”) repair any corruption created by Preview?

Alright. Here is even further news.

  • PDF Versions – Show Info reports v1.4 yet qpdf shows v1.3
  • I CAN annotate a v1.6 PDF in Preview and have it open in Acrobat.
  • I CANNOT annotate a v1.3/1.4 PDF in Preview and have it open in Acrobat.
  • I CANNOT annotate a v1.7 PDF in Preview and have it open in Acrobat.
  • Exporting any version of PDF from Preview reverts it to v1.3.
  • ==> Files that are EXPORTED from Preview (flattened) CAN be opened in Acrobat. A report from qpdf --check on such files runs fully clear (no warnings).

What a royal pain that macOS cannot handle annotated PDF files properly. The technologies for v1.3/1.4 are well over a decade old. I am disgruntled by the disarray in the core functions that I, as an instructor, need to be able to work effectively to provide feedback to my students.

In the meantime, I am switching entirely away from doing any annotations ever again in Preview.

As for Curio … The issue there may be related to something that I do with LaTeXiT equations (e.g. vector graphics). Once I have a clearer understanding and a resolution, I’ll consider to post on the Curio site.


Those of you who are need to annotate PDF files from others and keep those annotations translatable to the others should absolutely AVOID using Preview. At least the Mojave 10.14.6 macOS version. I would be curios whether Catalina has the same problems.

@Arthur Thanks for the suggestion on a different way to try to fix the problem.


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