Best Option for Managing PDF's

Can anyone help me with a suggestion for a good method (or app) to manage a bunch of PDF’s?

I have approx 100 PDF’s I need to read. Marking them as read, maybe with categorisation, would be good too. Currently they are all sat in one iCloud folder. I typically add the files from my Mac but will read on ipad.

Any suggestions to tackle this growing challenge gratefully received!

Use custom Finder tags?


Depends on your ultimate goals and how much time and money you want to spend on a setup.

If DEVONthink had only one use-case, though, it’d be this. It has tools for managing groups (of PDFs), read/unread state, flagging, tags, labelling, full-text PDF search, built in OCR (in the Pro version), all the classic annotation tools, the ability to make a written annotation file linked to a reading, annotation extraction abilities, automatic summarization abilities, it can add and search on metadata fields for your readings, and more.

It’s expensive, it doesn’t handle image annotations like Highlights and a few other PDF editors, and it has a learning curve proportionate to the feature list above.

Note that it’s 25% off this weekend. (No, they don’t pay me!)


Thanks. Hadn’t heard of Highlights but it looks like a great solution for me.

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Especially if you may need to cite them eventually.


Currently reviewing my PDF reading/management workflow myself, as someone who has a lot of PDF reading to do but isn’t an academic researcher. My primary options (in case they’re useful to anyone else):

  • Keep It. Highlighting but no annotation. Labelling AND tagging. Some useful Shortcuts integration.
  • MarginNote. Supremely powerful PDF and ePub reader / research tool. Lots of note-making and annotation affordances, as well as support for managing collections. Integrates well with cloud/local storage. Learning curve. Had it for years and never used it properly. Could do with easier export of notes to markdown or plain text.
  • Will try Highlights again (thanks for the reminder to do so, @ryanjamurphy)
  • Surprisingly, I might just end up using Kindle, with the PDFs archived/backed-up in my filesystem. Not the most powerful reading/annotation experience compared to something like MarginNote, but I’m starting to think that it might be better to have fewer places to go look for things I’m supposed to be actively paying attention to (I already have a large Kindle library). And because the Kindle app’s widgets aren’t that useful (IMHO), I’m probably going back to maintaining my current reading list as a Reminders list (via GoodTask)…
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This reminds me that some folks use Calibre for reading management. (No idea why or how, but it’s another option.)

Interesting. I actually don’t think of Highlights as a “PDF management” tool, but as a PDF editor. For me, there’s overlap between the categories, but they’re rarely the same thing.

A PDF manager:

  • Works across many files at once
  • Interacts with file metadata
  • Allows tagging and grouping PDFs

A PDF editor:

  • offers annotation tools
  • offers different views for working with a PDF
  • provides outlines and annotation summaries

In general, a PDF manager’s usefulness grows as you add readings, whereas a PDF editor’s usefulness does not change no matter how many items you’re using it with.

Some tools offer both capabilities:

  • DEVONthink
  • LiquidText
  • MarginNote
  • Bookends
  • Zotero 6
  • PDF Expert, sorta

Other tools are “just” PDF managers:

  • EagleFiler
  • Zotero 5
  • Calibre

Finally, other tools are “just” PDF editors:

  • PDF Viewer
  • Highlights
  • PDF Expert, sorta

You might want to try using the tools you already have. The built-in Preview app is pretty good and does 90% of all the features other listed above, and its free. You could create a simple set of nested folders for Completed Reading, etc. and move the individual documents into the folders as you finish them.


@tgara Best idea IMHO.

UPDATE: I subscribed to PDF Expert Pro for a year at their Black Friday price.

I need a PDF editor for both Mac and iPad. I work with PDF files all day long, and my chief functions are annotation (highlighting, stamping) and page management (extracting, importing, copying, rearranging).

I’m deciding between a PDF Expert PRO subscription at $80/year ($40 for the first year for Black Friday) and DevonThink 3 + ToGo. I ran out of my DT trial, so I can’t experiment with how it is as a PDF editor. I may buy DT anyway for its intelligent document management, but haven’t decided yet.

I’m using PDF Expert (non-pro) on my Mac at present and it’s excellent. Not on the level of the PC app I left behind (PDF X-Change Pro), but it’s my favorite on the Mac. I won’t buy Acrobat on principle.

Will DT be enough for me for PDF editing? Or will a dedicated PDF editor like PDF Expert Pro be worth it? Thanks for any thoughts!

+1 for a Highlights.

It does nearly everything I’d want in a pdf reader, especially working well with my Markdown-centered workflow

Edit: But yeah, @ryanjamurphy is right that it’s more of a PDF editor (I’d say reader, but 6/half dozen) than a manager


DevonThink is perfect for this purpose. I currently have thousands of PDF’s and DT allows me to rank them in importance, have duplicate files in different folders (or replicants), and an ultra-powerful search tool. Further, it has an internal reader/annotating function or can use any outside app such as Highlights, Acrobat, etc.

If you are interested in going with DT, MacSparky/David Sparks has a great online course, and during the holiday, it’s on sale. DT is hugely powerful and a little intimidating. MacSparky’s course is the fastest way to get up and running.



If only they were to add AI for PDFs…

Help us. Please define what you you mean by “AI”. What specific features, regardless of the app, are you looking for that would meet your expectations to be “AI”?

There are a bunch of features from summarization to explanation that a lot of new apps have opened up. If I can run AI recipes within my DT database, it’s like having my personal Google.

Thanks. Until that day arrives, you can use DEVONthink’s “Open With” those other new apps you refer to and get your AI now. Meantime, perhaps discuss the features you want on DEVONtechnologie’s forum and perhaps there will emerge some new learnings or help you further now.

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Worth noting that DEVONthink has had versions of AI for twenty years. Summarization and classification features in particular.

But yes, some of the writing augmentation tools would be interesting. IIRC this was @eboehnisch’s area of research before starting DEVONtechnologies so maybe we will see activity here in the future!


It was amazing then, and one of my main reasons for investing in the software. But it’s AI capability has not moved much beyond that in the years that followed. There’s a lot of catching up they need to do!

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As one recommendation above - Zotero 6 (with Zotfile add-on) works wonders in Mac and Windoze environments - version has internal comments and highlights, and effectively keeps one copy, yet links via tags and collections in a variety of projects - and 100 pdf, is child’s play in Zot. Zotfile also allows Zotero to hold its copy on your local drive or your cloud-based service

Oh, and it is free…


Zotero version 6 and with plug-in Zotfile means it is way more than “a manager” of pdfs.