Leaving marginal comments in PDFs

I’m on the search for both iOS and Mac PDF software that can leave marginal comments in much the same style as Word or Pages “comments” that are connected to specific parts of the text and which are permanently displayed on the side (at least when you have certain settings turned on). Those little post-it bubbles that you have to click on and which aren’t directly connected to a specific sentence or phrase in the text are not good enough. Nor are simple text boxes.

I thought it would be easy to find an app that did this but, unless I’m missing something, I’ve come up empty so far. For the moment, I’m using Word combined with print to PDF, but the whole workflow becomes a bit clunky on iOS (especially when it comes to file management and syncing). If anybody knows of some good options, I’d love to hear about them!

I’ve found myself wishing that I could do the same thing on my work PC (and I’d love to be able to do that on my Mac or iPad). Liquidtext lets you do some things in an off-document margin, but I don’t know of a way to export those in a Word or Pages comments type format where other applications can read it (although I’ve not sprung for the in-app upgrade which may have a way to do this).

You could use PDF expert or possibly DEVONthink. Both can do this.

I use documents by readdle for annotated file organization with pdf expert for annotating / margin comments.
It is a good combo and It works for me. I also just started using tags in files app so I have a tag that says “annotated” which tells me that I have a copy of a file I’m documents and it is annotated.

Hmm, I’m not sure that PDF expert works this way unless I’m missing something. Don’t get me wrong – I love PDF Expert and use it daily for highlighting PDFs for myself. But I think it is limited to sticky notes (which can’t be flattened into the PDF in a way that displays them all as open without having to click on them) and simple text boxes on the document itself (which aren’t big enough to leave long comments, especially if the PDF has small margins). Those limits mean I can’t use PDF Expert for leaving feedback for others in long-form marginal comments the way I can using Word “comments.”

Acrobat and Bluebeam can create a PDF summary which can show the text of the sticky notes with a line indicating where the sticky notes were placed. Everything is displayed at once in a way that is friendly to flattening. Can PDF expert do something like that?

PDFPen Pro can do something similar to what you want by printing out your marked-up PDF and saving as a new PDF with the annotations. It will put numbers in the notes and put notes in the margin that correspond with the note-flags. Not exactly what you’re looking for, but maybe get you close.

IAnnofate also has a good feature that may be close enough to what you need. It flags the notes and then puts an page at the end of the documents with the text of the annotations.

I’m not sure if it’s a robust enough display for your use case, but PDF Expert does have a view somewhat like this.

If you open the sidebar, one of the available tabs is “Annotations”, which will display all comments/annotations on the document at once in a list. Clicking any of them takes you to the indicated spot in the document. And they can be exported.

I use this view all the time when reviewing PDF comments from clients.

Better suggestion than mine, and ironically, it’s what I use.

I’ve been holding back my answer, hoping for something better.
I print to a PDF and scale the article down to 80% or so. This gives enough margin for written notes if printed, or annotations if I use PDF Expert.

MarginNote allows you to export annotations to a PDF file in this format.

It supports tags on annotations (hashtag format) and drawings as annotation notes.

I have found this approach exceptionally useful to mark up reports on my iPad and export the markup as feedback to those who need to make subsequent corrections. I agree that the standard way of handling markup annotations in PDFs by hiding them within side panels or within popup notes is cumbersome by comparison.

In MarginNote, I can also hashtag the annotations along the way, filter on certain tags to count them, and then give an overall comment at the outset according to the number/type of different hashtag annotations. I use this as a way to create a final grade from student reports based on variations in grading metrics on hashtags such as incorrect, inadequate, or improper.

I have yet to explore the review and study aspects of MarginNote. The annotations can be collected in a MindMap layout that itself can be exported in various formats. The annotations can also be posted to index cards as study notes.

Unfortunately, MindNote flattens annotations when the PDF is shared. So, all the power is locked down (e.g. this cannot interface with such tools as DevonThink for further analysis). OTOH, I did discover however that MindNote can import annotations from other editors and automatically recognize #hashtags as its own annotation tag. So, I can for example make a #hashtag annotations in Bookends, export the PDF article to MarginNote, and have the annotations picked up by MarginNote with the tags.



MarginNote sounds really interesting, I’m going to check it out.

Thanks also to JohnAtl for the tip about sizing down the PDF to create bigger margins. It’s cumbersome, but an option.

I’m not sure the PDF Expert annotations tab will work for what I’m trying to do. I will play with it some more and see, though.