Liquid Text Alternative


Liquid Text has now moved to a subscription model. Rather than using iCloud they have come up with what is an expensive alternative ($95-$120 per year). What annoys me is I bought the desktop version which is now useless unless I pay this new subscription. The iOS app wasn’t cheap either at over $25.

I am now looking for an alternative PDF mark-up app for iOS. Can anyone make any recommendations? I did love the feature in Liquid text where you can only show highlighted text in the document. Not sure anyone else does this?

My main requirement is to annotate using the apple pencil and save the doc with annotations intact so I can view in another PDF reader.

You might want to look at the following threads:

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I like Highlights a lot. My main requirements are using plain text / markdown / multimarkdown as much as possible, so the annotations I make are accessible outside the pdf without any particular app, but still tied back to the pdf.

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I like Highlights a lot, too, but the macOS version has not been updated for 6 months with the same features that the iOS/iPadOS version has. The developer told me that keeping the macOS version up to date was a hassle due to Apple’s processes, and so it was not priority for them.

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Yeah, that’s unfortunate. I admit that on the Mac I increasingly keep my notes elsewhere. Maybe catalyst or whatever will come to its rescue.

But there’s definitely an opening for a cross-Apple annotation tool (ideally plain text/markdown rather than database-based, for me); bonus if it allows annotation of more than PDFs, but I’ll take what I can get.


I use PDF Expert. I found it easier to change tools than Highlights (which is also a great alternative). You can highlight passages, then export it (as a HTML file on iOS but as markdown on macOS). I’m still on the grandfathered in plan, but otherwise I think it’s $50 / year. Also has great support for Dropbox, iCloud, etc.

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LT has lost its way. Didn’t mind paying its expensive $ for being pioneer but innovation stopped long time ago. That ugly cartoonish interface didn’t help either. Had so much potential. Moved onto Margin Notes and PDF Expert.

Wow, I hadn’t heard of MarginNote before but it looks pretty amazing. Does it work as well as the advertisement makes it seem?

Then some add for Flexcil started playing which also looks interesting.

I like it. But beware it is complex and learning curve is steep. Check out their forums to get some ideas.

I have Flexcil 2 as well. But it doesn’t have Mac version if you need that too.

I would be careful though in terms of MarginNote, too. As you can read in their forums at quite some length they focus on the Chinese market. Their development process seems to be flawed quite a bit with features being delayed for ages (like proper export handling) and very poor communication. I use both apps and do like them, however neither of them is without issues.


This is really helpful. Thank you!

Are Marginnote and Flexcil pretty much on par with each other?

No. Flexcil is handwriting / gesture centric. MarginNote supports handwriting, but it not the primary method of working with the app. Flexcil is more of a Liquid-Text-Lite app. (And you have to accept their old-school skeuomorphic interface metaphors.)

MarginNote has far more capability than Flexcil.

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I would encourage you to use MarginNote if you like your notes to be more structured. It works by allowing you to create notes and highlights and linking them in a Mind Map-like document.

Personally, I’ve been doing this for a few years and there’s no app like it for this work. Not even Liquid Text came close to being as good for this job.

From my experience in these years, everything @times_reader said about their development priorities seems to be true, as well as @iApple comment on its steep learning curve.

That said, it’s still the best option for me as it will

  1. make these structured meta-documents from a multi-pdf set (I’m using it for case analysis for my legal work and for structuring multi-document research on multiple sources for academic works), and
  2. allows for the creation of links to excerpts that can be pasted elsewhere (such as an Obsidian note or a task in Things) and that will work either on iPadOS/iOS and macOS.

As per Flexcil, while I don’t have experience with it, it seems to be better suited for a more free-flow kind of note-taking. Perhaps someone here could clarify its use.


If PDF’s are all ready OCR’d do you still need the OCR feature in marginnote?

No you don’t.

Its OCR feature works “on-demand”: it will not OCR the full document, but only will recognize text in the excerpt selected via the rectangle drag tool.

Though I don’t use it frequently, in my tests I find that it works ok for non-English documents, and far better for English ones (guess that’s the case for every OCR feature on the wild).

If your PDFs are all previously OCRd, then you’ll have no need for the OCR subscription and can safely skip it. For me, I subscribe just as a way to support the development of the app.

MarginNote appears like a great tool, but for academic it has one main failing: it doesn’t reference the source in any exports. You end up with dozens/hundreds of highights/notes and no indication where they were sourced from. Unfortunately that’s a non-starter for any serious academic work.

It has been discussed extensively on their forum but there’s unlikely to be any development in the near future. LiquidText does that well, although I’ve settled for now on Highlights which has great export (and a citation lookup that sometimes finds the correct thing!).


Ugh. I was going to respond that this is an easy fix, but it sounds like it’s not a priority for them based on what you’ve read in the forums.

I used to use Papers 1, then 2 then 3 and the citation look up always brought me joy.

I finally got into the Zotero beta, so I’m holding out high hopes for this.

Yes, I don’t really understand why it’s difficult, given internally they have the link between the document and the annotation. It’s simply displaying it. They seem focused on revision rather than academic writing, and don’t see it as a significant issue. Shame.

I’m still looking for a way of managing annotations. Right now my workflow is:

Add PDF to Zotero → Transfer to tablet using Zotfile → Annotate in Highlights → Pull back into Zotero using Zotfile which extracts annotations as a text note → Copy to note Microsoft Word (which is where I’ll create the final document).

Zotfile is neat - it uses the page numbers from Zotero, so if an article runs from pp67-89, an annotation on the first page will be listed as page 67 which is what I want. I’ve struggled to find anything, including Highlights export, that can handle that.

I’d like an intermediate stage which would let me import the annotations from a dozen PDFs (perhaps from Zotero), easily drag them around into an order and add notes/summaries/interpretations/questions, thus building the final structure. I could then export into Word and create the final document from there. MarginNote seems close, but falls at the last hurdle. Liquid Text seems messy. Maybe Tinderbox? Seems complex and semester has already begun :smile:


This point is totally right.

One could manually add citation info to the note field of a document (AppleScript can be deployed for this), but it’s not baked into the app.

That said I still find lots of value in doing the linking and spreading information into MarginNote.

I cope with the lack of reference on a note by manually adding the references to the excerpts when it’s time to outline my thoughts into Word. Surely not ideal, but with ZotHero plugin for Alfred it’s not that bad either.

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This is actually exactly what I do, when working with MN. A bit cumbersome but at least a “solution” that works.

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