PDF reader on Mac/iOS to use with Devonthink

I’m pretty close to diving into DevonThink. I’ve been reading Kourosh Dini’s Smart Notes book (but still have a long way to go).

I’m curious as to what people like to use to read PDF documents. I don’t foresee doing tons of highlighting of PDFs but I definitely need the capability. For example, using Dini’s book, I’ll want to highlight some passages so I can refer back to them later as I’m implementing his system.

I imagine I’ll read equally on Mac and iPad. It’s quite possible, I’ll read much more on the iPad but use the Mac when I’m looking up highlights and working with DT.

I don’t have a hard core need for more powerful stuff that I immediately foresee. But I have PDFpen via Setapp if I need it. I don’t have it on my iPad (yet).

For two days, I’ve been reading Dini’s book using Highlights on my iPad. It seems decent. I’ll try out the Mac app. And it appears to have a good integration with DT. The main drawback is the subscription. Not a dealbreaker but I just am looking for options.

I haven’t yet downloaded the DT trial. Not sure if people like using that as a PDF reader.

I’m not interested in PDF Expert due to the cost.

But again, this post is about the reading and light highlighting experience. I want the ability to bookmark where I’ve left off so I can easily get back to that spot when I reopen the doc. To the best of my knowledge, the stock Apple viewer does not have this functionality.

Have you tried Preview? It can do highlighting on Mac and IOS.

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I use Books for really big PDFs. Smaller ones I just leave in DT and markup there.

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I don’t see any way to bookmark where I am unless I’m missing something.

I also use Books, it’s great for this purpose.

Exporting the notes is easy.

I highlighted all the time with bit the internal PDF capability of DEVONthink and/or with Preview. I recommend you try it before discounting what it can do.

Do either of those have some way of bookmarking where you are?

I do not use Bookmarks. But you can look in Preview as it is on your Mac now. And you can read the DEVONthink manual from their website before purchase to see. DEVONthink provides ways to “open with” so probably most any PDF tool you can find that suits you can be called from DEVONthink I would guesa.

I use Highlights for this most of the time. It’s not ideal—no bookmarks, no Table of Contents, and the selection highlight occasionally disappears for me—but it has the nicest markup interface (except for PDF Expert, maybe; see below though).

If I need bookmarking or Tables of Contents, I either use the in-app PDF editor in DEVONthink To Go or PDF Viewer, the app by the people who provide DEVONthink To Go’s PDF interface. (Sometimes it’s nice to exit the DTTG UI).

PDF Expert would be my app of choice, but it doesn’t play nice with DEVONthink’s Open In Place capabilities on iOS, and it seems to be an unstoppable-force-meets-immovable-object situation.

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Thanks. Time to load up DT on both devices to see what the internal options give me.

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How did you get PDF Viewer to edit in place in DTTG 3? I tried, and it did not work.

The reports function in Highlights is really good, but I found selecting text to highlight / annotate rather flaky.

Huh. You’re right, I must’ve been imagining it.

Weird though. I can open in place and annotate, and the file saves in Files (i.e., open it up again from the same location in the PDF Viewer app or from Files itself, and the annotations are still there.) Yet DTTG fails to show them. sigh.

At least I’m not deluded about Highlights. Flaky, yes, but if you…

Open a PDF in DTTG → tap share → open in Highlights → annotate → close the file → return to DTTG → close the file → reopen the file

the annotations are there.

So easy! :sweat_smile:🥲:sob:

(closing files? What is this, 2010?)

ToC, do you mean the outline? I tried PDF Viewer free version and cannot find any way to manage document outline.

Thanks for the info that PDF Viewer is from the people who create DTTG PDF, though. The app feels like home.

Sorry, I seem to have imagined this too. Bookmarks, yes, but no outline/ToC.

I’ll make up for the misinformation by offering another feature that I know Viewer can do: exporting annotation summaries! Nice to have on iOS.

Oh, that’s disappointing.

I was hoping I was doing something wrong.

On a different note, Highlights does export reports excellently, but I find registering the annotations too hit or miss to use it for very long without getting very frustrated.

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I stumbled upon PDF Outliner for MacOS. It’s $5 / £5.

I have a lot of ebooks (fiction, non-fiction, anthologies) as PDFs. Many have crappy OCRing (which is arguably worse than no OCR at all, since I could at least do a fresh pass myself.)

Same situation with ToC’s. Sometimes they would be present and accurate, other times non-existent. And many are in the middle, with some pages bookmarked or cited but with a garbage title and wrong pages.

I looked over on the DevonThink forum about outlining thinking DT3 might have some functionality here and it seems (I could be wrong here) but bookmarks or outlines in PDFs isn’t necessarily a ‘standard’. Different software handle it differently.

Whichever way, I needed something to sort out Chapter and Section markers, and PDF Outliner is pretty great at it. Takes a minute to figure out how the interface works. It’ll do one for you automagically, but that depends on OCR quality, but it’s not that hard to do it manually (unless you’re dealing with loads of subsections and sub-sub-sections in which case it’s, you know, completely doable, just, poor you.)

Like so many on here I’ve been hunting for the ideal storage, sync, annotation and export workflow so FWIW while I’m here mine is:

  • a folder in Documents on my MacBookPro indexed by DT3 for storage (let’s me duplicate to another DT3 database),
  • I use Highlights for highlighting and comments (when on iPhone/iPad to ensure syncing of annotations I open PDFs from Highlights. I can see DTTG as a location)
  • I export to Markdown which preserves links to individual PDF pages (I haven’t completely decided on whether to have PDFs open in DT3 or Highlights. Highlights has a script that will change links to DT3. Presently both are convenient. Highlights is on subscription, so I guess I should make it DT3.)
  • Markdown notes go into my Obsidian vault, which sits on Dropbox and is indexed by DT3

There’s not that much friction here. I ended up using Highlights because I found it was doing a better job of correctly interpreting OCR text on export. DT3 would sometimes concatenate text, sometimes with the inclusion of guessed at characters, occasionally rendering a highlighted note illegible. I would only notice this after a good ol’ session of revision. This is absolutely from the less-than-good OCR’ing on some of my PDFs. Enough for me to bring in Highlights.


As others mentioned, the internal PDF annotation features of DEVONthink 3 / DEVONthink to Go 3 are fine for this use.

Using DEVONthink to Go as a Document Provider

The way I use PDFs in DEVONthink to Go 3 (and earlier) with other apps on the iPad is to activate DEVONthink to Go as a document provider under “Locations” in the Files app. Click the 3 dots above the left sidebar and choose “Edit Sidebar”. Activate DEVONthink to Go.

I use the internal PDF annotation service (provided under license from PDF Viewer, I think). But occasionally I want some features not available there, so I open PDF Pen or Highlights, navigate to the document via the interface to Files used by those apps, and do the work on the PDF there.

This is working on the same document stored in the DEVONthink database, so the changes are saved to the synced document.

(It seems that PDF Expert appears to work with the file stored in the DEVONthink to Go database, but actually copies the file into its own data store. Not certain, but I avoid using PDF Expert on iPadOS when I’m working with DEVONthink to Go documents.)


I’m using Highlights for all my PDF annotations now on my iPad. It does not have bookmarks but what I do is make a quick note where I am and I can get back to it easily. I like that it’s trext selection works with the apple pencil well.


Using inbuilt DTTG v3 annotation tool which is much better than buggy v2.x. However inbuilt DEVONthink Mac is clunky so using Preview instead. But DT v3.6.2 doesn’t seem to work that well with Preview; DEVONTech guys are helping to find out why.

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Will give Highlights a spin.