PDF Highlights and Notes In Preview

You can use Preview to study or for research with its simple highlighting tool. You can highlight in several colors and see a list of all of the text you have marked. You can also add notes through the document.

Video Transcript
So let's say you've got a large PDF and you're viewing it in Preview. Maybe you're studying for something. Maybe you're doing some research and you want to highlight some important passages in there. Something you may have done with a printed book earlier. So you can do this pretty easily in Preview as well and you don't have to go to the markup tools to do it either.

There's a Highlight function that's built into Preview and it's pretty easy to use. So let's look at this large document here and let's say we want to highlight something. We select it just like we would select any text. Of course this is a PDF so it's not editable but we can highlight it by using the Highlight button here. Click is and you can see it's highlighted in yellow. So it simulates kind of doing it on paper.

Let's go further down in the document and find something else. Let's say we want to highlight something else here. We can, instead of clicking on the main part of this button, we click the right side here and see that we can mark this up with different colors. So we can choose yellow, green, blue, pink, or purple. We can choose to underline or strike through something. Useful when you're actually editing something. Getting notes to somebody.
Let's say we'll highlight this in yellow. Let's continue and look at some other things and highlight that maybe this one in green. You can go through and just highlight as you would for anything. When you just click on this main button here it's going to always do it in yellow.

Now that's all great but you have a long document here. How can you actually view these? Well, you can bring up the sidebar here. If you go to sidebar Thumbnails of course you can see the highlights in the thumbnails. So there's that green one. We go up here we can see yellow, etc. So that's one way to do it. But if you want to actually quickly find the things that you've highlighted then you want to go to the sidebar Highlights and Notes here. Now we can see here's the four things that we highlighted and you can click to jump to any one of these.

Getting rid of a highlight is just a matter of selecting the exact same text and click the highlight button again. It gets rid of it and you can see it's gone from the left side and it's no longer marked on the text here.

You can also just jump to it by clicking in the Highlights & Notes sidebar there and if you click on it just that one time not only does it jump to it but also selects it. So I can now click it and in this case it's going to change the highlight from green to yellow. But if I click it again it will get rid of it completely. So it's easy to get rid of these.

Now while highlighting is easy to use and you don't have to go into the markup tools if we do go into markup tools you could add Notes which will allow you to add more text. So, for instance, I click on Note here and it adds this little post it note thing and you can see that appears on the left as well. I can double click into it and add a note. You can see it just always becomes this little square here and I can put it somewhere. If I want to read what's in there I just click on it and it opens up. Or I can jump to all my notes here as well. So if I had a note on this page, for instance, I can always double click to edit the note, click outside to close it again. I can also access the note text here although I can't edit it in the sidebar. I need to be able to jump to it, double click on the note and then edit it there.

So this gives you a pretty complete set of tools for highlighting and adding notes to a PDF right there in Preview without having to go to a more complex app. It's pretty easy to get around. It's pretty basic functionality but it could be useful if you're doing research or studying from a PDF.

Comments: 15 Responses to “PDF Highlights and Notes In Preview”

    robert Sigafoos
    1/5/18 @ 10:50 am

    Is it possible to make the highlight color lighter or are we stuck with dark color? Can not find anything in the preferences. Maybe something in terminal app?

    1/5/18 @ 10:51 am

    robert: You are stuck with those colors. If you need more advanced settings, there are of third-party apps that can be used for marking up PDFs.

    Robert Sigafoos
    1/5/18 @ 11:01 am

    Just discovered that you can use the Control key to select the different colors.

    1/12/18 @ 9:02 am

    Hi Gary!
    Is there anyway to make the high lite lighter? I find the colours quite dark.
    Thanks in advance!

    1/12/18 @ 9:04 am

    Sorry, Gary! Didn’t notice that the question of dark high lites was asked.

    1/16/18 @ 11:53 am

    Hi Gary,
    I tried using highlighter before and it never worked. Then I discovered that the “PDF” i put there weren’t PDF they were jpeg (which you can’t Highlight). These items I put there using a scanner. Is there any way to get a document (from a scanner) to a PDF format in preview.


    1/16/18 @ 12:25 pm

    Ken: You can choose JPG or PDF when doing a scan. But even if you choose PDF it will just be a PDF with an image inside it, not the actual text. The actual text needs to be there for highlighting to work. That happens when you get the document as a pure PDF, such an an online form or a “printed” webpage.

    1/20/18 @ 2:51 am

    Hi Gary,
    Is there something similar in Pages? (apart from FIND)
    Sometimes i copy a pdf & past into pages and edit a pdf into there (to make it small, more concise, or change the font/spacing etc)

    1/20/18 @ 8:01 am

    Narelle: What are you trying to do, exactly? In Pages you can change the color of characters, and also the background color of characters. It is all in the Style sidebar. To change the background color, click the gear-icon to the right of the Underline button.

    2/23/18 @ 11:07 am

    How do I highlight one colour over another in preview? For example, if I have an existing yellow text highlighted, I want to go over in pink to create orange. Right now, when I highlight over the yellow with pink it turns pink. I want it to turn orange.

    2/23/18 @ 11:16 am

    Steve: You simply can’t do that. Just highlight some of it yellow, some of it orange, and some of it pink.

    2/23/18 @ 11:33 am

    I have done it many times before. I’m just surprised it hasn’t worked this time. Ok. Could you tell me how I get an orange colour then? It just gives me options for yellow, pink green, blue and purple. Thanks.

    2/23/18 @ 11:49 am

    Steve: Oh, sorry, I didn’t look the colors available before responding. You’ll just have to use the colors that are available. But perhaps if I could understand WHY you needed to do this, maybe I can suggest something better?

    2/23/18 @ 11:54 am

    I am using different colours for student report cards. In the past when I’ve done this the pink over yellow would turn it orange. It helps students/parents see progress made by a student term over term. For some reason, it’s not letting me create one layer over another.

    2/23/18 @ 12:04 pm

    Steve: I don’t recall Preview’s highlighting function ever mixing colors like that. Perhaps you were thinking of another PDF app or some other app entirely? I tried it in other apps, and PDFPen Pro does it.

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