Thursday, September 14, 2017

Understanding the Interchangeability of PDF Comments Across Adobe programs

One of the things I love the most about PDF comments that they are tidy little packets of information,  stored as XML, that can be copied, pasted, sorted, and moved around. They can contain information about:

  • Author
  • Content
  • Date Created
  • Date Modified
  • Color
  • Page position
  • Type of comment (Highlight, strikethrough, drawing markup, etc)

And certain specialized attributes such as

  • Icons
  • Line style
  • End caps
  • Transparency
  • Review Status
  • Checkmark Status
  • Topic
  • and more

PDF commenting is one of my most researched topic on my blog. Some time ago, I wrote an article about how to work with Forms Data Files, and why you'd want to. That article explained some interesting uses for saving out the comments as FDF files, changing the extension to XML, and opening it in a code editor.

What's interesting to me about how comments are contained in an XML file is that various Adobe programs can actually import and interpret those FDF files.

Wait, PDF comments aren't just for Acrobat?

I am so glad you asked, Grasshopper!
Some programs can export documents with PDF sticky notes, such as:

Those three programs all require exporting from their native file format into a PDF format. But there are other Adobe programs that will allow you to save a PDF directly, and then open it again as a native file format.

  • Photoshop
  • Illustrator

I've done some experimenting and wanted to share with you my findings, in hope that some of these findings will eventually make their way into the Adobe suit as full-fledged features.


Sadly, Illustrator doesn't have a Note tool, as does InCopy, InDesign, and Photoshop. But interestingly, Illustrator ignores PDF comments. So if you save your Illustrator document as a PDF, add some comments to it in Acrobat, save it, and reopen it in Illustrator, the comments will still be there. Illustrator is ambivalent to PDF annotations. I wish that Illustrator had the ability to view and interact with PDF annotations, but it doesn't and that okay. It's better than the alternative, which would be to delete them.


Photoshop is very interesting to me because, like InDesign and InCopy, it has a Notes tool. But unlike Indesign and InCopy, it also has the ability to save, directly from Photoshop, a native, layered, fully functional document as a PDF, and reopen it as a native document.

What's so great about that is that it allows for direction interaction with PDF sticky notes made in Acrobat. Let's give it a whirl.

First, we have to find the Notes Tool. It's hiding under the eyedropper.

Next, I'll add a note to photo we took on a trip to Yellowstone.

Now I'll save the file as a PDF (Be sure to check the "Notes" icon in the Save dialog box).

Then open it in Acrobat. Voila! But notice that the comment Author is missing.

Next, let's make a new comment here in Acrobat so we can see what will happen on the round-trip back to Photoshop. the comment I made in Acrobat has a different icon, as well as the author name.

Notice how in Photoshop, the second icon is now the same as the first, but the author name is populated into the Notes panel. After closer examination, there is an open space in the Notes panel, just for the author name to populate.

But wait, there's more!

This is just the first article about the interchangeability of PDF notes. There is so much more! This article I hope will whet your appetite for learning more about how you can use Notes across the Adobe Suite. Here is Part 2 of this article series.

In the meantime, you can learn more about how I think Notes should be improved: My Wish List for Notes - Across the Suite

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