Advanced Acrobatics: Tips and tricks for PDF mark-up—Adrienne Montgomerie (EAC conference 2014)

Are you still proofreading on paper? More and more clients are looking to do away with the printing and couriering costs associated with paper proofs and are asking proofreaders to mark up changes in PDF. Editor, trainer, and volunteer extraordinaire Adrienne Montgomerie showed us how to do this with the tools in the free Adobe Acrobat Reader. Her handout from her session is here, and she’s also compiled a Storify of her session here. Both of these resources are probably more useful than this write-up, but I still wanted to share some of my main takeaways from the talk.

Acrobat (the Standard and Pro versions, which you have to pay for) does have an “edit” function, but that lets you make changes directly to the document. What we’re talking about here is mark-up: using the program’s drawing or annotation tools to mark up changes that have to be made to the native file. Because PDFs are a fixed format that look the same to everyone, they’re ideal for marking up not only proofs of print materials but also websites, presentations, YouTube videos, and anything else you can capture in a screen shot.

Montgomerie uses a stylus and a Wacom tablet, which some people may find more intuitive than a traditional mouse for marking up a proof. “I prefer PDFs to paper,” she said, “because I can blow up the proof to any size. I can move my marks and resize them. I can right-click on my marks and change their properties, including weight and colour.”

“I use in blue in my mark-up,” she continued, “because I think it’s less threatening.”

Two main ways of adding mark-up to a PDF are to use either the drawing tools, where you essentially use an e-pencil to directly emulate the proofreading mark-up you’d make on paper, or Acrobat’s own annotation tools (Comment & Markup), which track your insertions, deletions, replacements, and highlights. Drawing tools are especially handy for marking up graphic novels and screen shots, where the text may not be recognizable. Be aware that for layered text, text selection for the annotation tools isn’t perfect; sometimes Acrobat chooses the wrong layer.

You can add clarifications or instructions to the designer using the Callout tool. Before sending the proof back, you can run a spell check on all of your text boxes; designers can then copy and paste that text into the source file rather than risk introducing errors by rekeying.

Different designers have different preferences, so ask your clients what they’d prefer. Whichever method you choose, all of your changes will be logged in Acrobat’s Comments List. The Comments List is excellent for quality control (especially because some of the annotation mark-up can be hard to see):

  • A designer can check off the checkbox next to each comment once a change has been implemented.
  • You can sort the Comments List by page order, date entered, checkmark status, type, and reviewer. You can also show or hide certain types of comments.
  • If you’ve got only a handful of changes, you can print only those pages with changes, along with their comments, so that the designer doesn’t have to scan through the whole document.
  • The designer can also reply to each comment, allowing for two-way communication. Sometimes a change can’t be made, and the proofreader needs to know about it for the next round of proofing.

Through the Comment & Markup tools, you can also “Attach a File as a Comment,” which is useful for long inserts. Sometimes clients won’t notice these files, though, so Montgomerie will often send them as email attachments as well.

If you’re using the drawing tools, you can make your life easier by creating or downloading a set of stamps that have your most common proofreading marks. Each stamp comes up as one comment, so if you have a caret (^) plus a hyphen (=), say, the designer doesn’t have to wade through both marks as separate comments. (Mind you, if you manage to draw both in quick succession, Acrobat may recognize them as a single mark as well.)

Under the Select & Zoom tools is the Snapshot tool, which lets you isolate a portion of your page. You can also use it to print (File » Print » Print Selection/Selected Graphic) just those isolated sections—handy if you have a tabloid document but a letter-sized printer, for example.

I wondered if anyone had ever used Annotations for Adobe InDesign, which is a plugin that lets a designer accept or reject annotation changes that a proofreader has marked up in a PDF. Nobody in the room seemed to have used it, and I’m still curious about it. (Maybe InCopy has obviated this tool, but not everyone wants to buy or subscribe to InCopy.)