How To Annotate a PDF: A Comprehensive Walkthrough

Nobody likes sending or receiving never-ending emails during a project’s review or negotiation stage. Whether it’s a request for a change in your drawings or a proposal for a change in your contract, the back-and-forth can significantly slow processes down. 

Luckily, there’s a way to avoid the endless emails: PDF annotation. You can highlight texts in PDFs and directly add suggestions rather than explaining the changes you want or seeking clarification in lengthy emails. Convenient, right?

This article provides a step-by-step guide on how to annotate your PDF documents. 

What is PDF annotation?

Have you ever sent an email with multiple comments about a work document in the hopes your team would understand your vision? PDF annotation is somewhat like that. But instead of sending emails, you simply add the comments directly to the relevant PDF document. 

However, annotation doesn’t only involve leaving comments — PDF markup captures everything from strikethroughs and underlines to text highlights and shape additions.

Annotations are vital in construction, as they provide context and save your team time they’d otherwise spend trying to decipher comments and suggestions in working documents. The best part is that relevant parties can see comments in real time, so you don’t have to wait hours for your team to check their emails and find specific documents. 

The benefits of annotating PDFs

Did you know the average employee spends about two hours a day sifting through emails? Too many emails are surely doing more harm than good. 

PDF markup software with annotation tools can save your team the trouble of reading through lengthy email threads to find important feedback and suggestions. But saving time isn’t the only benefit you stand to gain from PDF annotation. Here are more:

Improved collaboration

Engineers, architects, contractors, builders, and clients can contribute to project plans, drawings, and other documents with PDF annotation tools. When they do, the other parties receive real-time access to notes, comments, and markups, ensuring they’re always on the same page regarding project details. This facilitates efficient collaboration and allows projects to move forward quickly. 

Enhanced project documentation

Effective construction management hinges on proper documentation. Everything from minute details about paint colors to essential information about budgets and licensing needs to be recorded. While documenting everything is vital, information may get lost when there’s too much detail. With PDF annotation tools, this doesn’t have to be a problem. Stakeholders can annotate the most relevant information or essential project changes, allowing your team to maintain comprehensive project documentation without losing sight of critical details. 

Efficiency in plan review

With the sketch design phase taking as much as 10 weeks and the detailed design stage as much as six weeks, construction teams can’t afford delays in plan reviews. Fortunately, delays are mostly avoidable with the right software. PDF annotation tools can promote efficiency in review processes by allowing reviewers to markup and annotate documents digitally. Reviewers can suggest changes and track them more efficiently, allowing the process to move faster. 

Increased accessibility

The beauty of PDF annotation is that it makes project information available digitally. Stakeholders can access project details from numerous devices, including desktops, laptops, tablets, and smartphones, ensuring no one gets left behind at any phase of a project’s life cycle. 

What tools can be used for PDF annotation?

How can you find the right annotation tool for your team? You should consider various factors, including user interface, security, and available features. Of course, comparing the options can be tedious, so we’ve done some legwork to make the process easier. 

ActiveDraft: For construction collaboration

Thanks to its dynamic and diverse features, ActiveDraft is the superior PDF annotation tool for construction collaboration. Users have access to an expansive shape library that allows them to do more than just add notes to PDF documents — builders, engineers, and architects can markup blueprints and other drawings much faster using the available shapes. Further, they can seamlessly assign tasks to specific team members and track and review their progress, all from a centralized platform, eliminating the need for external apps. 

Other features that can prove helpful for builders include:

  • Customization capabilities: The platform’s toolbar can be tailored to each construction team’s unique needs. 
  • Notifications: ActiveDraft provides real-time updates and email notifications, ensuring your team immediately learns of new comments, notes, or markups.  
  • Document history reviews: The platform saves all document activity in threads, providing context for all changes made and facilitating seamless reviews. 

Adobe Acrobat: For general-use PDF annotation

Adobe Acrobat is a viable option for users looking for general-use software for documents like reports or whitepapers. The software has extensive annotation tools like text boxes, sticky notes, shapes, and freehand drawing, allowing you to give feedback freely. You can also sort comments by author, read status, date, and page, making it easy to find specific comments. 

Steps for annotating a PDF

Now that you know the why and what, let’s look at the how. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to annotate PDF docs:

1. Determine your PDF annotation needs

This is a crucial first step as it can help you determine some must-have annotation features. Do you need a PDF annotation tool for personal use, plan review, or collaboration with your team? What are your essential requirements? Are text annotations sufficient for your needs, or do you need a tool that allows you to attach files to comments? Do you need drawing tools to get your feedback across effectively? These are just some of the questions to ask yourself to identify your exact needs. 

2. Choose your PDF annotation tool

Once you have an understanding of your needs, you can move on to finding the best tool. If you plan to work with architects and engineers when drawing up building plans, you’ll need PDF markup software for architects that allows you to draw or add shapes to collaborate effectively. 

Other factors to consider include compatibility, user-friendliness, and industry standards. Assess whether each tool fits into current workflows and only move forward if it can. Looking at the kind of companies that use the tool can help you determine if it’s appropriate for your industry. Also, only invest in a user-friendly option with a minimal learning curve. 

ActiveDraft checks all the boxes for clients in the construction industry. The platform is specially built to meet the needs of construction professionals, from architects to builders, hence its compatibility with a wide variety of file types. In ActiveDraft, users can upload numerous files in addition to PDFs, including :

  • .doc
  • .docx
  • .dwg
  • .dxf
  • .jpeg
  • .jpg
  • .odp
  • .ods
  • .odt
  • .pdf
  • .png
  • .ppt
  • .pptx
  • .rtf
  • .tif
  • .tiff
  • .txt
  • .xls
  • .xlsx

3. Upload your PDF

The process is quite straightforward when you choose ActiveDraft as your annotation tool. You typically start by setting up a project. To do so, log into your ActiveDraft account, tap the Projects link in the left column, select Add a new project, fill in the form, and tap Save

When you’re done, tap the Project Panel and the Add a file button. This will open a new window where you can drag and drop your document to upload it or browse existing files on your device. After you upload the file, a new window will open asking you to complete the upload process — tap the Complete button.

4. Highlight and add text notes

The annotation process can now begin! To highlight or add notes to text, select the Callout tool — it looks like a Textbox joined to an Arrow and actually combines their functionality. Click the area you want to highlight, drag your cursor to the area to position the textbox, and then release your mouse to add your comment. After providing relevant feedback, press the ESC key on your keyboard to make your comment active and return to your file. 

Ensure you position the textbox against the relevant text to provide sufficient context for your team. 

5. Use markup tools

Want to edit PDF documents and add visual elements like shapes? ActiveDraft provides various markup tools, including shapes, measurement tools, and a pencil for handwritten markups. 

To add a shape, simply tap the Create tool. A new window with seven shapes (rectangle, circle, polygon, cloud, arrow, line, and polyline) will open. Simply click and drag your desired shape to resize it. For polygons and polylines, tap once for each side of the shape and double-click your mouse when finished to complete the shape. 

To add a handwritten note, tap and drag the pencil icon on your desired text.

For measurement tools, tap the Toolbox icon and pick your desired tool — Length for straight-line distances, Polylength for interconnected lines, or Area for enclosed areas. These tools are vital when reviewing building plans and sketches. 

6. Save and share your annotations

Once you finish editing your PDF and adding annotations, you’ll be ready for the final step — saving and sharing. With ActiveDraft, changes are automatically saved when you make them, so you don’t have to save manually. 

To share your annotations with team members or other stakeholders, tap the Projects tab on the left sidebar and select Share project & manage people. This will let you add and manage people within the project. Add each user and assign either a Contributor or Viewer role, depending on their roles in your project — assign the Contributor role (they can edit PDFs and add other users) to members with an active role in your project and the Viewer role (no editing rights) to those that only need to read the information. 

There are many reasons to collaborate in construction. It minimizes mistakes and resource waste, improves work quality, and builds better client relationships. So, take advantage of our collaboration feature, and let everyone from your architects to your clients be part of your project — actively or purely as viewers. 

Annotate and markup your construction documents easily with ActiveDraft

Want to make collaboration more efficient throughout your project’s lifecycle? Opt for PDF annotation instead of creating endless email chains. Reliable annotation software boosts accessibility, improves documentation, and allows you to get more done within shorter timeframes. 

With ActiveDraft, PDF markup and annotation are straightforward processes you can handle with little to no tech experience. The platform prioritizes ease of use and collaboration, so you can rest assured your team will have an easy time reviewing documents, providing feedback, and tracking progress. 

Sign up for ActiveDraft today for simple, effective document collaboration, annotation, and markup!

Jeff Mack is the Head of Marketing at ActiveDraft, where he is responsible for developing the brand and telling the ActiveDraft story.


The missing link in Construction Collaboration


© 2024 ActiveDraft, LLC. All Rights Reserved.