PDF annotators

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The purpose of this page is to collect notes on tools that allows annotating pdf files. We consider only tools that are free and leave the original pdf intact.

Quick start

Depending on your platform, pick a tool from the below list and try to see if it works for you. If it doesn't, read on the next sections.

Cross-platform tools


General notes

  • requires Java Runtime Environment (JRE) to run
  • cross-platform
  • not very fast, but usable
  • main concept: the tool loads a pdf file as a background image, then allows simple drawing on another layer on top of the background
  • allows exporting the result as another pdf, combining the original pdf and the new layer
  • further info can be found at Jarnal home page: http://www.dklevine.com/general/software/tc1000/jarnal.htm


<geshi lang="bash"> sudo mkdir -p /opt/jarnal cd /opt/jarnal sudo unzip /path/to/jarnal-install.zip </geshi>

    • After installation, to start the tool run sh /opt/jarnal/jarnalannotate.sh
  • on MacOSX:
    • the same as on linux; MacOSX has JRE installed by default


Please put here questions and answers on jarnal's usage; if you have a question but don't know the answer, put it here too, someone else might answer it

  • Start the application, then select File/Open Background to open a PDF file
  • To put some text:
    • click on Text tool
    • click on the place you want to write text
    • type the text in
  • To put some hand-drawing:
    • click on the relevant tool (pen, highlighter, or eraser)
    • drag the mouse to make the desired change
  • To move some drawn text around:
    • click on Select tool
    • click on text and drag it to another place
    • N.B.: every time you want to move some text (or another piece of drawing), you must click on the Select tool first and then drag the relevant object.

The icon set may look too crowded, but they are only of a few types:

  • text: to put text notes
  • pen: for free-hand drawing: works as a pen on board
  • highlight: to highlight some area
  • eraser: to erase things that have been drawn before

Windows-only tools

Foxit Reader

  • download: http://filehippo.com/download_foxit/
  • excellent tools for commenting, comparable to Acrobat Pro
  • free version of Foxit Reader however will leave a stamp on each page (not a big problem for our purpose?)

PDF-XChange Viewer

MacOSX-only tools


Linux-only tools


  • linux only
  • similar (but somewhat less) functionality as Jarnal

PDF-XChange Viewer

  • can run under linux using Wine

Tools that have been tested but are not suitable for pdf annotating


  • cross-platform (java)
  • just allows hand-writing but not importing background image


  • linux only
  • allow low-level pdf manipulation
  • allow adding/replacing text, line and rectangle, but not to move/undo/adjust things that have been added

OpenOffice PDF import

  • the idea is fine: to import a PDF file as background, and use Impress to put further markups over the background
  • status: beta, available for OpenOffice.org 3 only
  • doesn't keep the pdf intact