How-To Geek

How to Save Paper by Highlighting and Commenting on PDFs


Here’s a little-known fact: There are applications that let you annotate and modify PDF files for free, with no watermarks. This way you can review a document and make your comments without wasting any paper in the process.

Update: Do not install Foxit. They are bundling search hijacking browser extensions that will ruin your day.

The application we’ll be using for this quick tutorial is Foxit Reader. This is an alternative PDF reader (alternative to Adobe Reader, that is). It’s fast, lightweight, and free. And most importantly for us, it lets you annotate documents.

For starters, download and install Foxit Reader. Then use it to open a PDF document you’d like to annotate. If installing Foxit Reader doesn’t make it the default application for opening PDF files on your system, you can right click the PDF and select Foxit Reader under Open With:


Once the file is open, click View > Toolbars > Commenting Tools.


The commenting toolbar lets you annotate the document in seven different ways:


You can underline words, highlight them, underline with squiggly lines (possibly to mark typos), cross text out,  add a “replace” mark for text you wish to change and add floating sticky notes.

You can also double-click any such marking (underline, squiggly line, etc.) to open up a note where you can type a longer explanation. This is optional, so if the other side would understand what you’re trying to communicate even without a verbose note, you might want to omit it.

By clicking the Options link on each note you can set its status, mark it with a checkmark and more. You can also change its color by clicking Open Properties.


The comments you make in the documents are readable with Adobe’s own Reader – the other side does not need to have Foxit Reader installed to read them (though they would need Foxit Reader or Adobe Reader Professional if they wish to reply).

A technical writer for Tibbo Technology by day, Erez is obsessed with customizing anything and everything. After years of using Litestep and Blackbox, switching to a custom keyboard layout (Colemak), extending Word and Excel with elaborate VBA, losing weight with an AutoHotkey script he developed and spending countless hours tweaking Foobar2000 to get it to look "just right", Erez decided the time has come to share some of this obsession with the world at large.

  • Published 04/25/11

Comments (16)

  1. esamparka

    Now a days Adobe Acrobat reader 10 (X) also supports the commenting and highlighting feature :) and yes…it’s free…
    Of-course it’s bulky than before or than Foxit…

  2. Lady Fitzgerald

    I used to be content to use virtual printers to create PDFs until I got Adobe Acrobat Standard 9.0 bundled with my scanner and found out how versatile it is. I’ll never be without Acrobat Standard again, even if I have to pay for it. I’ve tried Foxit reader but to get many of the features, one has to allow it to install a tool bar of some kind. Even with the tool bar, it was clunky compared to Acrobat Standard. Since I didn’t want the tool bar, I removed it from my computer.

  3. g..

    PDF-XChange-Viewer is my tool of choice for this kind of work.

  4. bf

    PDF-XChange-Viewer was my choice for a long time as well, but I moved to Nitro PDF about a year ago. It allows you to add comments and type text onto a document, and to fill out forms. It has its own version of the ribbon interface, and is quite smooth. It loads rapidly and has a very clean look.

  5. hkb

    Foxit reader isn’t 100%
    nitro pdf works well

  6. blindfury


  7. David William Edwards

    How about PDF Annotator?

  8. Jerry Nissen

    Is Foxit Reader for Mac? for ubuntu? or only Windows?

    thanks much


  9. Jerry Nissen

    Is Nitro only for Windows? Is there a Mac version?

  10. Chandu

    Foxit does leave a water mark on the screen after editing. Is there any way to discard that?

  11. Sperrin

    I tried Nitro for a while, but found it cumbersome and slow. It was a relief to return to the deftness and speed of Foxit.

  12. Stan

    To Chandu,
    Yes, you don’t have to have watermarks in Fixit. The newer versions don’t have that. In the past you could purchase an upgrade that was watermark free, but the new versions come that way automatically, So, I would recommend upgrading and you’ll probably be fine.

  13. Tech

    I was trying to help someone who needed the ability to add comments to a PDF file. I tried some of the ones that other posters mentioned. In my opinion, PDF-XChange-Viewer was the perfect solution! Good, Easy and Free!

  14. JR

    Is there one you would recommend for use with a Tablet PC (handwriting on a pdf) I haven’t found a great solution for that yet; there are a few that have some crude draw tools.

  15. Wschloss

    Which support pass protection pls? Thks.

  16. Ammar

    Foxit do not fully support Arabic text unlike Adobe 10.

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