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Annotate PDFs with PDFpen

Over two years ago I asked ProfHacker readers how they organize and annotate their PDFs. Just a few days ago I realized that I never followed up to discuss PDFpen an App recommended in the comments thread to that post. I was already a big fan of SmileOnMyMac’s TextExpander application, and so was happy to give PDFpen a twirl.

PDFpen is far more robust than Apple’s built-in Preview app, including many features that cost much more in the pro version of Adobe Acrobat. There’s a full list of features on the app’s website, but my three favorites are:

  1. Annotation. PDFpen allows users to highlight text, insert notes, and draw directly onto PDFs. I particularly use these features to mark up scholarly articles for my research or for class.
  2. Inserting text and/or images. I use these features to fill out PDF forms, including forms without premade text fields. By inserting new text fields I can complete typed sections of applications, recommendation forms, and so on. I can also insert an image of my signature where required. I use PDFpen to complete 90% of documents I need to submit, saving me from most printing.
  3. Basic OCR (Optical Character Recognition). OCR software converts images of text into searchable and editable text. When you open a non-OCRed PDF in PDFpen, it asks whether you want it to recognize the text. I often download un-OCRed PDFs from scholarly archives, and PDFpen helps make them much more useful.

PDFpen plays well with ProfHacker favorite Zotero, too. When PDFpen is set as your Mac’s default PDF application, stored PDFs from Zotero will open in it, and any edits made to those PDFs will be saved in your Zotero library.

If you work with PDFs frequently on a Mac, PDFpen is worth a look. Have you discovered a good application for managing and annotating PDFs recently? If so, tell us about it in the comments.

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