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Acrobat to a Paperless Office
Pages: 1, 2

The Commenting Toolbar

Commenting Toolbar: from left to right Note Tool, Indicated Text Edits, Stamp Tool (not reviewed), and Highlight Text Commenting Toolbar: from left to right Note Tool, Indicated Text Edits, Stamp Tool (not reviewed), and Highlight Text.

The Note Tool in the Commenting Toolbar allows users to add notes anywhere on a page. There are two parts to each note -- a place-keeper and a pop-up window holding the text of the note. The available placeholders are pictured below. The default is the Comment icon.

Available Icons for Note Tool placeholders  Available Icons for Note Tool placeholders.

The note itself acts like a pop-up window, as seen below. The pop-up window can be positioned anywhere on the page. If the pop-up is closed, it can be viewed by mousing over the placeholder.

Example of the Note Tool pop-up window  Example of the Note Tool pop-up window.

Next up in the commenting toolbar are Indicate Text Edits. This set of tools is meant to mark where text should be deleted, changed, or inserted. The changes can be exported to Word and executed automatically. To use any of the features listed in the picture below, first select the text or text location you would like to operate on.

Options for Indicate Text Tool  Options for Indicate Text Tool.

The Insert Text At Cursor (example below) and Add Note To Selected Text options are very similar to the Note Tool, except the placeholder must be associated with a location in the original text.

Indicated Text Comments example  Indicated Text Comments example.

The last item of relevance to mention in the commenting toolbar is Highlighting. There are three forms available with this option: Highlighter Tool, Cross-out Text Tool, and Underline Text Tool. To use, select one of the three tools, then select the text you'd like the tool applied to. Properties for most of the tools listed here can be altered. For example, the default highlighter color is yellow. To change, use the Properties Toolbar when the Highlighter Tool is active. The new color will keep for future selections, too. Different tools have different properties -- the Underline Text Tool has the option of squiggly or straight underline in addition to color. Below is a picture of the three tools in action, with varied options and colors.

Use of the Highlighter Tool with three colors; colored straight and squiggly underlines, and colored lines to cross out text  Use of the Highlighter Tool with three colors; colored straight and squiggly underlines; and colored lines to cross out text.

In the Commenting Toolbar, both Indicate Text Edits and Highlighting are associated with text. If your OCR scan fails to recognize the document text, these two sets of tools cannot be used.

The Advanced Commenting Toolbar

Advanced Commenting Toolbar: from left to right Drawing Toolbar, Pencil Tool, Attach File (not reviewed) Advanced Commenting Toolbar: from left to right Drawing Toolbar, Pencil Tool, Attach File (not reviewed)

The Advanced Commenting Toolbar Drawing Tool, the Text Box Tool, and the Pencil Tool are covered below. These tools yield a surprising number of ways to liven up your PDF document annotations.

The Drawing Tool has a number of shapes: Rectangle, Oval, Arrow, Line, Polygon, Polygon Line, and Cloud Tools. The Polygon and Cloud Tools also have pop-up windows for text by default as shown in the example below. I'm not sure why I'd want to add a cloud to a PDF, but the functionality is there.

Drawing Tool Examples; Rectangle Tool, Oval Tool, Polygon Line Tool, and the Cloud tool  Drawing Tool Examples; Rectangle Tool, Oval Tool, Polygon Line Tool, and the Cloud Tool.

The function of Text Box Tool is very similar to the pop-up window associated with many of the tools. However, the Text Box Tool is not a pop-up, but rather an object that is always visible. I don't care for the default settings of yellow background and black border. To alter, skip the fill and border on the text box to make the text appear by itself. Do this by first selecting the Text Box Tool from the toolbar, and then altering attributes in the Properties toolbar. Select No Color for fill and "0 pt" to remove the border. Below are three examples of text boxes.

Text Box Tool examples (1) default (2) no border, lighter background (3) no background or border, colored text Text Box Tool examples: (1) default, (2) no border, lighter background, and (3) no background or border, colored text.

The Pencil Tool is good for scribbling free-form figures and comments. As with other tools, the thickness, color, and opacity can be adjusted in the Properties Toolbar. If you have one, tablet input devices are more practical to use than a mouse or touchpad. However, I find my Wacom Graphire tablet difficult to use for this purpose, as it requires good hand-eye coordination. I wish my laptop screen was a touchpad, or for Apple to produce a Mac Tablet! For scanned documents that failed OCR, create a do-it-yourself highlighter. Change the Pencil Tool properties to 6 pt. width, 40% opacity and carefully draw the tool through the text. As you can see below, my hand is not very steady.

Example of the Pencil Tool for drawing and do-it-yourself highlighting  Example of the Pencil Tool for drawing and do-it-yourself highlighting.

Who would have thought there were so many options to mark up your files within the two commenting toolbars!

Downsides

While you might be thinking of the possibilities now available to you, here are some issues to be aware of. Printouts of annotated versions as seen on the screen are not an option. When printed, marked-up PDFs have annotations off to the side or on separate pages. I also run into stability issues -- Acrobat 6.0.2 crashes occasionally. If you run Acrobat, be sure to save early and often to be safe. Getting a copy of Acrobat for yourself can be pricey. However, educational pricing is reasonable.

Final Thoughts

Acrobat is the best solution I've found in my quest for the paperless office. I originally began my investigation over a year ago. At the time, I taught a class with more than 70 students. I was willing to experiment and see if there was a way I could get out of carting student homework around. I tend to loose track of paper and constantly forgot to bring corrected student papers to class for return. Since then, I've adapted my Acrobat techniques to build my paperless office. I'm willing to put up with the few downsides -- saving my work often to get around lurking crashes -- if it means I can carry all my work around on just my laptop and lighten my load.

Note: The text in the examples above is a section of Lorum Ipsum, dummy text used in the printing and typesetting industry.

Julie Starr , CISSP lives in Raleigh, NC, where she is a freelance writer, computer security instructor, and sometimes a computer science PhD student.


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