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How to highlight pdf on mac

how to highlight pdf on mac

When you’re studying or reviewing documents on your Mac, highlighting text in a PDF can be an invaluable tool to draw attention to important information. However, for those unfamiliar with the process, figuring out exactly how to do this can be less than intuitive. I’ve explored several methods, both native to macOS and through third-party applications, to ensure you can easily highlight PDFs on your Mac. In this guide, I’ll share these techniques that have worked for me.


Common Scenarios:

Reviewing Academic Papers 📚

  • In academic scenarios, you’re often faced with lengthy articles and papers that require close reading and analysis. Being able to highlight key arguments and data helps you organize your thoughts and makes study sessions more productive.

Preparing Work Documents 💼

  • When working with reports, contracts, or proposals, you may need to draw attention to specific sections or clauses. Highlighting allows you to mark these sections for easy reference during discussions or when making edits.

Annotating E-books 📖

  • Whether for leisure or learning, annotating e-books by highlighting can help you keep track of important plot points, concepts, and quotes that you may want to revisit later.

Step-by-Step Guide. How To Highlight Pdf On Mac:

Method 1: Using Preview 🧐

  • Open your PDF file in Preview, the default PDF viewer on Mac.
  • Select the Highlight tool in the top menu bar or press Command + Shift + H.
  • Drag your cursor over the text you wish to highlight. The selected text will be highlighted with a default yellow color.

Note: You can change the highlight color by clicking on the ‘Highlight Color’ option in the menu bar and picking a new color.

Conclusion: Preview is a quick and simple way to highlight PDFs directly in macOS without needing additional software.

Method 2: Using Adobe Acrobat Reader 📑

  • Download and install Adobe Acrobat Reader if you haven’t already.
  • Open the PDF file with Adobe Acrobat Reader.
  • Click on the ‘Comment’ tool and select the ‘Highlighter’ tool from the toolbar which appears.
  • Select the text you want to highlight and adjust the highlight color if desired by clicking the color chooser next to the highlighter tool.

Note: Adobe Acrobat Reader offers more advanced features for highlighting and annotating PDFs but may require a subscription for certain functionalities.

Conclusion: Adobe Acrobat Reader is a powerful option for those who need more comprehensive PDF editing and annotation tools.

Method 3: Using PDF Expert 🌟

  • Download PDF Expert from the official website or the Mac App Store.
  • Open your PDF document using PDF Expert.
  • Choose the ‘Annotate’ tab and click on the ‘Highlight’ tool.
  • Select the text you want to highlight, and if necessary, change the highlight color via the color palette.

Note: PDF Expert offers a balance of comprehensive features and ease of use, with a seamless interface that’s particularly appealing.

Conclusion: PDF Expert is a great all-rounder for those who regularly work with PDFs and require reliable annotation tools.

Method 4: Using Skim 💡

  • Download Skim from its website.
  • Open the PDF file with Skim.
  • Choose the ‘Text Tool’ from the toolbar, then select the text you want to highlight.
  • Go to the ‘Tools’ menu and select ‘Highlight’ or use the keyboard shortcut Command + Shift + L.

Note: Skim is a PDF reader and note-taker designed for academic purposes, so it offers specialized features for students and researchers.

Conclusion: Skim is an excellent choice for academics looking for an application tailored to their needs.

Method 5: Using Shortcuts with Automator ⚙

  • Open Automator, which is part of macOS, and create a new ‘Service’.
  • Set the service to receive selected ‘PDF files’ in ‘’.
  • Add the ‘Run AppleScript’ action and enter a script that applies the highlight to selected text.
  • Save the service with a name like ‘Quick Highlight’ and access it from the ‘Services’ menu when you right-click a PDF in Finder or Preview.

Note: This method requires some basic knowledge of AppleScript and Automator but can speed up your workflow once set up.

Conclusion: Creating an Automator service offers the ability to customize and streamline your highlighting process according to your specific needs.


Precautions and Tips:

Efficient Highlighting Strategies 🎯

  • When highlighting on a Mac, use keyboard shortcuts to speed up the process. For instance, Preview offers the shortcut Command + Shift + H for quick highlighting.
  • Consider the color-coding system for highlights to categorize information thematically or by importance.
  • Regularly update your PDF reader and annotation apps to benefit from the latest features and security updates.

Syncing Annotations Across Devices ☁

  • For access to your highlights across devices, use a PDF annotation tool that supports cloud synchronization, like PDF Expert which integrates with iCloud, Dropbox, and other cloud services.
  • Remember to always back up your PDFs with highlights, especially before making significant changes or using a batch operation within an application.

Enhancing Productivity

Highlighting is just one aspect of interacting with PDFs on a Mac. To further enhance productivity, explore other annotation features such as adding notes, shapes, and bookmarks which can help you organize information even more efficiently.

Additionally, consider using a document management system (DMS) to keep your PDFs organized. Software like DEVONthink and Evernote can help streamline your workflow by keeping all your documents, highlights, and notes in one searchable location.

Lastly, embracing automation and custom scripts may not only refine your highlighting technique but also reshape how you manage document workflows on your Mac. User communities and forums often share scripts and automation tips that can save you time and expand the capabilities of your favorite PDF tools.


Learning various methods to highlight PDFs on a Mac is crucial for anyone looking to work efficiently with documents. Each method comes with its own set of features that cater to different users’ needs, whether you are a student, professional, or casual reader. By exploring and mastering these tools, you can take your productivity to new heights and make the most out of every PDF interaction.


You can use Preview, the built-in app on macOS, to easily highlight text in a PDF. Simply select the Highlight tool and drag it over the text you want to emphasize.

Yes, after selecting text, you can press Command + Shift + H to highlight it in Preview.

In Preview, click on the highlighted text and then select the desired color from the border color options next to the text selection tools.

Yes, Adobe Acrobat Reader for Mac also allows PDF highlighting. Download it from Adobe’s official website.

Open the PDF in Preview, click on the highlighted text, and either press the delete key or right-click and choose ‘Delete’.

Yes, simply press Command + Z to undo the last highlighting action in Preview.

Yes, after highlighting, just save your document normally with Command + S, and the highlights will be part of the saved PDF.

In Preview, you can hold down the Command key while selecting multiple sections to highlight them all at once.

Use the Search feature in Preview or Adobe Acrobat Reader, then manually highlight all instances or use a script if the app supports it.

Yes, right-click the highlight in Preview, select ‘Add Note’, and enter your text in the note that appears.