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Collaborative Tools

Publishing doesn't occur in a vacuum. It usually involves dozens of people from multiple departments in many companies. Managing and controlling all of these people's input on any given document can be a Herculean task, especially in an age when it's often impossible to assemble all of the players in the same conference room (much less the same time zone) to discuss a comp. If that comp is a PDF file that's been emailed to the relevant players, however, each person can use Acrobat's Comments and Annotations features to mark up the comp, and remain on the same page (pun intended). By the way, you don't even have to launch your email software to send PDF files to your peers: Click the E-Mail button and Acrobat will do it for you, automatically creating a new message and attaching the PDF file for you.

Making Comments

There are basically two ways to comment on a PDF file: You can stick a note on top of the page, or you can mark up the text or graphics with annotations that indicate required changes (explanatory sticky notes can be attached to annotations, too). Obviously, this is not an either/or situation: Reviewers can use whatever combination of tools works best to communicate their wishes. However, as you'll soon see, it can be helpful to make some rules about how you want people to comment on PDF pages. Acrobat includes the following five tools for adding comments on top of a page: Note, Free Text, Stamp, and Sound and File Attachment.

Note tool. With the Note tool, you simply click on the page or drag a box and write in your comment. Click and drag the note to reposition it anywhere on or off the page; close it by clicking the box in the upper-left corner of the window, leaving just the note's icon visible on the page (you can click and drag to reposition the icon, too); remove it by clicking the icon and pressing Delete.

A sticky note's appearance is dictated by specifications you've made in the Comments section of the Preferences dialog box (Edit > Preferences > General), as shown in Figure 4-1. These include typeface and point size of the text, as well as the opacity of the note and whether notes should be numbered in sequence. If you check Always Use Identity for Author, the note will be labeled with information gleaned from the Identity panel of the General Preferences dialog box. Automatically Open Note Pop-up and Automatically Open Other Comment Pop-ups are helpful options for reviewers or other commentators: Checking these boxes opens sticky-note windows when you create a comment or annotation; you don't have to manually double-click to open one. It's also a good idea to give notes some transparency so that you can see if there's anything (such as another comment or an annotation) beneath them. Keep in mind that the font and opacity preferences you set for the note apply on your computer only; the color, however, travels with the note.

Figure 4-1. The Comments panel of Acrobat's Preferences dialog box.

You can change the identity, color, and other characteristics of a particular note (as shown in Figure 4-2) by clicking its icon to select it (with the Note tool itself or the Hand tool) and choosing Edit > Properties. You can also choose a different icon for it from the Appearance list (for example, a dialog balloon to indicate a comment, or a triangle to indicate insert text). Changes you make to your notes' appearance remain in effect until you alter them again; however, the author reverts immediately to the user name if you've checked Always Use Identity for Author in Preferences.

Figure 4-2. The Note tool's Properties dialog box.

Depending on the idiosyncrasies of your particular workgroup and projects, you may want to assign certain colors or type characteristics to certain departments to help make their comments easier to read. For example, you could make marketing notes red, sales notes blue, notes pertaining to copy green, and notes pertaining to art purple. Keep in mind, however, that there's no way to enforce these standards through Acrobat: You must either manually set up the preferences of each member of the workgroup or trust them to adhere to your requested guidelines.


The way we're using annotations on collateral kits is easy because it's a direct connect. Even if we send a PDF to three people we can compile them easily. And the annotation tools really fit a traditional workflow. Once we pointed out to people they could do it this way, they wanted to; it facilitates changes and saves us money. Our design team used to receive faxes, or wait for interoffice mail, or send a courier to the other building to get the marked-up proofs. Now everyone uses an internal ID number as their log-in, and that rides with their annotations in the PDF file. I've also taught reviewers to use the right tool for the right job: Don't draw a circle and put a note next to it; use the appropriate graphic tool and its associated note as much as possible. Otherwise, we get a lot of empty notes when we summarize comments. And I tell them, don't put editorial changes in quotation marks: say, “Replace with the following text.” If I see quote marks I assume they should be in the text.

Paul Bunyar, senior graphic artist, American Century

Free Text tool. Hidden beneath the Note tool are several other tools for adding comments to PDF files. Using the Free Text tool, you can add a comment to the page that will always remain visible. It can't be closed like a sticky note; this type of comment, always appears with a bounding box around it. You can, however, drag to resize it or reposition it on a page. With a free-text note selected, choose Edit > Properties to customize the font style, frame appearance, or author (Figure 4-3).

Figure 4-3. The Free Text tool Properties dialog box.

Stamp tool. Acrobat also ships with a number of graphical stamps which you can either add to a PDF file before sending it out (such as “For Comment” or “Confidential”), or which reviewers can stamp on top of the file as an annotation when they're through reading it (such as “Approved”). To choose a stamp, click to select the Stamp tool, then open its properties (Edit > Properties). In the Stamp Properties dialog box (Figure 4-4), you can choose from four categories of stamps that ship with Acrobat: Faces, Pointers, Standard, and Words. Personally, I find some of them pretty goofy and less than helpful (for example, the smirk face)—not to mention annoying if misused. However, by double-clicking a stamp on a page, you can add a note with clarifying remarks.

Figure 4-4. The Stamp tool Properties dialog box.

You can also create your own stamps: Simply use any image-editing, illustration, or layout application to create a word, icon, or other graphic, and export or distill it as a PDF file. Stamps can also be multipage documents, if you create a series of them. You must save stamps in the Acrobat > Plug-Ins > Annotations > Stamps folder, and they must adhere to a strict naming convention if Acrobat is to properly display their category and name in the Stamp Properties dialog box. (If you see an ENU folder in your Stamps or Sequences folder, don't worry: It means English Universal and refers to the localized version of Acrobat you're using. Other-language versions may display different codes, such as FR for French. You can put your stamps or sequences in the ENU folder or in the folder that resides on the level above it.)

With your stamp file open, choose Document Properties > Summary, and enter a descriptive word in the Title field (use the same word as the file name to reduce confusion). This will be what Acrobat uses in the Category pop-up menu of the Stamp Properties dialog box. For the names of the individual stamps as they appear in the scrolling list of the Properties dialog box, you must name each page in your PDF stamp file using a form page template. To do this, view the stamp page onscreen (one at a time for multipage stamp documents) and then choose Tools > Forms > Page Templates. In the Name field, enter the category name followed by the particular stamp name, and set it equal to a label, which should simply be the stamp name.

Say, for example, I wanted to create a custom approval stamp for each member of a sales team that would be reviewing product brochures: I would make the stamp itself the person's name and create a multipage PDF file with five of these named stamps, which I would ultimately share with the sales team. First, however, I would open my five-page PDF file (named SalesStamps) in Acrobat and enter SalesStamps in the Title field of the Document Summary dialog box. Then, with the first salesperson's stamp open, I would choose Tools > Forms > Page Templates. In the Name field I would enter SalesStampsJimSmith=JimSmith, then click Add, then Done. I would then do the same with the second page in my stamp file (Figure 4-5), and so on. When I finished, SalesStamps would be available from the Category pop-up menu, and Jim Smith, Mary Jones, and the rest of the members of the sales team would be able to choose their names from the scrolling list to apply their custom approval stamps to the page.

Figure 4-5. The Page Templates dialog box.

Sound Attachment tool. To add a sound annotation, select the Sound Attachment tool and click on the page where you want to place the audio comment. In the Record Sound/Sound Recorder (Mac/Win) box that appears (Figure 4-6), either click Record and speak into your computer's microphone, or click the Choose button and select a prerecorded sound (.WAV in Windows, .AIF on the Mac). A speaker icon indicates a sound annotation; click it to hear the sound play.

Figure 4-6. The Sound Recorder dialog box.

If you use sound annotations, they should be explicit: Record yourself saying “Anita approves of this layout” or “Make all quote marks curly.” Sounds such as chimes or whistles aren't terribly communicative. Although you can't associate written annotations with sound annotations (as you can with stamps, for example), you can give your sound a short written description (for example, “Approved” or “Fix quotes”) in the Sound Properties dialog box (Figure 4-7), which appears automatically once you've selected the sound you wish to attach. This description appears in the Comments palette (see “Managing Comments and Annotations,” page 28) and pops up onscreen when you roll the mouse cursor over the sound annotation's speaker icon. Still, if you need to add written text to explain a sound comment, you're not really using sound to convey your message.

Figure 4-7. The description you enter in the Sound Properties dialog box (a) appears when the mouse cursor hovers over the sound icon on a PDF page (b).

File Attachment tool. Finally, you can attach a file to a PDF document as a way to annotate it: When you use the File Attachment tool to do this, the file comment becomes part of the PDF file itself—that is, it's not just linked. This ensures that the file comment can be viewed on a system other than the one on which it was attached—as long as the person viewing the attachment has the authoring application on his or her computer, a big if. Another downside to file attachments is that they can easily double or triple your PDF file size if you attach hefty text files or graphics—which, ironically, are the most suitable types of files to attach. If you want to annotate a PDF file with simple instructions about fixing typos or aligning captions with their graphics, a sticky note will suffice. However, to request grander changes, file attachments can be very useful. If, for example, the wrong image is on a page, you can attach the correct one so that the designer or compositor will know which to use: Double-clicking the File Attachment icon in the PDF file will launch the authoring application and open the file, which the designer can then save to the hard drive if necessary. Similarly, if a page layout is incorrect, you can attach an example of how the page should be designed—as a PDF or application file from PageMaker or QuarkXPress, for example. You can also attach text files that your designer can use to repour the layout (and redistill) if the editorial has significantly changed since it was handed over to production.

To attach a file to a PDF document, use the File Attachment tool to click on the page where you want to position it. In the Open dialog box that appears, find the file you want to attach (you may have to choose All Files from the Show pop-up menu to find the one you're looking for). Then click Select. In the File Attachment Properties dialog box, decide what icon and color will represent your attached comment and write a description, that will appear when the mouse cursor hovers over the icon (Figure 4-8).

Figure 4-8. The description you enter in the File Attachment Properties dialog box (a) appears when the cursor is positioned over the attachment icon in the PDF file (b).

Marking Up Pages

Pencil, Circle, Square, and Line tools. The first tool for marking up the text or graphics on a PDF page is the Pencil tool. It works, well, just like a pencil. If you have a stylus, it's an easy way to circle a page element or add proofreading marks, such as the delete mark. After clicking and drawing on the page with the Pencil tool, you can add an explanatory sticky note to the mark by clicking it with the Hand tool.

You can also use the Pencil tool to write on the page using a mouse; however, it can't provide the precision or control of a stylus. This is less of a problem with the other graphic markup tools: Circle, Square, and Line. When you draw on the page with the Circle and Square tools, Acrobat automatically creates a sticky-note annotation with any text enclosed by the shape included in it; just double-click the shape to see. This functionality is rather limited, however, since if the text on your page is written in anything other than a simple Roman serif or sans serif face, Acrobat won't be able to capture it to the note correctly. What's more, if you enclose a graphic, Acrobat won't capture anything. In addition, if you resize the mark on the page, the captured text contents of the note won't reflect your change. None of this is necessarily a bad thing, however, since you have to go into the note and explain what to do with the problematic text or graphic anyway. As with the Pencil tool, you have to manually double-click a mark drawn by the Line tool to attach a sticky-note comment. Keep in mind, also, that the sticky notes associated with edits made by graphic markup tools can be hidden: After the note has been written, double-clicking the mark with the tool that created it (or with the Hand tool) toggles the note open and closed. However, it's a good idea to leave notes visible so that the person making your changes doesn't miss any instructions.

By default, the Pencil, Square, Circle, and Line tools draw 1-point marks. You can customize their weight, fill, and border colors, as well as their author, in their Properties dialog boxes. Simply click with the markup tool used to draw the annotation (or with the Hand tool) to select it, then press Command/Ctrl-I. Your specifications will apply to all annotations you create using any of these four tools, as well as to the color of associated sticky notes; however, these specifications will not affect existing marks on the page. (The appearance of the type in the notes is governed by your Acrobat Preferences; see discussion and Figure 4-1 on page 118.) You're better off not using a fill color because you can't control its opacity, and a filled square or circle obscures the text or graphic you're marking up. The Line tool is nice because you can attach arrowheads to the ends (Figure 4-9), which makes for clear callouts. Keep in mind, however, that all of these tools can be used interchangeably to communicate the same types of messages: Delete this, fix this, move that (Figure 4-10). Your choice is really a matter of personal preference or corporate style.

Figure 4-9. The Line tool Properties dialog box.

Figure 4-10. The same edit made using the Pencil (a), Square (b), and Line tools (c). What works best depends on personal preference and corporate guidelines.

The Pencil, Circle, Square, and Line tools are considered graphic markup tools even though you can use them, especially the Pencil tool, to mark up text. Acrobat also offers three text-only markup tools: Highlight, Strikeout, and Underline.

For certain tasks, Acrobat's text markup tools are much more efficient than the Pencil tool. Select any one of them and position the cursor over text on a PDF page, and it will change to an I-beam. Click and drag over an area of text—horizontally or vertically—and Acrobat will highlight, strike through, or underline all of the selected words. If you're trying this as you read on a multicolumn page, you'll notice that the selection straddles multiple columns: Press Option (Mac) or Ctrl (Windows) as you drag, and Acrobat will draw a rectangle and mark up individual columns (or portions thereof, depending on how you drag). And if you make mistakes, you can press Command/Ctrl-Z to undo your annotations one at a time.

You can't, unfortunately, select letters within words, nor can you increase or expand highlight, strike-through, or underline marks by dragging their bounding boxes (as you can with graphic markup annotations). If you select a word and then decide you want to select the neighboring word, too, you must delete the first mark and redraw it to encompass both words—tedious but the only way to avoid having a zillion individual marks, each with an associated sticky note. A word for the wise (from someone who knows firsthand): Think carefully before you mark up text; you save a lot of time if you can get it right the first time.

On the bright side, these tools are nice because you don't have to worry about drawing a perfectly straight line through text (as you do with the Pencil tool); and as with the graphic markup tools, all you have to do is double-click the mark with the tool that created it (or with the Hand tool) to view or edit its associated sticky note. Once again, as long as you've selected text written with a plain serif or sans serif Roman typeface, Acrobat automatically copies the selected text into the note, providing you with a starting point for your comment or editing instructions.

You can change the color and the author (but not the width) of your highlight, strike-through, or underline marks by clicking to select them with the actual markup tool or with the Hand tool and then calling up their properties by pressing Command/Ctrl-I. The graphic markup tools share the same colors and widths; however, text markup tools' colors are independent: By default, highlighted text is yellow; strike-throughs are red; and underlines are green. It doesn't matter what colors you use, as long as they're bright and visible (Figure 4-11).

Figure 4-11. A portion of a PDF brochure edited using Acrobat's text markup tools.

If you can devise a system to standardize annotated PDF files, the person actually making your changes (and those of your colleagues) will be eternally grateful. You could, for example, decide that text for deletion should be indicated using the Strikeout tool and marked in the same color by all reviewers. Or you could circulate a style guide within your organization, indicating which departments make comments in which colors, the tools to be used for different types of edits, and even the types of comments various reviewers are allowed to make. When creating a style guide, give as much thought to reviewers' needs as to the requirements of the folks who have to manage the comments and input the changes.

Managing Comments and Annotations

Indeed, managing comments and annotations made to PDF files can be a prodigious task. And getting reviewers to use the markup tools uniformly and effectively is only half the battle. Although Acrobat's comment and annotation features simulate the sticky notes and highlighters of the paper office, users still need to make some adjustments to use them effectively in the digital world. Annotations, for example, can be hard to see on a radiant, low-resolution page—especially if the reviewer doesn't leave sticky notes open for the next viewer. Left open, though, sticky notes can obscure other comments or edit marks on the page. If you're not careful, before you know it, you've lost hours toggling sticky notes open and closed, and panning and zooming around pages to make sure you haven't missed any comments. Luckily, Acrobat offers a few tools that help manage comments and annotations.

Comments Preferences. We visited this dialog box earlier because it contains options for comment authors, such as whether or not sticky notes open automatically when you create an annotation. However, you can also check boxes here that can be helpful for compiling reviewer feedback (Figure 4-12).

Figure 4-12. Checking these boxes in the Comments panel of the Preferences dialog box helps you see viewers' comments onscreen and in print.

To make it easier to pan around a PDF page and view its comments, check “Automatically Open Pop-ups on Mouse Over.” If you receive a PDF file and all of the sticky notes are closed, this allows you to see at a glance the comments or descriptions (in the case of sound and file comments) underneath an icon or annotation.

If you select Show Comment Sequence Numbers, Acrobat will place a tiny numeral on top of each comment or annotation that indicates the order in which they were created—a great way to ensure that you catch every comment, especially if you're only viewing them onscreen. Be aware, however, that only the comment and annotation icons are numbered, not their associated sticky notes. Thus, you must still go through each comment and annotation and read each associated note to be sure that you address all concerns. Happily, however, you can select this option even if the person who made the comments and annotations did not, and Acrobat will still number the comments in sequence.

Finally, you can print the comments made in sticky-note pop-ups using a three-step process. First, check Print Comment Pop-ups in Preferences; second, make sure the pop-up sticky notes are open in the PDF file on screen; and third, check the Print: Comments box in the Print dialog box (on the Mac, toggle to Acrobat 5.0 in the General pop-up menu). If either the Comments box in the Print dialog or the Print Comment Pop-ups box in Preferences is unchecked, comments won't print. If both of those boxes are checked but the sticky notes themselves are closed onscreen, only the comment and annotation icons will print.

When it comes to sorting through comments and annotations, I get a bit paranoid about missing one. They can be hard to see in a page onscreen or in print: Sticky notes can hide annotations and get moved away from their associated comment icon, making it difficult to sort out what's what. Thankfully, Acrobat has a few more comment-management features up its sleeve.

Comments palette. Choose Comments from the Window menu or click the Show/Hide Navigation Pane button and then click the Comments tab to display the palette in your document window (Figure 4-13).

Figure 4-13. The Comments palette allows you to quickly navigate the comments and annotations in a PDF document.

If you're like me, you'll love the Comments palette because it shows everything in a nice, neat list—nothing is hidden and comments are in context (because the page itself is right there). By default, comments (and annotations) are listed by page (though, surprisingly, not in sequential order). You can change the view by clicking the Comments pop-up menu to sort by author, type, or date. Next to the comment or annotation icon, Acrobat displays the item's description or the contents of its associated sticky note: You don't have to slog through them on the page, toggling them on and off.

To move quickly through changes, click to select and view an annotation in the Comments palette (and notice that Acrobat selects it on the PDF page, jumping to that page if necessary). Next, switch to the document's authoring or imaging application to make the corrections (or use one of Acrobat's touch-up tools, if appropriate). Finally, switch back to Acrobat (where your comment is still selected in the Comments palette and on the page), and press Delete. Make sure you don't save over the PDF file after you've deleted the comments; you need the marked-up file for version control and backup. Instead, use Save As to give the file a new name.

Comment summaries. Another way to get a complete picture of a document's comments is to generate a summary. Acrobat generates a new PDF file for the summary, sorted and filtered as you specify, giving you a clean, text-only view of the comments. To create a summary, choose Tools > Comments > Summarize. In the Summarize Comments dialog box (Figure 4-14), decide how you want to sort the comments. I like to do it by page, but your other options are Type, Author, and Date. If you want to filter out certain types of comments, click Filter. In the Filter Comments dialog box (Figure 4-17), you can filter comments by time (include those created anytime, in the last 24 hours, or other timeframe), by author (if more than one author made comments, check whose you want to include), or by type (check which comment, graphic, or text markup tools you want to include). Click OK to return to the Summarize Contents dialog box, and click OK again to generate the summary.

Figure 4-14. The Summarize Comments dialog box allows you to summarize the contents of comments and annotations.

Figure 4-17. The Filter Comments dialog box.

Summaries divorce the comments from your view of a PDF page, allowing you to make corrections without the distraction of a marked-up PDF file. Simply print out the summary so that you have the hard copy at your fingertips as you edit the layout or comp in its authoring application. Summaries only work, however, if the comments themselves are well-prepared and explicit, since a summary doesn't include a specific reference for each comment (Figure 4-15). You can see who called out “wrong orientation” and when they did so, for example, but you can't do anything with the information unless it's clear what actually needs to be rotated. This is when it's helpful to remember that Acrobat automatically copies the relevant text into a sticky note when you select it with a graphic or text markup tool: Don't delete the text, but explain what to do with it, if necessary. Likewise, mention the graphic you're referencing in the sticky note when requesting that it be changed.

Figure 4-15. A summary of comments in a PDF document.

Finding comments. If you want to find a specific comment or comments in an annotated PDF document, you have two options: You can search for it by choosing Find from the Comments menu in the Comments palette, or by choosing Tools > Comments > Find (Figure 4-16). However, this search feature is fairly limited in that it only searches text strings inside comments or comment descriptions; you can't search for types of comments (such as sound or file attachments, or strike-throughs). If a comment is selected on the page, this function will only search that one comment; if no comments or annotations are selected, it will search them all. When it returns a result, it highlights the annotation or comment icon on the page, not in the Comments palette and not in its sticky note (even if it's open), which can make it hard to see. Still, if you have a systematic way of calling out certain changes, such as writing “move?” in the note of any comment or annotation related to an image or graphic that may need to be repositioned, you can search for “move” to find all instances of that type of error. After you find one, click Find Again until they have all been uncovered.

Figure 4-16. You can search comments using the Find Comment dialog box.

Filtering comments. The other way to find specific comments is to filter them (Figure 4-17). In magazine publishing, for example, copy editors may be responsible for editorial changes, while the production department makes changes related to graphics and layout. But what if one PDF file has been circulated among all of the editors and designers, each of whom reviews it in turn? In that case, you can use a filter to sort comments by type or author: Choose Tools > Comments > Filter. In the Filter Comments dialog box, choose whose comments you want to view and what types of comments and annotations to include. Using my magazine example, production might opt to view only comments from the art department, which would be created with either the comments or graphic markup tools. The copy edit department, then, might view only the editorial department's comments, made using the text markup tools. If someone marks up the PDF file once, turns it in, and then says, “Hey wait, I made a couple more changes; here's the file again,” you can use the Modified pop-up menu to view only those comments created in the last 30 minutes, the last hour, six hours, or 24 hours, as appropriate. Click OK, and then only those comments you selected will appear on screen or print out in the open PDF file.

Be aware that if you select Deselect All and close the document, you'll hide comments in every PDF file you open thereafter (until you change the setting), including files viewed in a Web browser (more on that in “Sharing Comments Online,” in a few paragraphs).

You may have already realized that my magazine example isn't terribly realistic. Given real-world deadline pressure, one proof is rarely circulated sequentially to multiple reviewers. More likely, the production manager would send multiple copies of the same PDF proof to every reviewer simultaneously, and then get back a whole slew of marked up documents—posing a challenge for the lucky folks who need to sort through and resolve conflicting requests. Most of the comment management features covered thus far work well for managing feedback from a single PDF file; however, Acrobat also offers some useful features for managing comments made on multiple PDF files.

Import and Export comments. One way of managing comments on multiple PDF files is to import and export them through a Form Data Format (FDF) document. Don't glaze over yet: It's not as complicated as it sounds. An FDF file, which is an Adobe-specific format, holds the comments as if they were form data and acts as an intermediary between two PDF files. You can't open an FDF file; you simply export comments from one PDF file to it, then import the FDF file into a second PDF file so that the comments can be added to those already in that second file. Assuming the two PDF files are identical except for comments, Acrobat places the comments from the first PDF file on the correct page and in the same location in the second. Acrobat also uses FDF files in other ways, such as digital signatures and especially for forms. See Chapter 7 for more on creating and using PDF forms.

For now, let's imagine a book publisher whose production manager has circulated a PDF file of the first layout of Chapter 1. The author, developmental editor, copy editor, and executive editor will all mark up their own files with comments and annotations. However, to make our example simple, we'll only have them comment on the copy (not the art or layout—yet). One lucky proofreader will be charged with inputting all of these reviewers' changes; to do this, the proofreader will want to see all comments on a single “master” PDF file.

If you were that proofreader, you would start by opening each marked-up PDF file and exporting its comments. Using the author's marked-up PDF file, for example, choose File > Comments. By default Acrobat uses the same document name but appends an FDF file extension. Change the name if you want to use a different convention but keep the FDF extension. Then click Save. Repeat this process until you have an FDF file for each reviewer's comments (that's four in my example).

Then open the original PDF file, sans comments. We'll now import all the comments into that original PDF file: Choose File > Import > Comments, or choose Import from the Comments menu (in the Comments palette). Don't be fooled, however: Even though you can Shift-click to select multiple FDF files simultaneously, Acrobat can't import them simultaneously. You must import from one at a time.

You can also filter comments before exporting them, or wait until they're all on the same page before you use a filter, whichever you prefer. If you filter them first, don't export using the command in the File menu. Instead, choose Export Selected from the Comments menu.

Sharing comments online. Being observant, I'm sure you'll notice that in Figure 4-18 one reviewer stamped the PDF file “Approved” when it still required changes. When you run into conflicting feedback—or even when you simply believe comments merit further discussion—Acrobat lets you share comments over a Web server. This way, everyone concerned can view the comments in a Web browser regardless of physical location. You can orchestrate an online session in which everyone views and marks up one PDF file simultaneously, or you can instruct people to review individual PDF files offline and then upload their comments.

Figure 4-18. Using Acrobat's Export and Import Comments commands, you can consolidate comments from multiple PDF files (a) into a single file (b).

Comments shared online are stored as FDF files in a user-specified repository, which can be a network file folder, an HTTP address on a WebDAV server, an ODBC or SQL server database, or an address on a Microsoft Web Discussions server (for real-time, interactive commenting sessions). If you plan to go this route, everyone who will be sharing comments through a server must work in a Web browser with the Acrobat plug-in, and Acrobat must be configured on each reviewer's system to recognize the repository (so that comments can be uploaded and downloaded). I'll explain how to configure Acrobat now; however, you may need help from a network administrator to set up others in the workgroup.


We're looking at a Web-oriented workflow, where clients review PDF pages on the Web and everything is centrally managed from the server. That's attractive because it keeps the customer in contact with us. When you just email pages you don't know who has it or who's read it. We also want to be sure that everybody has the same version, everybody reviews the same version. That's the beauty of a WebDAV server–based solution.

Marco Cappuccio, digital technology manager, Studios

Start by configuring Acrobat's preferences: Choose Edit > Preferences > General, then click Online Comments from the left-hand list. In this panel (Figure 4-19), change the Server Type from None to whatever you're using—a networked folder in my example. Then identify your Server Settings. If you're using a networked folder, browse to select it. If you're using a Web Discussion server, you'll have to go to Internet Explorer to select the server itself; a network administrator can help if you're using an SQL or WebDAV server. When finished, click OK.

Figure 4-19. In Online Comments Preferences you specify the type and location of the repository for shared comments.

When you're connected, launch a browser and open the PDF file you want to review: You can choose File > Open, or you can drag the file into the display window. The Acrobat plug-in offers all of the usual navigation tools, as well as the comment and mark-up tools and three handy-dandy buttons (at left) for uploading and downloading comments.

After the reviewer has made her comments, she can click the Upload button to save them to the server as an FDF file. Uploaded comments are secure in that no one else can change them—they can only be read and added to but not deleted. Note also that you can't edit the reviewer's identity in the browser because it's based on the log-in name in the Identity panel of your Preferences.

Now let's return to my book publishing scenario: The proofreader has compiled all of the reviewers' comments into one PDF file, put it on the company intranet, and emailed the executive editor to say, “Please look at this file in your browser.” Being a responsive, deadline-conscious manager (whose log-in name just happens to be Anita Dennis), the executive editor promptly opens the PDF file in Internet Explorer. When she sees everyone's edits, she creates a note saying, “By all means, make everyone's changes.” Then she clicks the Upload Comments button in the toolbar.

After a reasonable period has elapsed, the proofreader opens the Chapter 1 PDF file—with all of the original comments—again in her browser. She then clicks the Download Comments button, and Acrobat fetches the FDF file with that new comment and adds it to the PDF file in her browser window (Figure 4-20).

Figure 4-20. Our sample book chapter being viewed in Internet Explorer, after a reviewer has made comments online.

In addition to one-way uploading and downloading, Acrobat lets you do both at once, to synchronize the comments you see onscreen with more recent versions on the server. You can also work offline: Simply open the PDF file in your browser and save a copy of it to your hard drive (click the floppy disk icon). Once you've done this, you can annotate the copy at your leisure in Acrobat. When you're finished, choose File > Upload comments. Click Start when prompted, and Acrobat will upload the comments to the server and switch you over to your default browser to display the file there.

If you're going to share comments online, you'll need to do some planning for the process to work smoothly. Among other things, a network administrator should properly configure server preferences for everyone in the workgroup, as well as make sure that each member has a unique log-in name. JavaScripts can be used to automate the process for people who must frequently log on and off to review documents.

Members of the group may also need to be trained in how to locate files on the server, how to use Microsoft Web discussion threads, and how to follow version control procedures. Because they're saved as FDF files, shared comments exist apart from the original PDF file. If the original is moved or altered between the time it's put out for review and the time you download changes into the FDF file, the shared comments could be misplaced on the page (and that would be just the start of your problems).

In addition, if a reviewer hides comments in the browser, you won't be able to upload those comments. However, if you jump to another Web page or close the browser, the comments will be automatically uploaded. Thus, if they're not careful, reviewers can accidentally delete their comments from the server (luckily, you can't delete other people's comments—even if you hide or delete them while you work).

Finally, sharing comments online won't work if a PDF file has been encrypted to prevent others from annotating it.

Digital Sign-off

Acrobat also includes a digital signatures feature, which is the last link in the digital-collaboration food chain. You don't have to print out the final approved proof and request that the appropriate parties sign hard copies; rather, approval can be authorized digitally. A digital signature is more secure than a generic “Approved” comment stamp; it's even more secure than using password protection to restrict access to sensitive documents. A digital signature freezes the document in a particular state; any changes made after a signature is applied can be identified, tracked, and undone if they turn out to be unauthorized. Digital signatures can be “written” from within Web browsers when sharing comments online, and their authenticity can be verified by anyone who subsequently opens the signed document. In fact, multiple people can sign a PDF document, and the state of the document at the time of each signing can be validated.

Digital signatures can be used for more than just signing off proofs: You can use them to secure confidential documents (allowing only authorized individuals to comment or sign them), and you can employ them for all kinds of online forms and documents (expense reports, contracts, insurance claims, brokerage agreements, tax forms, and so on). In addition, digital signatures for e-commerce transactions and communications represent a burgeoning application. (For more about the legal aspects of digital signatures, see “The Fine Print on Digital Signatures.”)

Like its handwritten counterpart, a digital signature provides a means of verifying a person's identity. And just as each written signature has unique characteristics, so do digital signatures. In Acrobat, digital signatures include information about the state of the document at the moment it was signed, as well as the date and time of the signing. This information is encrypted with a private key, which travels with the digital signature, as does a public key, or certificate. This public key decrypts the private key information and allows others to verify your signature's authenticity.

All of this key information is managed by what Acrobat calls a handler. The handler contains a profile of your signature—a password-protected file that determines the appearance and content of your signature and includes all of your key information. Acrobat ships with a default handler called Acrobat Self-Sign Security. Other handlers ship with Acrobat for Windows, and yet more are available from third parties. Signatures themselves can take one of three forms: a digitized version of your handwritten signature imported from a Palm Pilot; a graphic, image, or icon (logo) saved as PDF; or a typewritten name.

The Fine Print on Digital Signatures

Are digital signatures legally binding? The short answer is Yes. For the longer answer, keep reading:

In 2000, the Millennium Digital Commerce Act, also known as the E-Sign Act, became law, conferring on digital signatures the same legal status as the pen-and-ink variety. This federal law superceded legislation in several dozen states, granting legal status to technology that many government and business institutions are eager to adopt because it has the potential to dramatically ease contract management and record-keeping. The law also paves the way for advances in secure e-commerce transactions. Banking, insurance, farm equipment, health supplies, and freight services are just some of the industries that stand to benefit significantly from e-signatures.

Recognizing that many consumers are still nervous that electronic transactions are subject to deception and fraud, however, the E-Sign law includes a provision stating that companies cannot force e-signatures on consumers: Consumers must consent to use them, and companies must make them available in a form that's reasonably accessible. Given the fact that close to 200 million people have Acrobat Reader, one might argue that PDF is an appropriate technology for digital signatures. Although the law exempts many personal and sensitive types of contracts (for example, divorces, adoptions, and wills, as well as court orders, eviction notices, foreclosures, and utility cancellation), digital signatures are allowed (and likely to be legally binding) in work orders, contract proofs, bids, and proposals.

Before you can digitally sign documents, you have to select a handler, log in, and create a profile. Start in the Edit > Preferences > General dialog box. In the Digital Signatures panel (Figure 4-21), choose Acrobat Self-Sign Security as your handler (we'll use this for our example). Acrobat's Self-Sign handler uses a 1,024-bit industry-standard encryption algorithm from RSA for generating key pairs, and it uses the ITT's X.509 standard to encrypt certificates—industry standards used in Netscape Navigator and Internet Explorer, among other applications. (For a list of alternate handlers from third-party developers, see Appendix One, page 293.) Check “Verify signatures when document is opened” if you want signatures on documents that you open to be automatically verified, and click OK.

Figure 4-21. The Digital Signatures panel of the General Preferences dialog box.

Next, create a profile. Choose Tools > Self-Sign Security > Log In. (The procedure may vary for third-party plug-in handlers; consult their documentation for instructions.) The first time you log in, the User Profile File pop-up menu in the Self-Sign Security Log In dialog box will be blank: Click New User Profile to create one (Figure 4-22). Your log-in name (per Preferences) will be your user name, though you can change it if you want to. Stick with alphanumeric characters because many punctuation symbols ($, @, %, and &, for example) are off-limits. The user name will appear in the Signatures palette and signature field; I'll get to those shortly. Adding your business information is optional; however, a six-digit (or longer) password is required. You will use this password when you log in and sign documents. All of the information you enter here is encrypted and saved in your private key, and will be decryptable by your public key. When you're finished, click OK. At this point, you'll be prompted to save the profile with your user name and an .apf (Acrobat Self-Sign Security Profile File) extension. Adobe recommends saving the profiles in the Acrobat Preferences folder (Windows) or the Adobe Acrobat 5.0 folder (Mac). Click Save.

Figure 4-22. The Create New User profile dialog box.

Now you're logged in, but before you can begin to digitally sign documents, you must customize your user settings. Click the User Settings button in the Alert dialog box. If you clicked OK to bypass the alert, choose Tools > Self-Sign Security > User Settings. In the User Information panel (Figure 4-23), you can see your public key (certificate) information. Workgroup members can export their certificate files or email them to other group members so that everyone can build a list of known, trusted signatures, which you can import into the Trusted Certificates panel. It's a good idea to create a backup of your profile from the User Information panel in case it becomes lost or corrupted.

Figure 4-23. The User Information panel of the Self-Sign Security User Settings dialog box.

The password panels of the User Settings dialog box are straightforward: These are where you change your password and apply a “time-out” setting. By default, you must enter your password every time you sign a document; however, you can change that here by saying you never want to be prompted for a password, or that you want to be prompted only after a specified length of time has passed since you last entered your password at log-in.

Click on the Signature Appearance panel to set the appearance of your signature. Until you define the appearance, the list window is empty, so click New. In the Title field of the Configure Signature Appearance dialog box (Figure 4-24), name the appearance something intuitive. (Although this won't be shared with others, you'll want to be able to identify your signatures at a glance.) Under Configure Graphic, click the No Graphic radio button to make your signature a generic checkmark supplied by Acrobat; click Name to add a text version of your user name; or click Imported Graphic to select a custom PDF file or to import a signature from a Palm Pilot. If you use a graphic saved as PDF, Acrobat crops and sizes the file to fit in the signature field. In my example, I created a PDF in Photoshop using Lucida Handwriting Italic. (Hint: Make your signature large, at least 100 points, so it's clearly visible on the page.) You can choose what key text information (name, date, and so on) you want to show with your signature, and it will appear on the document and in the Signatures palette.

Figure 4-24. Your signature can be Acrobat's default checkmark (a), a text version of your user name (b), or an imported graphic (c).

When you've finished customizing your user settings, you can begin to sign documents. Each time you sign, you have to log in (which you've already done if you've been following my instructions). If you created your handler and user profile previously, choose Tools > Self-Sign Security > Log In. Choose your profile, enter your password, and then click Log-In. To sign a document, either click on the Digital Signature tool and drag an area on the PDF file where you want to sign it, or choose Tools > Digital Signatures > Sign Documents, and you'll be prompted to drag with the mouse.

When you release the mouse button, the Self-Security Sign Document dialog box appears, asking for your password (assuming you haven't specified a time-out in your user profile). Enter it, then click Show Options (Figure 4-25). Now you can specify a reason for your signing the document, some contact information (if desired), and the appearance you wish to use. If you bypass options and just sign the document, Acrobat uses a standard text-based signature. When you've finished entering all of the necessary information, either Save to overwrite the existing file or Save As under a new file name, depending on your version-control procedures (perhaps the file was already named for your approval).

Figure 4-25. The Self-Sign Security Sign Document dialog box, with options showing.

Voilà: Your signature appears in the document window and the Signatures palette (Figure 4-26). All of your settings will remain in effect until you change them. You can create and use different appearances for various types of documents and signatures (one for “approved” and another for “changes needed,” for example). However, if you sign documents that require different levels of security, you'll need to create multiple log-ins, or profiles. Since each has a unique password, you can have different log-ins for final versus comp proofs, for documents headed to production versus those headed to editorial, and so on—each with its own password.

Figure 4-26. A digitally signed PDF document, with the name, date, and verification status in the Signatures palette.

You can also use invisible signatures that don't appear on the page but do appear in the Signatures palette. To create this type of signature, choose Tools > Digital Signatures > Sign Document Invisibly. This is useful if you know your document will be printed after it's signed and you don't want the signature to print, too. Keep the following in mind when working with signatures:

  • If you delete a page containing a signature, you delete the signature, too.

  • The first time a document is signed, you can Save or Save As and give the file a new name. The signature will be appended to the document, but if the document is subsequently re-signed, you must only choose File > Save. Choosing Save As again will invalidate signatures because the command essentially instructs Acrobat to redistill the file.

  • When you sign a document in a Web browser, you aren't prompted to save the document; Acrobat saves only the signature data and any comments or annotations you added to the document as an FDF file. If you want to save the signed document on your system, you must click the Save a Copy button after you sign the document, and then specify a location for the file on your hard drive.

  • If a PDF file has two signatures, you can compare them to see if they're the same (see next section).

  • Signature certificates from multiple vendors aren't necessarily compatible. Thus, it's a good idea to pick one handler with the level of security and features you require, stick with it, and make sure everyone in the workgroup uses it. You can't, for example, import certificates from other applications into Acrobat's Self-Sign Security, but you can use Self-Sign certificates with other applications by encapsulating them in a standard syntax called PKCS#7—as long as the other signature application supports the standard. To make Self-Sign signatures compatible with other applications, go into Preferences and click Self-Sign Security from the list of panels. Before you create a profile, check the Use Certificate Message Syntax box.

The Signatures palette shows a document's signature history: Signatures appear in the order they were written, with the most recent at the bottom. A warning appears if the document was modified between signatures, and invalid signatures are flagged (Figure 4-27). To verify a questionable signature, click to select it with the Hand tool in the palette, then select Verify Signature from the Signature pop-up menu. Acrobat will compare the signature's certificate with those in your trusted list and validate the signature if it finds a match.

Figure 4-27. Signature palette icons, from top to bottom: invalid signature, valid signature, and modification warning.

To view a signature's properties, including its time and date stamp and the version of the document at the time of signing, toggle it open in the palette (click the right arrow on the Mac OS and the plus sign in Windows). You can also access this information (and verify signatures) by selecting the signature and choosing Properties from the Signatures pop-up menu (Figure 4-28). If Acrobat can't verify a signature, click Show Certificate to view all of the information Acrobat can glean about it, including author, serial number, encryption method, and fingerprint data. When you're satisfied that the signature is valid, you can add its certificate to your list of trusted certificates by closing the dialog box and clicking Verify Identity in the Properties dialog box. In the Verify Identities dialog box, click the Add to List button.

Figure 4-28. Self-Sign Security Signature Properties dialog box.

If you're the one creating and circulating the proof that needs to be signed, you can streamline the process by creating form fields where you want reviewers to sign off—kind of like the old days when you'd smack a red stamp on the page with blank lines for each reviewer's initials. This way, reviewers don't have to drag a signature box on the page, and you can specify that certain actions must occur when the field is signed (for example, making the field read-only). I'll get into forms more in Chapter 7, but creating one signature field is easy: Use the Form tool to drag on the PDF file where you want the field to be located. When you release the mouse, the Field Properties dialog box will appear (Figure 4-29).

Figure 4-29. The Signature form Field Properties dialog box.

If you select Signature from the Type pop-up menu, Acrobat will offer three tabbed boxes: Appearance, Actions, and Signed. First, give the field a name and description (the former appears in the field when you're editing forms; the latter appears when a reviewer rolls the cursor over the field), then customize its appearance. In the Actions palette you can associate an action with the reviewer's mouse movement (for example, playing a sound when the mouse exits the field). I can't think of many useful applications for these actions when signing off on graphic arts documents, but they do jazz up interactive forms. In the Signed palette, you may want to make fields unalterable (read only) once they've been signed for more security.

If you want a reviewer's signature on every page of a multipage document, use the Duplicate command: Right-click in Windows or Control-click on the Mac, and choose Duplicate to copy the field to multiple pages (or select the field and copy and paste it). Since it's the same field, a reviewer only has to sign once for his or her signature to repeat in all instances of the field. If you want reviewers to actually read each page and sign off independently—and allow for different types of signatures, if one page is approved but another needs work, for example—you must manually create individual signature fields, even if they all have the same properties.

When a reviewer clicks on a signature field, she's prompted to sign it as usual: She'll have to log in and complete the Sign Document dialog box (Figure 4-25).

Comparing Documents

You already know that the Signatures palette can give you a heads-up if a document has been modified between signings. Well, Acrobat can warn you in a different way as well. It allows you to compare two versions of a signed document (or any PDF file) page by page to identify authorized and unauthorized changes. Acrobat can find differences from the page to the pixel level, including different font styles, edited text, moved or altered graphic objects, and changes to entire pages (pages missing or added, out of order, changed orientation).

To see the differences between two versions of a signed document, choose Tools > Compare > Two Versions of a Signed Document. If the document is open, it should appear in the Document pop-up menu of the Compare Document Revisions dialog box (Figure 4-30). Otherwise, click Choose and browse to find the signed document whose versions you want to compare. Acrobat automatically recognizes the states of the document at each signature, and you can choose which two you want to compare from the Compare and To pop-ups. Now choose the parameters you want to compare: font information, text content, or visual changes to pages. If you choose the last, you must specify how closely you want to compare—the more sensitive the comparison, the more slowly the results will be returned. (To compare two different documents, you use a slightly different command—Tools > Compare > Two Documents—but it summons up the same dialog box.)

Figure 4-30. The Compare Document Revisions dialog box is the same as the Compare Documents dialog box.

Acrobat returns results in the form of a new PDF file: This file includes a summary page for each page of the document that changed between versions, and it indicates what types of discrepancies it found—visual differences, text differences, and so on. The comparison PDF file also provides marked-up versions of the pages where it detected changes. These pages are identified with red headers (which are actually Free Text annotations), and changes are marked with magenta Pencil annotations. You can use the Comments palette to navigate them. If a page has been added or deleted between versions, or if the discrete documents are of different page lengths, Acrobat places a blank, placeholder page with the corresponding page in the other document.

Despite all of these indications, you'll still have to study the documents closely to discern changes. Acrobat will circle the block of text where it detected a change; however, you must read it to figure out what was added or deleted. Keep in mind, too, that some changes may not be noticeable: For example, a changed bounding or crop box could well be invisible. Finally, Acrobat's Compare Documents feature won't tell you if the files were distilled differently, though if compression varied significantly between versions, the software might flag the image on the page.

In addition, although Acrobat identifies changes, you still have to figure out where those changes were introduced—Acrobat (an added comment) or the authoring application (which might mean you have to redistill the second version of the file). Version-control concerns could surface here: If edits were made in different applications at different times, you might ultimately have to return to the authoring application to generate a fresh, final PDF file to serve as your digital master file.

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