Design Domination Podcast Episode #104: 11 Cool Acrobat Tips for Designers

A lot of designers use PDFs for design proofs, but you may not realize some of the helpful features Adobe Acrobat offers. Here are 11 cool Acrobat tips for designers that will save you time, improve your workflow or let you do some really cool things.

A lot of designers use PDFs for design proofs. After all, you can export to PDF from any program, and PDF is cross-platform, so anyone can open it. So it’s a good choice for design proofs. But there’s a lot more you can do with Adobe Acrobat that you may not know about.

Time-saving Adobe Acrobat Tips, Tricks and Features

Let’s get into 11 cool Adobe Acrobat tips and tricks and features that will save you time or are just really cool.

1. Find out where a PDF originated from

You can find out where a PDF originated from.Dialog box to identify where PDF file originated from.

A PDF always comes from some other program. No one just creates a PDF and starts typing in it and adding images. It comes from somewhere else—InDesign, Word, Excel, etc.

You can figure out which program the PDF was exported from by going to File > Properties and then Description. It will show you the application and the version, if it was created on a Mac or PC, the date it was created and modified, and much more.

I’ve found this helpful in a few situations such as when the client said they weren’t sure what application the file was created in and I needed the original file. That can help them find the document on their end—meaning if it was in Word, they created it, but if it came from InDesign, they’ll need to ask their designer for the file.

2. Find out the page size of a PDF

You can find out the page size. If you hover your cursor in the lower lefthand corner of the document window, you will see the page size.

I tell clients about this feature so they can check the size of the pieces they are proofing. This is particularly helpful when they have something like a direct mail package to proof.

It’s also helpful if a client sends you a PDF from another business that they like, for example, and they want to do something in that same size.

3. Find out the fonts in a PDF

If you need to find out the typefaces that were used in the document, go to File > Properties > Fonts. This will show a list of fonts used.

This only applies to live text, though, not any text that may appear in an image or that may have been converted to outlines.

I like to use this to find out which fonts we may need to use for a client’s project if we’re using their existing branding, so that the fonts are consistent.

I also like this feature to double check for any extraneous fonts that may be used somewhere in a document that we want to get rid of. It won’t show you where they’re used in the document, but you can go back to InDesign to find that out.

4. Edit a PDF in Acrobat

Not only can you edit a PDF directly within Acrobat by going to Tools > Edit PDF, but you can open a PDF in Illustrator and edit any text or vector elements easily.

The text is easy to edit as long as you have the font and it’s active and if the text wasn’t converted to outlines first. You can check to see if it was converted to outlines by going into the PDF and selecting the text. If you can select it, it wasn’t converted, and it’s live text in the PDF.

5. Export to Word from PDF in Acrobat

This might be one of my favorite tips, and I think you might agree after you try it out for yourself.Adobe Acrobat Export To feature.

You know that feeling when a client asks for something to be done in Word? You just groan, right? It’s awful. Word is just not a page layout program. It’s clunky.

Well, did you know you could actually design something in InDesign, export to PDF and then export that to a Word document?

Yep! When I’ve done this, it worked amazing!A PDF file exported to word.

The front cover was in a precise position on the first page. The text was all live text, so it was editable.

The paragraph styles I had originally used in InDesign—for example, Heading 1, Heading 2 and Body Text, were all included in the Styles palette in Word.

The master page items used for the running headers and footers showed up as a header and footer in the Word document.

So next time your client needs a Word document, consider this rather than spending additional time and frustration trying to accomplish the same thing in Word.

Everything was in the correct placement on each page.

You can also export to a slew of other formats, including HTML.

6. Scan and OCR a PDF

You can also convert images of text to live, editable text. This is under Tools > Scan and OCR.

I had a client send a financial document from their accountant for use in their annual report. I needed a text version. They said they wouldn’t provide that, so I ran OCR on it in Acrobat.

Of course, after I did that and spent time checking it, they decided to comply and send a text version.

Anyway, I find the OCR feature to be pretty accurate. But it will depend on the quality of the text. If any text is blurry or in a script typeface, it may not be as accurate. You should proofread it, though, when you’re done.

7. Acrobat’s Compare Files feature

And that brings me to the Compare Files feature.

You can compare files in Acrobat. I like to use this feature to compare the original PDF with one I just ran OCR on.

I’ve also used it to compare a previous design proof with the most recent one to make sure nothing changed other than the edits I made. I’ve also used it to compare a PDF I made from a client’s Word document with a design proof I’m about to send to make sure no content was left out.

I suggested one designer in my Design Domination Facebook group use this feature to find the edits her client had made by directly editing the PDF. They didn’t mark the edits. They just edited the PDF, so she couldn’t tell what the heck had changed.

You can use this feature to look for differences in text only or also look for styling discrepancies.

8. Add bookmarks to a PDFDialog box for adding bookmarks in a PDF file.

You can add bookmarks to make it easy for the reader to navigate the document. It’s like a built-in table of contents. I went over this in episode 99, How to Make PDF and Print Documents More User Friendly.

You can then set them to always show when the file is opened. Go to File > Properties > Initial View > Bookmarks Panel and Page.

You can also add them manually in the PDF or you can use what’s called a “Preflight fixup” to do so.

9. Acrobat preflight fixupsDialog box for Preflight feature.

Speaking of Preflight fixups, there are a ton of these available in Acrobat. They are found by going to Edit > Preflight.

So like I said, there is one to add bookmarks. Once you go into the Preflight feature, select Acrobat DC 2015 Profiles, select the wrench icon and type in “bookmarks.” Then you will see “Create bookmarks from headings.”

There’s one for converting spot colors to CMYK.

There are also several accessibility fixups as well, such as to fix the “Alternative description missing for an annotation” and “PDF/UA identifier missing” errors.

These and many other issues are easily resolved by running a fixup.

I recommend checking out the options you have because you’ll save so much time if there is a fixup available for what you’re trying to do.

10. Get edits in a PDF

You can use Acrobat to easily get edits in a PDF. Clients can add sticky notes, cross out or highlight text, for example.

Even if they don’t have the full version of Acrobat, they can still review and comment on them. Just use the Send for Comments feature. I went into this in depth in episode 71, How to Manage Client Revisions to Design Proofs.

Using a PDF to get edits makes it faster for you to make them because you can see where they appear in the layout. Few things are more irritating than a client emailing you to change “paragraph 5 of page 10,” which ends up changing after you make other edits.

Getting edits in a PDF is also helpful when more than one person needs to review the document. Instead of sending it to just your main contact, you can send it to multiple people. They’d otherwise need to add their notes, save it, send it off to the next person, and they can’t all see the edits at once, which can make it harder for them to discuss.

So I like this feature for sending to multiple recipients. The caveat is that if they have notes for each other, you will see their conversations in the PDF as comments. I prefer they duke it out amongst themselves and then provide only the edits I need to know about. But it’s fine.

11. Protect a PDF with Acrobat

You can add some sort of protection or security to the PDF.

Password protect a PDF

One way to do that is by adding a password. Go to File > Protect Using Password. Then select whether the password is needed to view or edit the document.

Add copyright informationDialog box for adding copyright information in a PDF file.

You can also add copyright information to a PDF to try to discourage copyright offenders or just to stake your claim.

Go to File > Properties and then select Additional Metadata. You can change the status to copyrighted or public domain, add text for your copyright notice and a hyperlink to a copyright notice.

Add a watermark

You can add a watermark to discourage someone from copying too. Go to Tools > Edit PDF > Watermark. You can then add, update or remove the watermark.

If you’re adding one, you can add it in the form of text or an image. You can adjust the size, opacity, angle and so forth.

This could come in handy if you’re distributing a PDF of your portfolio, for example.

I have a client who wants a watermark on certain versions of their publications. So I created a watermark with their logo and then some text they want to be added in Illustrator. Then I saved it as a PDF. I keep that to reuse in other versions of their publications.

Add security settingsDialog box for adding security setting in a PDF file.

You can actually place security settings on the document. These will prevent the reader from taking certain actions such as:

  • Printing,
  • Changing the document,
  • Copying the content,
  • Extracting pages,
  • Commenting,
  • Filling out form fields or
  • Signing.

To turn on any or all of these settings, go to File > Properties. You’ll need to set a password and make sure you record it somewhere or save a copy of the PDF without it in case you ever need to get into it again to modify it or the settings.

I have a client who we do publications for, and they are concerned with document security. So we have to turn on these settings for all of their PDFs that will be distributed online.

None of these methods are fool proof, of course. Someone could get around them if they really wanted to. But they are useful in many situations.


So there you have it—11 time-saving Adobe Acrobat tips or ones that are just really cool.

Are you using any of these Acrobat features already? Are you excited to try out certain ones? Let me know. Send me an email, comment below or comment in the Design Domination Facebook group.

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