Markups made in OSX "Preview" are invisible after import

Unsure if this problem is recent to my update to Scrivener 2.8, but don’t recall it being an issue in the past.

For a number of reasons I switched to OSX’s “Preview” to highlight and edit PDF (vs. using Adobe Acrobat). However, the highlights do not appear on the documents when PDFs edited and marked-up with “Preview” are imported into Scrivener. When a PDF already imported into Scrivener opened “in an external editor” (i.e. Preview, in my case) and highlights are made, saved, then the PDF is re-viewed in Scrivener, the highlights still do not appear.

It is only a problem with “Preview”. PDFs highlighted using Adode Reader retain the markups when imported and then viewed in Scrivener. No issues when Adobe Reader is used as the “external editor”.

What is going on here? What is the fix?

Just as Scrivener is better for my workflow than other programs, reading and editing in OSX’s “Preview” is much better than Adobe Acrobat. Using Acrobat is not the solution I am looking for.


This might be an issue with the version of Preview you are using. A few years ago, I believe it was 10.8 or .9, Apple made a mistake and started using an unusual method for highlighting text in PDFs. The result in Preview looked “nicer”, like someone using a physical highlighter I suppose, but in every other PDF viewer the actual highlight was either invisible or extremely difficult to see (a very, very pale orangish yellow).

As far as I know they corrected that problem in the next release of OS X. I have no problems highlighting in Preview and seeing those highlights appear in the viewer after saving them and refreshing the PDF viewer, on 10.10.

An alternative is Skim, by the way. One of these days we might try to integrate with its annotation framework (it doesn’t edit PDFs directly by default), but for now you just have to make sure to use the File/Export… command to save changes, using “PDF” as the save type with notes embedded (and Skim can’t edit embedded annotations, the likes of which all other programs use). It’s a bit clumsy, so I only recommend it if you’re stuck with a version of Preview that doesn’t highlight well.

Preview and PDF Expert (a new PDF app that is as “light” as Preview but with nice editing features) both create annotations I can see in Scrivener without ant issues (remember you need to “Reload File” if you have it open). macOS 10.11.6 Scrivener 2.8

AmberV and Nontroppo,

Thanks for the replies. I’ll update my version of Preview (I am still running Version 7.0 (826.4)). If that does not fix it, I’ll move to one of the alternative programs you all suggested.


I am fine with using one of the suggested programs as my PDF reader in the future, but I have a large number of PDFs edited via the old version of “Preview” that I’d like to use in various Scrivener projects. I assume that making these PDFs useful via Scrivener again requires upgrading my version of “Preview.”

However, Macbook users running my same 2014 hardware and software versions of core programs I use have reported that OSX El Capitan is problematic to incompatible.

Any tips on how to upgrade “Preview” without upgrading my OSX? Is there a Scrivener version I can revert to instead? (I appreciate the stability fixes, but don’t really use any of the higher order functions.)

(I am running OSX Mavericks, until now did not have any issues running it, and never upgraded to OSX Yosemite in order to avoid some of its earlier noticed bugs. Other users with my same software versions reported no issues with OSX Yosemite and users with my same hardware reported it less than ideal, but a much better experience than OSX El Capitan. In the interim I’ll look for a OSX Yosemite installer, but other options would be appreciated.)


I’d be surprised if that is viable. While I’ve heard of people resurrecting older versions of Preview out of their Time Machine backups, so they can run both the 10.10 and 10.9 versions of Preview, the main complication will be finding a copy of Preview (I’ll leave that part to you as any attempt to do so would be borderline “grey market” as it isn’t distributed separately to my knowledge). If you have access to a newer Mac, you could probably copy it over and see if it runs.

Alas, if what you are seeing is the same thing I saw back then, it’s more a matter of making the PDFs useful in anything other than circa 10.8/9. And that is obviously important, but I don’t believe it’s something an upgrade of any sort will fix. There is no problem with viewing the PDFs. The viewers are doing exactly what they should be and displaying Preview’s “highlights” as extremely pale orange, just as requested by the PDF code inside the PDF—that is how they were saved by Preview, and how they will forevermore be unless you open them up and edit them with a darker more vivid highlight.

It would be easy to test whether they fixed the viewer though if you send me a sample PDF from your system. You could print this thread to PDF for example and highlight some text in it, then attach it to a response (double-check that the highlights are invisible in Scrivener). I’m not hopeful for the above reasons, but maybe Apple deliberately counter-coded the display of their highlights to make them stronger and correct for the error going forward. It still wouldn’t make the PDF “decade proof”, which is something to consider, but at least you’d have a functional workflow right now.

On the matter of upgrades in general, I would say 10.11 is a better place to go than 10.10. Upgrading to the latter at this point would be like upgrading to 10.5 Leopard instead of 10.6 Snow Leopard. Unless there is a hardware issue with the newer version, there is no reason at all to upgrade to what basically amounts to the beta version of 10.11.

By the way, I’m running the latest 10.11 on an old 2012 MacBook Pro without any issues at this point. I had some USB troubles (had to plug everything in twice to get the system to recognise it) and black screens of death coming out of sleep when 10.11.0 was out, but at this point I have no issues and performance is solid.

I’ll inquire with my program’s IT department. They are Apple users and have a number of site licenses.

Hmmm. I get what you are saying. Quite unfortunate.

It appears the issue is not as straight forward as I presented. Items printed to PDF (e.g. webpages, emails, MS Word) then highlighted using Preview do not display the highlights. Documents that I did not convert to a PDF (e.g. journal articles, downloaded PDFs) highlighted using Preview display the highlights properly in Scrivener. I’ve attached examples of both properly functioning PDFs and those functioning improperly. (Sorry. I was loading up “printed” PDFs to draft something from them, noticed the problem, only tested it on the immediate documents I needed to work from, and then assumed it was an issue for PDFs accross the board.)

I also attached a screen shot as the two documents appear in Scrivener as well as the “printed” PDF in Preview.

Without a “fix” Adobe CS5 does not work on El Capitan. Found this fix this fix: ( … n.1891325/). But depending on the forum, it either fixes everything or allows CS5 to be run, but is still buggy.

I’m on a 2014 Macbook Air (sorry, should have been more specific earlier), but based on your comments/own experience, I’ll upgrade to OSX 10.10, see what changes, then move up to 10.11 when I have fewer deadlines and more time to fiddle known software conflicts. The IT department mentioned above has a 10.10 installer on file.
USDA ERS - Cattle & Beef_ Trade.pdf (368 KB)
Wichelns, 2004 - The policy relevance of virtual water can be enhanced by considering comparative advantages.pdf (248 KB)

As I feared, no dice with the printed PDF on 10.10/11. Preview displays them fine of course, but with anything on the system using PDF Kit the highlights are invisible. I also opened the PDF in Acrobat Pro (admittedly an old version, perhaps newer ones are patched to better handle this scenario) and the result there is the same as I recall from years ago (different hue but similar effect), the highlight is there, it’s just extremely faint. You can right-click it in Acrobat and change the colour of the highlight, save it, and now it shows up in Scrivener. So if you have Acrobat included with CS5, it may be possible to automate a workflow to fix all of them.

Huh, looks like I got in just under the wire. I’m running CS6 on the 10.11 machine (no problems there at all). I’m holding on to that for as long as I can; I have no interest in supporting a subscription model.

Downloaded “USDA ERS - Cattle & Beef_ Trade.pdf” and dropped it into Scrivener 2.8, running on OS X 10.11.6.

The original highlights do not show.

Curiously, if I open the PDF in Preview, add a highlight of my own, and then copy the PDF into Scrivener, the original highlights appear. See image…


Attaching my edited version of the PDF if anyone else wants to test it.


Actually, all I need to do is open the downloaded PDF in Preview, save it, and then copy it into Scrivener. The original highlights come through just fine.


PDF as saved…


Nice! That does work for me as well. It’s going to require the newer OS to do it, and it’s still a one-by-one solution, but maybe Automator could help with that. If neither an Acrobat batch nor that works, you could still at least use the Open in External Editor feature in Scrivener to update the PDFs as you encounter them (and naturally as you use Preview to edit them). Either in one shot or gradually over time, it looks like the data should “heal” when you upgrade.

AmberV and Briar Kit,

Awesome. Many thanks for the support. Good to know that updating the OSX (hopefully, in my case, only to 10.10) has a simple workflow to resolve the issue of making highlights on older printed PDFs viewable in Scrivener. I primarily work from PDFs that are unproblematic, so even without an Automator macross, the “healing” process should be easy. Again, many thanks.


Yeah, the plan was to hold onto CS5, then upgrade if it was incompatible when I upgraded my entire setup. Never anticipated the subscription model would become the only option to upgrade. Deal with that bridge later…

Again many thanks.