I often have to work with large scanned pdf documents (law reports, not that it matters).

It's quite handy to be able to highlight key passages, but for the most part these documents have not been run through OCR, and so each page is just an image. (I'm not interested in OCR-ing them myself, either.)

As a result, Preview's highlight tool doesn't work, as it expects to be highlighting text.

When I'm working on Windows, I use Foxit Reader's 'area highlight' function to work around this. Basically, that just creates a transparent yellow rectangle when you click and drag.

In Preview, I can do the same thing by creating the rectangle manually, but that is quite fiddly takes far too long.

Is it possible to configure the highlight tool to just highlight the region you click and drag over, rather than the text in that region?

5 Answers 5


I could not find a way to do this using Preview. I tried to cheat by using the line drawing tool, and setting the color to a transparent yellow. Unfortunately, Preview doesn't seem to allow transparency with its shape tools. (To see what I mean, draw a line, then bring up the color picker window and move the Opacity slider around -- it's either all or nothing.)

As an alternative, I suggest Adobe Reader (I receive no commission). Its text highlighter has the same limitation as Preview's, but its line drawing tool supports transparency. Open up the Comment pane on the right, then the Drawing Markups section. Right click on the line tool and select Tool Default Properties to change the lines' color, opacity, and thickness. You also might want to enable Keep Tool Selected so you can quickly highlight multiple areas.

screen shot 1 screen shot 2

Instead of the line tool, you might prefer the rectangle tool. Follow the same steps as before, but additionally set the Fill Color to be the same as the Color (and make sure the Transparent checkbox is NOT selected for the Fill Color).

  • In Preview the rectangle fill color can be have some transparency.
    – a06e
    Commented Jul 27, 2017 at 14:25

Dagremu's suggestion is a great one. While his trick might not work when he was writing, I am able to use line tool to highlight a line as shown in the screen capture below. This is an important improvement for Preview!

enter image description here


By selecting the draw tool (the pencil drawing a backwards "s") you can then choose the thickest line. In the same menu (click on the option already selected if either the dotted or 'crayon draw line' are selected) in order to get a full solid line. Then, simple choose a colour and click on 'show colours' to change the opacity to ~50% for highlights. This way, you can draw over anything you want, including text and regions. For larger regions, follow the same steps but use a rectangle and chose the solid rectangle option.


Unfortunately I cannot mark up on @Carl PCH answer. But that method worked for me but below are more exact details to follow in order to achieve highlighting a area in preview.

  • Annotate > Line
  • Increase the size of the line by clicking on Shape Style dropdown.
  • Now click on Border Color (this will display all colors), click on show colors on the Border color drop down.
  • Now change the Opacity of the selected color.

Whola!! you just highlighted a area (NOT TEXT) in preview.

Works in a great way. Try it out and let me know if still have any issues.


I used unfilled Boxes to mark or the Line Draw Tool to underline things on my Pic-PDFs maybe thats also good enougth for you.

Sometimes when i needed larger Parts of it i cut them out and put all those clipings together in a Pages Document.

An other possibility would be to convert PDF Pages into single Images and use Paint Tool like Gimp to Mark things and then just Reprint/Export them into PDF.

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