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I have used Preview to create a number of annotations for a PDF file. The annotations are a mix of boxes, ovals, text, arrows, etc…

Upon exiting and reopening Preview, it seems to have lost the majority of the annotations. Many of them still seem to appear in the Inspector's panel for annotations, however, the text is missing from most and many other edits are missing.

I've also tried recovering an earlier version of the file using Time Machine, and restarting the computer, but all versions past or present display the same corrupted / lost annotations.

OS X El Capitan 10.11.2

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    What do you expect from Preview.app? When it comes to annotations (comments, form fields etc.) Preview.app does incomplete saves, destroying the document. Use Acrobat Reader DC (if you are up for a free application), or Acrobat for annotating your documents.
    – Max Wyss
    Commented Jan 25, 2016 at 15:13

4 Answers 4

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I have found a way to get back apparently lost annotations. Following the most popular answer to this post, if you are able to install the utility qpdf, which I did simply with brew install qpdf, via homebrew, then invocation qpdf --qdf original.pdf unpacked.pdf has produced a file "unpacked.pdf" which contains my lost notes.

These are a little visually corrupted, however this method may be a huge relief if you have lost all of your annotations! - in my case it got back enough so I can trasfer them to a better application. I'm going to try skim.

More info: I got a lot back (when opening unpacked.pdf in preview). However I later found a few annotations were not recovered (notes with empty bodies - perhaps any errors which qpdf gives may be suggestive of whether it did a fully recovery or not).

However, I've just managed to get back more which the first unpack missed, by restoring an earlier version from time machine and just doing the same unpack process on that earlier file, which I called unpacked-2 - resorting to that when some yellow notes have empty bodies in my case is giving me a high rate of recovery so far...

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This seems to be a known problem, you cannot really trust MacOS Preview to display nor preserve annotations. My current technique is to open PDF files with annotations inside of Google Docs.

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    What the hell... 2 hours lost! That's a serious bug
    – SeF
    Commented Sep 26, 2020 at 16:17
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A workaround for me is as follows:

File > Export... > Select Format "PDF" > Select "Create PDF/A" > Save.

The created file has all the annotations and they are editable (by my limited experience).

My Preview version is 11.0 (1033.3).

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  • This worked for me! PDF/A differs from PDF by prohibiting features unsuitable for long-term archiving, such as font linking and encryption.
    – Philipp
    Commented May 10, 2022 at 18:30
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I have the same problem, on OSX 12.1.

There are some related reports:

I found that this tool is able to recover (some? all?) the annotations:

https://julihoh.github.io/pdf_annotation_fix/web-app/dist/index.html

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