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 Jan 25 '16 at 15:13

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...

  • Thank you. This looks promising. – songololo Jan 21 '20 at 14:49

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 Sep 26 '20 at 16:17

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