The highlight function in the Mountain Lion version of Preview.app is now directly accessible from the toolbar, while the other annotation functions keep their usual location. The problem is that Apple reduced the number of colours for the highlighting function. For example, red and orange are missing. The number of colours stays the same for the other annotation functions.

I work with scientific articles on a daily basis and the highlighting function is my main tool. I really need all the colours that were available since Apple introduced PDF highlighting several years ago, because I follow a colour scheme to quickly distinguish different parts of an article. I do not understand why they removed these colours, It's not like a few menu items were bloating the software. At least one other person is in my case: http://forums.macrumors.com/showthread.php?t=1416813

I tried reverting to Lion's Preview.app, but Apple has disabled Lion's applications on ML and I get an error message when I try to open it. In the past, one could run SL's Preview.app on Lion in order to circumvent the "highlights fading bug".

Therefore, I'm looking for either one of two solutions:

  • getting all the colours back in the highlighting function;
  • or getting Lion's Preview.app to run on ML.

(Skim is not a solution because it stores the highlights in another file and I need my PDFs to be transportable.)

  • 1
    Did you already look at other PDF viewers in the App Store? Or Acrobat Reader?
    – nohillside
    Aug 9, 2012 at 9:05
  • 2
    Acrobat Reader is not an option because it is slow, but more importantly there is no way to assign keyboard shortcuts to change highlighting colours, unlike Preview. Concerning the other viewers, I will consider them if no solution can be found for Preview... Aug 9, 2012 at 9:20
  • I noticed the same issue among many others. Best solution: Revert to Lion for the time being. Aug 9, 2012 at 22:45
  • Just so you know, Skim can be configured to store the highlights in the PDF file. However, it doesn't use Adobe's official annotation commands, so other apps will display the original PDF without highlighting. If you only view files from a Mac, Skim might still be a workable solution for you.
    – Quantum7
    Nov 6, 2012 at 18:51

6 Answers 6



Most suitable answer seems to be in the above link. Select the underline tool. Hit Cmd + T, which will bring up the font box. Select the Font Colour button, select the colour you want and you're done - it should now underline in that colour

  • Yup, it works, nice tip, thank you. But it is not handy for intensive use because you cannot set a keyboard shortcut to change color using this method. Aug 20, 2012 at 8:18

You can reinstall and use the version of Preview.app from Lion.

Instructions are here (start with post #8 and move forward from there) http://forums.macrumors.com/showthread.php?t=1412516

Here are some of the salient parts, in case the link breaks. I'm just quoting text from the poster on the linked thread:

The Lion Preview.app seems to be blacklisted in ML through the "Bundle version=719.25" entry in the Info.plist. So I changed it to something higher (760 in this case - 765 is the version-number from ML Preview.app). Now the app fails to start, because modifying the plist-file apparently broke the signing. Then I resigned it using this command:

codesign --force --sign - Preview.app/Contents/MacOS/Preview

The linked post also contains a link to a downloadable version of Lion Preview that has presumably been modified as described. I have downloaded it and it works perfectly.

  • 2
    Links can break, so for the answer to be useful for a longer period it might be helpful if you could summarize the relevant parts of the linked page here.
    – nohillside
    Aug 11, 2012 at 22:49
  • Good idea -- edited my post to include the salient info.
    – Gorb
    Aug 12, 2012 at 15:54
  • 1
    Just so people know, Lion's preview on Mountain Lion is really buggy when it comes to highlighting. In most PDF, the highlights are "off". They appear on the left of the selected text. Nov 16, 2012 at 10:39

I found a workaround. Not convenient at all but it works.

It involves using Adobe Reader (AR) to edit the annotations made with Preview. With AR, you can export annotation data to a FDF textfile. You can then edit this file to get your annotations back to how they were in the older versions of Preview.app.

In ML's Preview, there are four colours that were removed (red, orange, black, grey), and one added (rose). There are also the underlining and the strikeout annotations. So you can use either of these last three tools (rose highlighting, underlining, strikeout), to annote your PDFs, instead of your usual highlight colours. Then you change them to how they should be by editing the appropriate FDF file.

For example, I need red and orange highlightings. I will temporarily use rose highlight for red, and underline for orange. When I am finished annotating my PDF, I open it with AR. I export all highlights to a FDF file. In this file, I replace the rose colour code with the red one. I then export all underlines to another FDF. I replace the red colour code with the orange one and I replace the underline markup with the highlight one. I then erase all annotations from the PDF file and import the two FDFs.

Colour codes :

Red :       /C[0.9935237 0.694295 0.5490015]
Orange :    /C[0.9962542 0.8236187 0.5058712]
Rose :      /C[0.9215688 0.4980392 0.7294117]

Annotation codes :

Highlight :     /Subtype/Highlight
Underline :     /Subtype/Underline
Strikeout :     /Subtype/StrikeOut

This procedure is tedious so other solutions are still welcome.

  • Sounds rather tedious indeed. Maybe it would be easier to either change your highlighting model or switch to Acrobat Reader nevertheless.
    – nohillside
    Aug 10, 2012 at 8:04
  • As mentioned supra, Acrobat Reader is only good for technical editing, not day-to-day work. Of course I've thought about changing my colour scheme but I have hundreds of highlighted articles and books that follow the previous model. Plus, rose and underlined are ugly and don't fit well with the rest of the colours (one of the reasons I use Apple software is that I like pretty things). They really messed up on this one. Aug 10, 2012 at 8:19

I share your disappointment that the change to Preview.app has taken away the ability to select a highlight color from the color picker.

I have requested that Apple add it back at http://www.apple.com/feedback/macosx.html.

For me, reinstalling the old Preview is the interim solution.


You can change the color of the highlighter by clicking on the markup highlighter icon then press ⌘T and this will open the fonts panel. If you then click on the text color icon this will bring up the color palette and whichever color you pick will be the color of your highlight!

Happy highlighting!

  • Think Chris hit the nail on the head
    – Stevancw
    Jan 14, 2013 at 12:38

Click Highlight - Type control + T (brings up "Font") - Click "Font Color" (letter T with color at side) (Brings up font color) - Click Palette - choose any color and proceed to highlight

If you keep the the Font Window and Color window open (at side of document window) - you can quickly change colours by re-clicking "Font Color" and then choosing new color from 2nd window showing font color.

Being forced to do it this way - actually gives me more colors to highlight than previous version of preview.

Hope this helps

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