Leon Mika

Leon Mika

Advice to those working with annotations in Preview

For those of you using Preview in macOS for viewing an annotated PDF, if you need to move or delete the annotations in order to select the text, be sure to undo your changes prior to closing Preview. Otherwise your changes will be saved without asking you first.1

This just happened to me. I have a PDF annotated with edits made with the iPad pencil and I wanted to copy the actual text. The annotations seemed to sit on top of the text in an image layer, which means that in order to select the text, I have to move or delete this layer first. I didn’t want the annotations mixed up with the ones on the other page, so I decided to delete this layer instead of moving it. This was a mistake.

I copied the text and wanted to get the annotations back. I probably should have just pressed ⌘Z to undo my changes, but I saw “– Edited” in the title bar so I assumed that if I just closed Preview, it would discard my changes and I would be able to get my annotations back just by reopening the PDF. But it turns out, after closing it and opening it again, the changes were saved without asking me first, resulting in my annotations being lost.

Developers of macOS: this is a terrible user experience that needs to be fixed. Preview saving my changes from under me has now resulted in data loss, the cardinal sin of any software. Either ask me before saving changes when the application is closed, support a notion of versions, or do something else. But do not just save my changes without asking me, and do not imply that Preview is aware of pending changes by having “– Edited” in the title bar if it isn’t going to discard the changes, or confirm that they should be saved when I close the app.

Ugh, I need another coffee now.


  1. This is macOS Mojave. I hope this has been fixed some way in later versions. [return]