Design Review Manual

How to give feedback via PDF comments

You received a PDF document from your designer “for review”… Now what? In this manual, you’ll learn how to properly give feedback and make corrections using the Adobe Reader commenting tools.

Table of Contents

The design review workflow

The publication “lives” in designer’s graphic program file (usually Adobe InDesign). Let’s call it the master file. From here, the publication can be exported to PDF for different purposes (review, web, print…) but it can’t be imported back.

When client sends a PDF with revisions, designer uses it only as instructions for what to change in the master file. Every requested edit must be manually implemented by the designer into the master file, and at the end of each review cycle, new PDFs are exported for the client.

A PDF with revisions can’t be converted back to the master file and that’s why clients should never change things directly in the PDF. It makes things much more difficult because designer doesn’t see what changed. Instead, revisions must be made via PDF comments, sometimes also called annotations.

PDF comments constitute a separate layer inside a PDF file. Comments don’t interfere with the design and layout, and they can be easily managed via the Comments panel in Adobe Reader.

The standard program for making PDF comments is Adobe Reader which is free to download for Windows and Mac. Other PDF readers may be able to handle comments too, but I haven’t tested it. This manual was written according to the early 2022 version of Adobe Reader running on Windows. Mac version may have some differences, but in principle it should work the same way.

The Comment panel

The Comment side panel in Adobe Reader is crucial for reviewer’s and designer’s workflow. It can save both of us a lot of time!

You can open it by clicking on the yellow bubble icon at the right edge of the window, or via the top menu: View / Tools / Comment / Open.

How to open the Comment panel via icons on the right

How to open the Comment panel via the main menu

Expanded comment panel with list of all comments

The panel helps the clients to:

  • See the list of all comments in the document
  • Edit comments that you made earlier
  • Delete unnecessary/resolved comments
  • Reply to other people’s comments

How to work with the list:

  • Click on a comment in the list to find it on the page
  • Double-click to edit the contents of the comment
  • Right-click then Delete to remove the comment

The panel helps the designer to:

  • Go through the list of comments in the document one by one, including those that are harder to spot on the page. Please, don’t be afraid to use propper proofreading tools instead of the bubble and the highlighter – I will see them listed in the panel and I won’t miss them.
  • Track progress with checkmarks. When processing revisions, I set up a filter to display only unchecked comments. When I’ve implemented a comment to my master file, I check it and it dissapears from the list. This system ensures that no comments are missed. Since checkmark status for all the comments gets saved into the PDF document, please always send me files that don’t have any comments already checked because I would most likely miss them when I turn my filter on.

Annotation marks

Opening the Comments panel will also reveal the extended comment toolbar on top of the window which contains more annotation marks than you see in the default view. Below, I highlighted those that are relevant for design revision process:

Basic markup

The highlighter and sticky note (let’s call it bubble) are the most commonly used annotation marks by my clients. They can be sufficient for most revisions if used properly, but there are even better tools for correcting text (see advanced proofreading markup below). If you want to stick to the highlighter and bubbles, it’s OK, just please follow these guidelines:

  • Use highlighter, not bubbles, for text changes. Highlight exactly the portion of text that you want changed, and include instructions, for example delete, replace with: “Y”, insert “X” after “Y”.
  • Don’t add a bubble on top of highlighter. It clutters the list of comments. Instead, write instructions directly into the highlighter detail via the side panel.
  • If you accidentally highlighted something wrong, or twice, please remove unnecessary comments via the side panel.
  • The bubble is best suited for general comments on layout, choice of images, etc., not for text edits.

Tip for complex edits

If you need to make a complex change in a sentence/paragraph, consider providing a whole new text instead of changing all the individual segments in many separate comments.

You can copy the original text into a comment, and change it there. This way you’ll be able to see if the edits make sense. This way is also easier for the designer.

Advanced markup

Advanced proofreading marks are the easiest way to correct text. They will simplify your workflow because you won’t have to add instructions such as replace with, delete. etc. You can find them in the extended comment toolbar just next to bubble and highlighter.

Markup for text edits:

  • Strikethrough text (text to be removed)
  • Replace text (text to be replaced by whatever you write into the comment details)
  • Insert text (text from the comment details to be inserted to the point where you made the mark)
  • Underline text (similar to the highlighter; you can include various instructions such as make bold, create link, etc.)

Ignore the other tools. They are not relevant for design review though they can be useful for other purposes such as filling up online forms, signing documents etc.

Tips & other important information

Finalize your text before it goes to the designer

It may be tempting to see the layout before the text of your publication is finished. However, since every change in the review process is rather time consuming both on the side of the client and the designer (compared to editing in Word), it's best to do layout on a FINAL, APPROVED and PROOFREAD text, and not on a work-in progress version. Ideally, only typos and graphic design / layout choices should be edited in the review process. My pricing by default includes two review cycles and usually I am OK with one or two aditional rounds of corrections of reasonable extent. In case of extreme amount of text edits that take very long to implement or that profoundly change the layout, there may be aditional costs. In such cases I will always consult with you first. All this can be avoided if you finalize your text in Word first :)

Before you start making revisions...

Make a copy of the PDF document that you received from me, and call it something like [original-filename]_rev_yourinitials (or similar). Don't delete version number from the filename. Before you make a bunch of comments, test if your program is working properly - make a comment, save, close the program, reopen and make sure that the comment is there.​ While making comments, save the file often so that you don't loose all your work in case your system crashes (Adobe Reader doesn't have auto-save).


If the document uses hyphenation, it follows rules from Adobe's built-in dictionaries. Adobe has dictionaries for all European (and many other) languages, and in theory, it should hyphenate words according to the rules of the given language. Manual corrections are possible but should be done after all other text edits have been implemented to avoid unnecessary work. The design program constantly adjusts the text flow (more so than Word), and a simple edit can easily affect hyphenation in the whole paragraph, including on preceding lines. If you need to edit hyphenation, please leave if for a later stage of the review process, and for each change, explain how you'd like to partition the whole word (for example: hy-phe-na-tion).

Resolve questions within your team

When more people are involved in revisions, the main editor should always go through all the comments before revisions are sent to the designer. The editor should resolve all pending questions that their colleagues may have inserted in the comments. This sounds obvious but very often it's forgotten... the poor designer is then left with unclear instructions and has to annoy the poor editor with follow-up questions via e-mail. Please always send a clean file :)

Other feedback options

Some change requests may be difficult to explain in a comment, typically layout alterations, edits in infographics etc. It's OK to send such feedback via email, or schedule an online call with screen share.

How about InCopy?

InCopy is Adobe's software that simplifies the review process between editors and designers. It's mainly used in large publishing houses. Through InCopy, editor(s) can propose changes that synchronize directly to designer's master file, leaving out the whole PDF commenting & manual implementation process. The client has to own a license for InCopy (5EUR monthly per editor, as of Jan 2022). I am open to working via this system and I can provide a small discount for publications reviewed this way.

© 2022 Hot Ice Creative Studio. All rights reserved.

This manual was primarilly written for clients of Hot Ice Creative Studio but anyone can use it, it’s pretty universal. If you’re a designer, feel free to send you clients here. I’m not gonna steal them as I have too many :)