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AECbytes Tips and Tricks Issue #2 (January 19, 2006)

Flattening PDF Annotations in Adobe Acrobat

John TeSelle
Founder, LineType Software, Inc.

PDF files can contain two different types of data—graphics and annotations. Graphics are static images—text, vector drawings, or raster images. Annotations are interactive objects that have a graphic associated with them. Stamps, redline comments, sticky notes, digital signatures, and form fields are all examples of annotations in a PDF file.

Annotations differ from static graphics in several ways:

  • Often an annotation has some sort of action associated with it—double-clicking a redline comment, for instance, will open up a note that is linked to that redline. Interactive PDF documents, similar in many ways to web sites, can be created using these features.

  • Annotations are easily changed. Using Adobe Acrobat, redline comments may be deleted from a PDF file, for instance, without modifying the rest of the drawing. Stamps and form fields may be repositioned anywhere on the page by clicking and dragging them around.

  • Some types of annotations may not be printed unless the appropriate settings are chosen in the Print dialog box in Acrobat or Reader. The settings are shown below.

Although the interactive features of annotations can be very useful in some situations, at other times it may be desirable to disable this interactivity and turn the annotation into a simple graphic that cannot be changed or deleted so easily, and that will always be printed, regardless of print dialog settings. This is called "flattening" the annotation.

Although flattening is supported by Acrobat, for some reason it is not included in the default menus. A very short Javascript program is needed to enable this feature. To install the flatten function for Adobe Acrobat, follow these instructions:

  • Exit from Acrobat if it is open.

  • Download the Javascript program by following this link:

  • At the File Download dialog box, click Save and save the file to the Javascripts folder in the Acrobat directory. If you have Acrobat 7.0, this would be C:/Program Files/Adobe/Acrobat 7.0/Acrobat/Javascripts/.

  • Restart Acrobat

  • There will now be two new menu items under the Document menu in Acrobat. Flatten page will flatten and embed all annotations (form fields, stamps, markups, notes, digital signatures) on the current page. Flatten document will do the same for the entire document. The new menu items are shown below.

After annotations have been flattened, they will lose all their interactivity and other special features and will become static graphics. It may be a good idea to save an un-flattened copy of the document if there is a chance that changes will need to be made to these annotations later.

About the Author

John TeSelle is a practicing architect in Nashville, Tennessee. He is the founder of LineType Software, Inc., which develops plug-ins for Adobe Acrobat and Reader for the AEC industry. He is an authority on the use of PDF and PDF-based digital signatures for architects and engineers, and has shared this expertise with professionals across the country in seminars and webcasts sponsored by Adobe Systems, Inc. He can be reached at




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