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How to annotate a PDF on Windows – Three easy ways

How To Annotate a PDF on Windows—Three Easy Ways

by Eric Johnson

Need a free option to annotate or write on a PDF? Here are three easy tools that you can use on your Windows device for all of your PDF markup needs.

When it comes to sharing and storing documents, PDF is the perfect format. No matter the platform or device, they always look the same. But what do you do when you want to make changes? How do you markup or annotate PDFs?

Annotations come in many forms. You may want to add comments, shapes, or images. Or maybe you want to highlight text, or draw strike-throughs or circles around key info.

If you’re looking for a way to annotate or write on a PDF on Windows—for free—we’ll show how with three easy tools:

  1. Microsoft’s Edge browser
  2. Smallpdf’s free cloud tool
  3. Canva’s upload feature

Not every tool offers every option. But we’ll show what’s possible, and how to get it done quickly.

→ If you’re a Mac user, we suggest you jump over to this article for how to annotate a PDF on Mac.

Option 1: Use the PDF Annotator in Microsoft Edge

Microsoft’s Edge browser has a built-in PDF viewer that lets you make simple PDF annotations for free. If your computer is running Windows 10 or higher, you’ve got the Microsoft Edge browser by default.

To use the Microsoft PDF editing tools, open your PDF in the Edge browser. For most people, Edge is the default PDF app, so simply clicking the PDF icon on your computer will automatically open it in Edge. If this doesn’t work for you, right-click the PDF icon, and select to ‘Open with’ Edge.

With your PDF open in Edge, you’ll see the markup toolbar at the top of the screen.

How to annotate a PDF on Windows

This provides basic options to highlight and draw on your PDF, as well as to add a text box to the document.

The PDF editing options in Edge are limited even for basic standards. So if you need a PDF annotator for anything beyond adding simple text boxes or writing on your PDF, you’ll need to check out one of the options below.

It does, however, give you an option for quick one-off annotations. The Edge browser is also starting to integrate its AI Copilot, so perhaps we’ll see more PDF capabilities coming soon.

Key advantages:

  • Comes bundled with Windows
  • No internet connection required

If you need additional PDF markup options, or if you prefer a smoother user experience, check out how to write on a PDF with this next tool.

Option 2: Annotate PDFs on Windows Using Smallpdf

If you need more professional looking edits or a wider range of features to annotate PDFs, another easy option is the Smallpdf PDF Annotator. It’s free to use, and its user-friendly interface requires no explanation. You can even markup a PDF without sign-up or registration.

Start by opening the Smallpdf PDF Annotator in your browser, and then drag-and-drop your PDF into the box.

You can highlight text, write, or draw on your PDF using the marker and pen tools. Pick the colors you prefer, and adjust line thickness as needed. You can also add text boxes, insert shapes, images, and even eSignatures.

How to annotate a PDF on Windows

With the Smallpdf Annotator, you can intuitively add, delete, and rearrange PDF pages. You also have the option to merge other PDF documents so you can markup multiple PDFs at once.

Pro users have access to more advanced features, like using OCR to make PDF text fully editable. (Inside tip: you can take advantage of the unlimited 7-day free trial to test it out.)

Key advantages:

  • Intuitive, user-friendly interface
  • No registration or installation required
  • Full range of PDF markup and annotation tools
  • Built-in options to convert and compress PDFs

And don’t worry: all documents you upload to Smallpdf are deleted from their servers when you’re done. Your files are safe and your privacy is secured.

That’s how to write on a PDF and add annotations using Smallpdf’s free cloud tool. Now let’s look at another online option you may not have thought about.

Option 3: Draw on a PDF With Canva

Canva is the go-to tool for creating social media assets, flyers, and presentations with ease. It’s also a simple, and overlooked, option you can use to draw and write on PDFs. Here’s how to draw on a PDF using Canva in just three steps.

First, go to Canva.com (it’s free to sign up), and click the Upload button in the top right.

How to annotate a PDF on Mac

Select the PDF you want to annotate, and it will open in a new Canva window.

You can now add text, images and other elements just like you would in any other Canva project. The draw tool automatically smooths out your lines when you write on your PDF, keeping freehand PDF markups clean.

When you’re done, click Share in the upper right, then Download, and select to export the document. Choose PDF Standard if you plan to use it digitally, or PDF Print if you need a hard copy. We’re pretty sure you can figure out the simple prompts from there.

Key advantages:

  • Operates in any web browser
  • Range of creative options for drawing and illustrating a PDF

Keep in mind that Canva isn’t a true PDF annotator or editor, so it can be cumbersome if you need to annotate PDFs frequently. But if you’re already a Canva user and need a quick markup, it’s an option you should know about.

How Should You Annotate Your PDFs on Windows?

If you just need to add a simple annotation that doesn't require an internet connection, the PDF viewer in your Windows Edge browser may be all you need.

If you need maximum creative freedom to design, draw, or write on a PDF, then Canva could be your best bet.

For high-quality PDF annotations with the most user-friendly interface on the planet (we admit we’re biased, but we think you’ll agree), the Smallpdf PDF Annotator is likely your best choice.

Try them out and see what works best for you. Individual needs and preferences vary. But now you know you’ve got powerful options that don’t require expensive software. In fact, why don’t you give it a try right now?

Eric Johnson
Eric Johnson
Senior Content Writer @Smallpdf