Highlighting directly on top of your PDF is a great way to take notes.

Whether it’s for business, work, or personal readings, learning how to make a few lines or an entire paragraph of text on your PDF stand out can be a great way to stay organized.

Highlights in documents emphasize the contents or point out certain parts of the document. Just like you would use a marker to make text stand out on a piece of paper.

And whether you want to highlight PDFs on Windows, Mac, or on the go, below, we’ll cover all the different ways you can do so. Including different tools, key features, and other options to keep in mind.

In this article, you will learn:

  • How to Highlight Text In A PDF
  • Top 5 PDF Tools to Highlight Text On Windows
  • Top 2 PDF Tools to Highlight Text On Mac
  • Top 3 Free PDF Tools to Highlight Text Online

Keep in mind: You can highlight text in your PDF with all of the tools we'll mention, and you can also do it online for free.

But below, we're going to give an overview of each tool and you'll also learn their capabilities, beyond mere text highlighting.

Here's what you need to know:

How to Highlight Text In A PDF 

When creating a document, you can highlight text and paragraph sections with the highlighter tool.

All you have to do is click on the ‘Highlight’ icon in a PDF viewer of your choice and then simply drag your mouse across the piece of text you want to color.

highlight text in foxit pdf editor

Simple, right?

Check out our full guide to highlight text in PDFs for a more detailed overview on how to edit, highlight, and change text color in your PDF files.

Below, we’ll explore all the different options and tools for highlighting text no matter your device.

Top 5 PDF Tools to Highlight Text On Windows

There are quite a number of PDF highlighters for Windows. Sadly, some PDF highlight tools reduce the document’s quality after applying the highlight. 

To avoid using such highlight tools, this is a list of the top PDF highlighters for Windows.

1. Adobe Acrobat DC

adobe acrobat to highlight pdfs

Adobe Acrobat DC is a popular PDF highlighter that works for Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android devices. 

Adobe Acrobat has a lot of advanced features for creating and editing documents. Among these features is a PDF highlighter tool with plenty of customizable features (like changing your PDF highlight color).

Key Features


  • It is priced at $14.99/ month.


  • Suitable for beginners with an easy-to-use and intuitive interface.
  • Provides a feature to save and share a PDF on the cloud.
  • It helps compress PDF file size.


  • A bit expensive. There are cheaper options out there if you don’t need any advanced features.

2. Foxit Reader

foxit pdf reader screenshot

Foxit Reader is an excellent alternative to Adobe Acrobat reader. It helps you create and edit documents with its beginner-friendly interface. It has both the Windows and Mac versions.

Key Features

  • It has a PDF highlighter tool.
  • Foxit reader supports the social media share feature.
  • It helps you annotate and fill out PDF forms.


Foxit Reader is free, but other Foxit software can be priced depending on its function.


  • It is multilingual.
  • It creates small sized PDFs.
  • Supports third-party app integration.


  • It does not support some advanced features.

3. PDFelement

PDFelement is an encompassing software that helps create, convert, edit, highlight, and annotate PDF documents. 

Key Features

  • Helps to add notes, links, and tables to PDF.
  • Create multiple PDF documents simultaneously.
  • It can redact sensitive information in a PDF.


Priced at $89.95 but allows for a free trial.


  • PDFelement helps to batch convert files from one format to another.
  • It has a spell check feature.
  • It can create fillable forms.


  • It does not support multiple or organizational uses.
  • Not budget-friendly for beginners.

4. Nitro PDF Reader

nitro pdf tool

Nitro PDF Reader is another document viewer that creates, views, and edits PDF viewers. 

Nitro Reader has the essential document editing tools and a few advanced features. It supports password encryption and document redaction. And it works on both Windows and Mac devices.

Key Features

  • Highlights and annotation tools.
  • It has form filler and e-signature function.
  • Can make any PDF searchable with text recognition technology.


  • One-time license for Windows devices- $179.99.
  • One-time charge for Mac devices - $129.95.

You can still access some features in the free version.


  • Nitro sign integrations.
  • Plenty of unique and useful features if you’re working with PDFs at scale.
  • Can save created PDF documents directly on the cloud.


  • It does not have a mobile app.
  • More expensive, not for everyone.

5. PDF Xchange

PDF Xchange is another competent document reader that makes it easy for users to view, create and edit documents. To get the maximum use of the software, you have to download PDF Xchange editor and PDF Xchange viewer. It is supported only on Windows devices.

Key Features

  • PDF highlighter and scanning tool.
  • It has integrated fonts and images that can be added to documents.
  • Protects, reviews, and bookmarks the document.


Between $49.99 - $129, depending on the package.


  • Beginner-friendly interface.
  • It has a digital signing feature.
  • It can view multiple documents at once.


  • It is relatively expensive with the need to pay for the subsequent upgrade.
  • Customer support is not stable.
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Top 2 PDF Tools to Highlight Text On Mac

Several PDF readers work on both Windows and Mac devices. These are the likes of Adobe Acrobat, Nitro reader, PDFelement, Foxit readers, and many more. These are good PDF highlighters, and their feature has been stated above. 

Below is a list of other PDF highlighters that work on Mac devices specifically.

1. Preview

Preview is the in-built PDF reader for Mac devices. The software can view, create, and modify PDF files. It can annotate and highlight PDFs. It also doubles as a photo editor. 

Key Features

  • You can virtually sign and fill out documents.
  • Convert image format
  • it can be used to merge PDF files.


It is an inbuilt app, so it is free.


  • It is already installed. Ideal for Mac users.
  • It can be used to edit images.
  • You can add and remove pages of existing PDFs.


  • It cannot highlight password-encrypted PDFs.

2. PDFPen

PDFpen is one of the good alternatives for Preview because of its availability for Mac users. It is used to create, highlight, edit and create PDF files. It is well known for its OCR scanning feature

Key Features

  • Can be used to scan documents.
  • Can be used to add texts, images, and signatures to documents.


  • It is a one-time fee of $79.95.


  • It offers a lot of advanced features.
  • It can process larger documents compared to other PDF viewers.


  • It is only available for Mac and iOS users. Not for everyone.
  • Sometimes, the OCR text does not come out clean.

Top 3 Free PDF Tools to Highlight Text Online

If you don’t have access to mobile or desktop tools, highlighting your PDF text online might be the way to go.

They also save space and can be a convenient way to modify your PDF text, if you’re not looking for anything fancy.

And most online tools are free as well!

Here’s a few of them.

1. Smallpdf

Smallpdf is a well-known online PDF document viewer and editor.

You can either use the Freehand highlighter or the Text highlighter to highlight. The former allows you to draw on the PDF freely, while the latter only highlights texts.


  • It enables adding images, lines, and other features to PDF.
  • It is free for all features.
  • It allows freehand drawing on the PDF.


  • It does not offer a lot of advanced features.

2. Xodo

Xodo is an online document viewer which is also available on iOs and Android devices and a chrome extension. It enables viewing, editing, annotating, and highlighting the PDF file. It allows you to sign documents and save them in desired formats.


  • It allows you to share created files on the cloud.
  • It is free to use.
  • It has a simple, easy-to-use interface.
  • It allows the strikethrough and underlines feature.


  • You cannot save created documents until you create an account with Xodo.
  • Viewing documents on it is not as comfortable as creating or editing documents with it.

3. Hypothesis

Hypothesis pdf annotation chrome extension

Hypothesis is a versatile document viewer available as a chrome extension. It is not as well known as the previously listed document viewers however, it is a perfect online highlighting tool. 


  • It allows you to collaborate with friends and add comments to PDF.
  • Public and private annotation features are available.


  • Its interface is not beginner-friendly.
  • Its highlighting feature is not as notable as other online PDF highlighters.

Frequently Asked Questions on Highlighting PDF Text

  • How can I use the freehand highlighter?

Only a few PDF readers have the freehand highlighter feature. If you need to use the freehand highlighter feature, use either Adobe Acrobat DC Pro or Smallpdf.

  • How do I highlight a locked PDF?

If a PDF is locked to prevent viewing and editing, you can access and edit it if you get the password. Otherwise, you can not highlight or add any feature to it if you do not have the password.

Alternatively, check out our guide on what to do if you forgot your PDF password.

  • How can I change the highlight color?

To change the highlight color, right-click the highlighted text and click on properties, then select your desired color. Or click on the highlighted text and click on the arrow down beside the highlight tool icon, then choose the color you want to change it to.

  • Why am I unable to highlight my PDF?

There can be a problem with your PDF reader but if you try other PDF readers and you are still unable to highlight your PDF, it can be one of the following reasons. One, the document is a scanned document and it has no real text. Two, It is password encrypted or protected.

  • Should I use an online PDF tool to highlight my text and edit my PDF documents?

It might be tempting to use a free online PDF tool, but keep in mind they’re not the most secure software as you don’t know for sure where you’re uploading your documents or how long they keep it.

If data privacy and security is a concern, it might be worth to invest in a more secure PDF tool.


Document highlighting tools are everywhere; you have to choose the suitable available one for your documents. You no longer have to involve third-party apps to highlight your documents after creation. The listed highlighting tools double as document creating tools. Instead of printing out files to highlight and emphasize the points, create, edit and highlight your documents and share to appropriate quarters.

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