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Show the InDesign Notes Tool Some Love!

I use InDesign’s notes feature all the time, at least a few dozen times per day. I fill my InDesign documents with notes for my clients, asking for information, photos, or to clarify an issue.

I love Notes! Do you?

I use notes so frequently that I even created a custom keyboard shortcut for “Convert to Note.”

Convert to Note: Custom Keyboard Shortcut!

My notes are my primary way of communicating with my clients, keeping my questions/comments in context in the PDF drafts that I send them. But you may be wondering how InDesign notes translate into PDF notes. There are two ways this can be accomplished.

Option 1: Using InCopy

Bob Levine wrote a great article about there here.

But why must we use InCopy and not InDesign? Believe it or not, InDesign does not have this function! It astounds me that InCopy has a much-needed function that InDesign does not. But more on that rant in a bit…

Option 2: PDFStickies

The second option for converting InDesign Notes to PDF sticky notes is a fabulous plug-in called PDFStickies. This plug-in adds the capability to export your InDesign Notes as PDF sticky notes! It’s simple and ingenious. It should have been included in InDesign to begin with.

True story…

Years ago (before PDFStickies), I wanted so much to have my PDF sticky notes in context, in the correct spot on every page, that I would add them manually in Acrobat. Take a look at this screenshot for example. While I was preparing each InDesign document, I used to make dozens of these on a blank PDF! After InDesign was done exporting my document, I would manually cut and paste each sticky note onto the correct page number (as indicated at the top of each sticky note). But now I no longer need to do this manually. PDF Stickies has saved me countless hours and I am so grateful for it.

The old workaround for adding PDF notes in context

But back to InCopy…

The ability to export notes as PDF sticky notes already exists with InCopy. So why do I not just use InCopy? The reason is because InCopy cannot open an InDesign book. My technical manuals contain about 50 different documents, all housed within an InDesign book file (INDB) and I need to be able to open the entire book and export a single PDF…So I use InDesign. Besides, even if InCopy could open an InDesign book, it would seem pretty silly to me to have to switch programs just to access a single feature of much less robust editing program.

Exporting notes to PDF sticky notes should be incorporated into InDesign!

Recently, I attended CreativePro Week and was able to sit down with a couple of InDesign engineers. I showed them my dilemma and explained why I feel so strongly that InDesign should have the ability to export Notes as PDF sticky notes. Interestingly, some people may feel that Notes are an editorial function, and therefore should go only in the editorial sibling of InDesign, which is InCopy. That’s the idea of an InDesign-InCopy workflow, right? The editors can write text and the graphics designers can lay out the document and have control of the pictures…?

In my experience, that is rarely the case. Many InDesign users are writers and editors, as well as designers. We communicate our information not just with objects and graphics, but with words and stories. We are often responsible for the editorial and technical content of the documents we design. Or to put it another way, as editors, we are also responsible for the layout and graphics of the documents we write.

I am familiar with the InCopy workflow, and I understand the concept of an “editor” (InCopy user) checking out a story, and when that happens, the designer (InDesign user) cannot edit the text. It allows multiple people to concurrently work on various parts of the document. But like most InDesign users, I am not in an InCopy workflow. From a practical standpoint, I own everything in the document. All the graphics, all the stories, all the content, every bit of it. I am the editor, and should have access to all the editorial function in the program in which I am doing my editing.  I should be able to export my notes as PDF sticky notes, right from InDesign. Which leads me to my next question.

Why don’t more InDesign users use notes?

A recent poll here at InDesignSecrets asked the question: Which of these InDesign Tools do you actually use? The Notes tool got the fewest votes!

Useless InDesign Tool Poll Results

David and Anne-Marie discussed this in a recent InDesignSecrets podcast. The poll question was “Which of these InDesign features do you actually use in real work?” But the options were all tools. Now admittedly, I’ve never used the InDesign Notes tool. It’s totally pointless. But I use the Notes feature every day. And personally, I think it deserves more attention.

Why aren’t InDesign notes improved?

An Adobe engineer told me recently that not many people use the InDesign notes. Well why would they? They’re just not that great.

Their capabilities seem to be primarily aimed at users of InDesign-InCopy workflows; and I suspect that proportionally, that is not a huge segment of InDesign users.

Even if one were to overlook the lack of functionality of the Note tool (in the toolbar) InDesign notes leave a lot to be desired. They can only be added as inline text objects, not to graphics, and the notes are available only to other InDesign or InCopy users viewing the document. It’s only because of my beloved PDF Stickies that InDesign notes are of any value to me at all.

Despite what appears to be neglect of the Notes feature, I am optimistic that it will someday be improved. I’ve even designed the UI for a new and improved Notes panel, along with a thorough explanation of how it should function. You can find that here. I also have a companion article about how I wish notes would cooperate across the entire Adobe Suite.

Do you use InDesign notes? Why or why not? How do you use them? Leave a note in the comments!

If you would like to see Adobe improve the notes feature in InDesign, please visit the Adobe Wish Form and submit a feature request.

Kelly Vaughn

Kelly Vaughn

Kelly Vaughn (a.k.a. "Document Geek") has over a decade of print and design experience. She holds Adobe Expert Certifications In InDesign, Illustrator, Photoshop, and Acrobat, and specializes in writing and designing technical manuals for the marine industry.
Kelly Vaughn

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11 Comments on “Show the InDesign Notes Tool Some Love!

  1. Hi Kelly. Having read a previous post of yours, I now use PDFStickies and InDesign Notes every day. It is a fantastic plug in and I couldn’t manage working without it. I keep track of all queries on an InDesign document using the InDesign Notes feature and then automatically export them as Acrobat comments each time I make a pdf.

    Although the developer states that it only works with interactive pdfs, I have no problem exporting the notes in regular trimmed pdfs (i.e. without printer marks), and I don’t even need to place the InDesign file in a book (which I think was a tip of yours?).

    Thank you so much for introducing me to this fabulous plug in.


  2. Kelly, why have a keyboard shortcut for Convert to Note and not just Notes Mode. Notes Mode is contextual so if you’ve selected text, it will convert it to a note. If you select text in a note and use it it converts the note text to regular text, if you use it when your cursor is blinking it creates a new note.

    One keyboard shortcut to rule them all!

  3. Hi Kelly,

    Why note use Notes Mode option? Its contextual and will do different things depending on whether you have a selection or a blinking cursor:
    1. Select text and use Notes Mode, it’ll convert it to a note
    2. Select note text and click the button it’ll convert the selected text back to text in the document (and split the note if necessary)
    3. Blinking cursor in text frame? It’ll insert a new note and put your cursor in the note. (Use the keyboard shortcut when you’re done typing your note to get back into the text without moving your fingers over to that mouse.)

    One keyboard shortcut to rule them all.

  4. Personal observations indicate that the Notes panel’s clunky interface scares a lot of people away. It’s very difficult to sift through notes in a document when there are more than a handful. Although I don’t use it currently, in the past I’ve used a plug-in called Notes Manager from vjoon. It’s a little pricy, but worth it for Notes-heavy workflows.

  5. Kelly, I agree completely. I don’t use the notes feature primarily because the notes do not export to PDF but also because the interface is not easy to use, especially if one has a document with lots of notes, and because the notes can only be applied to text. I end up putting queries and comments in the text using a distinctive char. style and sticking text boxes beside figures. If ID’s notes exported to PDF, the function would be ideal for my workflow.

  6. I aslo want to share with people a free script from Kerntiff Publishing, the folks who make PDF Stickies: It’s a script that puts all the notes into a more friendly user interface.

    They also have another free script called Object Notes, which lets you apply notes to objects. Object notes will appear in the Kerntiff Note Navigator, but not in the regular Notes panel. Object Notes will also export to PDF with the Kerntiff PDF Stickies plugin.

  7. Agreed about notes being somewhat clunky to use and hard to see. You have to be a sharpshooter with the cursor to expand a single note. An interface that puts notes off to the side like in MS Word might be easier to use.

    I submitted a feature request to Adobe about printing notes. Their documentation says notes _can_ be printed from Story Editor view, but I contacted Adobe support who confirmed this is actually not true.

  8. HATE notes. Hard to see and I agree with the clunky to use. When my editors use notes, they have to email me that they actually put in notes otherwise I may miss them. Needs to be fixed.

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