"Baking" annotations into PDFs -- Filling out forms

Hi! Longtime listener, first-time caller.

Is there an easier workflow for “baking in” PDF annotations when filling out forms? I use DEVONthink often to fill out PDF forms – for financial institutions, schools, etc. But simply filling out the forms and emailing the PDF from DT only works about 30 percent of the time – whether or not they are dedicated “forms” or simply paper forms scanned as PDFs. This is because many email systems etc. strip out or hide annotations, so recipients are baffled when they get back a blank form. I can verify this because if I send completed forms to myself I can see or not see the annotations depending on whether I’m using a Mac, a PC, an iPad, Gmail, Apple Mail, Preview, Google’s PDF viewer, whatever.

The actual workflow is typically far more convoluted than this brief description, but in general I’ve had to resort to printing the filled-out PDFs as PDFs, sending them to DT again, then moving this new second version of the same document within DT into the proper group before ultimately sending them by email. (More detailed account of all the steps involved – including trips back and forth to DTTG on an iPad Pro for signatures, esp. when financial institutions won’t accept an automated one from Preview – available on request.)

I really hope there’s a more simple way of handling this than what I’ve described. Any suggestions?

I guess the correct term for what I want to do is “flatten” annotated or filled-out PDFs. So the resulting forms are readable by any system. Is there a single-step way to do this to a document in place? Instead of printing as PDF (which does flatten it) and then going through a multi-step process to move it back into proper position within DT?

Hi, I haven’t used the DT built in PDF tool, I ‘open in’ PDF Expert which is a separate paid app which certainly offers the functionality you seek. I would imagine that Preview also does this however, and that’s free. Have you tried just right-clicking on the PDF in question and launching it in Preview and then just saving it, it should store it right there in DT.

Thanks for the suggestions! I’ll check out PDF Expert. Preview does have a “flatten” function – you invoke it by opening the Print dialog, then choosing one of the Save as PDF options in the PDF button at the lower left hand corner.

The problem is that while saving a DEVONthink document from Preview saves it in place (unflattened), saving it as a (flattened) PDF through the Print dialog in this manner does not. So you have to select a destination for this flattened PDF. Which means that you have to find a way to get the flattened document back into DEVONthink. I typically choose the Save PDF to DEVONthink 3 option, which does the job, but then requires additional steps to find the document in DT’s main Inbox, and then move it back to its original spot. And then I have 2 copies – which I suppose is fine, but it would be nice if there were an efficient way to replace the original.

That’s a lot of steps for something I do very often. Are there fewer with PDF Expert? Or is there a hidden flatten function in the built-in DT PDF editor?

No afraid not. While it has a Save as Flatten option in the File Menu, PDF Expert would also force you to select a destination.

Printing to PDF doesn’t support layers, so the PDF is flattened by the process. That’s why it works.