OneNote is a powerful note-taking app with several features baked into it. The new version of OneNote looks more promising with dark mode and Sticky Notes integration working flawlessly. One often overlooked function is PDF files and all the things you can do with it.
While most users attach PDF files to relevant notes in OneNote, they don’t use it to its full potential. I have compiled a list of some handy OneNote PDF tips and tricks that will allow you to be even more productive.
1. Importing PDF to OneNote
There are two simple ways to add a PDF file to a OneNote note. You can either drag and drop it wherever you want or use the File option under Insert tab.
You will see three options now, which are self-explanatory. You can upload to OneDrive and insert a link. Or you can attach the PDF file directly, which means it will be saved to OneNote. Alternatively, Insert a printout which will add an image for each page of the PDF file.
If you are not using OneDrive, attaching the file is a better option. Otherwise, save to OneDrive, which will allow you to access the PDF file directly without having to go through OneNote repeatedly. That will also reduce load times as you may end up attaching too many PDF files.
On your smartphone, you will again tap on the attach button and choose a file from either your local drive or any cloud storage app.
2. Annotate PDF in OneNote
Before you can annotate a PDF file, you need to add it to OneNote but as a printout. Check the point above to know how to do that. OneNote will scan the PDF and create an image which you can then annotate as you desire. There is also a separate button for Printout under Insert.
OneNote will take some time to process depending on the size of the PDF. Once done, it will create a shortcut to the original PDF file above the virtual printout. You can now use all the tools under the Draw tab to annotate.
Draw circles, arrows, and even shapes. If you are using a Surface Pro or a smartphone, you can use the pen or finger to write and draw respectively. Use the Ink to Shape button to turn handwritten circles and other shapes into perfection. The conversion was smooth and perfectly done with all images and text looking crisp and clear.
3. Export PDF
Well, this is a bummer. You can import PDF files into OneNote and turn them into images to annotate them. But, there is no way to export them as PDF files yet. You can right-click and select the Save as option to save the image file.
On the plus side, all your annotations will remain intact. Several people have requested Microsoft to develop this feature, and maybe they will. For now, try this PNG to PDF online converter which works but with varying degrees of success.
4. OneNote PDF to Text with OCR
OneNote app comes with a powerful OCR reader which can read text from images. You can easily extract this text and paste it separately as well.
Simply right-click on the image and select Copy Text from Picture. According to the Microsoft support page, there is another option called Copy Text from All the Pages of the Printout, but it wasn’t available on my OneNote version. That will copy all the text from the imported PDF file in image format.
5. Search PDF in OneNote
You cannot directly search for text inside PDF files in OneNote. You will have to import it using the printout option first. Only after that OneNote can search for text within the image files.
However, I saw mixed results. When there is a single occurrence of a phrase, OneNote found it quickly. But, when I searched for the phrase ‘the S Quadrant,’ OneNote ended up highlighting a lot of other closely related phrases too. Still, I could find the file and note where to look for, so that’s something.
6. Listen to PDF or Image in OneNote
The OCR capabilities of OneNote are really powerful, and it is all the more evident from the Immersive Reader feature. Open the note where the image or printout of the PDF is saved and click on Immersive Reader under the View tab.
That may take some time depending on how many pages we are talking about. Once the scanning completes, a new fullscreen window will open where you can listen to the entire PDF file in distraction-free mode.
There are some useful settings available like speed, font type, size and color, and translation.
One Note for Everything
OneNote is a powerful note-taking app, and Microsoft is working on developing new features for it. The 2016 version is going to be phased out soon, and all new features will be baked into the new universal OneNote app. So, I recommend you to use the same for saving, scanning and annotating PDF files.
Next up: Looking for more OneNote features? Click on the link below to discover 11 useful OneNote tips and tricks right away.
Last updated on 03 February, 2022
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