Rick’s Guide to using Redaction in Acrobat X Pro

Picture of a page with manual redaction marks on itRedaction is the permanent deletion of data from

In the past, markers were used to black out information on documents.

These days, it simply doesn’t make sense to print out a document to redact it. The process is slow, expensive and inefficient.

Law firms, government agencies and corporations around the world rely on Adobe Acrobat to safely and permanently remove content from the data stream of the documents.

Adobe first offered redaction tools starting with Acrobat 8 and redaction capabilities have continued to improve with each new release.

New Redaction Features in Acrobat X

  1. Repeat Redaction Mark across Pages
    Useful for redacting headers and footers from documents
  2. Right-click to apply Exemption Codes
    Add case codes and privacy codes as overlay text to redaction marks
  3. Ability to apply multiple Exemption Codes
    Multiple exemption codes may be listed on a redaction mark
  4. Partial Pattern Redaction
    Use this feature to mark part of a pattern for redaction. For example, you could mark part of a Social Security Number or Credit card number. Useful for cases where you need to identify individuals in part of a case without revealing personal identifying information.
  5. Set Color and Opacity for Redaction Marks
    In Acrobat 9 and earlier, redaction marks (during review, prior to being applied) always displayed with a red border. In Acrobat X, you can set the appearance to be, for example, 50% red with no outline.
  6. Comments Panel
    The Comments Panel now indicates the Overlay Text or Exemption code for the redaction mark

So, you want to redact some files. How do you get started?

To help, I bring you Rick’s Guide to Using Redaction in Acrobat X Pro.

Topics Covered

Redaction Workflow – Important!

It’s critical to understand the redaction workflow in Acrobat which is:

  1. Mark items to be redacted
  2. Review marked items
  3. Apply Redactions (Removes the information from the document)

You must Apply Redactions to Remove Information Marking items merely indicates that you want to remove the information. You MUST Apply Redactions to permanently remove information from the document.

Suggested Workflow

Redaction Workflow Chart

Step 1: Set Redaction Preferences

Automatically Copy Text into the Sticky Note for a Redaction

Redactions exist as a type of annotation until you apply them which permanently removes the information. This preference is handy during review since it copies text into the sticky note.

  1. Choose Edit—> Preferences (Windows) or Acrobat—> Preferences (Mac)
  2. Select the Commenting category from the list on the left:
  3. Enable the check box labeled “Copy Selected Text into Highlight, Crossout, and Underline comment pop-ups
  4. Click OK

For example, let’s say you wanted to redact a date.

When you select text using the Mark for Redaction tool, the text will automatically be copied into the sticky note:

A note in Acrobat showing that text has been copied into it automatically.

Step 2: The Basics: Adding, Previewing and Deleting Redactions

The tool you will use for almost all of your work is the Mark for Redaction tool.

To find the Mark for Redaction tool . . .

  1. Open the Tools Panel
  2. Twirl open the Protection section
  3. Select Mark for Redaction

Picture of the Protection panel in Acrobat X

Context Sensitive

The Mark for Redaction Tool cursor changes depending the content to be redacted.

Picture of text cursors and image cursors in Acrobat X

To Redact Text

  1. Select the Mark for Redaction tool
  2. When you hover over text, the Mark for Redaction tool becomes a text selection cursor. Select the text to mark it for redaction.

Tip: Did you select too much? Hit CTRL-Z to undo the redaction.

To Redact a Graphic or Image

  1. Select the Mark for Redaction Tool
  2. Place the cursor over an image or if no objects are present, across hair cursor (+) appears.
  3. Draw a rectangular selection area to redact. Anything found within the area— images, text, vector objects— will be “cut out” and redacted.
  4. An image redaction in Acrobat X

Force an Area Redaction Sometimes it can be difficult to select text properly. You can force Acrobat to present the crosshair for an area redaction by holding down the CTRL key.

Previewing a Redaction

Using the Mark for Redaction tool, you may preview the redacted item.

  1. Select the Mark for Redaction tool
  2. Hover over a redaction mark to preview it

Deleting a single Redaction Mark

Until you click the Apply Redactions button, the redaction marks are editable. To delete one, hover over it and click.

Selecting a redaction mark

You’ll see some subtle animation around the edges. Hit the DEL key to delete the redaction.

Changing the Appearance of Redactions

By default, redactions appear as solid black rectangles. The default appearance serves most folks just fine, but may be customized:

To change the appearance of a redacted item, right-click and choose Properties. . .

You may set a number of options such as…


Overlay text

Repeating, colored text

Redaction Color

Overlay Text

Overlay Text Color and Repeat

To change the properties of a Redaction mark

  1. Select the Mark for Redaction tool
  2. Hover over the redaction mark you wish to change
  3. Right-click and choose Properties

The Redaction Properties window is straightforward. Options below are referred by number:

Picture of Redaction Properties window with callouts

  1. Set the color of the redaction here.
    This is the appearance of the redaction after it is applied. You may also choose “no color” as an option.
  2. You may have overlay text on top of the redaction.
  3. Choose typeface for overlay text
  4. Set font size for overlay text
  5. Auto-size scales the text to fit the width of the redacted area
  6. Enable to repeat overlay text on the redaction mark
  7. Set alignment of overlay text
  8. Type in custom text to appear on top of the redaction.
    Note: Will only be available if “Use Overlay Text” is checked
  9. Enable to repeat the text over the redacted area
  10. This field displays Redaction Codes entered using the Code Sets below (11).
    Note: You cannot type into this field
  11. Redaction Codes.
    Redaction codes pre-defined sets of text used to denote the reason or statute under which the redaction was made. Acrobat Pro includes two pre-populated sets— U.S. FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) and U.S. Privacy Act. You can also create and save your own sets.
  12. Set the Outline Color for the Redaction Mark
    Sets the color of the comment mark before the redaction is applied

To change the default appearance of all redaction marks:

  1. Use the Mark for Redaction tool to create a redacted item
  2. Right-click and choose Properties to change the appearance. Click OK.
  3. Right-click on the item and choose “Make Current Properties Default”

Working with Multiple Redactions (Delete or change Properties)

Acrobat’s Comments Panel offers a list view of all of the Redaction marks in the document.

From the Comments Panel, you can delete or change the properties of many redaction marks at a time.

Picture of the Comments Panel in Acrobat X

Picture of the Comments List in Acrobat X

Open the Comments Panel, then twirl down the Comments List section

Select one or more comments, then right-click and choose Properties

Working in the Comments Panel

You can select a comment (Redaction mark in this case) by clicking on any of the items in the list.. Hold down the CTRL key if you need to select a discontinuous range of comments.

To select all of the redaction marks:

  1. Select the first item in the list
  2. Scroll to the bottom of the list
  3. Press SHIFT and select the last comment.

To delete a Redaction mark:
Hit the DEL key (or choose Delete from the pop-up menu) to delete any selected comments.

To change the properties of one or more comments
Make a selection then, right-click and choose Properties.

Search and Redact

Acrobat X Pro Search and Redact feature may be used to search intelligently for:

. . . in a single document or across multiple documents.

#### To search and redact1. Open the Tools panel 2. Twirl down the Protection section 3. Click Search and Remove

Selecting Search and Remove text in the Redaction Properties panel

Looking at the Search and Redact Window

The Search and Redact window offers a few options:

  1. The Arrange Window button conveniently sizes the Search and Document windows
  2. You can search in the front most (current) document or point to a whole folder of documents.
  3. Set the search scope for single or multiple words, or patterns
  4. Enter text to search for (only available for Single word option)
  5. Determine whether you will search for whole words or if capitalization matters

Searching for a Single Word

  1. Click Search and Remove Text in the Protection Panel
  2. In the Search window, click Arrange Windows if necessary
  3. In the Where would you like to search area, select In the current document or to browse to folder of files to perform cross-document search.
  4. in the Search for area, choose_ Single Word or Phrase_
  5. Enter your text in the search field
  6. Click Search and Redact

Working with the Results

Once the search is complete, the results window opens.

Search Results

  1. Clicking Check All will add a mark to all the words found
  2. You can also individually check any of the results. If you click on the result, you can preview the word in the PDF
  3. Click Mark Checked Results for Redaction to mark the words found

Searching and Marking Multiple Words

Acrobat X can search for and mark multiple words simultaneously. Here’s how:

  1. Click Search and Remove Text in the Protection Panel
  2. In the Search window, click Arrange Windows if necessary
  3. In the Where would you like to search area, select In the current document or to browse to folder of files to perform cross-document search.
  4. in the Search for area, choose_ Multiple Words or Phrase_
  5. The Words and Phrases to Search and Redact window opens
    – Enter each word you wish to search for and click Add
    (Optional) Import a list of words
  6. Click **OK **Acrobat will search through the document(s) and place a redaction mark on all words found
  7. Searching for Multiple Words or Phrases

Using Pattern-based Redaction

Acrobat can use pattern recognition to find information that varies such as:

Need to Create Your Own Patterns? See Creating and Using Custom Redaction Patterns

Here’s how to use patterns to find this type of information

  1. Click Search and Remove Text in the Protection Panel
  2. In the Search window, click Arrange Windows if necessary
  3. In the Where would you like to search area, select In the current document or to browse to folder of files to perform cross-document search.
  4. In the Search for area, choose_ Patterns_
  5. Select the type of information you want to find:F‌ind pattern-based information
  6. Click the **Search and Redact **button
  7. The Search window displays the results:
    A) Click to begin a new search if you did not find what you were looking for
    B) Click to save a PDF or CSV of the search results
    C) Click Check All to create a redaction mark for each pattern found
    D) Click on any item in the list to review the found pattern in the document window.
    D) Check any item to make a mark for selection
    E) Enable to mark part of the pattern (see below)
    F) Click Settings to change the marking options
    G) Click Marked Checked Results for Redaction to mark them in the document
    Picture of the Pattern Redaction Search Window
Marking Part of a Pattern To identify individuals in a case without breaching confidentiality, you may wish to mask part of a found pattern. Using the settings at right, the first characters of a Social Security number are masked. This allows us to identify individual based on the remaining digits:
  1. Picture of the Settings window for marking part of a pattern

Step 3: Review Redactions

It’s important to carefully review each page of your document, especially for scanned documents.

Fortunately, redactions in Acrobat are managed using familiar commenting and annotation tools. Thus, you can:

  1. Add notes and comments to Redacted items and send them to another Acrobat Professional user to review, reply to or change
  2. Participate in a Shared Review of a document. If other users have Acrobat Pro, multiple people, in real time, may indicate redactions.
  3. Summarize comments and notes attached to redacted items as part of a review or archival workflow
  4. Approve, reject or delete items to be redacted using the Comments Panel

To add a note/comment to an item marked for redaction, do one of the following:

To view the Comment panel, choose one of these methods:

Create a new Document which Summarizes Redactions

If you were headed to meeting with the other side, and you expected some challenges to your privileged and redacted documents, you might want to create a summarized version of your redacted documents to take with you.

This process creates a new, consolidated PDF. Redaction annotations are displayed as call-outs on the document:

To create a summarized document:

  1. Open the document containing your redaction marks.
    (You need to run this step before you apply redactions.)
  2. From the Comments Panel- Comments List, choose the flyout menu and choose Create Comments Summary
  3. Picture of how to find the Create Comments Summary option in Acrobat X
  4. The Summarize Options window will appear. I suggest choosing the second option:
  5. Click the Create PDF Comment Summary button.

Need to create a Privilege Log? Go to the Actions Exchange on the Acrobatusers.com website to download the free Create Comment Summary Action.This Action reports on your marked files and can generate a spreadsheet file of all of your redactions.

Step 4: Make Redactions Permanent (Apply Redactions)

Applying Redactions in Acrobat permanently removes the information from the document once you save it.

To apply redactions:

  1. Click the Apply Redactions button in the Protection Panel
  2. Picture of Protection panel for Applying Redactions in Acrobat X
  3. A warning window appears. Click OK
  4. Picture of warning window when applying redactions
  5. The Redactions are applied. Next, you will see another warning message prompting you to examine the document for metadata. Click the Yes button.
  6. Prompt for Examine Docuemnt
  7. The Examine Document panel opens.
    Examine Document finds hidden information such as metadata, hidden text, comments, etc. that could lead to an accidental disclosure. Note that the hidden OCR text layer can be removed, too. Click the Remove button.
  8. Picture of Remove Hidden Information window
  9. Choose File> Save
    If you set the Preferences in Step 1, Acrobat will rename your file automatically when you go to save it:

Use an Action to Automate Redaction

Acrobat X Pro Actions allows you to automate several steps of the Redaction process.

I’ve built a legal-specific Action to help automate the process. Rick’s Redaction Action performs the following steps:

  1. Prompts you to locate the documents you wish to redact
  2. Converts them to PDF (for supported file types like Word, Excel, etc.)
  3. OCRs the document (optional)
  4. Prompts user to redact the document
  5. Applies the redactions
  6. Prompts for metadata removal (optional)
  7. Renames the file with the _redacted.pdf suffix
  8. Saves the file as an Acrobat 5 level file (PDF 1.4) which is compatible with court filing systems

Download the Action

Redaction_Action.pdf (700K)

Hint: Right-click and Choose Save Target As . . . to save to your desktop

Install and using the Action

Follow the instructions in the PDF to extract and install the Action. The PDF also contains full instructions for using the Action.

Below, I’ve included some abbreviated instructions so you can get a sense for how the Action works.

  1. Create a folder on your desktop or other location. e.g. “Redacted Output”
  2. Open the Tools Panel and go to the Actions Wizard section.
  3. Click on Rick’s Redaction Action
  4. Picture of Actions Wizard panel for running an Action
  5. The Action Confirmation window appears. Click the Next button.
  6. Picture of Action Confirmation window
  7. The Select Files window appears.
    Click the Add Files button at the top of the screen and locate the files you need to redact.
  8. How to add files to be Redacted
  9. Once you have added the files, click the Next button.
  10. The Files window loaded and ready to go
  11. Find the folder you created in Step 1. This folder will be the destination for the redacted documents.
  12. Selecting the output folder
  13. Acrobat will open the first document in the list.
    You’ll be asked if you want to OCR the document. Click OK if you do.
  14. Acrobat automatically select the Mark for Redaction tool.
    – Make any redactions necessary on the document.
    – Click the _Next Step _text in the yellow Action notifier
  15. Actions Next Step guide
  16. Acrobat will continue to walk you through the various steps of the Action for each document in your list.

Don’t like the Action? Change it . . . Modifying the Action is easy. I’ve included instructions in the PDF documentation.

Final Thoughts

Keep in the mind the following when taking on projects that require redaction:

    Simply marking text and graphics does not actually remove it.
  2. Using Acrobat X Pro, you can use Actions to automate much of the redaction workflow such as:
  1. Search and Redact will only find text in searchable documents. OCR documents first.
    Even so, since OCR is an imperfect process, carefully review scanned documents.
  2. Carefully review all documents prior to submission in discovery. A two-person review team will catch many more errors than a single person.
  3. Know your court rules and judges orders regarding redaction. Ask the clerk of the court for clarification if you need more information.
  4. Don’t Skip the Examine Document Step
    Naive users may elect to cover up information in electronic sources and mistakenly believe it is redacted. The Examine Document function can detect and fix these issues.