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Ultimate iPad Guide: Annotation Apps for Architects

Annotation of drawings is a primary function of architects. Whether it involves markup up progress drawings for junior staff or reviewing shop drawings submitted by the general contractor, architects needs tools that today provide them a digital version of the trusted fat red marker.

Annotation Apps for Architects on iPad

In this category we have tried to limit ourselves to just tools that primarily annotate PDF files–drawings importantly and of course smaller documents. Our Mobile CAD Viewers and Collaboration apps guide includes other excellent tools for annotation as well, as part of native CAD/BIM file formats. We did not list AutoCAD WS here or SolidWorks Corporation’s excellent eDrawings Pro apps.

Some apps are listed twice. For example the excellent Bluebeam Revu is on both guide lists. As is TurboReview–because they can annotate PDF drawings. Also, in our list we go beyond just the need to annotate PDF drawings files but also consider the architect’s task of working with text documents like specifications and project manuals, among other things.

And architects work with many other document format types that often need to be converted into PDFs. Some of the best of those apps are listed here as well. Let’s highlight some apps we like.

Again, we are going to point out Bluebeam because in truth it stands alone within the AEC industry as a truly dedicated PDF-based AEC annotation and collaboration tool. It’s feature set for the architecture industry is extensive and it works collaboratively via Bluebeam Studio. (see image 01)

01 - Bluebeam Revu offers AEC industry specific features to powerful PDF annotation and collaboration.

02 - PDFReader Pro Edition for iPad is also a chief competitor to iAnnotate and GoodReader.

03 - The highest rated app with the most reviews in the list, iAnnotate offers extensive annotation features and more, including voice recording attachment to docs.

If an architect doesn’t need all the industry-specific features of a tool like Bluebeam Revu or needs an additional tool for standard document reviewing (Revu doesn’t let you annotate things like iWorks docs for example) than the competition is really between GoodReader, iAnnotate, (see image 03) PDF Expert or PDF Reader Pro Edition for iPad. (see image 02 above). Those are the heavy hitters and each offers unique combinations of features.

The List (11 Apps)

Here is a listing of some of the best PDF-centric annotation apps in existence for all markets, plus dedicated AEC industry PDF-based or PDF-capable drawing markup and annotation tools. Again, we have somehow missed an up that deserves to be on this list–especially if you developed it–please let us know so we can add it here. It may also be on another guide list in the series. Without further ado:

  • Bluebeam Revu — this app is dedicated to AEC industry drawing annotation.It is the big brother if Bluebeam Vu and adds redline PDF markup tools, editing of PDF pages, including deletion/addition, chat support in co-review sessions, collaboration sessions with Bluebeam Studio and more. For architects not wedded to markup tools within mobile CAD viewers and collaborators, this should be strongly considered for your own review. (34 reviews, 3 stars) 9.99.USD
  • Documents — this app by Readdle, one of the best app developers out there, is not only free but offers so much for users beyond just handing PDFs. Of course you can annotate PDFs and more. More a documents management system for you iPad, it syncs to iCloud and others popular cloud storage and also handles media. (2190 reviews, 4 1/2 stars) Free
  • FastPdf+ — the whole point of this PDF app is that is supposed to be really fast. Reviewers claim it is faster than more popular apps like GoodReader and others. It also does page-by-page side viewing on the iPad. And it holds your docs on a bookshelf like Apple’s iBooks. (123 reviews, not rated) 2.99.USD
  • GoodReader — this app is iAnnotate and PDF Expert’s chief competition. In 2010 it was the #1 best selling non-Apple app for iPad. The app has excellent annotation options, syncs with Dropbox, SkyDrive, SugarSync and more it also handles massive files. In addition it supports iWork docs, Word, PowerPoint and Excel. (4752 reviews, 4 1/2 stars) 4.99.USD
  • iAnnotate — Of all the annotation apps iAnnotate is considered by many as the very best. This app is very close to PDF Expert and most agree it is slightly better, but unlike PDF Expert it doesn’t support filling out PDF forms. This app a very full compliment of annotation tools, stamps, date and voice recording and more. It supports multitasking so you can work with multiple docs at once and it works with leading cloud storage services like iCloud, Dropbox, Google Drive and more. (8092 reviews, 4 1/2 stars) 9.99.USD.
  • PDF Expert — this app by Readdle is a very capable PDF documents tool with full annotation support, the ability to highlight text, or strike through, add freehand drawings to documents, type text or notes with comments, add or remove pages and it also lets you complete PDF forms. (4460 reviews, 4/12 stars) 9.99.USD
  • PDF Converter — this Readdle app does exactly what you think it does, convert other files into PDFs. It supports the conversion of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Apple’s iWork documents (Pages, Numbers and Keynote), HTML, PNGs and even Safari webarchives. (86 reviews, 3 1/2 stars) 6.99.USD
  • PDFpen for iPad — this mobile version of the popular Mac app offers extensive and unique features for annotation and managing PDFs. It is unique in its freehand highlighting of markup and it works with iCloud and other cloud services. (390 reviews, 4 stars) 14.99.USD
  • PDF Reader Pro Edition for iPad — this app is a very full-featured PDF reader and annotation tool. It can also create PDF files. It’s annotation tools are quite nice and support stamps, sticky notes, highlighting, free drawing mode and more. It is also a superb PDF reader with extensive features. (1,845 reviews, 3 1/2 stars) 9.99.USD. Note the current version has 4 1/2 stars and 222 reviews.
  • Save2PDF — while not an annotation tool per se, this is a great PDF utility application. It lets you create PDFs on your iPad from tones of popular file formats, including Word, Pages, Numbers, Excel, Keynote, PowerPoint, etc. It is a Swiss-army knife of an app for PDF merging and creation and works with iCloud, Dropbox, Google Docs and more. It should be said that the reviews of the current version are five stars–a rarity with more than a dozen reviews. (312 reviews, 4 stars) 5.99.USD
  • TurboReview — this app by IMSI-Design is based on the same quick TurboViewer engine. Architosh has reviewed that app and it is indeed a very quick PDF and drawing viewer. With TurboReview IMSI adds extensive markup tools. (2 reviews, not rated) 29.99.USD

The Gem in the Group

The gem in this group might be one of the weakest annotators in the whole bunch. But boy is it so much more than just a PDF viewer and annotator. The real gem is actually the developer of this gem–Readdle, of Ukraine. As a developer they are exclusively focused on iOS app development and make not just the excellent PDF Export and very useful PDF Converter, they also make several well-regarded apps. The one we love is actually free. It’s Documents by Readdle.

04 - Documents is a gem of an application and its free. In this view we are looking at its built-in web browser.

Documents is in reality a file management, viewing, annotation and media player system for your iPad all in one. It has remarkable depth yet is fairly easy to figure out. If you are short on patience you should just read the very good manual. One reason we like Documents is because it contains its own web browser. The free Terra Browser engine is inside Documents. With this you can save website information, organize it and then sync it with the cloud. Documents is free.

next page: Site Survey, Analysis & Visualization Apps (26 Mar publish)

series index page: Ultimate iPad Guide: Apps for Architects

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