Surface Tip: Use OneNote to Annotate PDFs on Surface RT or Surface Pro

Here at Windows RT Source, we believe that OneNote is the best note-taking application in the world. It has some unique features that set it apart from the competition, especially when paired with powerful operating systems like Windows 8 and Windows RT. One such feature is called Send to OneNote 2013.

In the Windows 8 style app world, there aren’t any really great PDF readers. Microsoft has improved things in their own software in Windows 8.1, but it’s still not all that powerful. OneNote however, can replace those core functions you may be looking for if you have documents you need to reference and keep with you.

When you have your PDF open, simply go to your Charms menu and choose “Devices”. From here, select “Print” and then “Send to OneNote 2013”. This works on both the Surface RT and the Surface Pro (as long as you have purchased a license). All of the following features are available to both Windows RT and Windows 8 Pro users.

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Notice the flexibility that you have when printing in the modern Windows 8 environment. This is really powerful stuff and really helps to prove that this interface can be just as functional as the old desktop design space that we’ve all come to know Windows for.

Once you’ve printed your document, head over to your desktop and OneNote 2013 will be waiting for you. OneNote gives you the option to choose which Notebook, section, and even page to print the file to. After you’ve chosen, the location for the pages you’ve printed, you’ll be in editing mode. This is where things get awesome. If you’re using the Surface Pro or any other Windows 8 device with Wacom’s digitizing technology built in, you’ll be able to edit more easily, but all of the features are still there on Windows RT.

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Turn your tablet into Portrait mode and go into full screen editing mode by tapping the expand button. Your controls will still be available from the top of the screen by tapping the ellipsis.

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Try adding handwritten notes right on the PDF.


You can also highlight and have a great deal of flexibility in both the color and the width of the lines. Too, you can choose whether you’re using a pen or a highlighter and thus control the opacity of the lines.

Of course, in reality, you have access to all of OneNote’s other powerful note-taking features. These features are invaluable to students and professionals alike. After adding these notations, you can also open up the Windows 8 style OneNote app for more touch-friendly viewing. Give it a shot and let us know what you think!

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  • Jerry

    Hey guys!
    I’m having kind of a problem with my Surface Pro 3. When I want to print PDF into OneNote 2013 (Windows Office) through Windows Reader, meaning the app, every page is imported seperately and not continously in one subpage of OneNote. I would really appreciate some suggestions on how to fix this. Thanks! :)

  • RJ

    You can try Annotate101 app on your Surface Pro ( to experience the Rich PDF Annotation capabilities like Highlighting, Free Hand Annotation, Signature, Compare Sid-by-Side PDF, Bookmarks and much more. It also has extra features like full integration with Microsoft SharePoint 2010/2013/Online, DropBox, OneDrive, OneDrive For Business, Box, Evernote and much more.

  • Arjun Modi

    OneNote sucks! Atleast on the surface RT. It is very slow. It is slow to upload a pdf file on it. The only way I can do that is if I print the PDF and set it to OneNote. I cannot simply save it on my documents and upload it through there. Second, it constantly freezes up between pages and takes a good minute or two to load a page when switching pages which is not ideal when sitting in a classroom trying to take notes. It is very disappointing.

  • isnetit

    Well, I meant drawboard pdf

  • isnetit

    why not try drawback pdf? You may try it for free. The annotation for pdf works like a charm. It’s just only that the price is too high.

  • Leila Holmann

    Since the Surface Pro is running the full version of Windows 8, it is also possible to run any PDF desktop application. Since I am a developer of it, I would recommend you look at PDF Studio, an alternative to Acrobat at one third of the price:
    The same license can be used on 2 devices and will run on Windows, Mac and Linux.

  • Toni

    Just bought my surface RT which I found out is running at 8 not 8.1 I must take it back to be upgraded. :( I wrote a long note tonight in onenote hoping I could email it with ease. This is not working & I’m not overly computer savvy! Please help if anyone knows! I don’t care how its sent but I need it done quickly

    • Lane Freeze

      Hi Toni, just swipe in from the right side and tap the Share Charm. If that doesn’t give you the option to e-mail, you can copy and paste it to a new e-mail.

    • Denny French

      Toni, why do you have to take it back. Just do the updates and in a few weeks, the Windows 8.1 Update 1 will be available.

  • Nick Ruiz

    The disappointing thing about OneNote is when you want to export your mark-up back to PDF. The export includes all of the headers from each individual page, which causes your exported PDF to look nothing like the PDF you originally imported. It’s easy to put things into OneNote, but it’s difficult to take them out again (i.e. export).

    • Daniel Kepple

      exactly, wish there was a work around

      • Lane Freeze

        You could always take a screenshot > crop > convert, but that would take…. a long time depending on the size of the document. We should provide some feedback to the OneNote team.

    • Dan

      Try going (in OneNote 2013 – don’t know about earlier version) to View menu and select ‘Hide Page Title’. Next, move the entire pdf up to the top if needed (click on the block and move it that way). Double check that any annotations moved with it.

      • Ted Voon

        i’ve tried this but it’s doesn’t work properly, the thing with onenote is that it has it’s own canvas and when you print to onenote, it adds to its canvas like a image. and everything slightly off, it’s irritating to go through the many steps of importing pdf and exporting pdf. people want to open up pdf right away, write on it right away, and save it back as pdf right away without the export/import steps. the stock reader app that comes with surface pro does this pretty well. but the handwriting is clunky. so i’ve tried drawboard pdf that has all stock reader features and the handwriting is awesome! but i’m wondering if i should get it since it’s $9.99. it’s trial for 3 days.

  • Pam Williamson

    I got my surface pro 2 yesterday and was pretty disappointed it didn’t come with Microsoft office pre installed! It does have OneNote on it; however I’m not sure its a full version? From my PDF I hit ‘devices’ and ‘print’ but the only options I am given is Microsoft cps write or journal note. What gives? HELP!

    • Lane Freeze

      The Desktop OneNote app is a full Office application and requires you purchase a license either thru Office 365 (which I whole heartedly recommend) or as a standalone.

    • Denny French

      The Surface Pro/2 is a full Windows 8/8.1 device running on an Intel processor. This means that you can install legacy and regular Windows programs. The Surface RT/2 are running an ARM processor version of Windows 8/8.1 and has their own version of MS Office included and can only install apps designed to run on it. Unfortunately, with the Surface Pro 2, you will need to purchase a license for MS Office 365 as Lane has indicated.

      Think of it this way… The Surface RT and Surface 2 is more like an iPad, but the Surface Pro and Surface Pro 2 is a laptop in a tablet form factor.