Customizing the Acrobat XI Interface

Our research at Adobe tells us that legal professionals use many Acrobat tools, but probably not all of them.

In the interest of simplification, you may wish to hide the tools you don’t use and and provide direct access to the tools you use the most.

I suspect that the majority of Acrobat users never change the default user interface.If you want Acrobat to work better for you, it behooves you to learn how.

For the record, I don’t use the term behoove lightly!

What is that thingy called?

Before jumping into this, let’s take a look at the Acrobat application window.

The following two screen captures represent the official terminology that we use at Adobe for various parts of the Acrobat user interface:

A. Menu bar B. Toolbars C. Navigation pane
(Bookmarks panel displayed)
D. Document pane E. Task panes  


The top toolbar may also be customized and I will refer to it by section below:

A. Create button B. Quick Tools toolbar C. Common Tools toolbar
D. Page Navigation commands E. Select & Zoom commands F. Page Display commands
G. File Tools    

What can be customized in Acrobat?

In the rest of this post, I’ll discuss how to customize the Acrobat user interface in the following areas:

Task Pane

Acrobat XI allows you to create a custom Task Pane which allows you to include only the tools you need.

This is a new feature in Acrobat XI and not available in previous versions of Acrobat X or in Adobe Reader.

The custom panel can contain just about any tool available in Acrobat with a few exceptions such as Actions.

At right, I’ve created a new Task Pane called Legal which in turn contains a section called My Legal Features.

Quick Tools

Quick Tools are tools that you park in the top toolbar for quick access to frequently used functions. Quick Tools are handy because they allow you to get to a tool without having to open a panel.

The number of Quick Tools you can show will depend on 1) your screen resolution and 2) whether you have disabled any of the tools to the File Tools (See below) to the left of the Quick Tools area.

Common Tools

The Common Tools toolbar offers various tools for navigating, zooming, changing view, etc. My experience has been that users sometimes struggle figuring out how to configure the Common Tools, so I’ve included detailed instructions on how to do so below.

Tool Sets – or – Two out of Three Ain’t Bad

In Acrobat XI, you can create a new Tool Set to capture settings for Task Panes and Quick Tools. Settings files may be exported and imported making them easy to share with colleagues.

This omission of the Common Tools from saved Tool Sets makes sense (kind of) since generally users do not make too many changes to the navigation tools. On the other hand, since configuring the Common Tools isn’t that obvious, it would be great to share them. I’ve shared this feedback with our engineers.

You can create multiple Tool Sets and switch between them. If you occasionally use a specific set of tools, you can create a set that makes this easy. This certainly saves a lot of time hunting down a specific feature.

Creating a Toolset

This process is actually pretty simple . . . simpler than I have made it sound below, so please experiment!

As I mentioned above, a Tool Set captures both Quick Tools and Task Panes. Here’s how to create a new, custom Tool Set:

  1. Click the Customize button at the upper right of the window and choose Create New Tool Set. . .
    From this same menu you can manage all of your tool sets.
  2. The Customize Tool Set window opens.
    Choose a tool and add it to either the Quick Tools Toolbar, a Custom Tools pane, or both.
    For detailed instructions on how to use this window, click here.

    Some options in this window:
    – Create more than one panel for your toolset
    – Add dividers between commands to make them easier to find
    – Include instructions with commands
    – Reorder or delete items

You can’t break anything in this window. Acrobat won’t let you change the default tools, so you can always revert to the full set of tools.

Switching between Tool Sets

It’s easy to switch between toolsets. I have a set of tools I use for redaction and another set for everyday use. To switch between tool sets:

  1. Click the Customize button in the upper right corner of the window
  2. Choose a tool set from the list:

Customizing the Common Tools

The Common Toolbar is customized using a menu.

The easiest way to access the menu is to hover over the Common Toolbar, and right-click (Command-Click on the Mac):

Each of the top menus (Rotate View, Page Navigation, Page Display, Select & Zoom, File, Edit) control which icons will appear on the toolbar..

Page Navigation Tools

By default, the Page Navigation toolbar includes a Previous Page and Next Page tool:

Hidden in this section are several other very useful tools which I always enable:

These extra tools such as the First Page, Last Page and Previous and Next View buttons allow you to more quickly move between pages and views.

To enable all of these tools, right-click on the Common Tools bar and follow the illustration below:

Page Display Tools

I rarely change the defaults here, but I will describe Acrobat’s default behavior which, I think, is interesting.

In most cases, Acrobat behaves perfectly. For example, when you are looking at a letter-size page full width, scrolling is continuous as in your word processing program. However, when you are looking at an entire page, Acrobat snaps scrolling from page to page.

Of course, you have options . . . if you want scroll documents in Fit Page mode, you certainly can. Want to try some of these different options?

  1. Right-click on the Common Toolbar
  2. Choose Page Display
  3. Choose Show all Page Display Tools

You can always choose the Reset option for the Page Display toolbar if you don’t like the results.

Select and Zoom Tools

Zoom in, Zoom out . . . these are operations you may do frequently in Acrobat, so it makes sense to put tools up front where you can find them.

I like to enable the Marquee Zoom tool, also known as the Magnifying Glass tool.

The Marquee Zoom tool allows you to draw a rectangle surrounding the area in which you are interested, then have the screen zoom in to just the area selected.

You can also click once on the Marquee Zoom tool on the page and Acrobat will zoom in via 25% increments. Hold down CTRL and click to zoom out in 25% increments.

To add in the Marquee Zoom tool:

  1. Right-click on the Common Toolbar
  2. Choose Select and Zoom
  3. Enable the Marquee Zoom tool

Edit Menu Tools

The Edit section of the Common Toolbar offers quick access to three tools which are not on by default, but that you may find very helpful.

  • Take Snapshot
    The Snapshot Tool captures to the clipboard either:
    – The visible portion of a PDF page
    – Part of a PDF page

    I’ve written about the Snapshot Tool previously in my article Adding a Thumbnail of a PDF Page to a PowerPoint presentation.

  • Find (CTRL-F)
    Search for single instances of a word in a PDF
  • Advanced Search (CTRL-Shift-F)
    Find and display all of instances of a word in PDF. Very useful for case analysis.

Of these three, I only turn on the Snapshot tool by default since it doesn’t have a keyboard equivalent.

Still, I’ve heard from many legal pros that simply – must – have – Find – on – the – toolbar.

I hear you!

Here’s how to add the Find tool to the Acrobat toolbar:

  1. Right-click on the Common Toolbar
  2. Choose Edit
  3. Enable the Find tool

In the screen shot below, I’ve marked Take Snapshot (A) and Find (B):

Oops! How do I set it all back to the defaults?

Acrobat allows you to quickly and easily reset:

  • An Individual toolbar
  • All of the Common tools

Right-click on the Common toolbar, then choose any of the toolbar sections.

For example, to reset all of your Common tools, Select (A).

To resent only the Select and Zoom tools, Select (B).

The File Section: It’s Odd

Oddly, the File section of the Common Toolbar isn’t even on the same toolbar as the rest of the Common tools, but it is controlled the same way.

By default, all of the File Menu tools are on in Acrobat and you probably won’t want to change them. These tools are:

  • Open
  • Save
  • Save Files to
  • Print
  • Sign
  • Send by Email

One thing to note about the File tools is that they are on the same line as the Quick Tools.

If you turn off some of the File tools, you will have more room for your Quick Tools:

Here’s how to edit the File tools:

  1. Right-click on the Common Toolbar
  2. Choose File
  3. Deselect any tools you do not wish to have

A few miscellaneous nuggets . . .

  1. Acrobat XI allows you to add many more tools as Quick Tools than Acrobat X.
    I recommend you go through all of the panels in the Edit Tool Set window to find the items you might need.
  2. There is now a Save As button you can add to the toolbar (big user request!)
  3. You can add an Action to the Quick Tools Bar, but not though the Edit Quick Tools window (above). Just right-click on an Action and choose Add to Quick Tools bar.

Share a Quick Tools Set

Acrobat stores the tool set files as tiny XML files with the .AAUI suffix. They are easy to export and import:

  1. Click the Customize button and choose Manage Tool Sets . . .
  2. Select a toolset and click the Export button:

The files are tiny and easy to email. To import a Tool Set file, you can double-click on it or use the Import button in the Manage Tool Set window.

Oh, that Dang Properties Bar!

For regular blog readers, you probably already know that one issue some Acrobat users don’t like is how the Properties Bar is handled. The Properties Bar cannot be docked, so it sort of floats around, forever looking for home.

Believe me, I have given this feedback to our engineers!

For those of you who use the Typewriter tool to make permanent changes to documents, I hope you’ll look at using the new Add Text tool in the Content Editing panel. This allows you to edit any text in the Acrobat document, or simply just type anywhere you want without having to flatten the file later. Try it . . . I stopped using the Typewriter (also known as Add Text tool) since we added this feature.

I hope to cover using the new Content Editing tools in a future post.

24 Responses to Customizing the Acrobat XI Interface

  1. Terry Aurit says:

    Thanks, as always, for the great tips! I’m enjoying Acrobat XI… the new features are very useful.

  2. Evan Guthrie says:

    I was able to get the interface customized to my liking. Thanks.

  3. Bedford says:

    How do I add the “align right” format button to the Quick Tools Toolbar?

    • Rick Borstein says:

      Not sure what you are trying to do . . . do you mean a form field, text in an annotation . . .?

  4. Bruce Resnick says:

    Thanks for the insights.
    I have 2 questions (for now…).
    I just bought an upgrade from Acrobat 9 Pro to Acrobat XI Pro.

    1. Is it possible to dock the properties tool bar (the ctrl-E bar) in XI Pro? It sounds like it did not work in X Pro. It was nice to have up all the time.

    2. I used the free flatten tool from pdfscripting in 9 Pro (which worked great). Will that still work in XI Pro?

    Thanks, in advance, for your thoughts!

    • Rick Borstein says:

      Unfortunately, no, you can’t dock the Properties Bar in Acrobat XI. I spoke to our Head of Engineering about this last week, though! If you want to add permanent text to the document, use the new Content Editing section in Acrobat XI. All the controls are tucked nicely into the panel.

      • Chris says:

        Rick – Could you ask the Head of Engineering why I have to stay with Arcobat Pro 9 in order to dock my Properties Bar? It’s insane that I have to reopen it every time I open a new document. It’s a simple feature that costs a ton of efficiency loss. Being able to dock toolbars was a great feature, and the Properties Bar is incredibly essential to using any of the other tools!

        Please don’t remove valuable features from upgraded versions, as I am advising all my clients to stick with 9 until someone in Adobe engineering tries using their product before shipping it. I would immediately upgrade all of our licenses to current if this feature was added back…seriously.

        Thanks! – Chris

        • Rick Borstein says:

          Engineering is well aware of the issue. I yelled at them again about this recently . . . and I hope we will have a fix in the future.

  5. Warren says:

    In your section on the files menu tools you say “turn off some of the File tools” and you show two images. One of the images shows the save-to-cloud tool missing. How do I accomplish this? I cannot seem to manage to get rid of that darn cloud and it is something that I will absolutely never use.

    • Rick Borstein says:

      Right-click on the toolbar (on top of the cloud tool) and choose Edit>File and deselect the Cloud tool.

  6. Lisa Brauckmiller says:

    Is there a way to keep a custom task pane open by default instead of having to open it each time an Adobe file is opened?

  7. Shiri says:

    I don’t have the customize button in my Adobe XI, nor does the right click on an extended tool (such as TM Save) do anything. Any idea why?
    Thanks in advance!

    • Rick Borstein says:

      It sounds like your copy of Acrobat isn’t getting the right permissions to let you access these features. I would suggest reinstlaling.

  8. Jane MacNaughton says:

    I have turned on the hand tool and content editing in adobe, and I can’t find anywhere as to how one turns it off! I want to highlight items so they can be linked to a certain page in a huge document, and, because these editing tools are turned on, I cannot highlight anything. I have been working on this for hours. Do you have any tips? Thanks a lot.

    • Rick Borstein says:

      If I understand you, you are editing content and then want to add a link to text. These are two different modes. If you are editing content, click the Hand Tool and click anywhere in the document. Then, you can use the Cursor tool to select text and add a link.

  9. Ewart Roots says:

    Am I right in thinking that I cannot access many tools without first creating my own toolbar?

  10. Matthew Ball says:

    Have created a Tool Bar. It is ‘imported’ into Adobe for the local user’s computer. They can also connect to a 2008 RDS server and run a session (which is a mandatory profile which is not saved). How can I ‘import’ this Tool Bar into their RDS session ?

  11. Todd Rosenfeld says:

    I’m trying to copy and paste text boxes and text callouts with borders and color-coded backgrounds from the Comment>Drawing Markups toolbar. However, when I try a copy/paste, the boxes and text are pasted in at 90 degrees. I say ok, I’ll rotate the page (shft+ctrl+R) before I paste. Now the boxes are pasted in upside down (180 degrees). I try using Tools>Content Editing>Edit Text & Images, only to find “The text cannot be edited using the Edit Text & Images Tool…” Where is the roate command for the Comment>Drawing Markups tools?

    • Rick Borstein says:

      Hmmm . . . a couple of things. An annotation (Drawing Markup) is not the same as a page object. Acrobat annotations sit on a layer in the document and position themselves relative to document rotation. Edits to page content do not. When you copy an annotation from a page at one orientation into another, the annot carries with it the rotation flag, so it will appear in the wrong orientation. Often times PDF creation apps won’t actually realign the pixels, but simply tell the viewer to rotate the view.

  12. Shannah Whithaus says:

    In X I had the advanced search tool right in my toolbar. In XI, I can’t seem to find that tool to put it on my toolbar. I use it so frequently, and it was really helpful to have it right in the toolbar. The key combo is a pain to use. Please bring back the advanced search tool for the toolbar or tell me how I can get my button back. I need it!