red highlight representing a digital markup tool.

Using the iPad Markup Tool with low vision

How to use the iOS markup tool to annotate PDFs and images, and how I use it with accessibility features such as Zoom, VoiceOver and Guided Access.

After I was helping them fill out several pages of medical paperwork, one of my friends asked me about my experience using the iPad Markup tool with low vision, as they knew that I frequently use it to write on forms that I receive over email. While I still prefer using Notability whenever possible to annotate documents, there have been several instances where I have been asked to use Markup for writing on forms that I don’t need to save to my iPad, or for taking exams when the professor did not want me to have a saved copy of the test. Here is an overview of my experience using the iPad Markup tool with low vision, and how others can use it as well.

What is Markup?

Markup is a built-in iOS feature starting in iOS 10 that allows users to draw on and annotate images and PDFs across various applications on the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch. Users have the option to use several different tools, including a pen, a marker/highlighter, a pencil, an eraser, a ruler, and other effects such as text and shapes. Markup can be used with or without the Apple Pencil.

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How to access Markup

Markup can be used in a few different applications on iOS, though its most common uses are in the Mail app, the Messages app, the Photos app, and the Files app. Here is how to use Markup in the most popular applications.

Using Markup with the Mail app


  1. Open Mail and tap the compose button to start a new email. Or reply to an existing email.
  2. Tap inside the body of your email, then tap Return to open the format bar. You can also tap inside your email, then tap the cursor and select Insert Photo or Video or Add Attachment. You might need to tap the arrow button to scroll through the options.
  3. Tap the camera button or the document button, then look for the photo or PDF that you want to attach and mark up.
  4. Double tap on the attachment, then select Markup to add your markup. Tap the plus button to add a signature, text, and more.
  5. Tap Done, then send your email.

Using Markup with the Message app

  1. Open Messages and tap the compose button   to start a new conversation. Or go to an existing conversation.
  2. Tap the photos button and select a photo.
  3. Tap the photo in the message, then tap Markup. From here, you can add a sketch to the photo, or tap the plus button for other Markup options.
  4. Tap Save, then tap Done.
  5. Tap the blue arrow to send.

Using Markup with the Photos app

  1. Go to Photos and select the photo you want.
  2. Tap Edit, tap the Actions button (which has three dots arranged like “…”) , then tap Markup.
  3. Tap the plus button to add text, shapes, and more.

Using Markup with the Files app

  1. Open the Files app.
  2. Tap the file that you want to mark up.
  3. Tap the markup button in the top-right corner, which looks like a drawing compass
  4. Mark up your document with the tools of your choice.
  5. Tap the markup button again to save changes
  6. Tap Done.

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Markup interface

The Markup tool features several different options for drawing, writing, and annotating on top of photos, PDFs, and other types of non-video content, and allows users to save their annotations directly on top of an image/document.

The available Markup utensils on the toolbar, in order from left to right, include:

There is also a plus icon on the toolbar that includes additional options, including:

Drawing with Markup

Once the user selects a Markup tool, like the pen, highlighter, or pencil, select a color and start drawing. Tap the same tool again to change the color opacity or tap another tool to change the thickness. Users can also tap the color button to change color shades.

Moving a drawing

After drawing something, users have the option to move it around. Tap the Lasso tool, trace a circle around the drawing that you want to move, then drag it to its desired location.

Erase or undo a drawing

To redo a drawing, tap the eraser button and rub your finger across the area to erase. Users can also undo any markup action by selecting the undo icon. If you accidentally undo a markup, shake your device, and tap Redo.

Using Markup with assistive technology

Using Markup with Zoom

The icons for the Markup tool can be magnified with Zoom- I personally use the Window view for Zoom so that there is a smaller focus window that I can use to identify items. The pinch gesture can also be used to magnify photos/PDFs in the Markup tool.

Using Markup with VoiceOver

The icons for the Markup tool can be read aloud by VoiceOver and allow users to adjust settings such as opacity, color, and reveal other information about the drawing utensil. However, users cannot use pens/markers/pencils/etc while VoiceOver is enabled with an Apple Pencil or with their finger. For this reason, it’s better to temporarily disable VoiceOver when drawing or writing in Markup. Documents that are created with accessibility in mind (i.e tagged PDFs) can be read in Markup with VoiceOver enabled.

Using Markup with Guided Access

For students taking tests that require the use of Guided Access, the Markup tool can be enabled within the Files app, though as of iOS 14 there is no way to lock the display of the device in the Markup tool unless the button to exit the Markup tool is disabled when setting up Guided Access.

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What I use the iPad Markup tool for

Some of the ways I use the iPad Markup tool with low vision include:

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A note on obscuring information

One important thing to note about the iOS Markup tool is that the marker tool is not actually a marker, but a highlighter – it puts a transparent layer over text. Even though swiping back and forth can make it appear that it is creating an opaque layer over text, it can still be adjusted in photo editing to reveal the hidden information, even if the color black is used for the marker. For this reason, it is recommended that users use the shape tool to black out information, as it is harder to reveal what is underneath.

Summary of using then iPad Markup app with low vision

By Veronica Lewis/Veronica With Four Eyes,

Updated September 2023; original post published May 2022.

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