Bluebeam Tips – Comparing Documents

Have you ever wondered what the commission rate is for hold music? I’ve been on hold with OneSource software support for so long that those are the kinds of questions entering my mind.

But let’s talk Bluebeam instead. Last week I covered how to mark up a document and how sign off on numbers and changes. Today, I’d like to discuss the best Bluebeam feature for tax returns: comparing documents.

Since the majority of tax work is either comparing the current year return to last year’s, or comparing different versions of the current year return, anything that speeds up the comparison is a huge boon. Back when I started in tax, we’d stack up the returns side by side and page through the pile, checking line by line to make sure that our one change didn’t blow up the whole return. And while the process certainly helped my billable hours, it wasn’t exactly enjoyable work.

With Bluebeam, I can do the same comparison in a fraction of the time.

Basic Split

The easiest way to compare documents is to open them up side by side and start scrolling through the two. Simply click on the “Split” button (either horizontal or vertical, depending on your preference), and start scrolling.

bbsplit 1Here I clicked the “vertical” split, which gave me my two screen. I can then choose whichever document I want in each screen, most likely a different version of the same return. All I’ll have to do is scroll through both documents to compare them a page at a time.

While this works pretty well and is quick to set up, it does have a few problems. First, you need to make sure you have a big enough monitor to handle the comparison. If you haven’t upgraded your computer since the Bush administration, this might be an issue.

Second, you’ll have to scroll through each screen to move them down. That means rolling the wheel down on one side (or pressing the scroll button if you’re into that), then moving the mouse to the other side and scrolling that down. Not a big deal if you only have a few pages to go through, but if you’re on the fifth version of a California corporate return, your scroll finger is probably sorer than a ref’s arm in the preseason opener. Fortunately, you can cut that scrolling in half with the next feature.


On the bottom of the screen you have a “Sync” button. This does about what you expect it to do. Press it, and then both documents on your screen will sync to each other. That means scroll down on one, and you scroll down on the other.

bbsplit 2

I should point out that the Sync feature will not turn off automatically. So if you no longer want to documents to sync, you’ll have to press it again.

The sync feature is really pretty awesome when you’re comparing different versions of the same return. If it’s taken seven drafts before the associate gets the tax return right, syncing the two tax returns will make comparing the documents easy, and it’ll make any missing pages glaringly obvious.

It does have, unfortunately, one major set back. The documents have to be set up the same, or the sync will no longer work. For example, if the new version added one extra statement, all the pages after that statement will be out of sync.

There is no easy way to fix this that we’ve found. The best idea we’ve come up with is to add in a blank page in the shorter document to keep the remaining pages in line. This works okay as a quick work around, but until Revu can figure out a better way to make this work, we’re kind of stuck (Revu, if there is a better way to do this, please let me know).

Comparing Documents

Bluebeam has one more really powerful feature to compare two versions of the document, which, unfortunately, ends up not being quite as practical as I’d hope. If you have a new version of a document and you want to quickly compare it to the old document, there’s a feature called, creatively enough, “Compare Documents.” This can be found on the Document Tab, under Comparison:

bbsplit 3

When you click this button, it’ll bring up a dialog asking you which documents you want to compare. I believe if you have two documents already opened side by side, it’ll choose those by default, but if not you can pick any documents you want.

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If you want to mess around with the other options, fell free. I generally take the default options.

When you click OK, Bluebeam will actually create a third document that compares the first two. This third document will have mark ups showing all the changes with nice little red clouds.

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This feature really is amazing if you’re on version 10 of a return and the only thing that needed to change was your spelling of “accrued” on page 56. It gives you an extremely quick way to verify that nothing else in the return has changed.

The big drawback to this feature, though, is the documents really do need to be basically identical. Like I mentioned with the sync feature above, getting even one page difference will screw up the whole process, adding gigantic red clouds that cover the document like the blood on the battlefields of the Great Accounting Wars of 2002.

While the Compare Document (and, to a lesser extend, Sync) don’t always work perfectly, these three features together really speed up the tax return review process. At the very least, it makes it easier to leave those stacks of tax returns at the office when you need to work from home for the tenth weekend in a row.