Message display

Text Collector renders messages close to how they appear on a phone, but adjusts for printing and ease of review. The documents it generates contain this information about messages:

  • Sender and recipients
  • Message content
  • Date and time
  • Whether the message was a draft (that is, never sent)

Where possible, Text Collector displays names along with phone numbers and organizes messages by conversation.


Screenshots are a simple and reliable way to get messages off your phone, but they have some problems:

  • Date missing, if you’re not careful about framing the screenshot
  • Phone owner’s information does not appear
Android messaging app screenshot

All these things make sense for the messaging app: you know who you are, for example, so there’s no need for the app to tell you your own name. They can be a problem, however, for legal review.

This is how Text Collector displays the same message thread:

Text Collector PDF screenshot

Notice that:

This layout is easy to redact:

Redacting some messages leaves all metadata visible for the other messages Some messages redacted
Redact contact information just by hiding the entire left-hand column Contact info redacted


Be careful when redacting PDF.

It is easy to draw a black box over something in PDF, but still leave the original content easily extractable under the box. With expertise, PDF can be safely redacted, but if in doubt, it is safest to print it and scan it back after redaction.

Some redaction tools allow applying the same size redaction to every page of a document. If you want to redact all names and contact information, you can draw a box over the whole left-hand column and apply the same redaction to every page in a document. This does not apply across documents: different documents will have different column widths.


If the collection includes attachments, such as videos, beware that filenames can contain information you may want to hide, such as phone numbers. Attachment name format depends on what type of phone or application sent the message.

If you redact contact information, it is prudent to rename attachment folders and filenames as well. Text Collector numbers attachments so that you can still cross-reference them from the PDF after they have been renamed: just retain the leading number. Rename an attachment like 1. to 1., for example.

Message content

Most content in the Text Collector-generated PDF looks essentially the same as it looks on the phone, but there are some important differences.

Emoji and non-English text

Text Collector currently only supports European scripts, such as English. Unsupported characters appear as little diamond-question marks. This includes emoji (smiley faces). If emoji is important, it is best to take a screenshot of the message.

Screenshot of emoji in the normal messaging app Original
PDF showing emoji replaced with missing character indicators As PDF

See Where have my emoji gone for more details.


Text Collector normally displays images directly in the document along with the text. It’s possible to change this by turning on the “external images” option.

In the normal mode, when embedded in the PDF, images are downsampled. This reduces quality but keeps the collection a manageable size. Most photographs still look fine, but small text may become illegible.

Original Downsampled in PDF
Page from the Mythical Man-Month Same page, grainy and hard to read

To get a higher quality copy turn on the “external images” option. It will export images at full resolution, but they will not be inline with text. Alternatively, if only specific pictures need to be exported at full quality, they can usually be saved one-by-one from the originals in the messaging app.

Dynamic content

Messages can contain two flavors of dynamic content. It is rare, but possible, for a message to (intentionally) contain animation by using a mechanism called Synchronized Multimedia Integration Language (SMIL). This same mechanism can also change how images and text precisely appear in a message.

When a message contains more than one picture, some phones obey the SMIL animation instructions and display them like a slideshow. Other phones display them all at once, one below the other.

Text Collector does not use SMIL for message rendering. This usually has no material effect on how a message is displayed, but order of the parts can differ from the original.

Another form of a dynamic content is file formats that show sound or motion. These may include videos, GIFs or sound files. Text Collector includes these in the collection, as separate files in the exported collection.