How to Edit a PDF on a Mac

Edit PDFs on a Mac with Preview or a free web-based PDF editor

What to Know

  • Open a PDF with the built-in Preview app to start editing; however, it doesn't let you edit preexisting text.
  • For more advanced features than what Preview offers, check out our list of free PDF editors.
  • Some PDF editors can edit text, but the tech behind this feature isn't totally accurate and can cause issues.

A PDF editor is a software tool that lets you make changes to a PDF document. These changes can include editing text, adding or removing images, highlighting content, filling out forms, signing documents, and more. On a Mac, the Preview program is a simple and easy-to-use option for editing PDFs. However, there are also other options available, such as online and third-party PDF editors that may offer additional features and functionality depending on your specific needs.

Edit PDFs With Preview

Preview is a program pre-installed to your Mac that can open and edit PDFs. It’s about as extensive as any other PDF editor with the exception that it can’t edit pre-existing text. However, it has the added benefit that you don’t have to install anything extra to use it—just open the PDF and start editing right away.

An edited PDF file in Preview on macOS High Sierra

If Preview doesn't start when you open the PDF file, open the program first and then browse for the file from there. You can get to Preview from Launchpad: search for Preview or look for it in the list of programs. Once it's open, go to File > Open to find the PDF.

It might make sense to think that the Edit menu is what you use to find all the PDF editing tools in Preview, but that’s not the case. Instead, this menu is for deleting pages from the PDF and inserting pages from other PDFs (or making blank pages).

Preview also lets you rearrange pages in the PDF by dragging them up or down from the sidebar. What that means is that you can make the second page the first page, or the last one the second, etc. If you don’t see the sidebar in Preview, you can enable it from the View menu.

Preview Editing Tools

Most of the other PDF editing options in Preview are in the Tools menu. It’s there that you can add a bookmark to the PDF or rotate pages. The Tools > Annotate menu is how you highlight text; underline text; strikethrough text, insert a note, rectangle, oval, line, arrow, and other shapes; type on the PDF (anywhere or in form fields); use speech bubbles; and more.

The Annotate menu in macOS Preview

While Preview doesn't let you edit existing text in the PDF file, you can draw a white box over the text to hide it and then write your own text on top of the box with the text tool. This isn't as smooth as text editing is with some PDF editors, but it's your only option for changing the text in a PDF file with Preview.

To show the annotate menu all the time for easier editing, you can enable it through the View menu. Depending on your version of macOS, it's called either Show Markup Toolbar or Show Annotations Toolbar.

Add a Signature in Preview

So long as you have a trackpad or iSight camera attached to your Mac, you can also use Preview to insert your signature into the PDF. There’s also a freehand drawing tool available so that you can draw your signature or draw shapes directly on the document.

Make New PDFs From Old PDFs

Although it doesn’t really count as a PDF editing ability, one bonus feature in Preview is the option to make new PDFs out of existing pages from another PDF. To do that, just drag a page from the document (in the sidebar thumbnail view) to the desktop. This will make a new PDF with just that one page in it (or multiple pages if you selected more than one).

Another easier way to do this is to right-click the thumbnails of the pages and select Export As and then PDF as the format type.

How to export pages from a PDF file in Preview

Other PDF Editors for Mac

If the features in Preview aren’t what you’re looking for, there’s a really good chance that you’ll find them in another PDF editor, one not built-in to macOS. We keep a list of free PDF editors, and most of them work on Macs, too.

The Sejda online PDF editor
Sejda's Online PDF Editor. Screenshot

Another way to edit a PDF in macOS is to use an online PDF editor. Through that list linked above are several of these kinds of services. They work by having you upload the PDF to the editing website where you can perform the edits and then download the PDF back to your computer.

Problems With PDF Editors

In a perfect world, a PDF editor would let you perform various actions on the PDF file. These actions could include adding shapes and signatures, as well as editing or adding text to the document. However, not all PDF editors offer all of these features, including Mac's Preview program, which does not allow for text editing.

Another problem with PDF editors is that they rely on a technology called optical character recognition (OCR) to enable advanced features such as text editing. OCR attempts to "read" and automatically transcribe the text in the document, but the result is often imperfect and may have incorrect translations or strange formatting. As a result, editing the PDF can be challenging.

A similar task you might want to do is convert the PDF to another file format, like a DOCX file for use in MS Word, or to an EPUB file to use the PDF as an eBook. Those types of edits can be accomplished with a document file converter, not a PDF editor. Similarly, to convert a different file to a PDF file, you can use a PDF printer.

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